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Is it a mitzvah to recite a benediction over a piece of food, or is there a prohibition forbidding one from eating food without reciting a benediction beforehand?

I believe that this is a similar question, whether sitting in a sukkah applies in this case.

  • See this recording. 22:36. By R' Aryeh Lebowitz – Moshe May 9 at 23:22
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I think it's both.

One Gemara says: "if the Torah requires you to thank Hashem after you've eaten, then by logic you're certainly obligated to do so beforehand." (Thanking afterwards is certainly a mitzva not a matir, so presumably by that logic so is blessing beforehand.)

Elsewhere (reisha d'perek keitzad mevarkhin) we find: "whoever benefits from this world without a bracha is stealing from G-d"; or "Scripture says to G-d's are the earth and everything within it; but it also says the heavens belong to G-d but the world was given to humanity, so which is it? The former before making a bracha, the latter afterwards."

But to really make things interesting, here are two more points to consider:

  1. There's one place where Rashi talks about stealing "the bracha", not the food. This is explained as talking about a case where you just say a shehakol on everything, rather than properly identifying and articulating the right bracha. Hey you said some kind of thanks so you're not "stealing the food from G-d", but you really should be saying the right bracha. (So if you will, you could call this the matir has been satisfied but not the mitzva.)

  2. An onen (someone caught up in the burial plans of an immediate relative) is told to be passive and not perform any "yes-do" mitzvahs other than the burial. An onen does not recite brachos before eating (I've heard several mourners describing that first moment of eating without a bracha, when it sets in just how much their world has changed.) Presumably whatever matir component is lifted too?

  • We don't pasken by the first gemara, otherwise berachot before you eat would be d'oraita. (They're not.) – Chanoch Mar 7 '12 at 14:30
  • @Chanoch, IIRC R' Yaakov Weinberg z'l suggested that some sort of thanks beforehand is in fact Biblical; just the specific formulation is rabbinic. (Which means if you're not sure if you said a bracha, you should still say "thank you G-d for this food" or the like). – Shalom Mar 7 '12 at 14:49
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    +1. If you or someone would add in the citations to the sources you mention, that'd be great.... – msh210 Mar 7 '12 at 15:25
  • @shalom - The Pnei Yehoshua says this too (Brachos 35) – chortkov2 May 10 at 10:42
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R' Yosef Dov Soloveitchik was famous for applying the concept of Matir to Berachoth of all types. If I'm not mistaken, his general fallback example was Berachoth HaNehenin (eg., just like you need to say "Ha'Eitz" to be Matir your apple to you, so to you need to say Birchos HaTorah as a Matir to learn, etc.).

  • R' Chaim Solovetchik vehemently disgreed to this application by Birchas Hatorah. (See story in אסופות הגר״ח relating a conversation R' Chaim had with R' Elya Boruch Kamoi about this). The Poskim discuss whether one who cannot say Birchas hatorah for whatever reason can still learn. – chortkov2 May 10 at 10:44
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Short Answer: It is a machlokes.

The Pri Megadim (משבצות זהב סי' קס"ז סק"י) definitively states that there is no issur to eat without a bracha, merely an obligation to bless before eating. Accordingly, the bracha is a mitzva, not a mattir.

דמי אמרה תורה לא תאכל בלי ברכה אלא מצוה עשה לברך קודם, ומ״מ מי שלא בירך המוציא ואוכל ביטל כעין מצות עשה שלא בירך אבל אכילה לא הוה באיסור, ודיו לבא מן הדין מה ברכה שאחר אכילה לאו אכילה באיסור הוה אעפ״י שלא בירך אח״כ ברהמ״ז הוא הדין זה, עכ"ל

This is echoed by the Netziv (מרומי שדה ברכות), who equates one who does not know how to bless to one who has no mezuzah to afix to his door.

עכ"פ כשאינו יודע לברך לפני האוכל הרי זה דומה למי למי שאין לו מזוזה בביתו, שמותר לדור בביתו אלא שמצוה לקבוע מזוזה אם אפשר, ולא כטלית בלא ציצית שאסור ללבוש הטלית כמבואר בהעמק שאלה שלח

Related discussions:

1. Legality of eating when not permitted to make a Brocho.

  • אונן (see אבני נזר או״ח סי׳ ל״ז, and עמק ברכה ענין ברכת הנהנין)
  • ספק ברכות (see גליון הש״ס on תוס׳ ברכות י״ב. See also Ritva Shabbos 23)
  • מקום מטונף (see חיי אדם ה-ט״ז and משנה ברורה ס״ב סק״ט)

2. The classification of the ברכה.

  • Rashi (Brochos 35) writes that a blessing is a הודאה for eating. The Ritva, however, defines a blessing as a נטילת רשות.

    פירוש משום דכתיב לה' הארץ ומלואה כדלקמן, והאיך יטול אדם מה שאינו שלו ולא יטול ממנו רשות (ריטב״א)

[Accordingly, the Ritva explains the dictum כל הנהנה מעולם הזה בלא ברכה כאילו מעל/גוזל as referring specifically to the Brocho Rishona ('וכולהו ברכות לפניהם אתו מהאי סברא'). The Rashba however explains it as referring to both the for-blessing and after-blessing.]

  • Correspondingly, Rashi and Ritva argue if 'כאילו גוזל מה׳' (when not blessing) refers to stealing the blessing or the food.

  • The Chayei Odom (49.1) writes that a blessing is like a pidyon.

כתיב לה' הארץ ומלואה וא"כ הכל הוא כמו הקדש וכמו שאסור להנות מהקדש כי אם לאחר פדיון והנהנה מהם בלא פדיון מעל בקדשי ה' כן אסור להנות מעולם הזה בלא ברכה והיא הפדיון והנהנה בלא ברכה כאלו מעל בקדשי ה

3. Trangressing and eating without a ברכה

  • When eating without a ברכה, is this transgressing בקום ועשה (eating something forbidden), or בשב ואל תעשה (not fulfilling obligation of Brocho)? [See aforementioned Pri Megadim for discussion of this.]

  • R' Shlomo Kluger (שו"ת באלף לך שלמה או"ח סי' שכ"א) rules that one who eats Matza without blessing, is like eating stolen matzah and does not discharge his obligation.

  • Rabbeinu Yona (beginning of כיצד מברכים) writes that one who eats without a blessing is חייב קרבן מעילה. He apparently takes the Gemara 'כאילו מעל' literally.

4. Blessing before eating

The Rishonim discuss why one needs to bless specifically before eating. The Ramban and Ritva (Pesachim 7) explain this is because it is forbidden to eat before blessing, indicating that the Brocho is a Matir.

והוי יודע שלא כלל שמואל כאן אלא כל המצות כולן אבל שאר ברכות לא דברכות הנהנין ודאי קודם שיהנה מהן שאסור ליהנות מעוה"ז בלא ברכה כדאיתא בברכות

Rabbeinu Yona (Brachos 51), however, equates this with the universal rule of כל הברכות כולן מברכין עובר לעשייתן, indicating that it is not a Mattir.

אבל כאן שהיה ראוי לברך מתחלה והיה לו לברך קודם כדאמרינן כל המצות כולן מברכין עליהם עובר לעשייתן ונדחה שלא בירך

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