Sunday, March 27, 2005

Jews don't make brachot

I have come to the conclusion that you are pretty much never supposed to make a bracha achrona. I don't assert that this conclusion is correct. In fact, it is so crazy that I plan on asking my posek about it ASAP. But in the meantime, it makes perfect sense to me, and here is my logic. None of what follows should be treated as halacha, because it probably isn't, even if it seems to me to be correct.

First, and most importantly, we have the principle of "safek brachot lehakel". Which is to say, when you are uncertain whether to make a bracha, you don't make it. Quite possibly, this rule does not apply when the bracha is d'oraita (birkot hatorah and sometimes birkat hamazon), but these situations normally don't concern us here. Furthermore, "safek brachot lehakel" is so strong that it seems to override other fundamental rules about brachot. For example, what if you want to eat something but aren't sure if you made a bracha on it? You have to decide between the principles of "safek brachot lehakel" and "assur lo leadam sheyihaneh min haolam belo bracha". In this case, most authorities hold that it's preferable to eat without a bracha than to potentially make an unnecessary bracha.

Second, a bracha achrona should only be made after eating a k'zayit of food within a time period known as k'dei achilat pras. The latter is generally held to be 3 minutes (others say 4 minutes). There is much disagreement as to how much a kzayit is, but the opinions seem to be from 15 to 50 cubic centimeters. According to the principle of "safek brachot lehakel", I think we should only make a bracha achrona when these two measurements are satisfied according to all possible opinions. In practice, that means you only make a bracha after eating 50 cm3 of a given food within 3 minutes.

Some of you might not be aware how much 50 cm3 is. According to a quick Google calculation, it equals a cube nearly an inch and a half on a side. This is a lot. Try eating this much of a given food while watching the clock. Eating nonstop, I think you will find that it takes a large part of those 3 minutes to eat a single k'zayit. In normal social situations, or when eating candy or other such foods, your pace will undoubtedly be slower. Furthermore, it is difficult to measure exact volumes of food and (sometimes) time, and due to "safek brachot lehakel", you only make the bracha if you're entirely sure the conditions are satisfied, which rules out substantial boundary regions as well.

In some cases, there's even less chance to make a bracha achrona. I believe you do not make a bracha on the food unless you ate an entire k'zayit of the "ikkar" of a food combination, not including the amount of "tafel". Thus, if you made the mezonot bracha over pie, you would never ever say "al hamichya" afterwards, because it's not humanly possible to eat 50 cm3 of pie crust and the accompanying filling in 3 minutes. This would also apply, to a greater or lesser extent, to all other foods which are combinations of mezonot and other stuff, like hamantashen, lasagna, and so on.

Thus, I've come to the conclusion that there are very few situations when you actually make a bracha achrona. It's just very unusual that one eats 50 cm3 (or sometimes, a much larger quantity) of food within 3 minutes. Of course, this opinion conflicts with the whole world seems to do, and everyone who's heard my explanation thinks I'm crazy (without providing logic for or against me). In addition, on a behavioral level, it seems to conflict with the statement I remember from R' Bodner's Kzayis book, that a normal person eats about 6 kzaitim (sp?) per 3 minutes. These discrepancies could be resolved by pointing out a fundamental logical flaw of mine, which I haven't found, or else by defining the k'zayit to be less than the value of 50 cm3 I made use of.

While my conclusions may in fact turn out to be wrong, I do think that my thought process was reasonable. Everyone agonizes over whether they have eaten the correct amount of matzah on the night of Pesach, but the other 364 days of the year we seem to ignore the laws of k'zayit. Why the difference in attention? It's not so hard to get halachot such as this correct. I see no reason not to think critically and clarify them to the fullest extent possible.


Beisrunner said...

Some responses:

"I once had some respect for our halachic system, but now that's all gone. When the halacha frequently causes me not to bless the name of Hashem, even after partaking in his foods, I've lost my respect.... Thank G-d there's vast opposition to your movement to eliminate brachot achronot."

"I think you've overcomplicatd the brachot topic. A כזית is the size of an olive. Now assume chazon ish shiurim (machmir) that say olives in historical times were double the sie of our olives today. So the question comes down to "can you eat 2 olives in 3 minutes?". And the answer is definately yes, because you've probably done it."

Anonymous said...

Two things:
First of all, safek brachot lehakeil does not justify every possible safek. The doubt has to pass some "doubt threshold" before it is enough of a doubt for this to hold. If this were not the case, we would have a much easier time with all derabannan's, since in every case there are daat yachid shitot that are very meikil, and since safek derabbanan lekula, we should follow them. Doesn't work like that, sorry. The case is even stronger here, because you are taking two shittot that contradict each other. Obviously, whoever holds of the largest shittah of k'zayit would also expand his shittah of what k'dei achilat pras is, and vice versa, so it makes no sense to be choshesh for an opinion that is simply the combination of two opinions that can't coexists. Mima nafshach, in halachik terminology. Also, I'm not sure you're right about the pie/lasagna thing either. I'm pretty sure we say that the tafel food is mitztareph to the ikkar.

Beisrunner said...

Good points. But I wonder:

Where is the "doubt threshold"?

Is it so clear that the shiurim for k'zayit and k'dei achilat pras are linearly related to each other? He who has the largest k'zayit shiur may not hold a larger k'dei achilat pras time. I'd assume that both measures were fixed by Chazal, and the mesorah for each was transmitted separately. Perhaps one authority ended up with the machmir mesorah for both. And while the k'dei achilat pras debate seemed to me to be dominated by the 3-minute position (thus, maybe this is binding regardless of what any individual posek says), regarding k'zayit, there appears to be much more of a range of equally well regarded views.

About tafel/ikkar, I was pretty sure that it's not mitztaref, but if you're sure of the opposite, then I could be wrong.

There's a difference between factual and halachic doubts - I believe the rules of safek technically apply only when you are uncertain as to the factual situation. But if for whatever reason you don't know the halacha, it's your job to resolve that issue. In practice if you can't decide on a shitah, it might be wise to be machmir on several shitot, but that is not really a case of safek. And some random da'at yachid shitah is probably not worth worrying about.

Thus, my point about boundary regions was valid. On the other hand, I see that I was imprecise in using "safek" to refer to my uncertainty as to which shitah to hold by. Having no quick way to choose between the poskim on one side and the poskim on the other, I decided to go by the more machmir, relying on my intuition (as expressed at the end of the 2nd paragraph) that when halachic principles clash, you go above and beyond to avoid making a bracha. This decision is not really based on safek, I guess, but is possibly justifiable nonetheless.