Jewish and Israeli Food

Soul Food: A Guide to Food Blessings

Making a blessing over kosher food before and after eating adds mindfulness to the experience, and to take the moment to remember where the food comes from while expressing gratitude that you have it. 

Most positive mitzvahs (commandments) are associated with a bracha (blessing): lighting candles or saying kiddush over wine on Friday night for example. This also includes some necessary activities that are not commanded per se, such as eating food and safe travel or using the bathroom, for which we still thank G-d with a bracha either for the opportunity or for overall bodily health. 

A blessing over kosher food before and after eating adds mindfulness to the experience. This is everything you need to know about what to say for which foods.

What Are Food Blessings

There are 6 before-blessings, and 3 after-blessings based around types of food, though there are some variations and not everything pairs neatly. 

The idea is to thank G-d for the food; consider how irrigation, soil quality, weather, manufacturing, shipping and so on all need to work without a hitch to get the food on your plate just to sustain your most basic functions. You had to give valuable money to your grocer for it, so give an even more valuable bracha, being mindful about eating it.

 

 

Note that things like dressings, dips, sauces, condiments and spices, and cooking oils etc. that do not make up the reason to eat the food itself do not affect the blessing. This is also true with things made together, like the seeds on a cracker, or the finely diced onions in a pasta. 

The order below is from most to least spiritually significant, transliterated as modern Israeli Hebrew. Communities have other customs on pronunciation, but the words are identical.

Before-Blessings (Brachot Rishonot)

Every before-bracha or bracha rishona in Hebrew, begins the same way, but has a different ending for the type of food.

Baruch atah Ad•hnai El•haynu melech ha-olam…

(Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe…)

 

Leavened Bread: …hamozti lechem min ha-aretz (...who takes out sustenance from the earth)

This includes bread, and everything that has bread, like sandwiches and salads with bread-croutons, and of course the Challah for Shabbat. Other foods with leavened yeast, like soft pretzels, pizza, and matzah, use this too. 

 

 

Referred to as ‘Hamotzi’, it is the most important bracha and once said can include all foods and drinks under it, like with the salad situation mentioned before. If a meal contains bread even as a separate item, all one needs is for this blessing to cover it all, so if your meal is bread-roll and soup, you would not say the bracha over soup too.

 

Unleavened Grains: …borei minei mezonot (...who creates varieties of grain)

This one, ‘mezonot’, contains every grain that is cooked without leavening, like oatmeal, cake or hard pretzels. If it is one of the 5 grains mentioned in the Torah, wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats, or rice that is included rabbinically, it takes this one. That means a Pesach-cake made of almond flour would not take this. 

Unlike hamotzi above that includes everything, this only covers grain-products. If you had a breakfast of oatmeal and an apple, this would need two brachas, but if something is a condiment, like hummus for dipping hard pretzels, it is not in need of a second bracha. 

This principle applies to the rest as well. 

 

 

Wine/Grape Juice: …borei pri hagafen (...who creates fruit of the vine)

The blessing ‘hagafen’ is just for grape wine and grape juice, but not whole grapes or raisins. Once it is said, it can cover other drinks. 

 

 Tree-Fruit: …borei pri ha-etz (...who creates fruit of the tree)

This blessing, known as ‘ha-etz’, is for all tree fruit, tree nuts, and grapes. It does not cover things people think of as fruits and nuts that grow on the ground, like pineapple or peanuts. 

 

 

Vegetables: …borei pri ha-adama (...who creates fruit of the earth)

The bracha, called ‘ha-adama’ is for anything that grows from a non-tree plant, like berries, seeds, potatoes, beans, and melons. Banana trees are not permanent enough to be trees in Jewish law, collapsing and regrowing yearly, and take this one for non-tree plants too. 

