Shiur #26: Summary of the Definition of Lechem and Practical Applications

  • Rav David Brofsky



This week, we will summarize the basic principles defining “lechem” that we have studied in great depth over the past few weeks. We will also attempt to apply these principles to different foods and determine whether their proper blessing is Ha-Motzi or Borei Minei Mezonot.


Both the blessing of Ha-Motzi and that of Borei Minei Mezonot are said before eating foods prepared from the five grains – wheat, barley, rye, spelt, or oats. When determining the proper blessing to recite over foods made from these grains, we must discuss the type of dough, the method in which it was prepared, the characteristics of the final product, and the manner in which is eaten.


The Difference Between Batter and Dough


Regarding the dough, we must distinguish between thick dough, which is generally used for making bread, known as an “issa avah," and thinner dough, or batter, known as an “issa rakka."


There are two types of “issa rakka” – a teroknin and a tarita. A teroknin refers to a loose dough or batter that is baked, upon which one says Borei Minei Mezonot unless one makes it the basis of a meal (Shulchan Arukh 168:15; see also Magen Avraham 168:40, who attributes this to the viscosity of the dough [belila raka]). As for a tarita, the Talmud (Berakhot 38a) offers three explanations, as explained by Rashi: a gvil meratach (very loose batter), nehama de-hindaka (dough coated with oil that is baked on a stake), and the bread used for kuttach, which is cooked in the sun. 


The Shulchan Arukh (168:15) codifies all of them, including the "gavil meratach," "which is [made when] one takes flour and water and mixes them and pours it onto a stove and it spreads out and is baked, which does not have torat lechem at all." One always recites Borei Minei Mezonot before eating a tarita, even if one makes it the basis of his meal.


Sweet cakes made from loose batter most likely fit into the category of teroknin, and the proper blessing before eating them is thus Borei Minei Mezonot unless they are eaten as the basis of a meal. However, blintzes, thin pancakes, and even wafers seem to fit into the category of tarita, and therefore before eating them, one always says Borei Minei Mezonot


Thick Dough Which is Not Baked


Bread is made from thick dough, “issa avah.” However, at times, the manner in which is it cooked, as well as the manner in which it is generally eaten, may affect the proper blessing reciting before eating.


For example, most Rishonim (Rif, Pesachim 11b; Rambam, Hilkhot Bikkurim 6:12; Rosh, Pesachim 2:15, et al.), aside from Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot, Pesachim 37b, s.v. de-khulei), rule that dough that is boiled or baked in the sun is exempt from the obligation of separating challa, and the proper blessing is Borei Minei Mezonot. Although the Shulchan Arukh (168:13) cites both opinions, concluding: “A God fearing [person] should only eat [dough that has been boiled] after first reciting the blessing [of Ha-Motzi] over bread," the Rema attests that “it is customary to be lenient” (nahagu le-hakel). While some Acharonim (Ginat Veradim, OC 1:24; Perach Shushan 1:4) maintain that one must say Ha-Motzi when eating boiled dough as the basis of one’s meal (kevi’ut se’uda), others (Magen Avraham 168:38; Mishna Berura 168:57) insist that one always says Borei Minei Mezonot over boiled or deep-fried dough. It is therefore customary to say Borei Minei Mezonot before eating boiled or deep-fried breads, such as doughnuts and sufganiot. The Rema also adds that all agree that one says the blessing of Borei Minei Mezonot before eating pasta, as it does not have “an appearance of bread” (to’ar lechem).


Regarding thick dough that is boiled and then baked, such as American bagels, the Shulchan Arukh (168:14) writes: “Dough that is boiled in water and afterwards baked in an oven is considered to be bread and one says upon [eating it] Ha-Motzi.” Accordingly, one should say Ha-Motzi before and Birkat Ha-Mazon after eating such bagels.


As mentioned above, dough that is dried out in the sun or coated with oil or eggs and roasted on a skewer is not considered to be bread, and one says Borei Minei Mezonot before eating (Shulchan Arukh 168:16). Interestingly, the Acharonim discuss when one says Ha-Motzi before eaten bread baked in a microwave oven.


Pat Ha-Ba’ah Ba-Kisanin Definition


Even when thick dough is baked normally, the Talmud (Berakhot 42a-b) teaches that one does not say Ha-Motzi before eating what is described as “pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin" unless it serves as the basis of a meal (kava se’udatei alayhu). Aside from Rashi (Berakhot 41b, s.v. pat), most Rishonim understand that one says Borei Minei Mezonot before eating pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin, followed by Al Ha-Michyah. The Poskim differ, however, as to the meaning of pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin as opposed to lechem, as well as regarding the definition of kava se’udatei alayhu.


