Shiur 03: Principal (Ikar) and Subsidary (Tafel) Regarding Blessings

  • Rav Shmuel Shimoni
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Halakha: A Weekly Shiur In Halakhic Topics
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Rav Shemuel Shimoni



This is the general principal: Whenever with one kind of food another is taken as subsidiary, a blessing is recited over the principal (ikar) and this serves for the subsidiary (tafel). (Berakhot 44a)[1]




            In this shiur we will deal with a question posed to Rav Moshe Feinstein, ztz"l, about a case where the principal food does not require a berakha acharona following its eating, but the tafel does. In light of his answer, we will try to understand the foundations of the laws governing ikar and tafel regarding blessings. Rav Feinstein writes as follows:


Regarding one who ate less than a kezayit of a pickled food and a kezayit of bread subsidiary to it, should he recite Birkat Ha-mazon or merely Bore Nefashot? You did not explain the reason for the uncertainty. It is as follows: While the bread being subsidiary should be exempt from a berakha acharona, because the salted food is the principal… it may be that this applies only when there is an obligation of berakha acharona on account of the principal. But since he did not eat a kezayit of the principal, and a berakha acharona on account of the principal is unnecessary, so that because of the law that a blessing is recited over the ikar and this serves for the tafel, there will be no berakha [acharona] at all, perhaps the rule does not apply. For the rule states "and this serves for the tafel," which implies that the tafel also requires a blessing, but he is exempted by the blessing recited over the principal. For it does not say: "A blessing is recited over the ikar and it is unnecessary to recite a blessing over the tafel," which would imply that over the tafel there is no obligation whatsoever to recite a blessing. Therefore, since the ikar does not require a berakha acharona, for he ate less than the minimal measure, he must recite a blessing over the tafel of which he ate a measure that requires a blessing, and since it is bread, [the required blessing is] Birkat Ha-mazon. And that which you wrote in favor of not reciting Birkat Ha-mazon, but rather Bore Nefashot, is merely a logical argument that in any event the tafel joins the ikar to reach the minimal measure. (Responsa Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chayyim¸ IV, no. 42)


            Rav Feinstein suggests two possible understandings of the law of ikar and tafel:


1)         The blessing recited over the ikar serves also for the tafel. This may be likened to a person who pays for a certain article and thus is exempted from paying for the wrapping, which is independent but subsidiary. According to this, when no blessing is recited over the ikar, a blessing must be recited over the tafel.


2)         The ikar and the tafel are regarded as having become commingled, the mixture bearing the identity of the ikar. According to this, even when he eats less than the minimal measure that requires a blessing of the ikar itself, he nevertheless recites the blessing appropriate for the ikar (if the ikar and the tafel together meet the minimal measure).




            These two understandings share a common assumption – that even the food that is tafel requires a blessing, the only question being how does the blessing that is recited over the ikar satisfy this requirement. This assumption stands to reason, and even follows from a precise reading of the Mishna. Support for this assumption may also be brought from the Tosafot (44a, s.v. be-okhlei), who in their second answer argue that if at the time that a person recited a berakha rishona over the ikar, the tafel was not before him, he must recite another blessing over the tafel. In other words, the blessing recited over the ikar must relate to the tafel.[2] The matter, however, requires further study, for elsewhere the Gemara states:


The law is that things which form an integral part of the meal when taken in the course of the meal require no blessing either before or after. (Berakhot 41b)


            The Tosafot (s.v. hilkheta) explain in the name of the Ri:


Since they come because of the bread – the bread exempts them.


            According to the Tosafot, this is a localized law regarding bread, the blessing over which serves for everything eaten in the meal, and it is not connected to the law of ikar and tafel. Rashi, however, understands differently:


They do not require a blessing – because they are subsidiary.


            So too the Baal Ha-maor (29a) asks: What does this teach us – surely it is an explicit Mishna (44a), and answers:


Here at the time that he recited the Ha-motzi blessing, those things which form an integral part of the meal had not yet been brought before him, and he did not have them in mind at all at the time of the blessing. I might [therefore] have said that they require a blessing before [being eaten]. Thus it teaches you – since they are tafel, they do not require a blessing.


            We seem to be dealing here with a third understanding (that apparently contradicts Rav Feinstein's assumption), according to which a food that is subsidiary to some other food does not require a blessing. It ceases to be regarded as a factor that must be taken into consideration with respect to the laws of blessings. According to this, in the case discussed by Rav Feinstein, the law should be that no berakha acharona need be recited at all.




