Shiur #05: Berakhot 36b Chameshet Minei Dagan – The Five Species of Grain

  • Rav Yair Kahn

Translated by David Silverberg




1. 36b – "Chavitz kedeirateyuvta; 37b – "Amar Rava hai rihata… borei minei mezonot; 39a – "Amar Rav Ashi… avdi la."

2. Rif (26a) – "Hilkakh…ve-rihata," Talmidei Rabbenu Yona, s.v. u-pat, ve-gaon, hinei; Rashba, s.v. teyuvta.

3. 41b – Tosefot, s.v. ela [until mei'ein shalosh]; Bei'ur Halakha, 167 s.v. be-makom.

4. Rambam, Hilkhot Berakhot 3:1, 10-11; Hilkhot Chametz U-matza 5:1, 6:4-5 & Ra'avad; Hilkhot Bikkurim 6:2, 11 & Ra'avad.




1. Define the two halakhot of Rav and Shemuel regarding the five species of grain.

2. Are these two laws completely unrelated, or do they perhaps stem from the same root?

3. What is surprising about the ruling of the Rif and the Rambam concerning this sugya?

4. Wherein lies the conceptual basis of the dispute between the Rambam and Ra'avad regarding a dough made from wheat and rice?




            The Gemara (36b) cites two halakhot in the name of Rav and Shemuel: "Anything that contains [one] of the five species of grain – one recites over it borei minei mezonot"; "Anything that is among the five species of grain – one recites over it borei minei mezonot."  After citing these two statements, the Gemara proceeds to explain why both were necessary.  The first passage informs us that even when the grain is mixed with other ingredients, as opposed to eaten straight, the resultant food product warrants the berakha of borei minei mezonot.  And lest one conclude that other grains – such as rice and millet – would, indeed, warrant a mezonot when eaten independently, rather than in a mixture, the second passage comes to emphasize that only the five grains earn the berakha of mezonot.  It emerges, then, that the first halakha of Rav and Shemuel establishes that the five species of grain require the berakha of mezonot even if they constitute the minority ingredient in a mixture.  The second determines that grains other than these five types do not warrant this berakha, even if they are eaten by themselves.


            Later, the Gemara rejects Rav and Shemuel's contention that one does not recite mezonot over rice.  It cites a berayta establishing that over cooked or baked rice one recites borei minei mezonot before eating and a berakha achat me'ein shalosh ("al ha-michya") after eating.  The Gemara comments:


"Who [is the author of this position]?  If one says it is Rabbi Yochanan Ben Nuri, who said that rice is a type of grain, then one should have to recite ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz and the three blessings [of birkat ha-mazon].  Rather, it is the Chakhamim, and this berayta disproves the position of Rav and Shemuel."


According to the straightforward reading of this sugya, the Gemara dismisses only the second halakha of Rav and Shemuel, that only the five species of grain – as opposed to rice and millet – require borei minei mezonot.  The first halakha, however, which establishes mezonot as the berakha for any mixture consisting even partially of one of the five grains, appears unaffected by the berayta which proves that one recites mezonot over rice.  In fact we find other sugyot (37b, 39a) which adopted the first din as halakha, even though the second din was rejected by our sugya.  This is indeed the ruling of the Rif and later Rishonim.


     The Rashba, however, cites a tradition from the Geonim accepting both statements of Rav and Shemuel.  He writes:


"I am startled to have seen the commentary of Rav Hai Gaon z"l, who said in the name of the master Rav Yehuda Gaon z"l that although Rav and Shemuel were disproved, we follow their position, based on that which is written of Rav Kahana and Rav Yosef, and the rihata [dish of flour and honey] of Mechoza.  The rabbi, author of the Halakhot [the Behag] writes this, as well.  And he ruled that one does not recite borei minei mezonot over rice, based on Rav and Shemuel and the fact that Rav Kahana and Rav Yosef follow their view.  But this requires an explanation, for they have no relevance to one another, as we discussed."


The Geonim clearly viewed the two statements of Rav and Shemuel as essentially a single halakha.  Therefore, once we find sugyot clearly demonstrating that the first halakha is accepted, we are compelled to accept the second statement, as well, despite the fact that the Gemara disproved it.  It behooves us, then, to identify the common root shared by these two halakhic rulings.


