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Halachic Definitions of Fruit and Vegetable


This week’s article addresses the question of how halacha differentiates between a fruit and a vegetable. In the botanical world, there are many definitions for fruit, vegetable, tree, herb, and shrub. However, what are the halachic definitions for each? Which species are subject to the prohibition of orlah? On which do we recite “Borei Pri Ha’etz”? What other halachos depend upon the classification of species? Is the determining factor whether the plant is perennial? How is perennial defined in halacha? Is it possible for a low herb to be considered a tree?

This week we will also explore why some early halachic authorities forbade eating eggplants, why some kashrut certifications do not approve the use of certain hot peppers, and if a banana is considered a vegetable or not, and why? What is the halachic status of raspberries? Is there a difference between the different varieties? What’s the problem with papaya? Why do some stringent kashrut agencies prohibit eating Israeli passionfruit, and why do others permit it? These questions and others are addressed in this week’s article.

Halachic Fruits and Vegetables

In this week’s parasha we read of the mitzva to make Shmitta fruit hefker (ownerless). Last week we referenced to the passage from the Zohar (Bereshis 25a) which explains the aspects for which we are judged on Shavuos: whether we waited the required years of orlah before enjoying a tree’s bounty; and whether we gave out the Shmitta fruit free of charge. Both these mitzvos are discussed in the parshiyos we read during these weeks.

For both mitzvos, it is essential to define what is considered the fruit of a tree and what is classified as a vegetable. The mitzvah of orlah pertains only to fruit, and the mitzvah of Shmitta applies differently to fruits and vegetables. Understanding these distinctions is crucial for properly fulfilling these commandments.

Halachic Ramifications

Defining what is a fruit and what is a vegetable is important for several reasons:

  • Determining the proper bracha: HaEitz or HaAdama; Atzei Besamim or Isvei Besamim.
  • Determining if the prohibition of orlah applies.
  • Determining if the prohibition of kilayim applies (the prohibition to sow two variants close by).
  • Determining the year of maser since fruit is determined by the date of sprouting, while vegetables depend on the day of harvesting. This also has Shmitta ramifications – the prohibition of sfichin only applies to vegetables, not to fruit.
  • Uprooting a fruit tree is prohibited, while there is no prohibition to uproot a vegetable plant.

Defining Characteristics of Trees

A tree is defined by two characteristics:

  • Trees are perennial plants, while annual ones are vegetables (Brachos 40a).
  • Trees have a trunk, and the fruit grows from the branches whereas a vegetable grows directly from the ground. A vegetable is considered as the fruit of the ground which explains why its blessing is “Bore Pri HaAdama”, while the blessing for fruit that is produced by a tree is “Borei Pri HaEitz” (Kilayim, Tosefta 3:13; Yerushalmi Kilayim 5:7).

A third category are perennial grasses that do not have a trunk. These perennial grasses grow back either from the root or from the root stem, and are subject to much halachic debate.

Additional Characteristics

The poskim mention other criteria

  • While a plant that needs to be replanted every year is clearly a vegetable (Brachos 40a), one that once planted lives for several years, but dies in the winter and regrows in the summer from the same roots, like the banana plant, is also a vegetable (Brachos 40a, according to the Geonim).
  • Another characteristic is the height at which they grow. Vegetables are plants that grow directly on the ground (Machzik Bracha OC 202:3; Halachos Ketanos, Volume I, Chapter 3; Leket Hakemach YD 294). Some authorities maintain that any plant less than three tefachim (handbreadths) is considered a vegetable (Chayei Adam 51:9; Mishna Berura 203:3).
  • Plants that produce fruit within the first year of planting are classified as vegetables rather than fruit (Radvaz, Volume III, 531).
  • A plant whose produce diminishes in quality or quantity as the years progress is considered a vegetable, while one whose produce improves each year is defined as a tree (Birkei Yosef YD 294, quoting the Maharam Alschiech).
  • A plant that no longer produces fruit after three years is certainly a vegetable.
  • A tree must have a hard trunk. Therefore, a plant with a trunk made of layers of leaves is considered a vegetable (Kaftor V’Perach 56). A soft trunk is also one of the defining features of a vegetable (Brachos 43b; Eiruvin 34b). A hollow trunk is also a sign of a vegetable (Halachos Ketanos Volume I, Chapter 83).
  • Plants that need regular watering are also considered vegetables and not fruit. This is one of the signs that indicate that the banana is a vegetable. (An exception is the esrog tree, which requires constant watering in order to grow and thrive.)

