Shiur #16: Betzi'at Ha-Pat (1)

  • Rav David Brofsky





Shiur #16: Betzi’at Ha-Pat (1)


Rav David Brofsky



The recitation of the blessing over bread is known as “betzi’at ha-pat.” This week, we will discuss the manner in which one should recite the blessing of ha-motzi over bread.


Whole or Broken Loaf


            The Talmud (Berakhot 39b) relates a debate regarding whether one should recite the blessing of ha-motzi over a whole loaf of bread:


It has been stated: If pieces and whole loaves are set before him, R. Huna says that the benediction can be said over the pieces (petitin), and this serves also for the whole loaves (sheleimin), whereas R. Yochanan says that the mitzva is better performed if the blessing is said over the whole one (sheleima mitzva min ha-muvchar).


R. Yochanan’s position is consistent with the view of the Tosefta (Berakhot 4:15). Apparently, since the “shalem” is considered to be more “chashuv” (important), it is appropriate to recite the blessing over the whole loaf.


            How are we to understand the position of R. Huna, who maintains that one may recite the blessing over petitin?


Some Rishonim explain that although all agree that generally a whole loaf (shalem) is preferred, other factors may prevail. For example, the Ramban (Berakhot 39b) cites the Geonim, who explain that R. Yochanan and R. Huna disagree as to whether the quality of the flour should also play a role. They explain that the petitin are made from refined flour (pat nekiya) and the whole loaf is made from unrefined flour. R. Yochanan still prefers reciting the blessing over the whole loaf, while R. Huna believes that one should recite the blessing over the superior flour, the pat nekiya. If, however, both breads are made from the same flour, one should certainly recite the blessing over the whole loaf.


Rashi (Berakhot 39b) offers a different explanation. He explains that according to R. Huna, “If one wishes, he may recite the blessing over the petitin, and if the petitin are larger than the whole loaf, then one should say the blessing over them.” In other words, while R. Yochanan believes that the wholeness of the bread determines if it is preferred, R.Huna maintains that the size determines. Interestingly, Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot 39b) insists that if both are the same size, even R. Huna would agree that one should recite the blessing over the whole loaf. They only disagree in a case in which the petitin are larger than the whole loaf.


The Ra’avad (see Katuv Sham, Berakhot 28a; see also Ra’ah, Berakhot 39b), however, explains the gemara in a completely different manner. He insists that R. Huna believes that the petitin may be preferred not because they are made from superior flour or because they are large, but precisely because they are petitin: “R. Huna refers specifically to petitin, as one enjoys them sooner (mekarva hana’ataihu).” They are easier to eat and do not need to be sliced first, and are therefore preferred.


The Talmud (Berakhot 39a), in the previous section, cites another view which may be relevant to our discussion:


R. Chiyya bar Ashi said: Over pat tzenuma be-ka’ara (a dry crust which has been put in a pot [to soak]), the blessing is ha-motzi.


As we shall see in a future shiur, some Rishonim maintain that this gemara teaches that the blessing of ha-motzi, as opposed to the blessing of mezonot, is recited over these pieces of bread placed in a pot to soak. Other Rishonim, however, as we shall see shortly, insist that while all agree that one should recite ha-motzi on this dish, R. Chiyya bar Ashi maintains that when given a choice between a whole loaf and these pieces, one may recite the blessing over these pieces. Some Rishonim suggest that R. Chiyya bar Ashi rejects the preference for a whole loaf altogether (see Rashba, s.v. amar); others explain that R. Chiyya bar Ashi refers to a case in which the pieces are “chaviv,” preferred (Tosafot, s.v. pat).


Betzi’at Ha-Pat


            The Talmud implies that the halakha is in accordance with those who rule that blessing should be recited over a whole loaf. However, the gemara brings two views as to when the blessing should be recited:


R. Chiyya said: The bread should be broken with the conclusion of the blessing. Rava demurred to this. [He said:] What is the reason [that ha-motzi should not be said] in the case of dry crust? Because, you say, when the blessing is concluded, it is concluded over a broken piece. But when it is said over a loaf, it finishes over a broken piece! The fact is, said Rava, that the benediction is said first and then the loaf is broken. The Nehardeans acted as prescribed by R. Chiyya, while the Rabbis acted as prescribed by Rava… The law is as laid down by Rava that one says the blessing first and afterwards breaks the loaf.


