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Jewish Prayers: Blessings Before Food

Benedictions are said before eating any food or drinking any beverage. Each benediction begins with the words: baruch atah adonai elokeinu melech haolam. The ending depends on what is to be eaten or drunk.

For all fruit that grows on a tree the benediction is boreh pri haetz (O.H. 202:1). A tree is defined as a plant whose branches do not perish in the winter, and whose leaves grow from the trunk and from the branches but not from the roots (O.H. 203:2). This would exclude the banana tree, whose branches grow anew every year. Dried fruit has the status of ordinary fruit (O.H. 202:9 in B.H. 19).

For things that grow in or near the earth, such as vegetables, beans, potatoes, or turnips, the benediction is boreh pri haadamah (O.H. 203: 1).

For foods which are not the product of the soil, such as meat, fish, milk, and cheese, and for all beverages except wine, the benediction is shehakol nihyeh bidvaro; (0.H. 204: 1). For pastry, the talmudic pat haba'ah b'chisnin, or "food made from the dough" of any of the five species of grain, kneaded mainly with fat, oil, honey, milk, eggs, or fruit juice, but not with water exclusively, or for dough filled with fruit, meat, cheese, or the like, the benediction is boreh minei m'zonot (O.H. 168:6, 208:2).

For bread, because it is the staff of life, there is a specific individual blessing: hamotzi lechem min haaretz (O.H. 167:2). Bread is the product of a baking process. If it is then boiled, or boiled before and then baked (as the modern bagel), it still has the status of bread (O.H. 168:13-14).

Wine, too, because of its distinction as a beverage, has a special benediction: boreh pri hagafen (O.H. 202:1).

Vegetables and fruits that are eaten both raw and cooked have the same benediction in both states (O.H. 202:12, 205: 1). But for any vegetable that is usually eaten cooked, the benediction when eaten raw is shehakol (ibid.). When eaten cooked, the blessing is boreh pri haetz for fruit (O.H. 202:12) and boreh pri ha'adamah for vegetables (O.H. 205:1).

When one eats several foods that have different blessings, the more significant food determines the benediction to be recited (O.H. 204:12).

At a meal, the benediction for bread at the beginning is sufficient for all the food and beverages that will be served except for the wine, which always commands a benediction for itself (O.H. 177:1, 174:1).

If one eats or drinks for medicinal purposes, a benediction should be recited even over forbidden food, which becomes permissible when taken as a medicine (O.H. 204:8). If, however, the medicine is bitter and unpalatable, no benediction is necessary (Rama, O.H. 208:8).

Once the benediction has been recited, one should eat immediately without conversation or too long a pause (O.H. 167:6).

Sources: Klein, Isaac. A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice. NY: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1988. Reprinted here with permission.