Regarding the physical attributes of pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin, R. Yosef Karo, in his Beit Yosef (168) and in the Shulchan Arukh (168:7), cites three definitions of pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin suggested by the Rishonim. He rules in accordance with all three opinions.


1 - The Rambam (Hilkhot Berakhot 3:9) writes that “dough that was kneaded with honey, oil, or milk, or mixed together with different condiments and baked is referred to as pat haba'ah be-kisanin." The Beit Yosef explains that “if there is a mixture of fruit juices or condiments, since people are not accustomed to basing their meals upon it, the Rabbis did not mandate reciting Ha-Motzi and Birkat Ha-Mazon unless he ate the amount upon which one generally bases a meal.” While the Beit Yosef writes that the dough in no longer considered to be bread even if it is made from a mixture of water and fruit juice, the Rema writes in the Darkhei Moshe (168) that “it has not been removed from the category of bread if it was mixed with a small amount of condiments or juices, unless the majority of the dough was kneaded with these things.”


The Acharonim question whether the Beit Yosef and Rema differ regarding bread made with eggs, juice, or other condiments, such as raisin bread and sweet challa. Many Sephardim, based upon a literal understanding of the Beit Yosef, will not say Ha-Motzi before eating sweet challot. However, others maintain that the Beit Yosef and the Rema were merely describing breads that were generally eaten as snacks in their times; they were not offering precise legal definitions (see Am Mordekhai, Massekhet Berakhot 98, for example). Indeed, sweet challot are eaten like bread, and even the Beit Yosef should therefore agree that the proper blessing is Ha-Motzi


Seemingly, all agree that the Rambam would rule that the proper blessing for most cakes and cookies would be Borei Minei Mezonot. Bourekas may also fit into this category (as well as the next, as we shall see).


2- Rabbeinu Chananel (cited by Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, Berakhot 29a s.v. ve-ein; see also Rashba, Berakhot 41b, s.v. nimtza) explains that pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin refers to “pockets made from dough … and one puts nuts, honey and other sweet things into them.” Seemingly, Rabbeinu Chananel would maintain that one recites Borei Minei Mezonot before eating yeast dough cakes, such as babka and rugelach, as well as pies and pastries.


3- Finally, Rashi (Berakhot 41b, s.v. pat) cites R. Hai Gaon, who explains that pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin refers to “[breads]… which are made dry and one chews on them at a wedding… and it is customary to eat only a bit.” According to this view, bread that is dry and brittle – like hard pretzels, crackers, and even dry “breadsticks” – would be considered to be pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin, and the appropriate blessing would be Borei Minei Mezonot.


Contemporary Poskim debate the status of “Melba Toast." Some argue that since the bread was originally made with the intention of toasting it and making a thin, crispy toast, the proper blessing is Borei Minei Mezonot (see Ve-Zot Ha-Berakha, p. 21, who cites R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R. Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, and R. Mordechai Eliyahu to this effect).  Others insist that Melba Toast is simply another type of bread, and the proper blessing is therefore Ha-Motzi (see R. Forst’s The Laws of Brachos, p. 239; see also the view of R. Yisroel Belsky and the Star K).


The proper blessing on bagel chips most likely depends on how they were made. Bagel chips made from left over bagels are certainly considered to be bread, unless they are broken into pieces smaller than a kezayit and deep fried (as we will see below). However, commercial bagel chips are made from long loaves that are sliced, seasoned, and baked with the intention of making snack food, and should therefore be considered pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin. The same principle and distinction would apply to pita chips.


Sephardim (see Yechave Da’at 3:12) generally recite the blessing Borei Minei Mezonot before eating matzot, which are simply large crackers. On Pesach, however, even Sephardim say Ha-Motzi before eating matzot. The Acharonim discuss at length the custom of Ashkenazim to say Ha-Motzi before eating matzot throughout the year. Some suggest that matzot are not as thin as the crackers described by R. Hai Gaon, and they are eaten for a meal, and not merely for snacking (see Tzitz Eliezer 11:99).  


