The Object of the Berakha Recited Upon Fruit

  • Rav Moshe Taragin



This shiur is dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Aaron Wise z"l (whose yahrzeit is Tamuz 21), by the Wise and Etshalom families. Yehi Zikhro Barukh.



The gemara in Berakhot (35b) considers the special berakha (blessing) which wine warrants. Unlike other fruits wine benefits from a unique berakha - borei pri ha-gefen (Who creates the fruit of the vine). The gemara isolates the IMPROVEMENT which the fermentation process delivers to grapes - transforming them into wine - as the basis for a unique berakha.

Having established that improved fruit products require a special berakha, the gemara questions why oil doesn't warrant a unique berakha as well. Hasn't the olive experienced an upgrade by being pressed for oil? The gemara rejects this possibility since the potential syntax 'borei pri ha-zayit' (Who creates the fruit of the olive) is unacceptable. The gemara invalidates this syntax since the term zayit (olive) refers to the actual olive fruit and hence the suggested term 'borei pri ha-zayit' would refer to the oil as the product of an olive. Attributing the oil to an olive but not mentioning the Divinely created TREE would be improper. Therefore this type of berakha is objectionable. By contrast the syntax of borei pri ha-gefen DOES mention the original growth since 'gefen' means a VINE, and pri ha-gefen refers to wine as the produce of the vine.

Is this rule merely a syntactical concern or does it reflect a more basic concept about the subject of a berakha rishona (blessing recited before food or drink)? Should a berakha upon fruit refer exclusively to the actual fruit being eaten or should it, additionally, mention the original TREE which was directly created by God as part of nature?

We may locate various expressions of the concept that a berakha must address the original tree and not merely the fruit being eaten. An interesting position stated by the Shulchan Arukh (OC 203:4) states that fruit produced by a barren tree do not warrant a borei pri ha-etz (literally, Who creates the fruit of the tree, the blessing recited on a fruit)– even if they are tasty. Indeed this halakha requires further definition since the growth of fruit may remove its status as a barren tree. However the Shulchan Arukh clearly did not regard the fruit as the sole subject of a berakha; had he, then only the quality of the fruit should determine its berakha. Considering the tree as a subject of the berakha may determine that only fruit-producing trees warrant a borei pri ha-etz.

Both the Taz and the Magen Avraham disagree with the Shulchan Arukh and demand a borei pri ha-etz upon fruits which grow on barren trees. If, however, the barren trees produce unripe fruits which are less tasty than 'orchard fruits' the blessing of 'shehakol' replaces borei pri ha-etz based upon the FRUIT'S inferiority. However the actual caliber of the tree in no way influences the type of berakha recited.

This question – whether a berakha upon fruit also addresses the tree itself – may be sensed in an interesting and fundamental gemara (Berakhot 40a). The gemara distinguishes between trees which survive the harvest and produce yearly crop (typical fruit trees) and the type of produce whose stalk vanishes after the harvest (typically vegetables such as corn, tomatoes etc.) The former require a borei pri ha-etz while the latter only require borei pri ha-adama (Who creates the fruit of the ground), which may be seen as an inferior berakha.

Is this distinction merely linguistic? Is the gemara merely distinguishing between the existence of a tree and the lack of a tree to determine the precise language of a berakha? Or is the gemara basically differentiating between two structurally different types of berakhot: a borei pri ha-etz which addresses the tree and not merely the fruit, and a borei pri ha-adama that speaks only of the produce, and not of the 'growth' which yielded that produce. In the former instance a permanent tree is necessary. In the latter situation any produce which grows from the ground – even roots (carrots and potatoes which have no stem, stalk or shoot) warrants a borei pri ha-adama.

Perhaps this issue – that a permanent tree is necessary so that the berakha may address it – is evident in an interesting halakha. The gemara in Berakhot (35b) discusses a pepper fruit (a type of fruit grown in the Far East which was dried and ground into spice). All the gemara's efforts are dedicated toward the dried version of these fruits which either receives the blessing of 'she'hakol' or no berakha at all. It does not explicitly state the berakha for eating the original pepper fruit in its moist state but most assume that it would warrant a ha-etz. After all, it certainly meets all the typical standards of fruit and ha-etz.

The Rif however, rules that the actual moist fruit only receives a borei pri ha-adama. The Rif does not offer any rationale for downgrading this seeming fruit to ha-adama. Many Rishonim claim that since most people do not eat the fruit in this moist form (but wait until it dries to grind it into spice), no ha-etz is recited.

A different theory for the Rif may stem from an interesting Rashi in Sukka (35a). The gemara cites a specific pasuk) to derive that these pepper fruits are forbidden by the rules of arla. Rashi questions the need for specific arla inclusion for an item which is botanically defined as a fruit. He claims that as the pepper tree is 'squatty' or low, we may have thought that its fruits do not qualify for the arla prohibition. Rejecting this notion, the Torah specifically establishes its arla identity.

Perhaps this factor - its short height - may account for its downgrading to ha-adama. The very factor which may have misled us about arla – were it not for a specific derasha - determines its identity for berakha. If indeed the berakha of borei pri HA-ETZ praises Hashem for the trees he created which yield produce – we may require a discernible or noticeable tree. Squatty trees would not qualify as subjects for the berakha of ha-etz.

From a halakhic perspective, the 'small tree' factor accounts for the lack of ha-etz on several items which would otherwise qualify as fruit. For this reason most authorities rule that ha-adama is recited upon cranberries even though the 'tree' which produces these 'fruits' remain in tact and botanically, the item is considered a fruit. Nonetheless, since the 'bush' upon which they grow is a lower type of bush it may not mandate a ha-etz.

Perhaps this question informs an interesting disagreement between most authorities and the Gra. Halakha establishes various stages of ripeness – stages which are significant for various implications. It establishes an early stage of ripeness for shemitta. At which stage can orchards no longer be indiscriminately cut down without intent to eat the fruit? Shemitta trees can only be cut for their fruit but cannot be intentionally ruined. To help establish criteria the mishna in Shevi'it (4:10) provides stages of fruit development beyond which the tree may not be cut without intent to eat the fruit. The mishna in Ma'asrot provides alternate parameters for ma'aser obligations. Only when the fruits reach a more advanced stage are they obligated in ma'aser.

Which of these stages should be relevant to borei pri ha-etz? Should this berakha be recited once the fruit reaches the early stage of shevi'it or should ha-etz be delayed until the more advanced ma'aser ripeness is achieved? Though the Shulchan Arukh and many Rishonim suggested the former, the Gra insisted on the latter. The Gra's position seems quite logical since both ma'aser and berakhot depend upon the status of the actual fruit. Shouldn't a borei pri ha-etz only be recited once the fruit has achieved full halakhic status – as indicated by the ma'aser obligation? The earlier shemitta stage seems to be a landmark of the TREE; at a certain point the tree becomes 'productive' and felling it would violate the laws about how to till land and tend to tress during shemitta. This parameter should not influence the realm of berakhot.

Perhaps the Rishonim who did equate shemitta and berakhot and disagreed with the Gr"a saw berakha as well as a function of the tree. Borei pri ha-etz cannot be recited upon fruit from barren trees (see earlier discussion) nor can it be recited upon produce of a tree which has yet to ripen. Once the tree begins to show initial growth – sufficient to be categorized a 'fruit producing item' - its produce warrants a borei pri ha-etz since that berakha addresses the tree. Just as shemitta laws depend upon the status of the tree so do laws of berakhot.