Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Hanukkah
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table



Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Kislev 29 5780
One should not treat any custom lightly, even a minor custom… A custom has spread, of eating a fried dough pastry (in Arabic, called "sfinge")… This is an ancient custom, [which we perform] because they are fried in oil, in remembrance of the blessing."
(Rabeinu Maimon, father of Maimonides)


As family tradition necessitated, all the Cohen siblings gathered, together with their spouses and children, for the annual Chanuka party. Mr. and Mrs. Cohen had a great time playing with the grandchildren. The adult siblings had a great time catching up with each other.

As the party wound down, Mrs. Cohen hurried into the kitchen, eager to treat her beloved children and grandchildren to her legendary homemade doughnuts. The substantially sized platter had barely touched the table, when dozens of little hands were plunged into the sticky, sugary goodness.

Mr. Cohen looked at his grandchildren. They certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves. The doughnuts looked good. Very good. True, his doctor had warned him that he couldn’t afford to play around with his diabetes.

Mrs. Cohen turned to look at her husband, and noticed that his gaze was fixed on the dessert tray. "I know they look good, but those doughnuts just aren’t good for you. You can have a latka, instead. Those are also fried in oil."

After a few minutes of internal struggle, Mr. Cohen gave in. He headed toward the kitchen, quickly snatched a doughnut from a tray lying on the counter and, facing the kitchen wall, muttered a bracha (blessing) and took a bite.

"Abba, what are you doing?"

Mr. Cohen jumped, but there was no hiding the evidence. He had been caught strawberry jelly-handed. His son David stood behind him, with a concerned look on his face.

"Abba, this is dangerous for you." David continued. "You know what the doctor said about eating sugary foods!"

"Shhh…" Mr. Cohen held a powdered finger to his lips. "Don’t tell Ima!"

"Fine, Abba, I won’t tell." David responded. "Just wondering, though. If you made a bracha on the doughnut, wasn’t it a bracha l’vatala (a blessing made in vain). We learned that the Shulchan Aruch says that a person who eats food which is forbidden doesn’t make a blessing before or after eating the food. The Mishna Berura explains that "because the food is forbidden, and there is a prohibition in eating it, he is blaspheming G-d with his blessing." According to these authorities, because eating a doughnut is dangerous for you, and therefore forbidden for you to eat, it seems that you shouldn’t have made a bracha on it.

Is Mr. Cohen supposed to make the before and after blessings for a doughnut which he is forbidden to eat?

Answer of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt"l:
Mr. Cohen is obligated to make a blessing before eating the doughnut, but not the after blessing.

He should not make the after blessing because a food which endangers a person’s life is entirely forbidden for him to eat. If he makes an after blessing, he will not be blessing G-d, but, rather, blaspheming G-d. This is similar to the ruling on forbidden food, found in the Shulchan Aruch (196, 1)

Despite the above ruling, Mr. Cohen acted correctly when he made the blessing before eating the doughnut. This is because, near as we can tell, eating one crumb of the doughnut would not pose a danger to Mr. Cohen. Because we are obligated to make a before blessing on even a small crumb of food, Mr. Cohen was required to make a before blessing. This is distinct from the after blessing, as mentioned above, because one only makes an after blessing after having eaten an olive sized portion of food. It is reasonable to assume that a piece of doughnut of that size would have posed a danger to Mr. Cohen, and therefore he should not make an after blessing.
In summary:He should make a before blessing, but not an after blessing.
(Based on the book Kav V’Naki, siman 62)

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