As mentioned above, R, Yosef Karo, both in his Beit Yosef and in the Shulchan Arukh (168:7), rules in accordance with all three opinions. In the Beit Yosef, he explains that since the question at hand is only mi-derabannan, we rule leniently and accept all three opinions; we recite Borei Minei Mezonot on all three types of bread. Some Acharonim (Ma’amar Mordekhai 168:14; Arukh Ha-Shulchan 168:23) disagree and explain that all three views are actually in agreement. These descriptions do not determine what is not considered to be bread, but rather reflect the types of foods that one generally eats as a meal and those which one eats as a snack. Accordingly, there may be foods that do not necessarily conform to one of these three descriptions but which are certainly eaten as a snack.


Pat Ha-Ba’ah Be-Kisanin – Kevi’at Se’uda


            As mentioned above, the Talmud (Berakhot 41b and 42a) rules that when pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin is eaten as the basis of a meal, one recites Ha-Motzi before and Birkat Ha-Mazon after eating. The Poskim disagree regarding the definition of “kevi’at se’uda." The Ra’avad (see Rosh, Berakhot 6:30) maintains that one’s personal, subjective intention determines whether or not he says Ha-Motzi before eating pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin. Most Rishonim disagree and claim that there must be an objective definition of kevi’at se’uda. Indeed, the Shulchan Arukh (168:6) rules that “if he eats an amount that others make the basis of their meal (she-acheirim regilim li-kvo’a alav), even though he is personally not satiated from it, he recites the blessings of Ha-Motzi and Birkat Ha-Mazon… And if he ate an amount that others do not eat as the basis of their meals, even if he makes it the basis of a meal, he recites only Borei Minei Mezonot… as his opinion is his practice in not considered in light of the practice of others.” What is this objective amount that constitutes a “se’uda”?


 We noted three approaches. On the one hand, the Machatzit Ha-Shekel (168:13) cites the Kapot Temarim, who defines kevi’at se’uda as the equivalent of between 3-4 eggs (derived from the definition of a “meal” in the context of the laws of eiruv chatzeirot and eiruv techumin). According to this view, one must wash and say Ha-Motzi before eating pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin equivalent to the volume of 3-4 eggs. Since a large egg is approximately 2 oz., this equals ¾ -1 cup. Alternatively, some Acharonim, including R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Seder Birkot Ha-Nehenin; see also Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav 168:9), suggest that kevi’at se’uda refers to the equivalent of 21.5 eggs (derived from the mann; see Shemot 16:6 and Eiruvin 82b). This is a particularly large amount – the equivalent volume of a bit more than five cups.


Although most Sephardic authorities follow the first view, many Acharonim reject both of these opinions. Some Acharonim (see, for example, Mishna Berura 168:24) warn that one should not eat more than the equivalent of 3-4 eggs of pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin in order not to enter a situation of halakhic doubt; it is indeed reported that some pious individuals did so. Most Acharonim, however, accept a different definition of “shiur she-acherim regilim li-kvo’a alav.”


Most Acharonim (see Gra, as cited by Nishmat Adam [Chayyei Adam 54:4]; Mishna Berura 168:24; and Iggerot Moshe, OC 3:32) rule in accordance with the Sefer Ha-Agur (217), who cites the Shibbolei Ha-Leket (159), who explains that “kava se’udato alayhu” (making it the basis of his meal) refers to the “se’udat shacharit ve-arvit ve-lo se’udat arai” (the morning and evening meals, and not a snack). These Acharonim only require washing when one eats a quantity of pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin equivalent to the bread eaten at a large meal. This large meal should be measured in relation to dinner in America, and possibly lunch in Israel, but not breakfast (see Hittorerut Teshuva 1:80).


In addition, the Magen Avraham (168:13) writes that “if he makes [pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin] the basis of his meal, even though he ate meat and others foods with it, and had he eaten [the pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin] alone he would not have been satiated from it, even so he says Ha-Motzi and Birkat Ha-Mazon afterwards.” Although some Acharonim reject this view, including the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (168:17) and many Sephardic Acharonim, the Mishna Berura (168:24) and Iggerot Moshe (OC 3:32) rule accordingly. According to this rational, it would seem that one who eats bourekas as the center of one’s meal, accompanied by other foods, such as a soup, salad, an egg, etc. may possibly be obligated to wash and say Ha-Motzi. In such a case, one should probably wash and say Ha-Motzi upon a piece of bread in order to remove himself from the situation of doubt.