            We might explain that the factor which lends special significance to the five species of grain even within a mixture also accounts for their warranting the unique berakha of borei minei mezonot.  Thus, only those species over which one recites mezonot when eating them independently earn that special berakha even when eaten as the minority ingredient within a mixture.  Naturally, then, once we accept Rav and Shemuel's position requiring the berakha of mezonot over the five grains within a mixture, whereas rice does not warrant this berakha under such circumstances, then we must accept as well the second halakha – that no species other than these five warrant mezonot.


            In order to explain this point, let us address the broader question of why the five grains deviate from the standard principles of ikar and tafel (literally, "primary" and "subordinate").  Generally, when one eats a food item consisting of different types of food, the berakha is determined based on the primary ingredient.  When, however, a mixture contains even a small amount of one of the five grains, it requires the recitation of borei minei mezonot.  Why is this the case?  The answer might be that these species of grain have a status of importance that other foods do not have.  After all, these grains can be used to produce bread – the basic staple of human sustenance ("lechem levav enosh yis'ad"; "bread that sustains man's life" – Tehillim 104:15).  The five grains thus hold more weight than do other foods.  Quite possibly, then, Chazal instituted a special berakha, borei minei mezonot, over grain products to reflect their unique quality.  And so the Chakhamim, who argue with Rabbi Yochanan Ben Nuri with respect to rice, maintain that rice lacks the singular importance of grain products since they cannot be used to produce bread.  If so, then both halakhot presented by Rav and Shemuel would naturally stem from this basic principle.  Firstly, rice earns no special berakha even when eaten straight.  Secondly, rice, unlike the five species, does not constitute the ikar (primary component) when it comprises the minority or secondary ingredient in a mixture; the berakha over the mixture would thus be determined based on the primary ingredient, and not based on the rice.


            Alternatively, one might suggest that the recitation of borei minei mezonot over grain products in a mixture does not stem from the unique importance of grain products.  After all, this phrase – "borei minei mezonot" (literally, "who creates types of foods") – does not refer to a specific species, as do borei peri ha-etz and borei peri ha-adama.  The berakha of mezonot was instituted over a certain category of food – foods that can be defined as "mezonot" (nourishing foods).  Therefore, if grains comprise an important ingredient within a food item, then even if they constitute the minority ingredient, the food item may be classified under the category of mezonot.  And once it is determined that only the five species of grain qualify as ingredients that render the entire mixture a mezonot food, then it follows that only these species require the berakha of mezonot when they are eaten independently.  Had rice and millet been considered mezonot when they are eaten independently, then they should warrant mezonot even as a minority ingredient within a mixture.


            [Indeed, some poskim rule that be-di'avad, one fulfills his berakha obligation through the berakha of mezonot over all foods, with the exception of water and salt.  This position is based on the Gemara's comments earlier in this perek (35b): "Does the Mishna not state, 'One who takes a vow [forbidding himself from deriving benefit] from mazon may eat water and salt'?  And we inferred that only water and salt are not considered mazon, implying that everything else is considered mazon!"  Indeed, the Bei'ur Halakha (167, s.v. be-makom) comments, "The Eliya Rabba writes in the name of the Derisha, in siman 168, that the berakha of borei minei mezonot is a generic berakha like she-ha-kol, and one fulfills his obligation [with this berakha] with regard to everything, for anything provides nourishment (with the exception of water and salt).  The Chayei Adam writes this, as well, in kelal 58; see Nishmat Adam."  Clearly, then, the berakha of borei minei mezonot was established not specifically over grains, but rather over the broader category of mezonot.


            Rashi, in defining the term pat ha-ba'a be-kisnin (41b), writes:


"They would bring with them bread that was mixed with spices… Since they would put many spices, nuts and almonds in it, and a small amount of it [the grain] is eaten, they did not require a berakha me'ein shalosh, as it resembles bread of rice and millet, regarding which it is stated in our chapter (37b) that before [eating, one recites] borei minei mezonot, and after [eating, one recites] nothing (a reference to "borei nefashot")."