Many of the above characteristics are subject to halachic debate, and poskim agreed to rule on a species when several characteristics present together. Nevertheless, there remain species which are still subject to debate.


Several hundred years ago, the orlah status of eggplant sparked wide halachic debate. From the debate we can learn various halachos and how they apply.

Rabbi Ashtori HaParchi, in his sefer Kaftor VaFerach (Chapter 56), ruleded nearly 700 years ago that eating eggplants is forbidden. He reasoned that the stem of the eggplant is hard and strong, and the leaves and fruits grow from the stem rather than from the roots, classifying the plant as a tree. However, he noted that the eggplant does not have a long lifespan, and its stem produces fruit only in its first year. In the Jordan Valley, a very hot region, the eggplant produces fruit in its second year as well. Therefore, the fruits are certainly considered orlah, as it is impossible to find eggplants from the fourth year onward. Even outside Israel, Rabbi Ashtori HaParchi ruled that eggplants are forbidden, because they are definitely orlah, not just safek orlah.

The Radvaz (a prominent Sephardic halachic authority who served as a rabbi in Egypt, Jerusalem, and Safed) also grappled with the question of the eggplant’s orlah status. His writings suggest significant controversy within the Jewish community on this issue. The Radvaz wrote (Responsa, 4:296) that although he himself is stringent and considers the eggplant to be definitely orlah, he does not protest against those who permit it. He even mentioned that he does not refrain from being a guest at the homes of Jews known to cook eggplants in their utensils, and that care must be taken to avoid causing disputes or a desecration of G-d’s name.

In another responsum (3:531), he elaborates that some Jews avoid eating eggplants, while others do not. He himself refrained from eating them, and advises those who follow his rulings to do the same, but does not issue a public prohibition, as there is a basis to rely on, for those who permit it. Nevertheless, he concludes that those who are stringent will be blessed, especially since eggplants are harmful to the body.

He notes that only the black skin variety is forbidden to eat. However, the white skinned variety, which is an annual, is permitted.

He ends the responsa describing how surprised he was upon arriving in Israel and seeing that everyone considered eggplants as vegetables, and permitted consuming them, despite safek orlah being prohibited in Eretz Yisroel. Therefore, he reasons, any plant that produces fruit in its first years is a vegetable and not a fruit.

Practically, it has been established that eggplants are classified as a vegetable, not a tree, and not bound to the halachos of orlah. The Chida (Birkei Yosef YD 294:4) testified that even the Arizal, Rabbi Chaim Vital, and many other revered figures ate eggplants without hesitation. Furthermore, the author of the Shulchan Aruch ruled that it is a vegetable, and permitted it without hesitation. However, there is no consensus among the halachic authorities regarding the reasoning why eggplants are permitted, and various explanations have been offered:

  1. The Radvaz (Responsa, 3:531) cites Rav Hai Gaon’s opinion that since the branches of eggplants dry out in the winter and the root produces new branches in the summer, the plant is a vegetable. [However, the Radvaz himself believed that the Rambam disagreed with this principle.] He adds, that eggplants are considered as vegetables, because plants that produce fruit in the first year are vegetables. The Ben Ish Chai (Rav Pe’alim 2:30) cites this criterion in the name of the Maharshal Germizan.
  2. The Maharam Alshich (cited by Birkei Yosef YD 294:4) wrote that since the quality and quantity of eggplant bushes decrease with every successive year, it is classified as a vegetable. Eggplants are sweet and good in the first year, somewhat less so in the second year, and by the third year — they are barely edible and mainly used for seeding.
  3. The Halachot Ketanot (Part 1:83) wrote that the stem of the eggplant is hollow, and therefore not considered a tree.
  4. The Chazon Ish (Orlah, 12:3) believed that the primary reason later authorities permitted eggplants is because the plant does not last for three years. It is unreasonable to think that the Torah would prohibit the fruits of a plant if it cannot produce a fourth-year crop.

