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7 Shvat 5768

Some Laws Relating to Tu Bishvat


Written by the rabbi


לשיעור זה בעברית: הלכות ט"ו בשבט

1. Laws and Aspects of the Day
2. Fasting on Tu Bishvat
3. Blessing Priority
4. Foods Made from Wheat
5. Special Fruits of the Land of Israel
6. Preference within the Seven Species
7. Whole or Favorite?
8. Mistake in the Blessing Order


Laws and Aspects of the Day
1. Tu Bishvat (the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Shevat) is the New Year of Fruit Trees for purposes of Orla (forbidden fruit of a tree in its first three years), Trumot, and Maaserot (produce tithes given to priests and Levites). We do not recite Tachanun on this day because the joy of the trees has an impact even on humans, "for man is like the tree of the field" (see Shulchan Arukh 131:6).

2. Authorities are divided as to whether Tachanun should be recited in the Mincha afternoon prayer on the day before Tu Bishvat (see Pri Chadash). The prevailing custom is to refrain from reciting Tachanun (see Mishnah Berurah 131:32 and Kaf HaChaim 131:101).

3. Some make a practice of reading the book "Pri Etz Hadar" on the night of Tu Bishvat. And some make a practice of learning about the elevated status of the fruits of the land of Israel and the ascendancy of the land of Israel itself, each person according to his ability and according to the amount of time he has.

4. The custom is to eat fruits on both the evening and day of Tu Bishvat, and people try to give preference to those fruits for which the land of Israel is famous (see Magen Avraham 131:16; Kaf HaChaim ad loc. 97; Mishnah Berurah ad loc. 31).

5. It is preferable to eat fruits that were grown in the land of Israel, and one should bless over them first if there are non-Israeli fruits of the same type on hand (see Ben Ish Chai, Mattot, and later authorities).

6. One should be especially careful on this day to bless over fruits accurately and with proper intention. This is because these blessings have the potential to benefit the fruits of the coming year (see Rosh Hashanah 16, and Rashi ad loc, s.v. "Shtei HaLechem").

7. When blessing, one should bless first over the most important fruit present, if he wants to eat it. Importance is determined by the verse "A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey" (Deuteronomy 8:7,8). The closer a fruit is to the word "land," the more important it is. Therefore, the order is as follows: breads, cakes, wine, olives, dates, grapes, figs, pomegranates, other fruits of the tree (ha'etz), fruits of the earth (adamah), foods over which we bless "she-hakol," and blessings over fragrances. After blessing in this manner, one may eat in any order he pleases.

8. A person should pray on Tu Bishvat for a good etrog on Succot (see Lashon Chakhamim 1:38).

9. If a person buys some untithed fruits that ripened before Tu Bishvat, and other un-tithed fruits that ripened after Tu Bishvat, he may not tithe from one for the other. In such a situation, a person should ask a rabbi what to do.

10. If Tu Bishvat coincides with the Sabbath, the best thing to do is to eat the fruits after the Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals), not after Kiddush, in order to save one's appetite for the meal. Neither should one eat the fruits in the course of the meal, because this is liable to lead to uncertainty about blessings. Blessing over fruit after the meal is not considered a "berakha she-eina tzrikha" (unnecessary blessing) because one is supposed to recite many blessings on the Sabbath (see Rambam).

11. If a person buys untithed fruits or questionably tithed fruits, he should make sure to tithe them before the Sabbath, because it is forbidden to tithe on the Sabbath.

Fasting on Tu Bishvat

1. Though brides and grooms customarily fast on their wedding day, they should refrain from doing so on Tu Bishvat and any other day on which Tachanun is not recited. Instead, they should fast on the day before. What is important is that they fast before the wedding day, even though they do not fast on the wedding day itself (see Mordechi in the name of the Geonim, Rosh Hashanah 701; Beit Yosef and Shulchan Arukh 572:3).

Blessing Priority
1. The order of priority for blessing over food is hinted at in the letters of the Hebrew expression "MaGA ESH." Its letters are "Mem," "Gimel," "Ayin," "Alef," "Shin," and they stand for:
a. "Motzie" and "Mezonot" - bread and other baked goods.
b. "Gefen" - wine.
c. "Etz" - fruit of the tree (priority is given to the five fruits for which the land of Israel is famous; according to the Rambam, however, one should always give priority to the fruit he likes best).
d. "Adama" - fruit of the earth (priority is given to the grains for which the land of Israel is famous - wheat and barley.)
e. "Shehakol" - eggs, water, etc., or foods for which one does not know the blessing.

2. For example, if there are cake and wine on the table, one first blesses "mezonot" over the cake, and then "hagefen" over the wine. If there are wine and olives on the table, one blesses first "hagefen" over the wine, and then "ha-etz" over the olives.

3. If there are olives and dates and wine on the table, one blesses first over the wine and then over the olives. After eating olives one may eat dates without making an additional blessing (ben Ish Chai, Mattot 1).

