Q: Why does the blessing over bread exempt the other foods in a meal?
A: There are two reasons for this:
1) Bead is the main part of a meal, and all the other foods are secondary to it.
2) ‘Bread’ is a general term for satisfying food, as written: “Jacob then made a vow, saying, “If God remains with me, protecting me on this journey that I am making, and giving me bread to eat and clothing to wear” (Genesis 28:20).
Hence, bread is a general term for food. Also, we find during the famine in Egypt, when the Egyptians turned to Joseph and asked: “Give us bread, lest we die before your very eyes” (Genesis 47:15), and likewise, when Joseph provided for his father’s household, everything he gave them was called bread, as written: ” Joseph sustained his father, and his brothers, and all his father’s household with bread, down to the little ones” (ibid., 12).
Thus we see that the blessing ‘HaMotzi’ is not directed only towards bread and what is eaten with it, rather, at all the foods that are meant to satisfy.
Therefore, the blessing ‘HaMotzi‘ exempts all the foods that are eaten at a meal, such as meat, fish, potatoes, rice, lentils, cheeses, raw and cooked salads, etc. And even if they are eaten separately, while not eating the bread, the blessing of ‘HaMotzi‘ exempts them.
Dessert Foods are not Exempted by the ‘HaMotzi‘ Blessing
Q: Which foods eaten at a meal are not exempted by the blessing ‘HaMotzi‘?
A: Foods that a person is accustomed to eating because of their good taste and not for satiety, such as dates, grapes, watermelon, and the like. This is because the blessing ‘HaMotzi’ applies only to foods intended for satiation, which are the main part of the meal, but desserts that are eaten to add a good taste, which are usually eaten at the end of the meal or in between, are an addition to the meal, and should be blessed separately.
Therefore, one who eats fruits of the tree during his meal, blesses ‘Ha’Etz’, and one who eats watermelon blesses ‘HaAdamah’.
Similarly, many people eat ice cream or pudding at the end of a meal, and since they are eaten for dessert and not included in foods intended for satiation, one recites the blessing ‘Shehakol’ over them.
All of this applies to the first blessing, but the Bracha Achrona (after-blessing) does not need to be recited over them, because Birkat Hamazon exempts all the foods eaten at the meal, whether foods eaten for satiety, or as a dessert (Peninei Halakha: Brachot 3:6).
Carrot or Waldorf Salads
No blessing is recited on carrot or Waldorf salad served with dishes intended for satiation, because since they are served with the main dishes, they are generally considered to be included in dishes intended for satiation. However, if a sweet carrot salad or Waldorf salad are served after the meal for dessert, a ‘Bracha Rishona’ should be recited. And also on compote, i.e., fruits cooked in sugar served at the end of the meal, a ‘Bracha Rishona’ is recited.
Which Drinks are Not Exempted by the ‘HaMotzi’ Blessing?
Drinks that a person is accustomed to drinking during his meal, such as water, juice, and spirits, are exempted with the blessing of ‘HaMotzi’. But wine, because of its importance, is not exempted by the ‘HaMotzi’ blessing.
Coffee and tea that people usually drink after the meal are considered as part of the meal, and are exempted by the ‘HaMotzi’ blessing.
On the other hand, spirits drunk after the meal are not considered part of the meal, and require a blessing.
Do Cakes Eaten at a Meal Require a Blessing?
Q: Rabbi, do cakes served at a meal require a blessing?
A: This is one of the most difficult questions in the laws of blessings, because in this halakha there are two polar opinions. Some poskim say that the ‘Mezonot’ blessing should not be recited because cakes are similar to bread and they are also satisfying, and therefore, they are part of the meal and are exempted with the blessing of ‘HaMotzi‘ (Rashba). In addition, this question is related to the safek (doubt) regarding the pastry called in our Sages’ parlance ‘Pat ha’ba b’kisnin‘ (see, Peninei Halakha: Brachot 6:2).
Therefore, some poskim say that since there is a safek about the matter, and since the general rule is safek brachot le’ha’kel (if one is in doubt whether one can make a Bracha, the general rule is that one shouldn’t make the Bracha), one who eats them during a meal should not recite a blessing over them. And those who wish to glorify the mitzvah and avoid the safek, it is preferable they refrain from eating mezonot at a meal (Chida).
In practice, those who wish to eat mezonot at a meal, have to decide how they relate to eating them. If they decide that it is part of the meal, they should determine in their minds that the ‘HaMotzi’ blessing will always exempt all the mezonot they will eat at the meal, and consequently, they will not bless ‘Mezonot‘ over them, as suggested by the author of the ‘Chayei Adam’ (43: 9). And if they decide that eating the mezonot is intended for dessert, they should determine in their minds that the blessing ‘HaMotzi’ will never exempt the mezonot, and recite over them the blessing ‘Mezonot’, as Rabbi Ben Zion Abba Shaul suggested (Ohr Le’Tzion Vol.2, 12:10, in the footnote).
And as long as they have not decided, because of the safek, they should not bless beforehand ‘Mezonot‘, and those who wish to glorify the mitzvah – should refrain from eating them at a meal (Peninei Halakha: Brachot 3:8, 9).
One Who Sets his Meal on Baked Goods that are Considered Bread
A person who wants to eat bread, even in a very small amount, has to recite the blessing ‘HaMotzi‘, because bread is intended for the setting of a meal, and even if one eats a ‘ke’zayit’ (the size of an average olive), one recites the important blessing over it, and thus exempts all the foods in the meal.
