Shiur #27: The Blessing of Mezonot
This week, we will begin a new unit in our study of the laws of berakhot: the laws and details of each of the blessings said before eating. We have completed our attempt to define lechem (bread), upon which one says the blessing Ha-Motzi Lechem Min Ha-Aretz, and we will now move to the blessing of Borei Minei Mezonot. We will then discuss the blessings of Borei Peri Ha-Gafen (the blessing said over wine), Borei Peri Ha-Etz (the blessing said over fruit), Borei Peri Ha-Adama (the blessing said over vegetables), and the blessing of She-Hakol.
In this shiur, we will focus upon the blessing said before eating cooked wheat and rice, compare and contrast them, and arrive at a new understanding of this blessing of Mezonot.
The Proper Blessings Before and After Eating Rice
Before eating baked or cooked products made from the five species of grains (wheat, barley, rye, spelt, or oats), one says Borei Minei Mezonot and concludes with Al Ha-Michya. The Talmud (Berakhot 37a) teaches:
The Master said: If one chews rice, he says over it, “Borei Peri Ha-Adama.” If he grinds and bakes it and then cooks it, even if the pieces are still whole, he says before it, "Borei Minei Mezonot" … After partaking, he does not say any blessing [i.e. he does not say Al Ha-Michya, but rather Borei Nefashot).
Furthermore, the gemara compares and contrasts one who eats wheat with one who eats barley:
If one chews wheat, he says over it the blessing, “Borei Peri Ha-Adama.” If he grinds and bakes it and then cooks it [in liquid], so long as the pieces are still whole, he says before,“Ha-Motzi Lechem Min Ha-Aretz,”and after, Birkat Ha-Mazon …
If one chews rice, he says before partaking, “Borei Peri Ha-Adama.” If he grinds and bakes it and then cooks it [in liquid], even if the pieces are still whole, he says before partaking, “Borei Minei Mezonot.”
The beraita states clearly that one says the blessing Borei Peri Ha-Adama before eating whole grains of wheat and rice. However, once they are baked and cooked, one says “Borei Minei Mezonot.” At what point does one recite Borei Minei Mezonot?
The gemara (Berakhot 36b) teaches that “in the case of simple pounded grain, all agree that the correct blessing is “Borei Minei Mezonot.” Based on this, the Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona (25b, s.v. chavitz) conclude that one says Borei Minei Mezonot only when “the wheat was crushed and stuck together and became similar to the chavitz boiled in a pot. But if the whole wheat kernels and the seeds remain whole, one says Borei Peri Ha-Adama.”
However, regarding rice, the Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona (26a, s.v. ve-hapat) rule that even if the rice grains remain whole, as long as they are cooked, one says Borei Minei Mezonot. The Rambam also distinguishes between wheat (Hilkhot Berakhot 3:4) and rice (ibid. 5:10), ruling that only when wheat is crushed does one says Borei Minei Mezonot. The Rosh (Berakhot 6:40) disagrees and writes, "If rice is baked into bread or cooked like daisa (porridge), one makes the blessing Borei Minei Mezonot before eating it.” Only when the rice becomes a porridge-like mixture does one say Borei Minei Mezonot, as in the case of wheat.
What is the debate between these Rishonim? One might suggest that Rabbeinu Yona and the Rambam maintain that the blessing of Borei Minei Mezonot is only recited before eating grains, which are satiating, if they are eaten in their normal manner. Wheat is usually eaten after being ground and cooked, while rice is eaten after being boiled whole. The Rosh, however, may maintain that the blessing of Borei Minei Mezonot is not recited over the “species,” but rather before eating a “tavshil” (a cooked grain dish). When one turns a grain into a tavshil through cooking, one says Borei Minei Mezonot. Cooked whole rice is not considered to be a tavshil; therefore, as in the case of whole wheat, the proper blessing is Borei Peri Ha-Adama. (See R. Eliyahu Lifshitz’s “Torat Imekha”, Sugya 14).
The Shulchan Arukh (208:7) rules that before eating rice, one says Borei Minei Mezonot, and afterwards Borei Nefashot. Furthermore, the Shulchan Arukh (208:8) rules in accordance with the Rambam and Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona. The Rema rules in accordance with the Rosh, who maintains that one only says Borei Minei Mezonot before eating rice that has been crushed.
The Mishna Berura (208:6; see also Bi’ur Halakha, s.v. ad) rules that one says Borei Minei Mezonot when the rice has been broken down even a bit through the cooking. He also cites the Peri Megadim, who writes that when the outer shell of the rice has been removed, “like our [rice],” it is no longer “whole,” and therefore the proper blessing is Borei Minei Mezonot. The Mishna Berura does not seem convinced, although he concludes that “one who says Borei Minei Mezonot before eating [our rice] has not lost.” This position, however, appears to be difficult to maintain, as the Rishonim discuss whether the rice has been crushed or broken down, and they do not say that by simply removing the shell the blessing becomes Borei Minei Mezonot.
The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (208:22) explains that rice expands during cooking and is therefore considered to be crushed and stuck together. He affirms that it is commonly accepted to say Borei Minei Mezonot before eating rice.
Although some pious individuals would only eat rice during a meal in order to avoid the debate cited above, as well as to avoid a doubt whether our rice is really the rice referred to by the Talmud, it is certainly the popular and standard custom to say Borei Minei Mezonot before eating cooked rice, regardless of whether it is whole or white rice.
Before eating rice cakes, which are not cooked but rather heated until the rice expands, one says the blessing Borei Peri Ha-Adama (see Ve-Zot Ha-Berakha, pp. 105 and 242-243). Similarly, before eating puffed wheat (“shalva” cereal or “Sugar Crisps”), one says Borei Peri Ha-Adama. However, before eating Rice Crispies, which are first cooked and then puffed, one says “Borei minei Mezonot.”
Next week we will discuss the blessing of Borei Peri Ha-Etz.