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Shiur #03: Masekhet Berakhot 36a Kora and the Definition of "Peri"

  • Rav Ezra Bick


Translated by David Silverberg
I. Rav Yehuda's View
            The Aramaic word kora refers to the edible "soft part of the palm" (Rashi, s.v. kora).  The Gemara brings a dispute between Rav Yehuda and Shemuel as to whether one who eats kora recites borei peri ha-adama or she-ha-kol nihya bi-dvaro.  The Gemara discusses the view of Shemuel, who relegates kora to the status of she-ha-kol.  However, before we analyze the reasons presented for Shemuel's position, let us first inquire as to the reason underlying Rav Yehuda's view.  If Rav Yehuda dismisses Shemuel's arguments for reciting she-ha-kol, why does he not require borei peri ha-etz?  After all, the palm clearly has the halakhic status of a tree, as evidenced by the fact that one recites ha-etz when partaking of its fruit – dates.  Thus, if the kora is an edible fruit of the palm tree, why shouldn't it warrant the berakha of borei peri ha-etz?
            The Ra'a in our sugya raises this question and suggests the following explanation:
"Rav Yehuda says [one recites over kora] borei peri ha-adama, for he considers it a fruit.  But nevertheless, one does not recite borei peri ha-etz, even though it is a tree, because whenever IT ITSELF IS NOT A FRUIT, it is not appropriate to recite over it and call it 'peri ha-etz,' but rather 'peri ha-adama,' [which refers to something] suitable for consumption [and] that grows from the ground, since it is no worse than vegetables."
The Ra'a's answer, that "it itself is not a fruit," may be explained as follows.  The part of a tree called a "fruit" earns this title not simply because it is edible, but because from a botanical standpoint, it is a "fruit" – meaning, the part of a tree that is created each year from the fertilization of flowers, and which has seeds.  The Hebrew word peri evolves from the word for reproduction – as in "peru u-revu" – and a peri is thus defined as that part which is meant to be the basis of the tree's reproduction.  Accordingly, the Ra'a establishes that even an edible substance growing on a tree cannot necessarily be termed "peri ha-etz" if it does not meet the definition of a peri.
            But the question then arises, why does one recite over such a substance borei PERI ha-adama, if it does not qualify as a "peri"?  The Ra'a answers that anything that grows from the ground is considered "peri ha-adama," such as vegetables, which are leaves, and not botanical fruits.  However, this distinction, between "peri ha-etz" and "peri ha-adama," requires explanation.  Why does the term peri ha-etz apply only to botanical fruits, whereas peri ha-adama refers to any substance that grows from the ground?
            The answer, I believe, lies in the basic difference between trees and vegetables.  The Gemara (40b) establishes that for purposes of the berakha of borei peri ha-etz, we define "tree" as follows: "That when you remove its fruit, the branch that can produce [fruit] again remains.  But if when you remove its fruit the branch that can produce [fruit] again does not remain, one does not recite over it [the fruit] borei peri ha-etz, but rather borei peri ha-adama."  Thus, the term "peri ha-etz" refers to a tree that remains in existence continually and produces fruits that can be removed without affecting the tree itself.  I believe that this is in fact the meaning of the expression "borei peri ha-etz": the "peri" is the product of some other item, which is not a fruit, but rather an enduring entity.  The berakha of borei peri ha-etz stems from the contrast between the enduring entity that produces, and the fruit that grows from it.  Vegetables and other plants that grow annually from the ground are all defined as peri ha-adama – including vegetables that are just leaves (such a lettuce) and those that may be considered "fruits" from a botanical standpoint, such as tomatoes.  These are all considered peri ha-adama because the enduring entity that produces them is the ground itself, and the edible substance that grows from it is the entire plant.
            Therefore, the Ra'a explains, the berakha of borei peri ha-etz applies strictly to botanical fruits, which features the aforementioned relationship with the permanent tree that produces them.  If, however, one partakes of a different portion of the tree, such as the kora, which is essentially a branch, one cannot recite borei peri ha-etz, since the kora is not a "fruit" that contrasts with the permanent tree.  One does, however, recite borei peri ha-adama, because every plant, be it a vegetable or a tree, is a "peri ha-adama" – an edible substance produced from a permanent entity, which, in this case, is the ground.