Rashi asserts that when the five grains comprise the minority ingredient within a mixture, the berakha recited after eating the mixture is borei nefashot.  According to this perspective, we must conclude that Rav and Shemuel speak only of berakha rishona – the berakha recited before eating.  Tosefot, however, argue with Rashi, and write, "This is not correct.  Firstly, for it is stated earlier that anything that contains one of the five species requires a berakha me'ein shalosh [as opposed to borei nefashot]."  It stands to reason that Rashi and Tosefot disagree with regard to the fundamental concept underlying Rav and Shemuel's halakha.  According to Tosefot, Rav and Shemuel require the recitation of borei minei mezonot because of the unique importance of grains, which prevent their negation in a mixture, even when they comprise the minority.  Hence, just as they require borei minei mezonot before they are eaten, they warrant a berakha mei'ein shalosh afterward, as well.  (This would perhaps apply only if the mixture contains grain of a proportion of ke-zayit bi-khdei akhilat peras.)  According to Rashi, by contrast, the presence of grain in a mixture transforms the entire mixture into a mezonot-type food, and it thus becomes equivalent to rice, over which one recites mezonot before eating and borei nefashot afterward.]


            Thus, the position of the Geonim seems readily understandable, and the question now becomes why all the Rishonim rejected it.  It would seem that in their view, the conditions required to mandate the special berakha of mezonot are different than those that warrant a berakha over grains even within a mixture.  Grains feature two special properties.  First, as mentioned, they are of special significance in that they are used to prepare bread.  But in addition, grains are of high nutritional value.  A mixture containing grains as a minority ingredient lacks the nutritional value of grain foods themselves.  Nevertheless, given the importance of grains as the basis of bread, they cannot be deemed the less important ingredient.  This status of importance, however, is not what prompted Chazal to institute the special berakha of mezonot.  This berakha was instituted for any food with the nutritional value of foods made from grain.  In a similar vein, the Penei Yehoshua writes:


"It would seem that this is because we find this berakha of borei minei mezonot [required] for one of two reasons – either because it provides substantial nourishment, or because of its importance, in that all the five species are included under wheat and barley, as it says in Pesachim [35a], and for this reason they established a separate berakha even when they are not [made into] bread, as seen from that which Rav and Shemuel said in the first passage, that over anything that is among the five species of grain one recites borei minei mezonot, even within a mixture – and certainly a tiny amount does not provide nourishment.  This emerges explicitly from the Gemara's formulation, that even if the honey constitutes the primary ingredient, one nevertheless recites borei minei mezonot, based on that which Rav and Shemuel said… Necessarily, the reason is because it does not depend on nourishment, but rather depends on the importance of the five species themselves with respect to [the halakhot of] chala, matza and birkat ha-mazon."


It turns out, then, that regarding mixtures, only the five species are deemed significant and thus cannot be negated by the majority component, for only they can be made into bread.  But with regard to the berakha of mezonot itself, even rice and millet are included, given their nutritional value, despite their exclusion from the categories of wheat and barley.


     The Rambam, however, distinguished between rice and millet:


"Rice that one cooked or made into bread – beforehand one recites borei minei mezonot, and afterward borei nefashot, provided that it was not mixed with anything else, but was rather only rice.  Bread made from millet and bread made from other types of legumes – beforehand one recites the berakha of she-ha-kol, and afterward, borei nefashot rabot." (Hilkhot Berakhot 3:10)


The Rif rules this way, as well.  While it is true that the berayta cited to refute the ruling of Rav and Shemuel deals only with rice, the distinction nevertheless demands an explanation.  Why would we differentiate between rice and millet?  If Chazal established the berakha of mezonot only for the principal grains from which bread can be produced, then both rice and millet should be excluded.  And if the berakha pertains to all foods with high nutritional value, then millet should warrant this berakha, as well.  Talmidei Rabbenu Yona indeed raise this question against the Rif's position.  They add that the Gemara itself appears to include rice and millet together in the same category.  Initially, the Gemara challenged Rav and Shemuel's position from a berayta equating rice and millet with "ma'aseh kedeira," which, as the Gemara demonstrates from a different berayta, requires the berakha of mezonot before eating, and al ha-michya afterward.  Clearly, the Gemara seeks to disprove Rav and Shemuel's position based on the halakha concerning both rice and millet.  And although the Gemara indeed dismisses this attempted refutation, its response is somewhat far-fetched:


"It is like ma'aseh kedeira, but not like ma'aseh kedeira.  It is like ma'aseh kedeira, in that one recites a berakha over it both before and after, but it is not like ma'aseh kedeira in that over a ma'aseh kedeira, one recites beforehand borei minei mezonot, and afterward, berakha achat me'ein shalosh, whereas here, beforehand one recites over it she-ha-kol nihya bi-dvaro, and afterward, borei nefashot rabot ve-chesronan… "


It stands to reason that once the Gemara conclusively refutes Rav and Shemuel's halakha with regard to rice, it recoils from its forced reading of this berayta, such that mezonot is recited over millet, as well.  Clearly, then, the straightforward reading of the Gemara suggests that one recites mezonot over both rice and millet.  Why, then, did the Rif and Rambam distinguish between them?


