Monday, November 30, 2009

Hamotzi on Cheerios

A well known posek recently said that the proper bracha on Cheerios is Hamotzi.  He said that Cheerios cereal is Pas Haba BeKisnin, i.e., a baked grain product for which the proper bracha depends on whether it is being eaten "like bread" or "not like bread."  That is, the bracha would be Mezonos when it is eaten as a snack, but when it is eaten as a the central part of a full meal it requires Netilas Yadayim, Hamotzi, and the long Birchas Hamazon.  Assuming that baked grain cereals are pas haba bekisnin, the halacha certainly would be that if you sit down to a breakfast in which all you eat is the baked cereal, and certainly if you eat to satiation, Hamotzi would be required.  (The fact that nobody does it proves nothing.  The field of Brachos, such as precedence, shiur, eina tzricha, and so forth, is the neglected stepchild of halacha.  And, of course, there are many people who think they're doing God a favor by making brachos at all, and so they view serious and careful analysis of the laws of Brachos as an obsessive preoccupation with superficialities that hinders true spiritual growth.  To those people I say "I love you, and have a  nice life.")

However, there is one exception to this rule.  If the food does not have the appearance of bread (turisa de'nahama), you make mezonos, no matter how much you eat or if you are eating is as a full meal.  What is "the appearance of bread"?  There's the ambiguity, since this is a subjective assessment.  Cake definitely has halachic Turisa De'nahama, since it is baked in large loaf-like pieces, although it might be iced or frosted or sweetened.  Most people say that doughnuts have turisa de'nahama and are pas haba bekisnin as well.  What about breakfast cereals? 

Do all baked cereals have turisa de'nahama? Or perhaps there is a difference between flakes, Cheerio types, crumbs like Grape Nuts, and squares?  Some poskim say that Cheerios, for example, are pas, because they are little bagels. Others say that while that might be true from a mouse's perspective, we are not mice, and size matters when deciding on turisa de'nahama.  So, it becomes a little complicated. Theoretically, two people could sit down to eat breakfast, both eating cereals that are made from identical ingredients, both prepared by baking, both tasting the same, but one cereal might have turisa de'nahama and require Netilas Yadayim and Hamotzi, and one not have Turisa De'nahama and therefore be a plain old mezonos.

Rabbi Heinemann of Baltimore once (1986 or 1987) added to the fog by saying that he had been wrestling with the question for many years, and that one of his issues was that breakfast cereal is eaten with a spoon and never eaten with the hands, as bread is, and that this also might create a legal distinction between them.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt'l and Rav Eliashiv Shlitah have been quoted variously as having said that most cereals have turisa de'nahama and require hamotzi, (Vezos Habracha fourth edition page 192) but also have been quoted contrariwise, as having said that this is only true in the case of Grape Nuts, which is a cereal breakfast made of crumbled loaves of bread (Vezos Habracha fifth edition page 219).  Rav Sheinberg Shlitah has been unambiguously quoted there (fourth edition page 192) as having said that cereals do not have turisa de'nahama and do not ever require hamotzi.  I surmise he would say this is true even in the case of Grape Nuts, because they are made with the specific intention of continuing to process them into crumbs, and so the intermediate loaf stage is irrelevant.  This reasoning has been applied by some to Bagel Chips and Pita Chips, which are manufactured specifically to be sliced and chopped and sold as snacks, even though they are baked in large pieces, like normal bagels and pita.

Before being too quick to decide, remember that if it is pas, then the rule of pas palter applies.  That is, that there cannot be a problem of bishul akum, because there is a special leniency for pas baked by professional bakeries.  If, on the other hand, it is not pas, then there might be a problem of bishul akum.  So, if you are kovei'a seudah on the cereal but still make a mezonos, you'd better be ready to explain why you aren't worried about bishul akum.

However, many people choose the best of all possible worlds and say that it is not pas, but there is no bishul akum problem because breakfast cereal is not served at state banquets, it is not "oleh ahl shulchan melachim."  Only foods that would be "served at kingly tables" are covered by the prohibition of bishul akum and must be cooked by Jews.  The Aruch Hashulchan, for example, says that potatoes are not covered by the issur of bishul akum, because potatoes are a peasant food, and no king would allow them on his table.  Obviously, that is no longer the case.  Here, too, the application to breakfast cereal is debatable.  They may not be served at state banquets, but a head of state would certainly serve them to a guest at breakfast.  Many poskim hold, for example, that even potato chips need bishul yisrael, because heads of state would serve them with dips.  I find this difficult to accept, but how many dinners have I had with heads of state?

