THIS SITE IS NO LONGER SUPPORTED            בית מדרש הוירטואלי עבר דירה
PLEASE FIND US AT OUR NEW TORAT HAR ETZION WEBSITE                                  
     English shiurim @          לשיעורים בעברית @

Shiur #07: The Halakhic Definition of "Bread"

  • Rav Yair Kahn

Translated by David Silverberg


     We will devote this shiur to the issue of the precise halakhic definition of lechem – bread – for purposes of the berakha of ha-motzi.  This issue arises in several other contexts, as well.  In presenting the mitzva of chala (separating some dough and giving it to a kohen), for example, the Torah says, "It shall be, when you partake of the BREAD of the earth" ("mi-lechem ha-aretz"– Bamidbar 15:19), seemingly indicating that this obligation hinges on the formal status of "bread."  Likewise, regarding the mitzva of matza, the Torah writes, "for seven days you shall eat matzot, BREAD of affliction" (Devarim 16:3).


1.   Rabbenu Tam


The Gemara in Masekhet Pesachim (37a) cites a dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish as to whether bread produced through frying, rather than baking, falls under the obligation of chala.  According to Reish Lakish, only bread made through baking is obligated in chala, whereas Rabbi Yochanan extends the chala obligation to include even ma'aseh ilfas – products made in a pan.  Tosefot (Pesachim 37b, s.v. de-khulei alma) cite the following remark of Rabbenu Tam:


"Only when the batter is liquid do they argue; Rabbi Yochanan holds that its 'baking' in a pan makes it into bread, and it is therefore obligated in chala, and Reish Lakish holds that it does not make it into bread, and it is exempt.  But when the batter is thick, all views agree that it is obligated in chala, even [if it is cooked] with a liquid, for the chala obligation takes effect at the time of kneading, as can be demonstrated from numerous sources."


According to Rabbenu Tam, the need for baking as a prerequisite for the chala obligation applies only when one does not knead the dough, but rather adds large quantities of water to the flour such that it can be mixed through simple stirring, without kneading.  This mixture, which is far more liquid than dough, is called belila raka – a "loose batter" – as opposed to belila ava – a "thick batter," which results from kneading.


     Evidence for Rabbenu Tam's view may be drawn from a Mishna in Masekhet Chala (1:5): "Dough which began as "sufganin" and ended as "sufganin" is exempt from chala; if it began as dough and ended as "sufganin," or if it began as "sufganin" and ended as dough, it is obligated in chala."  According to Rabbenu Tam, the "beginning" stage of which the Mishna speaks refers to the mixture of flour and water, while the "end" refers to how this mixture is made into food.  Dough which "ends as sufganin" means that the dough was fried or cooked, rather than baked, and "beginning as sufganin" means that rather than kneading the dough into a thick paste, it was made into a liquid, loose batter.  According to this reading of the Mishna, the chala obligation takes effect in two circumstances: when the dough is kneaded into a thick batter, or if it is baked.  Dough is exempt from chala only when both conditions fail to be met, when it "begins as sufganin and ends at sufganin" – meaning, it is initially made into a loose batter, and it is fried or cooked, rather than baked.


2.   The Ramban


The Ramban, towards the beginning of his Hilkhot Chala, cites and dismisses Rabbenu Tam's view.  He argues that the Mishna in Chala deals entirely with a thick batter, as evidenced by the use of the term isa – which means dough produced from kneading – with regard to all the cases it addresses.  According to the Ramban, "began as sufganin" means that the dough was kneaded with the intention of cooking or frying the dough afterward, while "ended as sufganin" means that the dough was indeed cooked or fried.  Thus, a batter is exempt from chala only when the individual intended during the kneading stage to fry or cook the dough, and this is what he ultimately does.  But if he kneaded the dough with the intent of baking it, then the chala obligation takes effect at that point and remains even if he ultimately cooked it.  Conversely, if the individual initially, at the time of kneading, planned on cooking the dough, but then changed his mind and baked it, he must separate chala.  The Ramban writes:


"If at the beginning and end he intended for sufganin, it is exempt; if he began kneading with the intent of a regular batter and then decided to [make] sufganin, it is obligated, for it already become obligated at the time of kneading; if he kneaded intending for sufganin and decided not to make it into sufganin, but rather as a regular batter for some other purpose, it is obligated."


