The festive meal in the evening of Rosh Hashanah opens with eating the simanim. Based on the Talmudic statement (Horayos 12A) asserting the importance of good omens on Rosh Hashanah, we have specific foods on the table, over which prayers related to the New Year are recited.
Although it is not clear that this was always the way it was done, the common custom today is that these foods are not only placed on the table, but also eaten as an introduction to the meal. This raises the issue of which food to eat first, or more precisely which berachah is recited first.
The issue of precedence of berachos is of course not limited to Rosh Hashanah, and accompanies us throughout the year. However, with the Day of Judgment just around the corner, we take the opportunity to discuss the issue, and to clarify the order in which berachos are recited.
Fruit with the Same Berachah
The Mishnah (Berachos 40b) discusses a case in which a person has several fruits in front of him, one of them belonging to the Seven Species of the Land of Israel. The Mishnah cites a dispute among the Sages:
“Rabbi Yehudah says: If there is a fruit of the Seven Species among them, the berachah is recited over it; The Sages say: He recites the berachah over whichever fruit he wants.”
The Gemara, citing Ulla, explains that the dispute refers specifically to different fruits with the same berachah. The question is not which berachah to recite first, but rather which fruit to recite the berachah over: According to Rabbi Yehudah one recites the berachah over a fruit belonging to the Seven Species, whereas according to the Sages the berachah is recited over whichever fruit he most desires to eat (known as the chaviv).
In contrast, where the question involves foods with different berachos, “all agree that one recites a berachah on one and then on the other.”
The Rishonim (Rosh, Mordechai, Rashba, Rambam) explain that both Rabbi Yehudah and the Sages agree that there is a precedence virtue to fruit of the Seven Species, and that there is also a precedence virtue to the preferred (favorite) fruit. The question is which virtue is stronger: Do we first take fruit with the virtue of the Seven Species, or fruit with the virtue of the chaviv (the preferred food)?
Thus, where only one of the two virtues is present – there is no fruit of the Seven Species, or there is no preferred fruit – all will agree that the single virtue present decides which fruit the berachah is recited over.
Fruit with Different Berachos
If the Mishnah is referring to a set of fruit whose members all have the same berachah and the question is which fruit is the most important. It is proper to recite the berachah over the most important fruit, and the other fruit will be included in its berachah.
However, the Gemara proceeds to cite an opinion explaining that the Mishnah is actually discussing a set of fruit whose members have different berachos. According to this view, the question is not which fruit to recite the berachah over, but rather the correct order of berachos.
According to this approach, Rabbi Yehudah maintains that in a given situation with fruit and other foods, the berachah over a fruit belonging to the Seven Species should be first in the order of berachos. The Sages, however, maintain that the first berachah should be recited over the food that is chaviv – the preferred food takes precedence even over a fruit of the Seven Species.
One and Then the Other
The statement of Ulla, who understood the Mishnah as talking about fruit that all have the same berachah, concludes by mentioning the case of a heterogeneous set of fruit: “But if their berachos are different, all agree that one recites a berachah on one and then on the other.”
What does this mean? Which one of them comes first?
The Rosh (6:25) writes that according to Ulla there is in fact no specific order of berachos, and one can recite whichever berachah he wishes first. According to Ulla, the only halachah concerning which berachah to make relates to fruit having the same berachah. For fruit of different berachos, there is no connection between the fruit and no order of their respective berachos.
However, the Rosh is a minority opinion in this matter, and other Rishonim write that in the case of fruit having different berachos, one must give precedence to the preferred fruit. If one’s favorite fruit/vegetable of those present is mango, the mango (ha’etz) gets precedence over a cucumber. But if one prefers cucumbers the ha’adama will come first.
For fruit of the same berachah, Rabbi Yehudah maintains that fruit of the Seven Species receive preference. However, for fruit/vegetables of different berachos, he agrees to the precedence given by the Sages to the person’s personally preferred food.
The Most Specific Berachah
The principles noted above raise an apparent conflict with another well known principle of berachah precedence: “The most specific berachah comes first.”
As we know from the Gemara (Berachos 39a) and from later authorities, the general rule is that where a person has a number of foods before him of different berachos, the most specific berachah must be made first, followed by the progressively more general berachos. Thus, the ha’adamah over a vegetable will take precedence over the shehakol of meat, because shehokol is a more general berachah applicable to all foods, whereas ha’adamah applies only to foods that grow from the earth.