So what should you do?  Sometimes, the best answer is to ask your rav.  Here, where it involves the very subjective categorization of "turisa de'nahama", I suggest you just think for a few days about what you think of as bread, and then make your own decision.  Maybe you, too, will decide that Cheerios are lilliputian bagels. 

But what is most important is to make an informed decision, not to just coast along on the momentum of habit, indifference, and ignorance, or worse, scorn for the minutiae of the laws of brachos.  Better wrong than oblivious.


  1. Sefardim do not have this problem, but at what stage/size does a cracker become a matza, and vice versa?

  2. Matzos to Sefardim are like matza crackers to us... That doesn't make any sense at all to me. But I think you would go by what it says on the box. The biggest size I found that calls itself crackers is , which is 2.5 on a side, and the reviewer calls them mini-matzos.

  3. I think the more common issue with potato chips is that if one holds, contrary a possible interpretation of the Aruch HaShulchan, that potatos are not inherently a peasant food, then one faces the machlokes between the Shach and Taz. The latter poskins that if a food (potato) is ever fit for a "state banquet" (which it surely is in its baked form, in many western countries today) then it requires the status of "bishul Yisroel" in any form (including the chip form).

    I know that the common chassidishe mahalach is to follow the shitah of the Taz and not eat bishul akum potato chips for this reason, regardless of whether they are ever served at a state banquet.

  4. I am not familiar with any such Taz. I could hear such a svara re ne'echal kmos she'hu chay but when dried become inedible raw, like beans and peas. I don't know how he would learn the Gemara and the Rambam about Klayos, either. Klayos are wheat. Please send me a mareh makom. If he really says it, I will have to do teshuva for what I was thinking about such a shittah.

  5. My guess is that I misremember hearing this in the name of the Taz. I didn't (can't?) look very thoroughly, but I don't see such a Taz after looking around in the expected places. Anyway, the general idea, that if a food requires bishul Yisroel then it's whole "min" does as well is out there. Apparently many people interpret Igros Moshe, Y"D vol. 4 no. 48, 5 that way (although this interpretation is debatable).

    The basic concept here, whether it stems from the Taz or not, doesn't seem far-fetched at all to me, and is definitely one that I have heard voiced. What makes a potato chip something different from fresh, fried potatoes? Packaging, marketing, quality? At the other extreme, if my goyishe neighbor is a very bad cook, then can I eat any of the food he cooks, say, in my kitchen, simply because the product would not be suitable "oleh al shulcham melochim?"

    Anyway, I glanced around a little for mareh mokomos after my initial search was frustrated, and I saw these two thoughts posted elsewhere by someone under the name "baki":

    "[The reading of Igros Moshe, Y"D 4(48) often] ascribed to Rav Moshe is not written in the tshuva ... . Rav Reuvein, to whom the tshuva was written explains the reason to be that they [potato chips] themselves are oleh. The [controversial interpretation can be] attributed to Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky, who also considered them [i.e., chips] to have laws of bishul akum, in Emes Lyakov.

    6. To say that a food can be considered to be oleh based on other ways that it may be cooked is not a new concept. See Pri Chadash and Aruch Hashulchan re. kurkevan. It need not mean that only one method that would be oleh would create a rule, but there may be an application of lo plug. Rav Belsky agreed to me in an oral conversation that such a concept may exist, but maintained that it would not apply here. That is a judgement call that can be debated."

    I would only add that the "judgement call" aspect is almost unavoidable from my point of view. I simply don't know why one fried piece of potato should be patur while another is chayiv. I can think of some possible reasons (Americans call one a "chip" and not the other, etc.), but I don't trust that my own intuitions about this would match the Chazal's.

    One thing I can say with certainty is that there are poskim who will say that potato chips require bishul and who will give this "whole min" explanation explicitly. And this was my original point, not al pi lamdus, but simply that this is the most common reason why bishul akum potato chips are avoided, by those who avoid them.

  6. I can hear what you're saying re badly cooked foods. In that context, it makes sense to say that since cooked meat is oleh, then even badly cooked meat or a lowly meatloaf is included. But that a lo plug would cover an entirely different method of preparation that yields a product that has its own specific identity is hard to believe. It's an issur chasnus, not an issur be'etzem; why on earth would we be so machmir? I don't hear it. Also, as I said, all the achronim talk about why the Gemara doesn't use the eino oleh to explain klayos. According to you, the answer would be simple. Klayos is wheat, and wheat is most often used to make bread, and bread is oleh.