Shiur #17: Betzi'at Ha-Pat (2)

  • Rav David Brofsky




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Shiur #17: Betzi’at Ha-Pat (2)


Eating Bread with Salt[1]


Rav David Brofsky



Last week, we discussed the laws of betzi’at ha-pat, including the type of bread upon which one should preferably recite the blessing of ha-motzi, the manner in which the blessing should be recited, and how the distribution of the bread, should be performed. We also noted that while most Rishonim appear to view these as halakhic preferences, the Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 7:1-2) describes these instructions as “mannered behavior” (ve-khulan derekh eretz), and his definition may impact upon the stringency and flexibility of these practices.


This week, we will conclude our discussion by examining a practice that is often closely identified with betzi’at ha-pat, especially on Shabbat – eating the bread with salt. What is the source of this custom?


The Talmud (Berakhot 40a) relates:


Rabba b. Shmuel said in the name of R. Chiyya: The one who is about to break the bread is not permitted to do so before salt or relish is placed before each one at table. Rabba b. Shmuel was once at the house of the Exilarch, and they brought him bread and he broke it at once. They said to him: Has the Master retraced his own teaching? He replied: This requires no condiment.


This passage raises a number of questions. Why does R, Chiyya rule that one should not perform betzi’at ha-pat until salt is “placed before each one at the table”? Second, why was there no need for salt in the Exilarch’s house?


            Rashi (Berakhot 40a, s.v. boshesh) explains that the bread served in the house of the Exilarch was made of a higher quality flour, “pat nikiya hi zu ve-ein tzerikha liftan,” and therefore may be eaten without salt or a condiment. Tosafot (Berakhot 40, s.v. havei) apparently agree:


And we are not accustomed to bring salt or other condiments to the table, as our bread is important [chashuv], and it is similar to the case described further on [in which the Talmud concludes] “this requires no condiment (boshesh).”


Tosafot justifies the widespread custom of not bringing salt or condiments to the table when reciting the blessing. According to Rashi and Tosafot, it seems that the Talmud insisted that one “break bread” when there is salt or relish on the table so that one’s blessing will be recited over edible, if not tasty bread. Seemingly, this is meant to honor the blessing. Apparently, by the Middle Ages, bread was already prepared in a manner that did not require that it be eaten with salt or other condiments, and therefore one could recite the blessing over the bread alone. Alternatively, the Gr”a (Bi’ur Ha-Gra 167:5) explains that one should not recite the blessing before salt is present lest he will have to wait in until the condiments are brought, causing an interruption between the blessing and the eating.


            The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 7:3) offers a slightly different understanding. He writes:


The person breaking bread is not permitted to do so until salt or relishes have been brought before each individual, unless their intention was to eat bread by itself (pat chareiva).


The Acharonim present different explanations as to why one who intends to eat the bread alone may recite the blessing without salt or condiments. The Kesef Mishnah, for example, simply explains:


Our teacher understood the passage as the Arukh explains. “Boshesh” is a type of condiment, and therefore [Rabba b. Shmuel] said that the bread didn’t need this condiment, and since he has no intention of eating with this condiment, he does not have to wait [for the blessing] until the condiment is brought.


According to the Kesef Mishnah, the Rambam maintains that if one intends to eat the bread with a condiment, then the bread eaten after reciting the blessing should be eaten as such. If, however, one does not plan on eating his bread with condiments, there is no reason that the blessing must be recited with condiments. This interpretation may also relate to the honor of the blessing.


The Arukh Ha-shulchan (167:11), however, offers a completely different explanation of this Rambam. He explains:


The Rambam did not mention that one should dip his piece of bread in a condiment, but rather that he [not recite the blessing until he] brings the salt or condiment to the table. In other words, that which he intends to eat during the meal should be brought to the table … Since the blessing of ha-motzi exempts also the condiments served during the meal, they should be in from of him during the [blessing of] ha-motzi – not because he needs to dip his bread into them.


According the Arukh Ha-shulchan, the Talmud is concerned not with the honor of the blessing, but rather with whether the blessing of ha-motzi will cover all items eaten during the meal.


            According to the explanations given above, there seems to be no reason to recite ha-motzi and eat the bread with salt. Indeed, the Shulchan Arukh (167:5) rules in accordance with Rashi and the Rambam:


One should not break bread until salt or condiments are brought before him in order to eat with the bread. If the bread was clean [i.e. made from higher quality flour] or [the bread is] seasoned with spices or salt, like our bread, or he intends on eating the bread without condiments, he does not need to wait.


He rules that neither Rashi nor the Rambam would require one to dip the bread in salt if the bread is already seasoned and will be eaten without condiments.


However, there is an ancient custom, adhered to until today, to dip one’s bread in salt after reciting the blessing. What is the source of this custom?


Tosafot, cited above, cites another view:


However R. Menachem would be careful to bring salt to the table, as the Midrash says: When the Jewish people are sitting at their table and waiting for one another to wash their hands and they are without mitzvot, the Satan attempts to prosecute them, and the “covenant of salt” (berit melach) protects them.


R. Menachem believes that one should eat bread with salt after reciting the blessing of ha-motzi due to the “berit melach”. (Regarding this “berit melach,” see Bamidbar 18:19, Vayikra 2:13 and Rashi, Rashbam, and Ramban there, as well as the Malbim, Ha-Emek Davar, and Divrei Ha-Yamim II 13:5.) Interestingly, R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (Vayikra 2:13) explains that just as salt represents an unchanging experience, so to the covenant between God and the Jewish people is eternally unchanging.


            The Shibolei Ha-Leket (141) offers a slightly different explanation for the custom to eat salt with bread:


The Geonim explain that it is customary to break one’s bread with salt, as we see that the table is called a mizbe’ach (alter) … and it says regarding the mizbe’ach, “and with all your sacrifices you should offer salt“ (Vayikra 2:13).


He explains that just as the table is compared to the mizbe’ach (alter) and the sacrifices are always offered with salt, so too we should always break our bread with salt.


The Rema cites these to views in his comments to the Shulchan Arukh:


However, it is a mitzva to bring salt to every table before breaking the bread because the table is compared to the altar and eating is comparing to offering a sacrifice, and it says “and with all your sacrifices you should offer salt“ (Vayikra 2:13), and this protects us from tragedies.


Furthermore, the Magen Avraham (167:15) cites the “mekubalim” (mystics), who insist that although we are not accustomed to eat our bread with salt, one should still dip the bread eaten after the blessing in salt. The Mishna Berura (33) adds that according to the mystical tradition, one should dip the bread in salt three times, due to mystical considerations. Interestingly, the custom of R. Moshe Sofer (the Chatam Sofer), and his students was not to dip the bread in salt on Friday night, possibly because on Friday night the fats were not burned on the alt\ar (see Piskei Teshuvot 167:5). The Kaf Ha-Chayyim (180:3) writes that one should leave the salt on the table until after birkat ha-mazon.


            We noted last week, that even after one has washed his hands (netilat yadayim), he may ask for salt, as salt is considered to be part of the meal.


Next week, we will discuss betzi’at ha-pat on Shabbat and Yom Tov and the requirement of lechem mishneh.



[1] Much of this shiur is based upon R. Shmuel David’s “Teshuvot Merosh Tzurim” 20. R. David notes that he observed that our teacher, R. Aharon Lichtenstein, would ensure that he had salt available before reciting the blessing of ha-motzi.