Surely, the berachah of ha’etz is more specific than ha’adamah (ha’etz referring specifically to fruit of a tree, and ha’adamah refers to all that grows from the earth), raising the question: How can Ulla favor the chaviv (the personally preferable food) rather than the most specific berachah?
Tosafos (s.v. aval) address this question, and write that although shehakol is a general berachah, ha’adamah is not considered general (because it is specific to foods that grown from the earth), and therefore ha’etz does not take automatic preference over ha’adamah. Although ha’etz is more specific, this difference is not sufficient to give the berachah precedence.
However, the Behag (Berachos Chap. 6, p. 67; see also Shitah Mekubetzes 39a) writes that we always follow the more specific berachah, and ha’etz always takes precedence over ha’adamah. According to this opinion, when Ulla stated that for different berachos “all agree that one recites a berachah on one and then on the other,” the intention is only that both berachos must be recited (one berachah is not sufficient). The order of the berachos is determined by how specific they are, so that ha’etz will always precede ha’adamah.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 211:3) mentions both opinions: that of Tosafos according to whom there is no precedence of ha’etz over ha’adamah, and that of the Behag who always favors ha’etz over ha’adamah.
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 preference between the foods, one should recite the more specific berachah first (he adds that wheat, when eaten raw, has precedence over fruits, because it belongs to the Seven Species).
In the question of the above dispute between Rabbi Yehudah and the Sages, the majority of authorities rule in accordance with Rabbi Yehudah: For a basket of different fruit (with the same berachah), a fruit of the Seven Species comes first. However, the Rambam rules in accordance with the Sages (Berachos 8:13), meaning that the preferred fruit is eaten first (chaviv), even before a fruit of the Seven Species.
The Shulchan Aruch (211:1) rules that for a collection of fruit with the same berachah a fruit of the Seven Species takes precedence. Only if there is no member of the Seven Species present do we follow the more favored fruit. Note that among the Seven Species there is also an order of preference, with 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 berachah 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 most favored 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 berachos are present one should begin the berachos with the favorite food. However, he adds (citing the Eliyah Rabbah) that other authorities rule, even with heterogeneous berachos, in favor of a fruit belonging to the Seven Species.
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 with the same berachah, a fruit of the Seven Species receives preference even if it only a part of a fruit (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 fruit carry the same level of importance, the ruling is that one should prefer a whole fruit, even above the favorite fruit.
The Mishnah Berurah (Shaar Ha-Ziun 5) discusses whether this principle will apply even for foods of different berachos, and does not reach a conclusion.
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 feels at the time of eating.
The Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah (28a) state that a person’s generally preferred food is considered chaviv, even if at the moment he 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 bananas. 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 berachah on the wrong food – instead of making ha’etz on a date, he recited the berachah on an apple – he must make a second berachah on the date. This rule does not apply, however, if he had explicit intention that the berachah on the apple should also apply to the date.
However, the Mishnah Berurah writes that if he made the berachah on the preferred fruit, a second berachah should not be recited, because of the halachic doubt over which is the correct fruit to recite the berachah over.
Moreover, the Aruch Ha-Shulchan (211:16) writes that the entire halachah applies only to Torah scholars, for whom it can be assumed that if the berachah was made on the wrong fruit there was no intention that the berachah should include the preferential fruit. For non-Torah scholars the halachah does not apply, and even if the berachah was made on the wrong fruit, the right one is included (provided it is at the table at the time of the berachah).
He adds that even for Torah scholars the matter remains unclear, and leaves the issue as requiring further analysis.
The Mishnah Berurah gives us sound advice in this matter when he writes that a person should be careful to have explicit intent when reciting the berachah that all other foods of the same berachah category be included in the berachah.
The order of berachos in brief is: Hamotzee; mezonos (for instances in which the berachah is recited during a meal); hagafen (the berachah over wine has special importance); the favored food (this decides between ha’adamah and ha’etz); a fruit of the Seven Species (where there is no clear favorite, and even where there is a split between the general favorite and the currently desired fruit, a member of the Seven Species takes precedence); ha’etz; ha’adamah; shehakol.
The order in which the simanim must be eaten we leave to the reader’s calculation – each according to his simanim. May they indeed be good omens for us for the New Year.