According to the Ramban, then, even a dough becomes obligated in chala only if it is actually baked.  He would thus apply the dispute between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, as to whether producing bread in a pan amounts to baking, even in situations of a belila ava.  According to Rabbenu Tam, by contrast, baking is required to yield a chala obligation only in situations of belila raka; a dough, however, is obligated in chala even if it is not baked.  Rabbenu Tam was therefore compelled to restrict the debate between Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish to cases of belila raka.


     It stands to reason that Rabbenu Tam and the Ramban argue in identifying the mechayev (factor that generates the obligation) of chala.  According to the Ramban, there is but one mechayev of chala – the act of kneading.  This is indeed the implication of the Mishnayot in Masekhet Chala (chapter 3):


"One may eat incidentally from the dough until it is rolled with wheat or pasted together with barley.  Once it is rolled with wheat or pasted together with barley, one who partakes of it [before chala is separated] is liable to death… If the dough became mixed with teruma before it was rolled, it is exempt, for dough mixed with teruma is exempt.  But [if it became mixed with teruma] only after it was rolled, it is obligated.  If a question concerning tum'a arose before it was rolled, it may be handled with tum'a [meaning, since the chala may not be eaten in any event, one need not protect it from further exposure to tum'a].  [If the questionable tum'a status came into being] after it was rolled, it must be handled with tahara [meaning, it may not be exposed to tum'a].  If one consecrated the dough before he rolled it, and then he redeemed it, it is obligated.  [If he consecrated it] after he rolled it, and then he redeemed it, it is obligated.  If he consecrated it before he rolled it, and the treasurer [assigned over the Temple treasury] rolled it, and then he redeemed it, it is exempt, for at the time of its obligation it was exempt… If a gentile gave a Jew [flour] to make him dough, it is exempt from chala.  If he gave it to him as a gift, then [if he gave it] before he rolled it, it is obligated; after he rolled it – it is exempt… A convert who converted and he had dough – if it was made [i.e. rolled] before he converted, it is exempt; after he converted – it is obligated… Rabbi Akiva says: It is all determined based on when it forms a crust in the oven.


According to the majority position, rolling the dough (i.e. kneading) constitutes the act that generates the obligation to separate chala.  Rabbenu Tam, however, maintains that there are two mechayevim that generate the obligation of chala: kneading, and baking.  Each of these independently can give rise to the obligation.  Rabbenu Tam would have to concede that baking cannot generate a chala obligation if at the time of kneading there existed a factor exempting dough from the obligation, as clearly demonstrated by the aforementioned Mishnayot.  However, if no kneading took place at all, baking can independently generate the obligation to separate chala.


3.   The Relationship Between Chala and Ha-motzi


Until now we have dealt exclusively with the obligation of chala.  With regard to the berakha of ha-motzi, Tosefot (37b s.v. lechem) write:


"Rabbenu Tam initially figured that they are obligated only in chala, because the obligation of chala applies when it is still dough, as it is written [in the context of the Torah's discussion of this mitzva], 'your dough' [arisoteikhem], and so since they were originally dough, they are obligated in chala.   But regarding [the berakha of] ha-motzi – they are exempt, since now they are sufganin."


Meaning, a thick batter that one ultimately cooks is obligated in chala because the kneading generates the obligation, as indicated by the verse – "the first of your dough" ("reishit arisoteikhem").  The berakha of ha-motzi, by contrast, depends on the status of lechem, which requires baking.  Ultimately, however, Rabbenu Tam rescinded this line of reasoning, and equated the berakha of ha-motzi with the laws of chala, as explicitly recorded by Tosefot in Masekhet Pesachim (37b, s.v. de-khulei alma):


"It appears to Rabbenu Tam that one likewise recites ha-motzi over it.  He brought proof from Menachot (75b) and [the chapter of] Keitzad Mevarkhin (Berakhot 37b), which says, 'If one was standing and bringing a meal offering in Jerusalem, he recites she-hecheyanu.  When he takes it to eat it, he recites ha-motzi.'  And it speaks categorically of any meal offering, even the offerings made in a frying pan and deep pan, even though it is fried in oil [rather than baked]."


