We open the first meal of the new year—the first se’udah of Rosh Hashanah—with the simanim. The Gemara teaches that simana milsa, that omens are significant, and based on this we lay the table with foods possessing positive messages, over which we recite blessings and prayers related to the upcoming year.
The custom of having these foods at the table, and, indeed, eating them, raises the issue of which food to eat first. More precisely, the question is which beracha must be recited first, and the answer to this question will decide which food should be eaten first.
This is an important point to begin with. Where there is a special reason for eating one food before another, we do not need to worry about the order of berachos. For instance, if a soup is served as a first course and noodles as the main course, we do not need to eat the noodles before the soup, even though their berahca (mezonos) takes precedence over that of the soup (shehakol or ha’adama). In this case, we make the relevant beracha for whichever food we want to eat first, and need not worry about the order of berachos (see below, concerning a preferred food).
Yet, where there is no special reason to eat one food before the other, as in the case of the Rosh Hashanah simanim, it is important to know the order of precedence among berachos, and therefore to know what to eat first. With Rosh Hashanah just around the corner, we take the opportunity to discuss and clarify this issue.
Foods with the Same Berachah
The Mishnah (Berachos 40b) discusses a case in which a person has several fruits in front of him. One of the fruits is of the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, while the others are not. The Mishnah cites a dispute among the Sages: “Rabbi Yehuda says: If there is a fruit of the Seven Species among them, the beracha is recited over it; the Sages say: He recites the beracha over whatever fruit he wants.”
This dispute does not seem to relate to an order of precedence; all the foods are fruit, and they all have the same beracha. Rather, the dispute (as Ulla explains) appears to relate to the question of which of them the beracha should be recited. According to Rabbi Yehuda, one recites the beracha over a fruit belonging to the Seven Species. The Sages, however, rule that one should recite the beracha over the fruit that a person most desires: the chaviv.
The Rishonim (Rosh, Mordechai, Rashba, Rambam) explain that both Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages agree that there is a special virtue to a fruit of belonging to the Seven Species, and a special virtue of a favorite fruit. Each has its special advantage. The question is which virtue is preferred, the Seven Species or the chaviv (the preferred food)? Of course, where only one of the two virtues is present—there is no fruit of the Seven Species (or all of them are of the Seven Species), or there is no preferred fruit—all agree that the single virtue present decides which fruit the beracha is recited over.
Although the Gemara has this discussion concerning fruit, it applies equally to any case of foods possessing the same beracha. Usually, for foods of the same beracha one will therefore recite the beracha on the favored food. Sometimes, there may be another virtue (pastry over non-pastry, a whole food over a non-whole food—see below) to take into account.
Foods of Different Berachos
Another opinion of the Gemara, however, understands that the Mishnah refers to foods of different berachos. According to this view, the question is not which fruit to recite the beracha over—which is the “most important food,” which deserves the honor of reciting the beracha over it—but rather the correct order of berachos.
According to this approach, Rabbi Yehuda maintains given a set of fruit and other foods, a fruit belonging to the Seven Species should be given preference in the order of berachos. The Sages maintain that the first beracha should be recited over the food that is chaviv. This means that the favorite food, whatever its beracha, takes precedence even over a fruit of the Seven Species.
We can understand the opinion of the Sages based on the assumption, noted above, that one does not have to change the natural order of one’s eating for the sake of reciting one beracha before another. Where one of the foods is favorite, the natural order is to eat the favored food first. This order does not need to be changed. However, as we will see below, this explanation depends on how we define the chaviv.
One and Then the Other
Ulla, who understood the Mishnah as talking about a homogeneous set of fruit (all of the same beracha), concludes by mentioning the case of a heterogeneous set of fruit: “But if their berachos are different, all agree that one recites a beracha on one and then on the other.”
What does this statement mean? Which one of them comes first?
The Rosh (6:25) writes that according to Ulla there is no specific order of berachos, and one can recite whichever beracha one wishes. According to Ulla, the only halacha concerning beracha priorities relates to fruit belonging to the same beracha group. For fruit of different berachos, there is no order of berachos.
However, the Rosh is a minority opinion in this matter, and other Rishonim write that where fruits belong to different beracha groups, one must recite the beracha on the favorite fruit. If one’s favorite fruit is mango, the mango (ha’etz) gets precedence over a cucumber. But if one prefers cucumbers, its ha’adama will come first.
Thus, for fruit of the same category, Rabbi Yehuda maintains that fruit of the Seven Species receive preference. However, for fruit/vegetables of different beracha categories, he agrees to the precedence given by the Sages to the person’s personally preferred fruit.
The Most Specific Berachah
The principles noted above raise an apparent conflict with another well-known principle of beracha precedence: “The most specific beracha comes first.”
As we know from the Gemara (Berachos 39a) and from later authorities, the general rule is that where a person has several foods before him of different beracha categories, the most specific beracha must be made first, followed by the more general, inclusive berachos. Thus, ha’adama of vegetables takes precedence over the shehakol of meat, because shehokol is a general beracha applicable to all foods, whereas ha’adama applies only to foods that grow from the earth.