 

Non-Produce: …shehakol nihia bidvaro (...that creates everything with His word)

This bracha, referred to as ‘shehakol’, is the most general. It applies to anything that did not grow from soil like animal products, mushrooms, and honey, as well as highly processed foods like candies or gluten-free baked goods, and all drinks and soups including non-grape juices.

Technically this could cover anything, so if you are totally baffled, this is the safest bet (or just consume it alongside bread and say hamotzi). 

After-Blessings (Brachot Achronot)
Soul Food: A Guide to Food Blessings

There are basically 3 after-blessings. These should be said when you’re done eating for the time being. There are special inserts for Shabbat and holidays etc., but from longest to shortest:

 

Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals, lit. ‘blessing of sustenance’)

It is to end the meal any time hamotzi is said.

This is by far the longest of these taking up multiple paragraphs, but it is one of only two blessings commanded in the Torah, the other being Shema. This makes it the most important of any in the category. The full text can be found in any bencher, known as a bircon in Hebrew, or prayer book. Many people have tunes they sing for this blessing, but it’s fine just to read. 

 

 

The 3 Faceted Blessing

This technically has three blessings, but since they all share the same middle text and can be more-or-less doubled up for all types of food below, it is easier to list them together. In a bircon booklet or siddur, it is often located right after birkat hamazon. 

Including all of these together, this is for after grains (except rice), wine, and the fruits of the 7 Species, namely olives, pomegranates, dates, grapes, and figs. It will be specified in the siddur or birkon how the blessing is broken up for each class of food exactly. 

 

3. “Borei Nefashot”. The full bracha achrona for any other type of foods not said above:

Baruch atah Ad•hnai El•haynu melech ha-olam, borei nefashot rabot vechesronon, al kal ma shebarata l’ha-chayot bahem nefesh kol chai, baruch chei ha-olamim. 

(...Creator of many souls and their needs, for all the things You created to sustain the soul in all life. Blessed is He, Life of the worlds.)

This is for anything other than species mentioned in the Torah, meaning every non-tree plants (‘ha-adama’) including rice, everything starting ‘shehakol', and most tree-fruits (‘ha-etz') get this. Foods with different before-blessings can still share one after-blessing, such as a snack of an apple and a carrot both taking borei nefashot, and totaling 3 brachahs (2 before, 1 after). 

Kosher Foods
Soul Food: A Guide to Food Blessings

Since a blessing is a way to thank G-d for the food He has given, it would not be proper to make a blessing on non-kosher foods, which He does not give for a Jew to eat. Many foods are naturally kosher like whole fruits and vegetables, many packaged foods, and most drinks. The market for kosher foods has been expanding online, making it easier than ever to get high-quality kosher ingredients that in years past might have been hard to get.

If you are thinking of incorporating this into your life, it’s better to start slow and build than to get overwhelmed and never say them.

Memorials Using Food Blessings
Soul Food: A Guide to Food Blessings

Food blessings should be recited whenever possible, but one tradition that has been gaining popularity is that of the bracha-party. This event is a special and creative way to elevate someone’s soul and to celebrate the memory of one who has passed. 

Doing a mitzvah, saying a bracha, or learning Torah in the memory of someone else is a means of elevating that person’s soul, whether for spiritual healing or to bring peace to the deceased. 

For the bracha party, get many different foods that have different blessings, say the Hebrew name for whosoever memory it is for, and have people go around saying each bracha before eating. Just to give an idea of easy kosher items to find, you could get:

Wine/grape juice (hagafen and al pri hagafen)

Hard pretzels (mezonot and al hamichia)

Cashews or apples (ha-etz and borei nefashot)

Carrots, watermelon, or potato chips (ha’adama)

Candy or corn chips (shehakol)

Then you will have seven or more blessings in memory of a loved one per person at the bracha party. 

Starting to recite food brachas is an easy way to connect to G-d, do a mitzvah, and be more aware of the foods you consume. Why not get started with a look at the kosher Israeli products we have on offer?

Soul Food: A Guide to Food Blessings

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