Compiled by Rabbi Naftali Hoffner
A NOTE ON THE DECISIONS IN THIS GUIDE
Various halachic authorities take divergent positions concerning the brachot to be said for many different foods, especially where the status or nature of the food is not clear-cut. To avoid confusion, this Guide adopts specific points of view. This does not mean that other positions are necessarily invalid. In all cases of doubt, please consult your own Rav and consider yourself bound by his decision.
The decisions in this Guide are based on Rabbi Naftali Hoffner's Sefer Halacha, part 1, Dinei Birchot Hanehenin, published in Tel Aviv by Mossad Eliezer Hoffner. Careful study of this book is required in order to fully understand all the issues involved.
GENERAL RULES OF BRACHOT
Choosing the Correct Brachah
As a general rule, the most specific brachah possible should be said for any food item, since this implies greater praise of the Creator.
A more general brachah should be said only when you are in doubt as to which of the possible brachot applies.
For example, in the case of wine:
When to say Ha-aytz
Ha-aytz is said for the appropriate fruit when the following conditions are met:
a) The fruit is ripe.
b) The part you are eating is the principal part of the fruit, e.g., the inside of an orange, but not its peel.
c) The shape or appearance of the original fruit is still visible.
d) The fruit is eaten in the way it is regularly eaten—whether raw, cooked or prepared in some other way. E.g., Ha-aytz is said for a nut in its raw state but not if it has been cooked, since this is neither the usual nor the best way to eat it. On the other hand, Ha-aytz is said for both a fresh apple and a baked apple, since it is usual to eat apples either way.
e) Any fruit, which is bitter in its naturally ripe state, must have been processed in the usual way, e.g., bottled olives.
f) The fruit must be cultivated, not grown wild, e.g., chestnuts found growing wild require Shehakol, not Ha-aytz.
When to say Ha-adamah
Ha-adamah is said for the appropriate vegetable or fruit when the following conditions are met:
a) Its identity is readily apparent (even though its form or shape may have been destroyed, such as in the case of tomatoes used to make tomato sauce).
b) The vegetable is eaten in the way it is regularly eaten in that part of the world, whether it is prepared in some way (such as potatoes, which are normally cooked before eating), or eaten raw (such as cucumbers).
Which Fruit or Vegetable to Eat First
1. If there are several fruits or vegetables which you intend to eat, and they each require the same brachah—whether it is Ha-aytz or Ha-adamah—that brachah need be said only once. The fruit or vegetable to be eaten first—and over which, therefore, the brachah is said—should be chosen according to the following order of priority:
2. If there are several fruits or vegetables which you intend to eat, some of which require Ha-aytz (e.g., apples), and some of which require Ha-adamah (e.g., bananas and strawberries), the one to be eaten first should be the one chosen according to the following order of preference.
Fruit cocktail, when commercially manufactured and consisting of small pieces of fruit, requires one brachah only—that which the majority of the fruits require, whether Ha-aytz or Ha-adamah. Homemade fruit cocktail, consisting of larger pieces, requires that each brachah be said on the appropriate fruits, according to the above rules (Mishnah Berurah).
When a Dish Consists of More than One Food
If two different types of food are eaten together, and one of them would normally be considered subordinate to the other, a brachah need be said only for the main food item.
For example, in rice pudding, made with rice, raisins, cinnamon and other ingredients, the essential part of the dish is the rice. The other ingredients are added to enhance the flavor. Therefore, only Mezonot need be said.
If two different types of food are eaten together, but neither one of them may be considered subordinate to the other, two brachot are necessary. The more specific of the two should be said first (see above).
What Brachah Should be Said for Juices and Soups?
Juice manufactured by squeezing only (without any cooking), e.g., orange juice or grapefruit juice, requires Shehakol.
Juice or soup prepared by cooking the fruit or vegetable requires the same brachah as the fruit or vegetable itself (because more of the flavor is extracted by heating or cooking than by just squeezing (Magen Avraham 202:23, Chayei Adam 52:1, Chatam Sofer, Yoreh De'ah 114, Har Zvi 202; see also Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 33). Thus, prune juice, for example, requires Ha-aytz (Taz 202:8), and tomato juice requires Ha-adamah.