The Tiny Yemenite Pepper

Another example is the Tiny Yemenite Pepper. Some 30 years ago, a young man visited his grandmother who served him a species of peppers called Tiny Yemenite Peppers, which grew in her yard. She noted that the plant was 5 years old already, and the peppers were much hotter than before. The young man realized that if the pepper bush produces peppers after 3 years, it might be considered a tree and not a bush, and then the blessing for the fruit would be “Borei Pri HaEitz” and it would require counting the years for orlah. (The species which chazal term ‘pepper’ refers to black pepper, which is considered a tree [Succah 35a)].

The question was presented to leading halachic authorities, who requested more data. In the meantime, they issued instructions to avoid using hot peppers due to the concern of orlah, as the vast majority of the produce comes from plants that are less than three years old.

After a period of thorough investigation, it was established that all commercial varieties of hot peppers, such as the elongated variety used to produce hot paprika, have no orlah concerns, and their blessing is “Borei Pri HaAdamah” because: 1) they do not survive beyond two years, 2) their yield decreases from year to year, and 3) they produce fruit in their first year.

However, according to many halachic authorities (Rabbi Elyashiv in Yisa Yosef, Zeraim, 6; Teshuvot VeHanhagot, 3:333; and others), certain varieties, such as the Tiny Yemenite Pepper, the Sudanese Pepper, and other specialty preppers, should indeed be forbidden due to the prohibition of orlah. These varieties have a long lifespan and continue to produce fruit in their fourth and fifth years. Despite the peppers becoming extremely hot in the later years, this does not mean they are not edible. On the contrary – their quality and uniqueness lie in their spiciness, therefore, the hotter they are, the better the tree is considered.

According to the Radvaz and the Ben Ish Chai, since these peppers produce fruit in their first year, they are vegetables, not trees. Therefore, those who follow the Ben Ish Chai may be lenient also with regard to specialty peppers. According to all opinions, since there is a doubt, the blessing should be “Borei Pri HaAdamah”, and it is forbidden to plant them together with other species due to the prohibition of kilayim.


The banana grows on a stem-like branch (a thick stalk resembling a trunk composed of many  onion-like layers of leaves). The fruit begins to develop about six months after planting, and is ready for picking in the second year. Then, the branch dries out, and a new branch grows from the root, producing new clusters of bananas. The root lasts many years without replanting, but each branch that grows from the root lasts no longer than two years. Thus, at any given time, there are banana branches, but no branch has a long lifespan. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 203:3) ruled that the banana is a vegetable.

The Geonim (as cited in the Beit Yosef, Siman 203) reason that since branch dries out and a new branch grows from the root, its blessing is “Borei Pri HaAdamah”. The Kaftor VaPerach (56) lists four additional reasons why a banana is a vegetable:

  1. The leaves emerge from the root.
  2. The stem is layered (i.e., there is no trunk).
  3. It requires constant watering.
  4. The trunk does not dry out but rather decays.


The strawberry plant has roots that produce soft stems, which spread out on the earth and later take root in other places. The stem is above ground, and lasts 3-4 years. Leaves and fruit grow from the stem. The yield in the first year is excellent, but declines from the second year on. For economic reasons, the plant is uprooted after harvesting, and replanted the following year. The timing of the first year’s yield varies by location; in some places, fruit grow in less than a year from planting, and in others — over a year.

The early authorities are disputed about the status of the strawberry, but all poskim today ascertain that the strawberry is treated as a vegetable.


There are two types of red raspberries. In floricane-fruiting (summer-bearing) cultivars, the plants bear a crop in early summer, after two years, and are subject to debate (Israeli produce should not be consumed). Primocanes (fall-bearing) cultivars produce a significant amount of fruit in the fall, and are considered vegetables.

Black raspberries have tree-like characteristics, and the branches are stronger and thicker. Nevertheless, they are subject to extensive halachic debate, and Israeli black raspberries should not be consumed at all.


The papaya is relatively new in Israel, having made its debut about thirty years ago. The round variety bear fruit from the second year on, but in hotter countries it might even begin bearing fruit 10 months from planting, and the tree can last for many years. However the longer, Thai species, bears fruit in its first year, and lives no longer than three years.