            Do the words of the Baal Ha-maor necessarily contradict the view of Rav Feinstein? There may be room for a distinction, when we consider the foundation of the obligation of blessings recited over foods. The Gemara, at the beginning of Keitzad Mevarkhin (35a), discusses the source of the law of berakha rishona. The source for the law of berakha acharona is clear. The obligation of Birkat Ha-mazon is by Torah law: "When you have eaten and are satiated, then shall you bless the Lord" (Devarim 8:10), and according to the Rosh (chap. 6, sec. 16), the same applies to Berakha Me'ein Shalosh. The obligation of Bore Nefashot, on the other hand, is only by rabbinic decree [and according to Talmidei Rabbenu Yona (32b) also Berakha Me'ein Shalosh], but we are clearly dealing with an expansion of a Torah law – an obligation to offer thanksgiving for food following our eating. The Gemara assumes that the foundation of the obligation of berakha rishona is entirely different, and searches for a source for that obligation. In the end, it concludes that the source is logical argument:[3]


One is forbidden to derive pleasure from this world without [first] reciting a blessing… Whoever derives pleasure from this world without a blessing is guilty of trespass.


            The Acharonim note (as is well known) that in contrast to a berakha acharona – which involves a mitzva to recite a blessing after one has eaten – a berakha rishona comes to permit (matir) the prohibition of eating without a blessing. Someone who eats without reciting a berakha acharona has committed a transgression by nullifying the mitzva of berakha, but someone who eats without reciting a berakha rishona violates the prohibition of deriving pleasure from this world without a blessing. This issue seems to be a matter of dispute among the Rishonim. The Gemara (12a) is in doubt about a case where a person holds a glass of beer in his hand and begins to recite a blessing thinking that it is a glass of wine, but completes the blessing in a manner appropriate for beer, namely, he recites Shehakol. Does this person fulfill his obligation regarding berakha rishona or not? The question remains unresolved in the Gemara. The Rif (6a) rules that he need not recite another blessing, because we follow the principle that in cases of doubt regarding a rabbinic law we rule leniently. In contrast, the Tosafot (s.v. lo) in the name of the Ri disagree, ruling that he must recite another blessing. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (in his Gilyon Ha-shas, ad loc.) explains that the principle that in cases of doubt regarding blessings we rule leniently, only applies to blessings recited over mitzvot, but in the case of blessings recited over food, one is forbidden to derive pleasure from this world without a blessing. Thus, this is not a blessing recited in vain, for if he fails to recite a blessing, he is forbidden to drink.




            The Tosafot appear to accept the approach that we outlined above – that a berakha rishona serves as a "matir" to permit eating - whereas the Rif seems to be of the opinion that there is no prohibition to eat without a blessing, but merely an obligation to recite a blessing before eating. If we accept the Tosafot's understanding, then we can reconcile Rav Feinstein's position with that of the Baal Ha-maor. The Baal Ha-maor is dealing with a berakha rishona. Here there is room to say that a certain food is not forbidden when it is subsidiary to another food. It should be emphasized that we are not talking about nullification as part of a mixture, but rather about non-recognition of the prohibition when it stands alongside other foods. Rav Feinstein, on the other hand, is dealing with a berakha acharona, and here it may be argued that since a mitzva was cast on a certain food, it does not disappear because of its proximity to another food, and a blessing must be recited in order to release that food from its obligation.


            The matter, however, requires closer examination, for the Gemara teaches (40a) that a person can fulfill his obligation of berakha rishona for any food with the Shehakol blessing, but lekhatchila he should recite for each particular foodstuff its own special blessing. Now, if we are dealing merely with a "matir," and not with a mitzva, it is not exactly clear how one can talk about lekhatchila and bedi'eved. Have your pick: If the prohibition is not removed, then the prohibition remains and he has not fulfilled his obligation regarding berakha rishona; and if the prohibition is removed, then the goal has been achieved.




            In effect, the question appears already in Tosafot Ri. The Gemara states:


What is his remedy?… He should consult a wise man beforehand, so that he should teach him blessings and he should not commit trespass. (Berakhot 35a)


            The Tosafot Ri comment:


And the same applies that even if he only knows the Shehakol blessing, he does not commit trespass. (25a)


            If we are dealing with removing the prohibition of trespass, there should be no need to consult a wise man – the Shehakol blessing solves the problem. They answer:


Rather, he has to study so that he can recite the appropriate blessing for each and every different food.


            What they mean to say is that two laws were stated in connection with the obligation to recite a berakha rishona: the first, a "matir" of the prohibition of trespass, and second, a mitzva to recite a blessing that is appropriate for the particular food. The need for a wise man relates only to the second law (though it must be admitted that the plain sense of the Gemara does not support this understanding – the wise man seems to be needed in order to help a person avoid committing trespass).


            These two laws are governed by different regulations. The Mishna in (Sukka 26b) states explicitly that a berakha acharona requires a minimum measure of eating, less than which there is no obligation to recite the blessing. The Kolbo (sec. 24) brings in the name of Rav Achai Gaon that the same law applies to a berakha rishona. This, however, is a sole dissident opinion in the Rishonim, the prevalent view being as stated by Rashi (ad loc.):


But before [eating], any amount requires a blessing, for he derives pleasure, and one is forbidden to derive pleasure from this world without a blessing.


            Rashi's position is clear. Since we are talking about a "matir" and not a mitzva, it applies to any amount of food, there being no allowance to eat even the smallest amount of prohibited food. The Tosafot Ri (27b) records an interesting opinion in this regard:


When eating less than a kezayit, one should only recite the Shehakol blessing, so that one not derive pleasure from this world without a blessing.