The gemara concludes, in accordance with Rava, that the blessing should be said first “and afterwards he breaks the loaf.” The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 7:2) cites this passage, and rules that one should “conclude the blessing and then break the bread.” Tosafot (Berakhot 39b, s.v. ve-hilkhata) explains that although Rava disagrees with R. Chiyya, who says that one should finish the blessing as one is breaking piece from the loaf, Rava insists that one may only completely break the piece from the loaf after the berakha is finished. However, Tosafot adds, it is customary to begin breaking the bread before the blessing, as we are concerned that it may take too long after the blessing, and this will be a distraction (hesach ha-da’at).


            It is interesting to note that although some Rishonim understand the debate between R. Chiyya and Rava as relating to the concern of a hefsek, an interruption, between the blessing and the breaking of the bread, some Rishonim (see Ra’avya, Hilkhot Lulav 691, for example) understand a parallel passage in the Yerushalmi (Berakhot 6:1) as suggesting that the blessing should be said as the breaking is performed, as in general, birkot ha-mitzva should be recited as the mitzva is being performed. This is seemingly in contrast to the Talmudic dictum (Pesachim 7b) that the birkat ha-mitzva should be said “oveir le-asiyatan” (before its performance). This topic of “oveir le-asiyatan” is beyond the scope of this shiur.


The Shulchan Arukh (167:1) rules that one should “cut a bit, so that if he holds the piece the entire loaf will remain attached… and then begin to recite the blessing, and after he finishes the blessing, he should separate them, so that the blessing is completed while the loaf is still whole.” Some Acharonim (see Arukh Ha-Shulchan 167:5) add that one does not need begin slicing a very soft or thin loaf, which cuts very quickly, before the blessing.


Interestingly, most Rishonim relate to this question as a “halakhic” preference. The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 7:1-2), however, writes:


The Sages of Israel were wont to follow many customs at meals. All these are included in the realm of mannered behavior (ve-khulan derekh eretz). Among them: When entering for a meal, the man of greatest stature should wash his hands first. Afterwards, all should enter and sit down, reclining on couches… The host should recite the blessing ha-motzi. When he completes the blessing, he should break bread.


The Rambam implies that these practices, including breaking the bread after reciting ha-motzi, are customary, forms of proper behavior.


Interrupting Between the Blessing and Eating


            As we saw above, the Shulchan Arukh rules, in accordance with the view of Tosafot, that one should be so careful not to delay between the blessing and the eating; he should beginning breaking the bread before the blessing.


The Shulchan Arukh (167:6) rules that one should eat immediately after reciting the blessing. If one speaks, one must repeat the blessing, unless his speaking relates to the food. Furthermore, one should not delay eating longer than it takes to say “shalom alekha rabbi.” However, if one did delay, he need not recite the blessing again.


When the ba’al ha-bayit recites the blessing of ha-motzi for others, those listening should not eat before the ba’al ha-bayit. The Rema (167:15) rules that the ba’al ha-bayit may give out pieces of bread before he himself eats, as this is considered part of the meal. The Mishna Berura (79) cites the Taz and other Acharonim, who advise the ba’al ha-bayit to first taste the bread and then distribute to the guests.


The Rishonim disagree regarding whether one who speaks after the ba’al ha-bayit has eaten, but before eating himself, must repeat the blessing. Most Rishonim, including Tosafot (Pesachim 101a, s.v. ve-Rabbi Yochanan) and the Rosh (Pesachim 10:5), maintain that if he interrupts between answering amen and eating, he must repeat the blessing. Others, including the Rema (167:6), rule that once the ba’al ha-bayit has eaten, the berakha takes effect; even if one interrupts, it is not necessary to repeat the blessing. Although the Mishna Berura (167:43; see Shemirat Shabat Ke-Hilkhata 48:6) insists that almost all of the Acharonim rule that one must repeat the blessing, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (167:16) rules that the blessing is valid. The Acharonim disagree regarding whether in the opposite scenario, in which the ba’al ha-bayit spoke before eating, the others must also repeat the blessing.


Next week we will finish our study of betzi’at ha-pat.