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The Blessing over Pizza

Rav Daniel Wolf


Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass



This adaptation was not reviewed by the author.


     Pizza is commonly perceived to be in the grey area between ha-motzi and mezonot.  This perception is probably behind the popular formula for how to make a blessing over pizza, "One piece - mezonot; two pieces - ha-motzi."  Our discussion attempts to re-examine this issue.  Our conclusions do not concur with the commonly held approach.




     The passage in Berakhot 42a (according to most of the Rishonim and the Shulchan Arukh OC 168:6,7) concludes that one who eats "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" (see below) less than the amount that "others eat as a set meal" should make "borei minei mezonot" before eating and the condensed three blessings (mei'ein shalosh, al ha-michya) afterwards.  (According to most Rishonim, Rashi holds that the proper berakha acharona is borei nefashot.)  If he eats more than this he should make ha-motzi before and birkat ha-mazon afterwards. 




     The Rishonim argue about how to define "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin."  Three approaches emerge:

A.  Rabbeinu Yona (quoting Rabbeinu Chananel) - Bread (pat) filled with spices and nuts ("kisanin" is from "kis", a pocket).  It seems that the dough is that of standard bread, but is specially filled.

B.  Rashi and the Rambam - Bread kneaded with fruit juice, honey and spices.  The Shulchan Arukh and the Rama (OC 168) disagree about how much water content the dough can have and still be called "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin."  According to the Shulchan Arukh, the honey flavor must be "recognizable" in the dough; according to the Rama the honey must be the primary flavor of the dough and water secondary.

C.  The Arukh quoting Rabbeinu Hai Gaon - Hard crunchy bread that is munched, similar to our crackers.  It is baked like bread or matza, but is made to be eaten in small quantities. 


     The Shulchan Arukh (OC 168:7) rules leniently like all three approaches.  In other words, one should make mezonot on all three types of foods when not eaten as a meal.  The Rama disagrees concerning Rashi and the Rambam's approach and rejects the Arukh completely.




     A number of basic questions arise:


1.  Why is "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" sometimes treated like bread and sometimes not?  Either it is bread and always should merit a ha-motzi, or else never should.

2.  Why did the Shulchan Arukh rule like all of the three opinions?

3.  Why (asks Rabbi Akiva Eiger) did the Shulchan Arukh not rule that a God-fearing Jew should follow all of the opinions stringently?  (Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l in Igrot Moshe OC part 3, #32 and Rav Ovadia Yosef yl"t in Yabia Omer OC #12 deal with this question.)

4.  The Bi'ur Halakha (OC 168) writes that the three approaches quoted above might not be in disagreement with each other.  How is this possible?




     The answer to all of these questions lies in our understanding of "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" and of the ha-motzi blessing.  "Pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin"'s form and nature is completely that of bread, but since most people do not make a meal out of it, we do not always make ha-motzi over it.  Ha-motzi is not only a blessing over bread, but a blessing over a MEAL. 


     We can now understand the strange rule of "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" - to make ha-motzi over it only when it is eaten as a meal.  "Pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" is 100% bread.  However, it is not eaten as bread usually is, which is to say as a meal.  It does not usually function as bread.  Therefore, when eaten in its typical fashion it does not obligate a birkat ha-mazon and ha-motzi.  When a meal is made out of it, however, there is no reason not to make ha-motzi and birkat ha-mazon. 




     Based on this insight, we can understand the difference between "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" on the one hand, and deep fried pastries ("sufganiot") and things that do not have the form of bread ("tzurat ha-pat") on the other.  "Sufganiot" are fried and not baked like bread; things without "tzurat ha-pat," though baked, differ from bread in their external appearance.  These two are not defined as bread at all and therefore do not obligate birkat ha-mazon even if a meal was made out of them, according to most authorities. 


     "Pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" does not lack the objective definition of bread.  Its distinction lies in the fact that it is eaten under different circumstances than bread is.  Once one eats a quantity that people consider a meal, one is obligated to recite birkat ha-mazon and ha-motzi.  This is the reason why many of the Rishonim define "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" as a pastry with honey, almonds, and nuts.  It is usually eaten as a sweet, and not for satiation. 


     This also explains the Shulchan Arukh's ruling (OC 168:17) that "pashtida", bread filled with meat, cheese, or fish, obligates a birkat ha-mazon and ha-motzi.  Most Acharonim agree with the Magen Avraham that even an olive's worth of "pashtida" obligates birkat ha-mazon (against the Taz's approach, who views it as "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin").  Filling up the bread with meat does not hinder bread's ability to satiate a person.  On the contrary, it is a way of having a whole meal at once (the equivalent of a sandwich).  This is not "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" but normal bread; it is bread normally eaten as a meal.  It meets the formal definition of bread (as does pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin) and usually functions as bread (unlike pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin).




     Pizza, according to the above, seems much more like "pashtida," namely bread filled with cheese, than "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin," which are pastries usually eaten as desert.  Pizza is made to satiate and is normally eaten as a meal.  Bread is not necessarily defined as something ALWAYS eaten as a meal; bread is sometimes eaten outside the context of a meal.  There is therefore no relevant difference between pizza and normal bread.


     Even if pizza would be defined as "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin," it would also most likely obligate birkat ha-mazon and ha-motzi.  As mentioned above, when "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" is eaten as a meal, it also obligates ha-motzi and birkat ha-mazon.  What is considered a meal (kevi'at se'uda)?  According to the Shibolei Ha-leket (129) and the Agur (219), a meal is defined as one of the standard daily meals; if one makes a breakfast, lunch, or dinner out of "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" he must make ha-motzi.  According to the Beit Yosef, even if one eats "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" of the size of three or four eggs he is obligated to make ha-motzi.  The Mishna Berura (OC 168:24) rules in accordance with the stringency of the Beit Yosef.  It seems to me that one could arrive at a ha-motzi over pizza according to both of these opinions.  If he ate pizza the size of 3-4 eggs or if he made pizza into his lunch or dinner he should make ha-motzi.  