4. Why do baked goods receive highest priority? Because they come first in the verse "A land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey" (Deuteronomy 8:8).

5. Why does wine take priority over fruit? Because wine is one of the seven species for which the land of Israel is famous. In addition, wine is important because of the verse "And wine gladdens the heart of man" (Psalms 104:15), and because it has its own blessing, "boreh pri hagafen" (ibid. 211:4).

6. Why do "fruits of the tree" ("boreh pri ha-etz") take priority over "fruits of the soil" (bore pri ha-adama")? Because the blessing "boreh pri ha-etz" is more important (see Mishnah Berurah 211:11, and Kaf HaChaim 211:14).

7. Why do all other blessings take priority over foods that call for the "shehakol" blessing? Because all the other blessings apply to a single type of food, but the "shehakol" blessing applies to many types of foods (see Shulchan Arukh 211:3).

8. One blesses over the fruit that takes priority only if he wishes to eat it, but if he does not wish to eat it, he does not have to bless over it first (Shulchan Arukh 211:5, Kaf HaChaim ad loc. 53, Mishnah Berurah ad loc. 31).

9. When a person blesses over a fruit that takes priority, he must bless over it first, regardless of the fact that he prefers a food of lesser priority.

Foods Made from Wheat
1. The "HaMotzie" blessing comes before "Boreh Minei Mezonot," and they both come before the blessing over wine. Therefore, on Sabbaths and Holidays, when one recites Kiddush over wine, the bread must be covered to spare it the "embarrassment" of taking second place to the wine. Therefore, on Sabbath morning, when one recites Kiddush and then eats baked goods, the baked goods must be covered while Kiddush is being recited (see Mishnah Berurah 271:41, and Kaf HaChaim 53).

2. If, among the fruits, there is "shalva" (cooked or roasted kernels of wheat), the blessing for which is "boreh pri haadamah," it takes priority over everything else, for wheat is mentioned first in the verse in Deuteronomy 8:8. (Shulchan Arukh 211: 4).

3. Fruit eaten in an unusual manner (e.g., chewing uncooked wheat kernels) looses its blessing priority. Therefore, whole kernels of wheat, even though one blesses "ha'adamah" over them, do not take preference to fruits of the tree. However, bread and cakes take preference to all fruits of the tree (ibid.).

Special Fruits of the Land of Israel
1. There are seven fruits for which the land of Israel is famous, as it is written, "For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, springing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey" (Deuteronomy 8:7,8). Therefore, if there are a variety of fruits on the table, one blesses first over these seven fruits, because of their importance (Shulchan Arukh 211:1).

2. A fruit belonging to these seven species takes preference over other fruits, even if it is not whole or if the person eating it is not particularly fond of it. Only where no fruits of the seven species are present does one bless over the fruit ("etz") he likes best, then over the vegetable ("adama") he likes best, and then over any other food ("she-hakol") he likes best (Ben Ish Chai, Mattot 1).

3. Fruits of the Seven Species only take preference if they are ripe (see Ben Ish Chai, Mattot 1; Kaf HaChaim 211:15; Mishnah Berurah 211:20).

Preference within the Seven Species
1. If there are a number of fruits from the Seven Species to choose from, preference must be given to that fruit which is closest to the word "eretz" (land) in the following verse: "A land of wheat [bread, baked goods, wheat dishes] and barley [barley bread], and vines [grapes] and figs and pomegranates; a land of olive trees [olives] and honey [dates]."

2. Because the word "eretz" (land) is written twice in this verse, whatever is closest to one of them takes preference. Therefore, olives and dates come before grapes and raisins, because olives and dates are the first and second fruits mentioned after the second "eretz," while grapes are third to the first "eretz." Therefore, the order for blessing is: 1) olives, 2) dates, 3) grapes and raisins, 4) figs, 5) pomegranates (Shulchan Arukh 211:4; Ben Ish Chai, Mattot 1).

3. If a person has to choose between half a date and a whole fig, he must give preference to the fruit that is whole, even though it comes later in the verse (Ben Ish Chai, Mattot 5).

Whole or Favorite?
1. If there are no fruits of the seven species present, one should bless over a whole fruit, and if all of the fruit are whole, one should bless over his favorite fruit. The same rule applies to vegetables (ibid.).

2. If a person wishes to sweeten his tea, coffee, etc. with a sugar cube, a date, or some other fruit, he blesses first "shehakol" on the beverage, and this blessing covers the fruit as well. This is because in this case the beverage is the principal food and the fruit is a mere accessory (see Shulchan Arukh 212 and Kaf HaChaim ad loc. 11; Mishnah Berurah 9).

3. If a person wishes to eat cake, and he drinks tea in order to allow the cake to go down easier, he blesses "mezonot" over the cake, and this covers the tea as well. But if he desires both the cake and the tea, he blesses first on the tea and then on the cake so that the beverage not appear subordinate to the cake.

Mistake in the Blessing Order
1. If one inadvertently blessed in the wrong order, he has nonetheless fulfilled his obligation and need not bless again.


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