(General rules for soups can be found in the Soups section below).
When Hamotzi Must be Said Instead of Mezonot
Before eating a food requiring Mezonot, you must decide how much of that food you intend to eat.
1. If you intend to eat no more than the equivalent of the volume of three or four eggs (about 6 ounces, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein), Mezonot should be said.
2. If you intend to eat more than this amount of the food, it must be considered like bread (regardless of whether it looks like bread or not; see Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 168:18).
Therefore, you have to proceed as if you were eating bread (by washing your hands with the Netilat Yadayim brachah, saying Hamotzi before eating, and saying Birkat Hamazon after eating.
Similarly, if you eat any food requiring Mezonot at the beginning of a full meal, even if it is only a small amount, washing the hands and Hamotzi are required, with Birkat Hamazon following the meal (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 3:32).
The best thing to do, therefore, in each of the above situations, is to actually eat some bread to start the meal (P'ri Megadim).
What Other Brachot You Must Say during a Meal
After saying Hamotzi for bread eaten at the beginning of a meal, no other brachah need be said for food eaten during the meal, except for the following:
a) Wine, for which you must say Hagafen (unless you drank some—even a very small amount—just before the meal, for example when you made kiddush).
b) Fruits eaten separately, e.g., as a dessert.
c) Cake, eaten not only for satiation but only for its good taste (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 168:33).
d) Tea or coffee, which you may drink at the end of a meat meal for the purpose of digestion (Chayei Adam 43:11, Sefer Halachah, Dinei Birchot Hanehenin 91).
It is, of course, not necessary to say Al Hamichyah or Boray Nefashot for any of the above, since the general Birkat Hamazon will cover them all.
Birkat Hamazon - The Blessing After the Meal
After having completed your meal, you should not unnecessarily delay saying Birkat Hamazon. You may, however, say it up to 72 minutes after you finish eating. If more than 72 minutes have passed (or if you are not sure how much time has elapsed) and you are now hungry again, you should not now say Birkat Hamazon (P'ri Megadim). However, if you are not yet hungry again, you should try eating a keza-yit (half or at least one-third of an egg in volume) of some food, to insure that you are still obligated to say Birkat Hamazon, and you should then say it.
If you say Birkat Hamazon out-of-doors, in a train or plane, or another similar circumstance, you should replace the words
Harachaman hu yishlach brachah merubah baba-yit hazeh (May the Merciful One send a plentiful blessing on this house), with
Harachaman hu yishlach brachah merubah bahalichotaynu uvishivotaynu ad olam (May the Merciful One send us a plentiful blessing whenever we travel or stay home) (Sefer Halachah I, 127:3; see also Mateh Moshe 350, and Yosef Ometz).
Birkat Me-ayn Shalosh - The Blessing After a Snack
This blessing is said after drinking wine, or after eating one of the fruits (olives, dates, grapes, figs or pomegranates) or baked goods, other than bread, made from one of the grains (wheat, barley, spelt, oats or rye) for which the land of Israel is praised.
If you do not remember all the words, you may say instead Boray Nefashot, which is to be said after food or drink not requiring either Birkat Hamazon or Birkat Me-ayn Shalosh, unless you think you will be able to reach home or another place where you will be able to say Al Hamichyah from a Siddur within the 72-minute limit.
No brachah is required either before or after taking medicine, even with water. However, if another drink (e.g., orange juice) is used for this purpose, Shehakol should be said.
When to Say Shehecheyanu for Fruits
Shehecheyanu is to be said when you eat a fruit or vegetable for the first time during each season, when the following conditions are met:
a) The fruit or vegetable ripens once annually, or even twice a year.
b) It is obviously fresh, like a pomegranate (so that Shehecheyanu is not said for potatoes taken out of storage, or for mushrooms or plain vegetables like lettuce).
c) It is fully ripe and ready to be eaten.
Shehecheyanu may be said on each of the different varieties of a species, e.g., light and dark figs, sweet and sour cherries.
The brachot should be said in the following order:
However, if you said Ha-aytz or Ha-adamah first, you may still say Shehecheyanu before actually eating the fruit or vegetable (P'ri Megadim). Once the fruit has been completely eaten, Shehecheyanu may no longer be said (Radbaz).