As innocent as this term seems, "mezonos rolls" actually implies two important halachos. In the first place, the initial brochah on a "mezonos roll" would be borei minei mezonos rather, than hamotzi lechem min haaretz, and the final brochah is al hamichyah instead of Birchas Hamozon. Secondly, and of perhaps greater import in terms of consumer convenience, a bona fide mezonos roll could be eaten without netilas yadayim, the ritual washing of the hands mandated by Jewish law before consuming bread. The practical benefit of this latter halachah can easily be appreciated. When eating on the road, it's often difficult, if not impossible, to wash netilas yadayim. With a mezonos roll in hand, one can consume a sandwich on a plane or at a picnic table without transporting a water supply and washing utensil. That the phrase "mezonos rolls" stuck and became part of our vernacular is testimony to the popularity of mezonos rolls, and indeed they are sold in kosher establishments around the world.
Five years ago, some members of the Rabbinic staff of the OU questioned the legitimacy of the mezonos roll concept, for reasons which will be explained below. The issue arose because the word "mezonos" was prominently stamped on the cellophane wrapper of rolls which were part of OU-certified frozen meals. After reviewing this matter with the OU's Halachic consultants, Rav Yisroel Belsky, shlita, Rav Hershel Schachter, shlita, and the Rabbinical Council of America; the OU took the bold position that the phrase "mezonos roll" is an oxymoron. Rolls and mezonos can not coexist; mezonos rolls are a spurious term and the correct brochah for the so-called mezonos roll is hamotzi lechem min haaretz, with netilas yadayim a prerequisite. This change in policy was not without strong public comment. Irate travelers wrote the OU in protest, and demanded a return to the state of mezonos roll bliss. In fact, one angry caller pointed out to this author that the OU policy could result in sakonas nefashos (life-threatening situations). "Rabbi, don't you realize that if everyone would stand up and walk to the: back of an airliner to wash netilas yadayim, the entire aircraft would tip over?" Nonetheless, the OU stuck to its guns, and I am happy to report that we have never received a report of an airplane capsizing because of a rush to the washing station.
This article will present the halachic analysis which forms the basis for the OU position.
Every yeshivah child knows that the proper brochah for cake is borei minei mezonos, but the Talmudic source of this halachah is not easily apparent. In modem Hebrew, cake is oogah but there is no obvious term for cake in the Talmud. The only relevant discussion is found in Brochos 42a, where the Talmud establishes the proper brochah for pas haba bikisnin as borei minei mezonos. The precise meaning of the Aramaic term pas haba bikisnin became a matter of great dispute among the Rishonim (early Talmudic commentators). Because pas means bread, it is obvious that pas haba bikisnin is some form of bread. The brochah of pas haba bikisnin is reduced to borei minei mezonos because it is a type of bread that is eaten as a snack food. The brochah of hamotzi lechem min haaretz ("Who brings forth bread from the ground"), is reserved for bread which is consumed as a basic staple and cornerstone of a meal. Nonetheless, it is unclear precisely what type of bread is pas haba bikisnin. There are three positions among the Rishonim.
Rav Hai Gaon maintains that kisnin comes from the word kosses, which means to chew on hard or dry food. In Rav Hai Gaon's opinion, pas haba bikisnin, is bread with a cracker-like texture. Although cracker dough can be made from only flour and water which is identical to bread dough, the hard and dry texture of the cracker renders it pas haba bikisnin. This definition includes hard pretzels, flat bread, bread sticks and kichel. (Ostensibly, melba toast should also fall into this category, but this is in fact not the case, since it is initially baked as bread and later sliced and toasted. Once achieving the status of bread, it is not transformed to pas haba bikisnin through subsequent processing.)
The Rambam understands kisnin to mean pockets, and he views pas haba bikisnin as bread which is kneaded with spices or flavors. Because the dough contains the spices, it is referred to as a kis (pocket). According to the Rambam, pas haba bildsnin is the equivalent of cake.
The Rach subscribes to a third position, closely related to the second. He too defines kisnin as a pocket, but in his view, pas haba bikisnin refers to bread which is baked with a filling which is separate and distinct, rather than part and parcel of the dough. Pas haba bikisnin, then, is a pie which contains nuts, fruit or spices.
The three definitions of pas haba bikisnin (crackers, cake and pie) are mutually exclusive of each other. It is fascinating to note that some of the Rishonim quoted above rejected the Rambam's position and recited hamotzi on cake. Historically, it is not known when the Jewish people as a whole began to recite borei minei mezonos on cake, but Rav Yosef Caro, who lived in the sixteenth century, ruled in the Shulchan Oruch (O.H. 168) that we follow all three opinions cited above, and crackers, cake and pies are all treated as pas haba bikisnin. Though we are in essence adopting three contradictory positions, Rav Yosef Caro posits that we apply the principle of sofek brochos lihakel - brochos are not recited when the obligation is uncertain. Since there is a three-way dispute, we are uncertain if the appropriate brochah for crackers, cake and pie is borei minei mezonos or hamotzi. If we would recite hamotzi, then the lengthy Birchas Hamazon would have to be recited after the meal. Therefore, Rav Yosef Caro maintained that it is better to say borei minei mezonos and thus avoid a possibly unnecessary Birchas Hamazon.
Though Rav Yosef Caro provided a working definition of pas haba bikisnin, a new question arose which is relevant to our discussion of mezonos rolls. Granted that we treat cake as pas haba bikisnin, and recite borei minei mezonos, how much spice or flavor must be added to the dough or batter to render it pas haba bikisnin? Rav Yosef Caro was of the opinion that the spice or flavor need only be nikir - discernable. The Rama (Rav Moshe Isserles), argues that a discernible taste alone is insufficient to transform bread into pas haba bikisnin, and the flavor or spice must be ikir - the main taste, to qualify for pas haba bikisnin status. While it is perhaps difficult to establish objective criteria for a primary taste, it presumably means that the spice or flavor significantly alters the taste of the pastry to the extent that it would not be consumed as bread (i.e. as a basic staple of the meal.) Thus, the appropriate brochah of a pastry with a discernible, but not primary spice, is a matter of dispute between Rav Yosef Caro and the Rama. A mezonos roll would seem to be just such a questionable item, since the fruit juice may be discernible, but certainly the taste of the mezonos roll is not significantly different than that of bread. In fact, the beauty of the mezonos roll is that it tastes almost like bread, and while no one