     There are other reasons to say ha-motzi over pizza.  From the gemara, it is clear that even one who typically makes a meal over a larger quantity is still obligated to make ha-motzi if he eats the amount "that others make into a meal."  One who makes a meal out of a quantity smaller than that of the norm is the subject of a dispute between the Rosh and the Ra'avad.  The Ra'avad obligates birkat ha-mazon (since he ate it as a meal) while the Rosh does not ("batla da'ato etzel kol adam" -  literally, his personal approach is negated in the face of the predominant practice).


     Certainly, according to the Ra'avad, even if a smaller quantity of pizza is eaten as a meal, ha-motzi should be made.  But even according to the Rosh, a case might be made to obligate a ha-motzi.  He applies the rule "batla da'ato etzel kol adam" (his personal approach is negated in the face of the predominant practice).  What is the nature of this principle in our case?  If it means (A.) that 3-4 eggs is the objective quantitative definition to a meal, even if many people would make a meal out of a smaller quantity a mezwould still be made.  If, however, it means (B.) that the halakha does not take into account strange and rare practices when drafting rules, then if a significant minority did treat the smaller amount as a meal then ha-motzi should be made.  For instance, if old or sick people make a meal out of a smaller quantity of "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin," then they should make a ha-motzi.  (Concerning this, see Eiruvin 30b, Berakhot 35b, and Nazir 36b.) 


     The Bi'ur Halakha comments that old and sick people (and perhaps other groups such as children, and maybe women) that make a meal out of a smaller quantity should make ha-motzi.  The Igrot Moshe also writes that the 3-4 eggs quantity is not etched in stone; rather, whatever is considered in a particular place to be a meal becomes the quantity requiring ha-motzi.  The Bi'ur Halakha and the Igrot Moshe both seem to take this second understanding of the Rosh, that there is no objective quantity defining a meal. 


     The Magen Avraham and the Ginat Veradim might also be operating with this approach.  The Magen Avraham writes that other foods eaten with the "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" also help to make up the size of 3-4 eggs.  The Ginat Veradim (Principle 1, section 24) writes that the quantity varies based on the type of food.  Both seem to be considering with whatever amount makes up a meal and are not assuming some objective rule that one makes ha-motzi over the "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin" the size of 3-4 eggs.


     In short, whether or not to make ha-motzi over a small quantity of pizza eaten as a meal is the subject of a dispute between the Acharonim.




     What after-berakha should be made when one is in doubt about whether to make ha-motzi or al ha-michya? 


     The Ginat Veradim (1:24) claims that on a biblical level, one fulfills the obligation of birkat ha-mazon through the condensed three blessings of al ha-michya (see Yabia Omer 2:12).  One might have distinguished between a situation where one ate enough to be satiated - in which case he is obligated to make birkat ha-mazon on a biblical level - and where one ate less and is only obligated rabbinically.  In the first situation, we might have said to only accept birkat ha-mazon itself.  The Ginat Veradim, however, rules that even on a biblical level, al ha-michya is enough to fulfill the requirement.  If that is so, where there is a doubt about whether to make al ha-michya or birkat ha-mazon one should simply make al ha-michya - it is only a rabbinic level doubt. 


     A passage in Berakhot (37a) seems to go against the Ginat Veradim's approach.  The subject of the gemara is a dispute between Rabban Gamliel and the sages over whether to make the condensed three blessings of al ha-aretz ve-al peiroteha, or birkat ha-mazon over the seven species of the Land of Israel.  Rabbi Akiva, when honored with leading the after-blessing, made the condensed blessing.  Rabban Gamliel protested, "Why are you getting involved in a dispute of your superiors?"  Rabbi Akiva replied, "Where the majority and the minority argue, the ruling is with the majority." 


     Rabbi Akiva implies that if there was still an unresolved dispute, Rabban Gamliel would have been correct to make birkat ha-mazon.  Making birkat ha-mazon would have been the proper way of dealing with a situation where there is a doubt concerning which blessing to make.  This seems to counter the Ginat Veradim's approach.  If one indeed fulfills the requirement of birkat ha-mazon through the condensed blessing, it should be considered an unnecessary blessing to make the extra blessings of birkat ha-mazon in a case of doubt.  The principle behind the gemara seems to be that where there is a doubt about whether to make birkat ha-mazon it itself must be made, and not the condensed blessing.  We remain with an unresolved question on the Ginat Veradim.




     There seem to be a number of reasons to make birkat ha-mazon over pizza, even if one did not make a meal out of it.


1.  Pizza is totally defined as bread because it has both the form of bread and is normally eaten as a meal.  It is categorized as the gemara's "pashtida" and not as "pat ha-ba'a be-kisanin."

2.  If one made a meal out of pizza, the Ra'avad rules that he should always make ha-motzi and birkat ha-mazon.

3.  Even the Rosh would likely say that if common practice is to make a meal out of a small quantity of pizza (even one piece), ha-motzi should be made.

4.  If all of these arguments only raise a doubt about whether to make birkat ha-mazon or not, it is preferable to make birkat ha-mazon.  It is not considered an unnecessary blessing since he is at least obligated to make the condensed blessing (and the long version includes the condensed one).  It is, however, unclear if a doubt about whether to make birkat ha-mazon or the condensed blessing is considered a biblical level doubt (and birkat ha-mazon should be made), or a rabbinic level one (and the condensed blessing should be made). 


Adapted from Daf Kesher #583, Shevat 5757.


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