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Weekly Halacha

Parshas Shoftim

Do Desserts Require A Blessing?

The blessing of ha-motzi, recited over bread at the beginning of the meal, includes anything in the meal that is normally eaten with bread - even though it is not actually being eaten with bread at this particular moment. Even if these foods are never actually eaten together with bread, but if they are "meal-type foods," i.e., they are main components of a meal which are served to satisfy one's hunger, they are included in the ha- motzi blessing. Meat, fish, eggs, pasta, rice, vegetables, cheese, most beverages and all other foods eaten to satisfy one's hunger are included in the ha-motzi blessing. Dessert, on the other hand, is not normally eaten with bread, nor is it served to satisfy one's hunger. In most cases dessert is served after one is already full, either as a finishing touch to a meal or to satisfy one's craving for sweets. It is considered a separate food at the end of the meal and therefore requires its own blessing. This basic principle is agreed upon by all of the early authorities and is recorded in the Shulchan Aruch. Let us review the halachos of some common desserts:

1. Raw fruit (apples, grapes, etc.): The correct blessing is recited.(1)

2. Cooked fruit: The basic halachah follows the opinion of most poskim who hold that a blessing is recited,(2)since the cooked fruit is being served as dessert and is considered a "dessert type food". A minority opinion suggests that no blessing is recited(3)since a cooked fruit, even though it is being eaten at the end of the meal, may still be considered as one of the courses of the meal. One who wants to avoid a questionable situation should eat cooked fruit only with bread(4)or recite a blessing over a raw fruit before eating the cooked fruit.(5)

3. Popcorn: The correct blessing (ha-adamah) is recited.

4. Peanuts: The correct blessing (ha-adamah) is recited.

5. Chocolate: The correct blessing (shehakol) is recited.

6. Coffee and tea: There are conflicting opinions. Some hold that beverages, no matter when they are served, are considered as part of the meal and no blessing is recited. They reason that the coffee or tea is served for satiation and is part of the meal. Others maintain that coffee or tea should be treated as dessert and that a shehakol is recited. In their opinion, these beverages are served to aid digestion and are not an intrinsic part of the meal. To avoid a questionable situation, it is best to recite a shehakol on another food which is definitely dessert, and thus exempt the coffee or tea. If another shehakol item is not available, no blessing is recited.(6)

7. Ice Cream and sherbet: The correct blessing is recited.(7)

CAKE

The basic rule quoted above, that a "dessert-type food" requires a separate blessing when eaten at the end of the meal, applies to cake as well. It should follow that cake eaten at the end of the meal as a dessert requires a mezonos. In actual practice, however, this is not the case. In order to explain why not, we must present some background information concerning pas haba'ah b'kisnin, commonly known as cake, and what its proper blessing is.(8)

One thing is clear: Normally, people are koveia seudah ("base" their meal) on pas, bread. The proper blessing over pas is, therefore, ha-motzi. The proper blessing over pas haba'ah b'kisnin, which has bread-like properties but yet is not bread, is mezonos, since people are not usually koveia seudah on it. But how exactly is pas different from pas haba'ah b'kisnin? What distinguishes the two foods: is it the ingredients or is it the texture?

There are three opinions among the Rishonim as to the definition of pas haba'ah b'kisnin and the main characteristic that distinguishes it from pas:

1. Some hold that pas haba'ah b'kisnin is what most people today call cake. Cake batter consists of many ingredients beyond flour and water; it contains significant amounts of sugar, cocoa, chocolate, oil, honey, etc. According to this view, the blessing over pretzels or fruit-filled pies would be ha-motzi, since their basic ingredients are flour and water, just like bread.

2. Others hold that pas haba'ah b'kisnin is a hard, crunchy substance such as a pretzel or a cracker. According to this view, the blessing over most cakes and pies would be ha-motzi.

3. Others hold that pas haba'ah b'kisnin is a fruit- or nut- filled pie. According to this view, the blessing over most cakes and pretzels and crackers would be ha-motzi.

What is the practical halachah?

As a rule, whenever doubts arise concerning the proper blessing to recite, we follow the basic principle of safeik berachos l'hakail, i.e., we tend to rule leniently. Accordingly, whenever any one of these foods is eaten [not during the meal] the blessing is mezonos, since requiring one to wash and recite Birkas ha-Mazon over them would be a stringency.(9)

But when these foods are eaten as a dessert during the meal, the halachah should be the reverse. Since there is a doubt as to whether these foods are classified as pas, bread, or pas haba'ah b'kisnin, we ought to be lenient and not require a mezonos to be recited, since they may very well be bread, and a ha-motzi was already recited at the beginning of the meal.