Thus, just as there are two ways for the chala obligation to take effect, so are there two manners in which bread is produced – through kneading (if the dough is then cooked or fried), and through baking (even in situations of belila raka).


     According to the Ramban, however, as we saw, the status of "bread" – at least for purposes of chala – requires both conditions, kneading and baking, and he therefore demands that the dough be kneaded with the intent of baking.  True, kneading with the intent of baking generates a chala obligation even if one then decides to cook the dough, but this is because the act of kneading for the purpose of baking bread generates an obligation, which cannot thereafter be revoked.  With regard to the berakha of ha-motzi, however, the product must actually be bread to warrant this berakha.  Thus, if we equate the definition of bread with respect to chala with its definition for purposes of ha-motzi, we would demand both kneading and baking.  (Rabbenu Yerucham indeed appears to follow this line of reasoning.  The Bach, however, in O.C. 168, claimed that according to the Ramban, if one kneaded dough with the intent of baking it and then decided to cook it, it nevertheless warrants the berakha of ha-motzi.  This position, however, seems very difficult to accept.)


     It turns out, then, that according to Rabbenu Tam, bread produced through cooking – assuming it has the appearance of bread, such as a bagel – requires the recitation of ha-motzi, whereas the Ramban would require reciting borei minei mezonot over such bread.  Rabbenu Tam would concede, however, that over products that do not feature the appearance of bread, such as noodles, one would recite borei minei mezonot.  Rabbenu Tam and the Ramban likewise argue with regard to a belila raka that one baked in an oven.  Whereas the Ramban would require reciting borei minei mezonot in such a case (as mentioned explicitly in Chidushei Rabbenu David and the Meiri to Pesachim), Rabbenu Tam would require ha-motzi, unless it does not have the appearance of bread.


     In our sugya, both the Ramban and Rabbenu Tam equate the laws of chala with those of berakhot.  According to Rabbenu Tam, the laws of chala establish that there exist two methods of producing halakhically-defined bread: through kneading, and baking.  In his view, each method independently suffices to create "bread."  According to the Ramban, we derive from the laws of chala that both acts together are required to create bread, and only dough that has been both kneaded and baked is included under this status.  Nevertheless, there indeed remains room to argue with this position and to distinguish between the obligation of chala and the status of "bread" for the purposes of berakhot.  Talmidei Rabbenu Yona write:


"Rabbi Yitzchak wrote that anything exempt from chala is exempt from ha-motzi and the three blessings [of birkat ha-mazon].  It appears to my mentor, the rabbi… that a distinction must be made in this regard.  For if the batter initially was thick, and then it was made loose by adding liquids, it is obligated in chala, for once the batter was thick, at that moment it became obligated in chala, since the chala obligation depends on kneading.  But one does not recite ha-motzi over it, because the berakha of ha-motzi depends on bread, and this [product], since it is excluded from the category of 'bread,' one recites over it neither ha-motzi nor the three blessings [of birkat ha-mazon]."


Since the Torah describes the chala obligation as "the first of your dough," one might argue that the obligation to separate chala at the time of kneading does not stem from the fact that kneading defines the product as bread.  Rather, the Torah requires separating chala from "dough," which means a kneaded batter.  This was very likely Rabbenu Tam's initial consideration, whereby he suggested that one recites mezonot over sufganin initially prepared as a thick batter, despite its being obligated in chala.


4.   The Halakhic Ruling


With regard to a thick batter that was not baked, the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 168:13)



"Even something whose mixture is thick – if it was cooked or fried, one does not recite over it ha-motzi, even if it has the appearance of bread, and even if it was obligated in chala, because the berakha of ha-motzi depends solely on the moment of baking.  Some disagree, and say that whenever the batter started out thick, even if was later made loose through water and it was made into sufganin, and cooked in water or fried in oil, one recites over it ha-motzi (Rama: the practice is to act leniently).  A God-fearing person should satisfy both views and eat it only by first reciting the berakha over other bread.  (Rama: This applies only if it has the appearance of bread after baking.)"