Papaya has interesting characteristics. It grows very tall, but its trunk is hollow, and the fruit grows right out of the trunk.

Since the tree grows impressively every year, and the fruit grow at the top of an unsteady hollow trunk, cultivators harvest papaya trees for only 2 or 3 years, and then cut it down and replant it. Economically, this method is cheaper than harvesting the papaya with a crane.

As a result, all papaya is harvested within the first three years of the tree’s life, and if it is a tree, it is most likely orlah.

The Ben Ish Chai (Rav Pe’alim, II OC 30) discusses whether the prohibition of orlah applies to papaya, and what the appropriate blessing for it is. From his response it is evident that he was not familiar with the fruit himself, but responded to the inquiry based on descriptions provided by people from India. The papaya tree he describes produced fruit in its first, second, and third years, but after three years, it would fall and dry up. Practically, he permitted the fruit because: 1) the tree bears fruit in its first year, 2) the trunk of the tree is hollow, and 3) the fruit does not grow from branches, but directly from the ‘trunk’ (even though he believed this latter sign is not a definitive halachic sign). It appears that the Ben Ish Chai is referring to a variety of elongated papaya known as the Thai variety, which tends to produce fruit in its first year but does not live more than three years, or another Indian variety that bears fruit earlier than the common varieties known today.

However, Rabbi Wosner (Shevet HaLevi, Vol. 6:165) sees a prohibition of orlah with papaya, and it is considered a true tree fruit, for which the correct blessing is “Borei Pri HaEitz.” Nevertheless, he concludes that since the Ben Ish Chai permitted it, one should not protest against those who permit consuming it. Similarly, Rabbi Elyashiv (Yisa Yosef, Vol. 2, 1) ruled that one should observe the prohibition of orlah with papaya.

Rabbi Sternbuch (Teshuvot V’Hanhagot, Vol. 3, Siman 333) wrote that there is doubt in this matter, and therefore, Israeli produce should be regarded as orlah, but with produce from abroad, one may be lenient.

Processed papaya (dried or sugar-coated) has an additional reason for leniency: if orlah only applies to the round variety and not the elongated one, when the consumer cannot identify the variety, there is an additional reason to permit it.


The pineapple grows as a cluster of leaves with a central stalk. The outer leaves sprout from the root in the ground, while the inner leaves emerge from the base of the stalk. A fruit forms at the top of the stalk, topped by the impressive crown of leaves. If this crown is planted in the soil, a new pineapple plant will grow. Once the pineapple fruit matures, the stalk and its leaves wither and die. However, from the base of the old stalk, a new stalk emerges, bearing a new fruit and a fresh cluster of leaves.

The first pineapple fruit appears two years after planting, and the plant continues to produce fruit for 5-6 years. Economically, growers typically harvest only the fruit from the initial planting. Thus, if the pineapple is considered a tree and subject to the laws of orlah, all pineapple crops would be orlah produce.

Indeed, some maintain that the blessing for pineapples is Borei Pri HaEitz, and therefore subject to the laws of orlah. However, Rabbi Reichenberg and Rabbi Efrati (Halichot Sadeh, issues 202 and 204) argue that pineapple should be classified as a vegetable, based on several reasons:

  1. The fruit size diminishes from one cycle to the next.
  2. The pineapple stem is not woody, but rather white and soft, similar to a kohlrabi or cabbage stalk.
  3. The stem decays and decomposes instead of remaining hard.
  4. The plant’s appearance resembles a vegetable, with a short stalk and long leaves.
  5. The new shoot appears to grow from the root, not from the stalk.

Passionfruit (Purple Granadilla)

The passionfruit plant is a climbing vine that produces fruit, with some vines bearing fruit as early as the first year. The vine’s stem is woody, and lives for about five years. After three years, its yield significantly decreases, though proper care, such as pruning to allow sunlight penetration, can maintain good yield in subsequent years. Economically, it is often more viable to replant the vine rather than invest in its maintenance.

Given these characteristics, there is a halachic debate regarding the orlah status of passionfruit. In Israel, the common purple granadilla variety often falls under the orlah prohibition, and thus many stringent kashrus agencies only permit imported passionfruit. However, other rabbis permit the fruit altogether, arguing that orlah does not apply to it.

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