In practice, however, various poskim have issued numerous, somewhat contradictory, rulings. This issue is so confusing that some God-fearing people do not eat cake for dessert at all; rather, they recite Birkas ha- Mazon and eat the dessert cake afterwards.(10) Another solution suggested by some poskim is to have express intent while reciting ha-motzi at the beginning of the meal to include any cake eaten for dessert.(11)

But if neither option is practical, there are various opinions among contemporary poskim about how one should conduct himself:

1. Mishnah Berurah states that only fruit-filled pies are considered "real" pas haba'ah b'kisnin, and a mezonos is recited over them when served for dessert. Most other cakes(12) are too similar to bread and are covered by the original ha-motzi blessing.(13)

2. Harav M. Feinstein ruled that as long as flour and water are not the majority ingredients, which holds true for most cakes today, a mezonos is recited over them when served as dessert.(14)

One should follow his custom or the opinion of his rabbi. One who has no custom should not recite a mezonos unless the cake is clearly a pas haba'ah b'kisnin.(15)

A notable exception to all of the above is when cake is eaten when one is still hungry, i.e., the main course was not filling and the dessert is being eaten to satisfy one's hunger. In that case, clearly, no blessing is recited on the cake since it now becomes an essential part of the meal covered by the original ha-motzi blessing.(16)

Another point to remember is that our discussion applies to cake only. Waffles, pancakes, kugels and all other mezonos items which do not have bread-like properties are considered mezonos items according to all views and would require a separate blessing when eaten for dessert and not for satiation.

Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be reached at 216-321-4635 or at jsgross@core.com

FOOTNOTES:

1 O.C. 177:1.

2 Mishnah Berurah 177:4; Chazon Ish (Dinim v'Hanhagos 6:7); Orchos Rabbeinu 66; Yechaveh Da'as 5:19; Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (quoted in Vezos ha- Berachah, pg. 78 and Vesein Berachah, pg. 87).

3 Several sources report that the Chafetz Chayim eventually changed his ruling and exempted cooked fruits served as dessert from a blessing; see Orchos Rabbeinu 66 and Vezos ha-Berachah, pg. 78. [Others dispute that the Chafetz Chayim changed his ruling.] Reportedly, Harav A. Kotler ruled that no blessing is recited over cooked fruit. See also Sdei Chemed (Berachos 1:26), who quotes Sefer Zochreinu l'Chayim that no blessing is recited over cooked dessert, but the Sdei Chemed himself disagrees.

4 Custom of the Brisker Rav (quoted in Teshuvos v'Hanhagos 1:177).

5 Harav A. Kotler (reported by several disciples); Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (quoted in Vezos ha-Berachah, pg. 78).

6 See the various opinions in Chayei Adam 43:11, Mishnah Berurah 174:39; and Aruch ha-Shulchan 174:14 (who distinguishes between coffee and tea). See also Vezos ha-Berachah, pg. 73.

7 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Vesein Berachah, pg. 87); Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Vezos ha-Berachah, pg. 74); Shevet ha-Levi 1:205; Harav C.P. Scheinberg (Vezos ha-Berachah, pg. 76). There are some who quote Harav M. Feinstein as ruling that certain types of ice creams or ices are considered beverages which do not require their own blessing. But this is difficult to confirm or understand.

8 Our discussion covers mezonos cake only. Cake made out of potato starch and served for dessert requires a shehakol (Avnei Yashfei 3:17).

9 O.C. 168:7.

10 This was the custom of the Chida, quoted in Sefer Minhagei Yerushalayim. See also Ohr L'Ttziyon 12:10, who suggests this approach.

11 Chayei Adam 43:7 (quoted by Beiur Halachah 168:8); Kaf ha-Chayim 168:49; Harav Y.Y. Fisher (quoted in Vezos ha-Berachah, pg. 75.)

12 A wafer may be an exception, since it may be classified as pas haba'ah b'kisnin according to all three opinions.

13 Beiur Halachah 168:8.

14 Oral ruling quoted in Rivevos Efrayim 5:153. See also Igros Moshe O.C. 3:33, where this is clearly explained. This is also the opinion of Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Vezos ha-Berachah, pg. 229 and in Vesein Berachah, vol. 2, Hebrew section, pg. 9).

15 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (quoted in Avnei Yashfei 3:16).

16 Mishnah Berurah 168:41. Another case where no blessing is recited over cake eaten as dessert is when a large amount - enough to be considered kevius seudah - is eaten; ibid.


Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright 2004 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross jgross@torah.org.

Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be reached at 216-321-4635 or at jsgross@core.com.


 
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