            We might explain this position based on the Rambam's comments in Hilkhot Chametz U-matza (6:5): "One who makes dough from wheat and rice – if it has the taste of grain, one fulfills his obligation [of matza] with it."  The Ra'avad objects: "It seems to me that this is only if there is enough grain that one will eat a ke-zayit [of grain] within the time [required to consume] a peras."  From the Rambam, however, it appears that one fulfills his obligation of matza even if the dough contains grain in a lower proportion than ke-zayit bi-khdei akhilat peras.  Similarly, the Rambam writes regarding the obligation of chala (Hilkhot Bikkurim 6:11), "One who mixes wheat flour with rice meal and makes dough with them – if it has the taste of grain, it is obligated in chala; otherwise, it is exempt.  Even if yeast from wheat was placed in rice dough – if it has the taste of grain, it is obligated in chala; otherwise, it is exempt."  (See Ra'avad.)  The Ra'avad's objection appears very compelling.  After all, we do not accept the view of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Nuri, who considers rice a type of grain, and clearly one cannot fulfill the obligation of matza with matza produced from rice.  How, then, can rice combine with flour to fulfill the minimum requirement of a ke-zayit?  Evidently, the Rambam felt that the Chakhamim, who dispute Rabbi Yochanan Ben Nuri's view, do not dismiss his position entirely.  In their view, although rice cannot become bread independently, when it is combined with dough made from wheat, the rice joins the wheat in becoming matza.


            In light of this, we might say that according to the Rambam, Rav and Shemuel's two halakhot, that grains require the berakha of mezonot, and that they retain this berakha even in a mixture, both stem from the unique importance of grains, as we suggested to explain the view of the Geonim.  In the Rambam's view, however, rice, too, has this status of importance, given its potential to join with wheat to become bread.  If so, then it perhaps warrants the berakha of mezonot required over any food endowed with grains' unique stature of importance – which includes rice.  But rice enjoys this status not as an independent species of grain, but strictly because of its ability to combine with wheat to produce bread.  Therefore, only when eating rice alone does one recite the berakha of mezonot, since it can combine with wheat.  When, however, rice is mixed with different ingredients, it can no longer become bread, and it therefore loses its stature as a potential integrator with grain.  In such a case, therefore, Rav and Shemuel's halakha would not apply, and one would not recite mezonot.


            All this applies only to rice.  Just as Rabbi Yochanan Ben Nuri affords grain status only to rice, and not millet, so do the Chakhamim apply their concept, of grain status by virtue of the potential of combining with wheat, to only rice.  Naturally, then, one who eats rice alone recites borei minei mezonot, because it has the power of becoming bread by combining with wheat.  Millet, however, does not have grain status at all, and it has no potential of becoming bread.  Understandably, then, the Rif and Rambam distinguished between rice and millet, even according to the Gemara's conclusion.



Sources and questions for the next shiur:

The Berakha Over Raw Wheat




1)   37a – "Amar marha-koses et ha-orez… ve-lo kelum" (37b); 44a – "akhal anavimve-al ha-michya"; Tosefot, 37a – s.v. natan.

2)   Yerushalmi, 6:1 – "Rabbi Yirmiya ba'ei ha-dein de-akhal solet… min yomoi."

3)   Tosefot s.v. ha-koses; Rosh, 9; Ra'avan, 190 – "al peirot ha-aretz… ve-al ha-kalkala."

4)   Tosefot, Pesachim 101b – s.v. ela.

5)   Shulchan Arukh, O.C. 208:9.




1)   Delineate the various views as to which berakha one recites when eating raw wheat.

2)   See the debate among the Tana'im recorded on 44a.  What generates the obligation of birkat ha-mazon according to each view?

3)   According to the Chakhamim, what generates the obligation of berakha achat me'ein shalosh ("al ha-michya…")?

4)   Explains the views of those who maintain that eating raw wheat does not require the recitation of a berakha achat me'ein shalosh.