            This position reflects what we have said: the mitzva of reciting a berakha rishona requires a minimum measure, and a blessing is not recited over less than that amount. Only when we are dealing with a berakha rishona as a "matir" is no minimum measure required, but in that case we are talking about the Shehakol blessing. The Rishonim who disagree may deny the entire distinction, but it is more reasonable to assume that they accept it, and merely argue that since the person is already reciting a blessing, it is better to recite the blessing that is appropriate for the particular food. According to this, the difficulty returns: Indeed the Baal Ha-maor speaks about a berakha rishona¸ but he is talking about a specific blessing – Birkat Ha-motzi, and here we should invoke the law of a mitzva to recite a blessing which is not cancelled, even when the one food is subsidiary to another. It, therefore, appears that the two laws regarding a berakha rishona are interconnected. There is a mitzva to execute the "matir" in a certain manner – with the specific blessing recited over the particular food. If there is no need for a "matir," the foundation of the mitzva disappears, and therefore it can be argued that there is no need whatsoever for a blessing.






            As for the practical Halakha, Rav Feinstein assumes, then, that some berakha acharona must be recited over the food that is tafel, and on that assumption, he raises the aforementioned question. In the continuation, he decides in favor of reciting Bore Nefashot:


In my humble opinion, Birkat Ha-mazon should not be recited. For [if he recites] the blessing of Bore Nefashot over the bread to fulfill the obligation of a berakha acharona over it, is as if he did not recite any blessing whatsoever. For over bread, he is obligated by Torah law in Birkat ha-Mazon, which is the three blessings. And over the pickled food, there is no blessing by Torah law. Thus, it cancels the tafel that he should not recite over it any blessing whatsoever, for if he recites the rabbinic blessing over it, it is as if he did not recite what is required by Torah law…

But Bore Nefashot Rabot he must recite, because in any event [the bread] joins to the measure of the pickled food, so that he can recite Bore Nefashot Rabot.


            Rav Feinstein rejects the understanding that the blessing over the ikar serves as a substitute for the blessing over the tafel, because the blessing of Bore Nefashot cannot serve as a substitute for Birkat Ha-mazon. The Avnei Nezer (Orach Chayyim, no. 38, letters 13-14) also brings this argument, but reaches the conclusion that Rav Feinstein rejects, namely, that no berakha acharona should be recited at all. His words imply, however, that it is not because a food that is tafel to another does not require a berakha, but rather that the tafel acquires all the regulations that govern the ikar, so that when the ikar does not require a blessing, so too the tafel does not require a blessing (in the continuation, he rejects this explanation, because of a ruling of the Shulchan Arukh on another matter). Rav Feinstein concludes that in this case Bore Nefashot should be recited. The explanation that he gives is that the situation creates sort of a mixture that bears the identity of the ikar, and the tafel joins with the ikar so that it reach the minimal measure for a berakha acharona.




            Rav Ovadya Yosef in his Responsa Yabi'a Omer (VII, no. 32) discusses this issue at length, and at first, cites the position that one should recite Bore Nefashot, but for a different reason – that Bore Nefashot is a general blessing that is recited over all bodily pleasures that meet the minimum measure. He rejects this position, however, and distinguishes between the Shehakol blessing and Bore Nefashot. This is understandable in light of our explanation above.[4] He himself decides against Rav Feinstein, arguing that since no berakha acharona is recited over the ikar – the original obligation governing the tafel is restored, so that in this case Birkat ha-Mazon should be recited.




* This article was published in issue no. 723 of Daf Kesher, distributed to the students of Yeshivat Har Etzion.


[1] Unless stated otherwise, all references in this article are to tractate Berakhot.


[2] See Chazon Ish, Orach Chayyim, sec. 27, letter 9, who reaches this conclusion from Tosafot.


[3] See Penei Yehoshu'a and Tzelach who discuss the status of an obligation based on logical argument – is it by Torah law or by rabbinic decree.


[4] The possibility should be examined that even a berakha acharona includes the basic level of permitting the prohibition of deriving pleasure from this world without a blessing. According to the Ri, the blessing of Bore Nefashot does not require a minimal measure of eating. From Tosafot (49b, s.v. rabbi), this might be understood as being limited to drinking. And the Rosh (sec. 16) understands that this applies to the seven species. But Tosafot (39a, s.v. betzar) implies that this is a general law, and even the Rosh there is in doubt about the matter. It is possible this parallels what we said above, namely, that there are also two levels of obligation regarding berakha acharona, though it is of course more difficult to talk about a "matir" after eating. Rav Ovadya brings proof against this position from the fact that Bore Nefashot does not exempt inappropriate foods even bedi'eved. It may, however, be argued that regarding a berakha acharona, the mitzva creates an independent obligation, the level of whose obligation is in some cases even higher than that of "matir," and that obligation cannot be filled with Bore Nefashot. In any event, this position has not been accepted as Halakha.


(Translated by David Strauss)