Now, the beracha of ha’etz is more specific than ha’adama, since ha’etz refers to fruit of a tree alone, while ha’adama refers to all produce of the earth. This raises the question: How can Ulla favor the chaviv (the favorite food) if it is not the most specific berachah?
Tosafos (s.v. aval) address this question, and write that although shehakol is a general beracha, ha’adama is not considered general relative to ha’etz, and therefore ha’etz does not take automatic preference over ha’adama. Although ha’etz is more specific, this difference is not sufficient to give the beracha precedence.
However, the Behag (Berachos Chap. 6, p. 67; see also Shita Mekubetzes 39a) writes that we always prioritize the more specific beracha, and ha’etz always takes precedence over ha’adama. According to this opinion, when Ulla stated that for different berachos “all agree that one recites a beracha on one and then on the other,” the intention is only that both berachos must be recited (one beracha is not sufficient). The order of the berachos is determined by how specific they are to a particular food, so that ha’etz always precedes ha’adama.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 211:3) mentions both these opinions. The Mishnah Berurah (211:18) rules that where foods have different berachos the first preference is chaviv (the preferred food)—as we will see below. If there is no favorite among the foods, one should recite the more specific beracha first (he adds that wheat or barley, when eaten raw, have precedence over fruits, because they belong to the Seven Species).
In the above dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages, most authorities rule according to Rabbi Yehuda: For a basket of different fruit (with the same beracha), one should recite the beracha on a fruit of the Seven Species. However, the Rambam rules in accordance with the Sages (Berachos 8:13), meaning that the beracha is recited on the preferred fruit (chaviv), and not the fruit of the Seven Species.
The Shulchan Aruch (211:1) rules that for a set of fruit in the same beracha category one recites the beracha over the fruit of the Seven Species, and only if there is no member of the Seven Species present do we follow the favorite fruit. Note that among the Seven Species there is also an order of preference, with those species closer to the word eretz of the verse receiving preference (a grape therefore comes before a pomegranate; the word eretz occurs twice in the verse, and the order is therefore: wheat/olives, barley/dates, grapes, figs, pomegranates).
Where the beracha of the different fruit/foods is not the same, the Shulchan Aruch writes that there is no order of precedence, adding that “some say” that one must give precedence to the favorite food.
The Mishnah Berurah (Biur Halachah) writes that the second opinion carries the weight of numerous authorities, and therefore should be heeded: when foods of different beracha categories are present one should begin the order of berachos with the favorite food. However, he adds (citing the Eliyah Rabbah) that other authorities rule in favor of a fruit belonging to the Seven Species even in circumstances of heterogeneous beracha categories,.
The conclusion of the Mishnah Berurah is nonetheless that the favorite food should be given precedence, in accordance with the second opinion noted by the Shulchan Aruch.
A Whole Food
The Mishnah Berurah (4) adds that for fruit in the same beracha category, a fruit of the Seven Species receives preference even if it is only piece (half a grape), and even if there is another fruit that is whole.
However, where no member of the Seven Species is present, or where two fruits carry the same level of importance, the ruling is that one should prefer a whole fruit, even over the favorite fruit.
The Mishnah Berurah (Shaar HaTziun 5) debates whether this principle applies even for foods of different beracha categories where he likes the partial fruit more, and does not reach a conclusion on the question.
What is Considered Chaviv (Favorite)
An important issue raised by authorities is the definition of a favorite (chaviv) food: The main question is whether we follow a person’s general preference, or the specific preference that a person has at the time of eating.
The Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah (28a) state that a person’s generally preferred food is considered chaviv, even if he now most desires a different food. However, the Rambam writes that “he should give precedence to the one he desires most,” indicating that the test for chaviv is here and now.
The Shulchan Aruch (loc. cit.) rules in accordance with the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah: If a person generally prefers bananas, but now especially wants a mango, he should give precedence to the banana. However, if the food he now wants is a fruit of the Seven Species, it should be given preference, in deference to those authorities who rule that the Seven Species always come first.
Getting the Order Wrong
The Rema (211:5) rules that if somebody makes a beracha on the wrong food (instead of making ha’etz on a date, he recited the beracha on an apple) he must make a second beracha on the date even if the date was already in front of him. However, this rule does not apply if he had explicit intention that the beracha on the apple should also apply to the date.
The Mishnah Berurah writes that if he made the beracha on the favorite fruit, a second beracha should not be recited, because of the halachic doubt over which is the correct fruit to recite the beracha over.
Moreover, the Aruch Hashulchan (211:16) writes that the entire halachah applies only to Torah scholars, for whom it can be assumed that if the beracha was made on the wrong fruit there was no intention that the beracha should include the preferential fruit. For non-Torah scholars, the halachah does not apply, and even if the beracha was made on the wrong fruit, the right one is included (provided it is at the table at the time of the beracha).
He adds that even for Torah scholars the matter remains unclear, and leaves the issue as requiring further analysis.
The Mishnah Berura gives us sound advice in this matter when he writes that a person should be careful to have explicit intent when reciting the beracha that all other foods of the same beracha category should be included in the beracha.
Hopefully, we will start the year on the right foot, and make sure we follow the correct order of berachos at the Rosh Hashanah meal!