There are indications that some take the manner in which the meal is eaten, and not just the quantity eaten, into consideration as well. For example, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (168:18), attempting to justify why people do not wash and say Ha-Motzi before eating at weddings, suggests that “from the language of the Rif… [it is implied] that it is not dependent upon the quantity of the kevi’at se’uda, but rather the manner in which it is eaten… as it is known that at a full meal, people take off their outer coats and sit around a table, but at these events, they grab food and eat without preparation and some eat while standing…” Similarly, R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (see Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata, ch. 54, ftnt. 65) describes eating at a kiddush as “arai” (temporary). R. Shimon Sofer (1850–1944), in his Hitorerut Ha-Teshuva (80), suggests that food which is never eaten as a meal, like cake, can never become the basis of one’s meal.


Foods That are Treated as Bread Because They are Eaten as a Meal – Pashtida


What about a type of pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin that most people treat like bread, making it the center of their meal? The Shulchan Arukh (168:17) rules that “[on a] pashtida, which is baked in an oven with meat, fish or cheese, one says Ha-Motzi and Birkat Ha-Mazon.” This ruling is first found in the Shiltei Gibborim (Berakhot 30a) and the Sefer Ha-Agur (216) in the name of R. Yishayahu Di Trani (13th century Italy). Although the Acharonim debate the meaning and scope of this ruling (see Taz 168:20 and Magen Avraham 168:44; see also Shelah and Emek Berakha cited by Eliya Rabba 168:33), most Acharonim (see Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav 168:10 and Mishna Berura 168:10, for example) rule in accordance with the Magen Avraham, who asserts that a pashtida is no longer considered to be pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin since it is generally eaten as the basis of a meal.  Instead, it is considered to be bread and one always recites Ha-Motzi before eating it.


Based upon this passage, some argue that sweet challot should be considered to be bread for both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Furthermore, while some maintain that rolls made from dough made with juice, commonly known as “mezonot rolls," are not considered to be lechem, others insist that they should be no worse than the pashtida, which is eaten as the basis of one’s meal and therefore warrant the blessing Ha-Motzi.


Practical Applications of Pat Ha-Ba’ah Be-Kisanin


It was once common to find “mezonot rolls” served at weddings and on airplanes. These rolls are prepared with juice instead of water and were intended to avoid the need to wash one’s hands (netilat yadayim).However, these rolls function as bread, as they are served as “bread” with a meal.


Those who support the idea of mezonot rolls claim that according to both the Shulchan Arukh, and the Rema, when all or the majority of water in the dough is replaced by other ingredients, such as fruit juice, eggs, etc., then the product is defined as pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin and not lechem. Indeed, as noted above, many Sephardim recite Borei Minei Mezonot even on sweet challot that are made with eggs and juice. Many Poskim, however – both Sephardic and Ashkenazic – reject the entire notion of mezonot rolls for the following reasons:


1) Mezonot rolls are most likely not considered to be pat ha-ba’ah bekisanin. The Shulchan Arukh writes that according to one definition of pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin, “one mixes honey or oil or milk or other condiments and then bakes it in a manner in which the taste of the fruit juice or the condiments are noticeable.” The Rema writes that “it is considered to be bread unless there are many condiments or honey, like snack cookies known as leckin, in which the honey and the condiments are the main ingredient.” Since mezonot rolls taste, have a similar texture to, and function like regular rolls, it seems unlikely that they should be viewed as pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin.


2) Even if they are to be viewed as pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin, when one eats pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin as the basis of one’s meal, especially when it is eaten with other foods, one must wash and say Ha-Motzi. Mezonot rolls are served in order to make sandwiches and are intended to serve as the center of one’s meal, like bread, and it therefore seems unlikely that one is not “kove’a se’uda” over mezonot rolls.


3) Finally, some suggest that even it mezonot rolls fit the description of pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin, one should still say Ha-Motzi, just as one recites Ha-Motzi before eating a “pashtida," which is ordinarily eaten as a meal. Mezonot rolls, and even sweet challot, should be no worse than a “pashtida."


            The Poskim also discuss whether one should say Borei Minei Mezonot or Ha-Motzi before eating pizza. Indeed, many pizza shops make their dough from fruit juice or milk in the belief that this dough becomes pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin and not require washing and Ha-Motzi. Some authorities insist that one should say Borei Minei Mezonot before eating one slice of pizza. Two or three slices, however, may be considered to be a kevi’at se’uda, either because they constitute more than the volume of four eggs or because this is the amount ordinarily eaten as a meal, and at that point, one should wash and say Ha-Motzi. R. Moshe Feinstein reportedly ruled that one should say Borei Minei Mezonot before eating one slice of pizza.


            An increasing number of Poskim view pizza as a type of pashtida. Although similar to pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin, one says Ha-Motzi before eating such a food, as it is general eaten as a meal, and not a snack (see Magen Avraham above). This may hold true even if the dough is made from flour and fruit juice..