But for the rest of baked goods from the five types of grain, such as cakes, biscuits and crackers, since it is not customary to set a meal over them, the blessing ‘Mezonot’ and ‘Al hamichiya‘ are said. However, when a person decides to set a meal over them, they are ‘up-graded’ to the level of bread, and then, in order to eat them, one must wash his hands with a blessing, and recite the blessing ‘HaMotzi’ over them, and with this blessing, he exempts all other foods he will eat with them at the meal. And when finished eating, ‘Birkat Hamazon’ is recited over everything one ate.
This is because all grain pastries that are not bread have an intermediate status: on the one hand, since they are pastries, they are similar to bread, but on the other hand, since it is not customary to set a meal on them, they are not considered bread. Therefore, the usual bracha is ‘Mezonot‘ and ‘Al hamichiya’, however, when a meal is set over them, their bracha is ‘HaMotzi‘ and ‘Birkat Hamazon’ (Peninei Halakha: Brachot 6, 2).
What is the Amount of ‘Setting a Meal’ (keviyat seudah) ?
In the opinion of the majority of poskim, the amount for keviyat seudah (setting of a meal) is the amount acceptable to eat at a regular meal, in such a way that the diner leaves it satiated, and does not need to eat again until the next meal. It is impossible to determine a measure according to volume, because there are airy pastries that satisfy only when one eats a large amount of them, and then there are compressed pastries that satiate by eating a relatively small amount. Rather, everything follows what is customary – if one usually is full from what he intends to eat, their bracha is ‘HaMotzi’and ‘Birkat Hamazon’.
And one should not feel he does not know how much food he needs to eat in order to be full, because with any amount that satiates, just like after eating a regular meal, one has basically set his meal on such an eating, and recites ‘HaMotzi’ and ‘Birkat Hamazon’.
Some poskim say that the amount for keviyat seudah is the volume of four eggs from the mezonot pastry (about the amount of a medium cup), and even though this amount does not usually satiate, people are customary to set a meal on such an amount of mezonot. In practice, we do not rule according to this method, and one who eats the volume of four eggs of a mezonot pastry, as long as he has not eaten as much as is usual to satiate from a regular meal, he recites the ‘Mezonot‘ and ‘Al hamechiya‘ blessings. However, le’chatchila (ideally), it is preferable not to eat a volume of four eggs, so as not to enter into a safek, rather, one should either eat less than the volume of four eggs, and thus say the ‘Mezonot‘ blessing, or eat an amount that usually satiates, and say ‘HaMotzi‘ and ‘Birkat Ha-mazon’ according to all opinions.
In summary: A person who eats an amount of mezonot that satiates as if he had eaten a regular meal, or even if he only eats an amount of mezonot the volume of four eggs, but together with the other foods he eats, will be as full as if he had eaten a regular meal, blesses before eating the mezonot ‘HaMotzi’, and after eating, ‘Birkat Ha-mazon’.
On Cooked Grain Dishes, the Blessings ‘Mezonot‘ and ‘Al hamichiya’ are Always Recited
If one cooked the grains, such as semolina, bulgur and oats (Quaker), or made their flour into a kind of cooked dish, like noodles, tiny pasta, or quiche – since they ‘up-graded’ to the level of a tavshil (cooked dish) that ‘fills man’s heart’, the blessing ‘Mezonot’ is said. And after one has eaten from them a ke’zayit (about half an egg), he blesses ‘Al hamichiya’, which is the blessing ‘Me’ein Shalosh’ (Shulchan Aruch 208: 2).
However, if one sets his meal on noodles or tiny pasta, since they are cooked dishes and not baked goods, one must always recite the blessing ‘Mezonot’ and ‘Al hamichiya’ over them.
The Term ‘Mezonot Rolls’ is Misleading, because their Blessing is ‘Hamotzi’
As we have learned, a baked food that is not bread (pat ha’ba b’kisnin) has an intermediate status: if it is eaten between meals, the blessings of ‘Mezonot‘ and ‘Al hamichiya’ are said, and if a meal is set over it, the blessing ‘Hamotzi‘ and ‘Birkat Hamazon’ are said. On the other hand, on bread, even when eating a little, ‘Hamotzi‘ and ‘Birkat Hamazon’ are said. The question is, where is the line between bread and baked goods?
The general rule is that anything that one regularly sets a meal over, is judged as bread, and on the other hand, anything that is regularly eaten between meals, for sweetness, or to alleviate hunger to a certain extent, is judged as a mezonot pastry. According to this, sweet challah and sweet rolls are considered bread, since they are normally eaten at meals, and they are not usually served for a taste between meals. They are also eaten them with different types of salads, or used as a sandwich with cheese or tuna, and thus, are used as bread. Therefore, even when one eats just a little bit of them, one must say the blessing ‘Hamotzi‘ and ‘Birkat Hamazon’. In our language, anything that is called bread, or challah, or a bun – we regularly set a meal over them. On the other hand, if a pastry is called a ‘cake’ – it is not customary to set a meal over it.
Indeed, many Sephardic Jews are accustomed to bless ‘Mezonot’ on sweet challah, because in the past, they were not used to serving it at a meal, but were used to serving slices of sweet challah as a snack between meals. But today, since they are intended for satiety and a meal, and not as a dessert between meals, their bracha is ‘Hamotzi’. Similarly, ‘mezonot rolls’ are usually sold with tuna and egg and the like, very similar to rolls without sweetness.
In addition to this, there is usually a volume ratio of four eggs in the ‘mezonot buns’, and consequently, even if it were a cake, some poskim say that one should say the bracha ‘Hamotzi’ and ‘Birkat Hamazon’ over them (Rama Me’Pano, Maharam Ben Habib, Beit David, Peninei Halacha: Brachot 6, 2), all the more so when they are usually eaten with additional foods that come to a cumulative amount that can substitute for a regular meal (Peninei Halakha: Brachot 6: 6, 5).
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated