I am proud of the fact that at my advanced age I am learning to recite the blessings over food for the first time. However, probably also due to my age, I occasionally forget to say the blessing until I am already in the middle of eating. Should I make a blessing with a mouthful of food? What is the proper procedure?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Congratulations on your efforts! One is never too old to take on new practices and to strive closer to God.
In terms of your question, there are a few factors to consider. Ideally, one should make a blessing with an empty mouth. The Talmud (Brachot 51a) derives this from Psalms 71:8: "My mouth will be full of Your praises [God]." When we say a blessing or pray, our mouths should be filled with our praises of God and nothing else.
Thus, when practical, one should spit out the food he is eating, make a blessing, and return it to his mouth. However, this is not feasible for most foods and drink, as most people would not be comfortable returning it to their mouth after spitting it out.
Based on these considerations, here are a few basic rules:
(1) A food which can be comfortably spit out and returned to the mouth - such as chewing gum or a sucking candy - should be removed from the mouth, a blessing recited, and the food returned (Shulchan Aruch 172:2).
(2) Most foods, which cannot be comfortably removed and returned to the mouth, should be moved over to the side of the mouth, a blessing should be recited, and the food should be swallowed (ibid). In other words, it is better to pass up on the preference of blessing with an empty mouth if the alternative is that the food will be wasted entirely.
(3) Liquids present an additional problem because it is very difficult to move them to the side of one's mouth and recite a blessing. If this is feasible, one should do so (Mishna Berura 172:1). If not, spit out the liquid and do not consume it at all (Mishna Berura 172:2).
(4) In an unusual situation where a person has a limited amount of liquid and will not be able to replace what is in his mouth, he may swallow it without reciting a blessing (ibid).
Finally, for an excellent overview of the laws of blessings, check out an online course on the Laws of Blessings at JewishPathways.com.