What about large meat bourekas or “deli roll” (made from baked puff pastry dough [batzek alim] wrapped around cold cuts)? Unlike potato bourekas and danishes, these foods are generally eaten as part of or as the main dish at a meal. Should we to equate these foods to a pashtida and require washing, Ha-Motzi, and Birkat Ha-Mazon? This may depend upon whether deli roll is indeed eaten by most people as a meal. Furthermore, the Birkei Yosef (268:17; see also R. Haim David Ha-Levi’s Mekor Chayyim, vol. 2 83:7) explains that if the dough of a pashtida is made with oil, it is considered to be pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin, in which case one would only wash and say Ha-Motzi if it is eaten as the basis of one’s meal. Others disagree and claim that the type of dough from which the pashtida is made is not crucial. Due to the unclarity regarding this issue, it may be wise to wash on bread before eating these foods.  


When Bread Becomes Mezonot


At times, bread may lose its status as “lechem." For example, the Shulchan Arukh (168:10), based on the gemara (Berakhot 37a-b), relates to scenarios in which the bread has been “altered." He rules that if the pieces are boiled, then the berakha depends upon whether or not the pieces are the size of a kezayit. If they are not boiled, but are kneaded together which other ingredients, then one recites Ha-Motzi before eating pieces larger than a kezayit or pieces smaller than a kezayit that have the appearance of bread. If they do not have the appearance of bread, then one recites Borei Minei Mezonot. When bread is ground into bread crumbs, one still says the blessing of Ha-Motzi before eating them, unless they are cooked are kneaded together with other ingredients.


Accordingly, one certainly says Ha-Motzi before eating French toast, which consists of fried pieces of bread soaked in egg, milk, and oil, as the pieces are larger than a kezayit and they retain the appearance of bread. However, one does not say Ha-Motzi before eating challah kugel, which is made from challah that is broken into small pieces, soaked in water, mixed with eggs and other ingredients, and then baked. Since it no longer has the appearance of bread, one says Borei Minei Mezonot.


What is the proper blessing to say before eating “matza brei"? Matza brei is made by crushing matza into small pieces, mixing it with oil, milk, eggs, etc., and then frying the mixture into flat patties.


The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (168:37) rules that that the proper blessing is certainly Borei Minei Mezonot, and he reports that this is indeed the custom. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan most likely was referring to matzot that were soaked in water and broken into small pieces. He therefore writes that they no longer have the appearance of bread.


However, many people make matza brei from larger, distinct pieces of matza (although still smaller than kezayit). The Acharonim question whether frying the mixture in a frying pan with a bit of butter or oil should be considered to be a form of “baking,” in which case the blessing would remain Ha-Motzi, or “cooking," in which case the matza would lose its status as bread, and the proper blessing would then be Borei Minei Mezonot. As a result, some (see Mishna Berura 168:56) recommend saying Ha-Motzi over a piece of bread or matza before eating matza brei. If one uses very little oil or butter, then the proper blessing is most likely Ha-Motzi.


The Acharonim also discuss the proper blessing before eating “kneidelach” (matza balls). The Magen Avraham (168:28) rules that one must say the blessing of Ha-Motzi before eating bread or matza that has been ground into flour (bread crumbs or matza meal), kneaded together into pieces larger than a kezayit, and then re-baked or fried in oil, as in the case of kneidelach. Other Acharonim disagree and maintain that if one kneads together matza meal with oil, juice, and/or eggs, even if it is later boiled or fried, one recites Borei Minei Mezonot if the food does not have the appearance of bread, even if each piece is larger than a kezayit. Therefore, before kneidelach, which are made by mixing matza meal with eggs, water, and oil, one says the blessing of Borei Minei Mezonot (Mishna Berura 168:59), even if they are eaten as the basis of one’s meal (ibid. 56). It is customary to rely upon the Mishna Berura.


Finally, what is the proper blessing to be recited before eating croutons? Before eating croutons made from regular bread and not fried, one should say Ha-Motzi. However, croutons made from bread made specifically for croutons (i.e. baked until toasted) are a type of pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin, and one should therefore recite Mezonot. Similarly, croutons that were deep fried in oil or in soup over the fire and which are smaller than the size of a kezayit are Mezonot.

Next week, we will discuss the parameters of ma’aseh kedeira, when one says Borei Minei Mezonot before eating wheat-based products, and when Borei Peri Ha-Adama, or even She-Hakol may be more appropriate.