The Shulchan Arukh's presentation suggests that he considered the Ramban's view the more authoritative position, and he therefore cited Rabbenu Tam's view as "those who argue."  Nevertheless, he recommends that one endeavor to satisfy Rabbenu Tam's position, as well.


     Accordingly, we would assume that in the reverse situation, of a loose batter that was baked, Halakha should require reciting mezonot.  Yet, the Shulchan Arukh rules (168:8), "Those with a loose batter and that are very thin… one recites over them borei minei mezonot and a berakha achat me'ein shalosh [al ha-michya]."  The Magen Avraham inferred from this formulation that one recites mezonot only over an item that is very thin.  A baked food that it is not exceedingly thin requires ha-motzi even if it was made from a belila raka.  Indeed, the Rama explicitly writes, "Similarly, an item from a loose mixture that was baked in an oven without liquids has the status of bread, and one recites over it ha-motzi and the three berakhot [of birkat ha-mazon]" (168:14).


     We find a similar phenomenon in the Shulchan Arukh's rulings concerning chala:


"Dough of a thick mixture which one kneaded with the intention to cook it, fry it, make into sufganin, or let it dry in the sun, and he did so, is exempt [from chala].  If he kneaded it with the intention of making bread from it, but then decided to cook it, fry it, make it into sufganin, or let it dry in the sun, it is obligated, for it had already become obligated from the moment of kneading.  If one kneaded it with the intention of [making it into] sufganin and the like, and then he decided to make bread, it is obligated." (Shulchan Arukh, Y.D. 329:3)


The Shulchan Arukh codifies the Ramban's reading of the Mishna, and thus rules that if one kneaded the dough into a thick mixture with the intention of cooking it, the obligation of chala does not apply.  Yet, in the immediately preceding halakha, the Shulchan Arukh writes, "Dough of a loose mixture that was baked in an oven or frying pan… is obligated in chala."  Here he codifies the position of Rabbenu Tam.


     It would seem that the Shulchan Arukh decided upon the Ramban's position only with regard to a thick mixture that was cooked, which he does not consider bread and which he exempts from the obligation of chala.  Regarding the converse situation, however, of a loose mixture that was baked, the Shulchan Arukh follows Rabbenu Tam's view.  This is indeed the implication of the Gra's comments.


     According to the Shulchan Arukh, then, only baking defines a product as bread.  Regardless of whether the batter was thick or loose, if it is baked it requires the berakha of ha-motzi (provided that it has the appearance of bread), and if it is cooked it requires borei minei mezonot.  In his view, the significance of belila ava lies not in its defining the product as bread, but rather as generating an obligation to separate chala, as indicated by the verse, "reishit arisoteikhem."  If one kneaded a thick mixture with the intention of baking it, the chala obligation takes effect even if the individual then decides to cook it (in which case he recites mezonot, since it is not actually bread).  If, however, he mixed the flour into a loose batter, such that it never met the Torah's criterion of isa – a thick batter, it can nevertheless obtain a chala obligation if it is baked, as it will then earn the status of bread, which the Torah likewise obligates in chala ("mi-lechem ha-aretz").  Meaning, its status as bread generates an obligation to separate chala, even if there was never an act of kneading that generated the obligation.


Sources and questions for shiur #08: Tzurat Peri




1. 38a "hai duvsha … kidimei-ikara," Rashi s.v. trima.

2. 38b "ve-al hayirakot … bitumi ve-karti," Ritva s.v. tmarim, Trumat Hadeshen siman 29.

3. Rosh siman 15.

4. Rambam hilkhot berakhot ch. 8 halakhot 3-4.



1. What berakha should one make on applesauce? Does it make a difference if it is chunky or extra fine?

2. When is "shehakol" appropriate for cooked vegetables?

3. What is the reason that cooking causes these vegetables to forfeit the birkhat pri?

4. Regarding what does the Rambam distinguish between "peirot ha-adama" and "yirakot"? What is the difference between them?