click here to jump to beginning of article list
  • Torah Reading: Emor
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Israeli Fruit on Tu B’Shvat

I know on Tu B'Shvat we have the custom of eating various fruits, especially the seven species Israel is famous for. I specifically try to purchase fruit grown in Israel for the occasion. Is there any kashrut issue with doing so in general? I’m concerned especially about this year (5775 – 2014-15) which is a Shmitta year. Can one be lenient to purchase exported sabbatical year fruits for the sake of fulfilling the Tu B’Shvat custom?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Crops grown in Israel are subject to a number of tithing laws. In general you should only purchase Israeli produce with reliable certification – or tithe the produce yourself. You should not simply buy from an unsupervised store outside of Israel assuming that someone in Israel properly did the tithes. Here is a past response which discusses this: Israeli Produce –http://www.aish.com/atr/Israeli_Produce.html?catid=907944

In terms of Shmitta, the laws of the Sabbatical Year are significant and must be properly observed – whereas eating fruit on Tu B’Shvat is only a custom, and a relatively recent one at that. A law almost always outweighs a custom – just as a more serious law trumps a more minor one. (We likewise go so far as refraining from blowing shofar on Rosh Hashanah when it falls on Shabbat, out of concern a person may carry a shofar outside on Shabbat.) In fact, Shmitta fruits are considered sacred and are not supposed to be exported outside Israel at all.

In truth, most of the fruit currently on the market (Tu B’Shvat, 2015) does not have the status of Shmitta produce. For the purposes of Jewish law, most fruits are considered to have grown in the year they began growing, rather than the year they were picked. Thus, fruit which is being picked now is considered sixth-year produce. It requires tithing but does not have the sanctity of Shmitta. For next year, however, you should either spend the holiday in Israel or buy fruits grown in California. Of course, we can and should thank God for the fruits He blesses us with everywhere in the world.

Surrogate Motherhood

The issue of surrogate motherhood came up in discussion last night. Does Judaism have a position on this?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There is a fascinating Talmudic passage (Brachot 60a) which relates to this. While in her seventh pregnancy, Leah said: "Jacob is destined to beget 12 tribes. I have already borne six, and each of the handmaids have borne two, making a total of 10. If the child I'm carrying turns out to be male, then my sister Rachel will not even be equivalent to one of the handmaids." Leah therefore prayed, and the fetus was changed to a female.

In Genesis 30:21, the commentator Yonatan Ben Uziel (circa first century) explains that Rachel was also pregnant at that time, and the two fetuses were switched – with Rachel getting the male (born as Joseph) and Leah getting the female (born as Dinah).

[Interestingly, some say this "switching" helps explain why Joseph is described in Genesis 39:6 as being so beautiful (i.e. more feminine characteristics), while Dinah "went out on the town" (Genesis 34:1) more in the manner of boys.]

We apparently see from here that the birth-mother is regarded as the mother. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau (former Chief Rabbi of Israel, in "Yachel Yisrael" 29) concludes that the mother who gives birth is the halachic mother. The egg donor is also regarded as the mother in issues where we should be stringent -- e.g. if she is not Jewish, the child would need conversion.

Interestingly, the process of motherhood is defined at birth, whereas fatherhood is defined at conception.

Because of the complex issues involved, however, surrogate motherhood is not allowed in all situations.

For further study:

• "Artificial Insemination," in The Comprehensive Guide to Medical Halachah, by Abraham S. Abraham, MD, FRCP (Feldheim)

• "Artificial Insemination," in Facing Current Challenges: Essays on Judaism, by Rabbi Dr. Yehudah Levi (Hemed Books)

• “The Use of Cryopreserved Sperm and Pre-embryos in Contemporary Jewish Law and Ethics” – www.jlaw.com/Articles/semen.html

Blessing on Bananas

I was taught that the blessing before eating a fruit is “borei p’ri ha’aitz.” Yet the blessing for bananas is what we say on vegetables, “borei p’ri ha’adamah” When I asked around, no one seemed clear on the reason. One offered the farfetched suggestion that “because they grow facing down.” What is behind this distinction?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Yes, bananas are a well-known exception to the rule that on fruit one recites a “borei p’ri ha’aitz” (“who creates the fruit of the tree”). They seem to get an honorable mention in all the blessing guides given out in schools. They're also high in potassium and Vitamin C.

So what is the reason? The issue stems from (yes, pun intended) the definition of a tree in Jewish law. There is a range of opinions on this in the earlier commentators. The consensus, however, is that a tree is defined as a plant which remains from year to year and produces a yearly crop. Any plant which dies in the winter and must be replanted each year is not a tree.

Note that the above definition does not depend on the height of the tree or the woodiness of its stem. However, low bushes less than approximately 11 inches tall, are not considered trees (The Laws of Brachos by R. B. Forst, pp. 281-2; see Mishna Berura 203:3).

Based on this, the Shulchan Aruch (203:3) rules that the blessing (bracha) on a “muzish” – Arabic for banana – is “borei p’ri ha’adamah.” Since the banana plant produces one crop only, it is considered a plant for the purposes of Jewish law.

By contrast, most of the berries we eat which grow on low bushes, such as raspberries and blueberries, merit a “borei p’ri ha’aitz.” Although as above low bushes are not considered full-fledged trees, virtually all such cultivated plants today are grown on large bushes and are thus considered trees.

For an excellent overview of the laws of blessings, you might be interested in signing up for the Laws of Blessings course provided by Jewish Pathways.