            It emerges, then, that the term "peri ha-adama" does not precisely correspond to "peri ha-etz."  The berakha of peri ha-adama does not pertain specifically to vegetables, but rather to all edible items produced from the ground.  Fruits and all edible parts of trees are also included under the category of peri ha-adama, and thus when one eats an edible portion of the tree over which he cannot recite borei peri ha-etz, he recites borei peri ha-adama.
            Until now we have dealt exclusively with the position of the Ra'a.  Might we, however, suggest different answers for our original question, of why Rav Yehuda requires reciting borei peri ha-adama over kora, rather than borei peri ha-etz?
Two alternate possibilities may be considered.  First, one might argue that kora does not represent the ikar peri – the primary fruit of the tree.  Since palm trees produce a more significant fruit – dates – the kora cannot therefore be considered the fruit of the palm.  This approach differs from the Ra'a's explanation in that it denies the kora's status as a "peri" not due to an objective standard that kora fails to meet by virtue of its essential properties, but rather due to its relative unimportance as compared to other parts of the tree.  Dates, which are the primary goal of growing a palm and its main edible component, triumphs over the kora in achieving the status of a peri, effectively denying the kora this status.
These different approaches will yield practical ramifications in a situation of a tree with an edible branch and no edible fruit.  Practically speaking, the kora sold today ("heart of palms") grows on special palm trees planted specifically for this purpose, which, in many instances, do not produce any fruit.  According to the second explanation, this type of kora should require the berakha of borei peri ha-etz, whereas the Ra'as position, that restricts borei peri ha-etz to botanical fruits, would require reciting borei peri ha-adama over kora grown from such trees.
Another possibility is to extend the Gemara's explanation of Shemuel's position to Rav Yehuda.  Shemuel maintains that one recites she-ha-kol over kora because, as the Gemara explains, it eventually hardens.  This property renders kora ineligible for the status of a peri of any type, as we will see later.  Rav Yehuda disagrees, and applies the general title of peri even to a substance that ultimately hardens.  With respect, however, to the berakha of borei peri ha-etz, a clear distinction must exist between the tree and the fruit (due to the reason described earlier in explaining the Ra'a's position).  The fact that the kora eventually hardens and becomes inedible like the actual palm tree itself undermines this contrast.  It therefore cannot be considered a fruit of the tree, and must be rather seen as part of the tree itself.  This is due not to its botanical function, as the Ra'a explained, but rather to it physical properties.  The result, however, is similar: despite the kora's current edibility, it is not sufficiently separated from the tree in terms of its essential quality to warrant the berakha of borei peri ha-etz.
This third explanation might assume practical significance in cases of trees with edible substances which are not botanical fruits, but do not harden.  According to this approach, such substances would, indeed, warrant the berakha of borei peri ha-etz, insofar as they are edible foods that grow from a hard, inedible tree.
On the next amud, the Gemara establishes that one recites borei peri ha-adama over hamalta, which, from the discussions of the Gemara and the commentaries, appears to be a derivative of ginger.  Ginger is the root of a perennial plant, which would thus appear to meet the halakhic criteria of a tree, but it produces no edible fruit.  One might argue that ginger should not qualify as a "tree" with respect to borei peri ha-etz, since the plant would die if the root is removed (at least if it is removed in its entirety).  The Bach (202) works on the assumption that ginger is, indeed, deemed a halakhically defined tree, and thus raises the question of why it does not mandate the recitation of borei peri ha-etz.  The answer provided by the Tur is that ginger does not constitute the ikar peri.  Now this cannot mean that the item in question represents but the secondary fruit of this plant, for the gingerroot produces no other fruit.  The Bach understood that the fact that the ginger is a root buried underground renders it ineligible for the description of peri ha-etz.  Of course, according to the Ra'a, this conclusion is readily obvious, since the root is not a botanical fruit.  However, according to the second approach suggested, and seemingly the third approach, as well (assuming that a root does not ultimately become hard), it would seem more reasonable to recite borei peri ha-etz over ginger, as opposed to the Gemara's ruling, mandating the recitation of borei peri ha-adama.
Another relevant case is that of kafrisin shel tzelaf, which the Gemara addresses here in our sugya.  The kafrisin are the flowers of the tzelaf plant (caper-bush), which ultimately develop into the evyonot – the botanical fruits of this plant.  The beraita cited here establishes that one who eats the kafrisin – the flowers – recites borei peri ha-etz.  This ruling very well accommodates the final approach we discussed, given that these flowers do not grow hard.  In truth, however, this halakha may be easily understood according to the Ra'a's position, as well.  Both the flower and the actual fruit may be considered "fruits" with respect to the berakha, since they both belong to the same system of fruit production.  In a certain sense, the flower is the fruit in its early stages, and herein, it would appear, lies the meaning of the term pircha, which our sugya uses in reference to both the kafrisin and the evyonot, as opposed to shuta, which refers to the branches and leaves.
Tosefot (36b s.v. bi-retiva) rule that one recites borei peri ha-etz over sugar ("tzukaro").  The question of which berakha to recite over sugar is a complex one, which hinges upon several sugyot which we have yet to study.  However, the view requiring borei peri ha-etz over sugar clearly stands in direct opposition to the Ra'a's position.  (When the Rishonim speak of sugar, they refer to sugarcane, which is produced from the juice of the actual cane; it obviously has no connection at all to the botanical fruit.)
II. Shemuel's View
            Shemuel maintains that one who eats the kora of a palm recites she-ha-kol, because, as the Gemara explains, it eventually hardens.  At first glance, Shemuel believed that this property of the kora renders it ineligible for the status of a peri, because it is basically part of the inedible tree.  The edible kora is simply a temporary stage and thus not reflective of the item's essential status.  One recites the berakha of borei peri ha-etz over an item with the formal halakhic status of a peri, a status that defines the item of which one partakes.  If an item lacks this formal status, then one recites a berakha merely over the personal benefit he derives from its consumption, and thus recites the generic berakha of she-ha-kol.
            The Gemara challenges this position from the halakha mandating the recitation of borei peri ha-adama over a radish, which also ultimately hardens.  According to Shemuel, just as the eventual hardening of the kora negates its status as peri ha-etz, so should this property render the radish ineligible for inclusion in the category of borei peri ha-adama, and it should therefore require a she-ha-kol.  The Gemara answers that one plants a radish plant primarily to produce radishes, whereas the palm is planted specifically for the dates, not for kora.
            Two approaches may be taken in understanding the relationship between this answer and the original explanation given for Shemuel's position – that the kora ultimately grows hard.
            The Rashba understood that the Gemara retracts the first explanation and views Shemuel's position in an entirely new light.  Shemuel requires a she-ha-kol because people do not plant palms with the kora in mind.  Accordingly, if one indeed plants palms specifically to grow kora, as is done today, one would not recite she-ha-kol, but rather borei peri ha-adama.  (See section I for an explanation why one would not recite borei peri ha-etz.)  The rationale underlying this position is that the status of peri ha-etz hinges on the intent of those who planted the tree.  "Peri" means the intended goal of the process of growing a tree.  An accompanying by-product cannot be deemed a "fruit," and thus one who partakes of it recites only the generic berakha over personal benefit – she-hakol.
            The Rosh, by contrast, states explicitly that Shemuel's position results from a combination of both explanations given in the Gemara.  In order for a product of a tree to lose its status of peri ha-etz, it must be a substance that eventually hardens, and that does not represent the intended result of the tree's planting.
            In explaining the Rosh's comments, we might suggest that in truth, the primary factor underlying Shemuel's view, as he himself indeed states, is the eventual hardening of the kora.  This eventuality strips the food of its status as a peri, since its current edibility does not reflect its true status, at which it is unsuitable for consumption.  But if people plant the tree specifically to produce this substance, then its current state indeed reflects the primary intent of the planting; hence, we should not look to its future stages in determining its essential status.  The planter's intent works to establish the current stage as the final stage, since this is, indeed, the final, intended stage of development envisioned by the planter.  Thus, its eventual hardening is of no consequence.  And so the radish, despite its eventual hardening, qualifies as peri ha-adama, whereas kora cannot be deemed a peri, since it ultimately hardens and does not signify the primary intent of the palm's planting.
            The Gemara in Masekhet Eiruvin (28b) discusses the status of kora with respect to other halakhot.  It emerges from the Gemara's discussion that according to all views, kora lacks the formal status of food with regard to the ability to contract tum'at okhelin (the status of ritual impurity applicable to foods).  This halakha accommodates Shemuel's position, that one who eats kora recites she-ha-kol, since it does not have the formal status of a peri.  Indeed, the Ritva (there in Eiruvin) explains that kora is ineligible for tum'at okhelin because it eventually hardens and the palm is not initially planted with the kora in mind.  (Note that the Ritva adopts the Rosh's approach to our sugya, rather than the Rashba's.)  The Ritva thus enlists Shemuel's reasoning with regard to berakhot as the basis for the Gemara's ruling in Eiruvin concerning tum'at okhelin.  The question, however, arises, how would Rav Yehuda explain the halakha established in Eiruvin?  After all, he presumably accepts the Gemara's ruling that kora does not contract tum'at okhelin, which seemingly indicates that it lacks the formal status of food.  But if this is the case, then how could Rav Yehuda mandate reciting borei peri ha-adama over kora?
            The most likely answer is that Rav Yehuda does not accept the restriction of birkat ha-peirot (namely, borei peri ha-etz and borei peri ha-adama) to items bearing the specific identity of either a peri ha-etz or peri ha-adama.  Although kora indeed lacks the formal status of food or a peri as far as its essential classification is concerned, nevertheless, one recites a berakha as an expression of praise to the Almighty in which he describes that which he eats.  With respect to this halakha, anything that grows from the tree may be termed peri ha-etz, and anything that grows from the ground may be described as peri ha-adama.  We may draw evidence to this theory from an earlier sugya, where Rav Yehuda holds that one recites borei peri ha-adama over raw wheat flour, regardless of the fundamental change the wheat undergoes through the process of grinding.  We might suggest that Rav Yehuda follows consistently his own position, that birkat ha-peirot does not require the formal halakhic status of a peri.
            Tosefot addresses the issue of soft green almonds, which are edible for a brief period after the almond's blossoming in springtime. Over the course of the summer, the almond hardens and develops a shell, while the seed inside ripens, thus developing into the familiar almond nut.  Tosefot rules that if one eats soft almonds in the springtime, then according to Shemuel, he recites she-ha-kol, because it eventually hardens and does not represent the primary intent of the tree's planting.
            The Ra'a, however, disagrees, claiming that since the almond is itself a botanical fruit, it is not subject to Shemuel's halakha.  Earlier, we encountered the Ra'a's position that one does not recite borei peri ha-etz over an item that does not have the formal status of a fruit.  The Ra'a now adds that a botanical fruit earns the berakha of borei peri ha-etz even if it ultimately hardens.  The Ra'a appears to have grouped all fruits into two categories, the first being items essentially defined as botanical fruits, and the second consisting of other edible items grown from the ground, which we consider peri ha-adama by virtue of their edibility.  If a fruit of this second type will eventually harden and become inedible, it loses its status as a peri, since that status evolves solely from the given item's edibility.  However, an item essentially defined as a peri may earn that status even if it eventually hardens, so long as it is edible in its current state.
Sources for next week’s shiur:
1) 36b – "Ve-teipok lei… bitita."
2) Tosefot s.v. shi'uro; Rosh 5; Shulchan Arukh O.C. 202:2, Bei'ur Ha-Gra s.v. ve-yeish omerim.
3) Ra'a, 36a – "Ve-ibera… lo mayit pira"; Ritva s.v. savar la; Sefer Ha-chinukh, 246 – "Ve-shomer ha-peri… ma'it pira," Minchat Chinukh, ad loc., "omed ba-peri… le-sham."
4) Tosefot s.v. kelipi; Rashba s.v. kelipi; Peirush Ha-Rashbatz s.v. ve-lo mevarkhinan.
5) Tosefot, Bava Kama 101a, s.v. ve-lo yitzba – "Eizehu mekoman."
1) Are there fruits that are subject to the prohibition of orla but yet do not warrant the berakha of borei peri ha-etz?
2) Are shells and pits considered part of the fruit itself, or only a shomer le-peri – something that protects the fruit?
3) According to the Gemara's conclusion, which conditions must be met for a part of the fruit to be deemed a shomer le-peri?