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3. When is a Bracha Not Required?

3. When is a Bracha Not Required?

Since eating is an act of pleasure, some situations are exempt from a bracha.

by and

In the previous class we discussed the basic components of a bracha. We will now learn about what types of food require a bracha.

As a rule, any time you eat or drink, a bracha must be said. It doesn't matter how much is being consumed – even the smallest morsel or droplet requires a bracha.1 Nevertheless, there are exceptional cases when a bracha is not said, as we'll soon see.

Only Pleasurable Foods

A bracha is recited when we experience pleasure from eating the food that God has provided.2 This primarily includes pleasure due to "taste" – i.e. pleasure in the mouth or throat.

What about a food that gives no taste pleasure, but does have nutritional value? For example, if for some reason you wrapped food in paper and swallowed it. In this case, there are a variety of opinions, and in order to avoid the doubt it is best to ask someone else who is eating in a normal manner, to recite the blessing and "exempt" the person eating in the unusual way.3 (How precisely this is accomplished will be discussed in class #38.)

Similarly, if a food is in a state where it is not fit for human consumption, it does not require a bracha because it is not considered food.4 A few examples:

  • raw potatoes,5 raw rice, raw peppercorns6
  • fruits that are [bitter or sour and] completely unripe7
  • spoiled or burned foods8

The general rule is: If most people would not eat such a food even if they were really hungry, then no bracha is required.9 For example, the Guinness Book of World Records claims that someone once ate an entire bicycle over a period of months. If he was Jewish, he would not have said a bracha when eating the bicycle.

Medications

Based on what we've learned, it follows that medications that have a bitter taste, or no taste at all, do not require a bracha. For example, if your doctor recommends drinking 2 ounces of castor oil upon waking up in the morning, since you derive no pleasure from drinking castor oil, you do not say a bracha.

But what about medications that are pleasant-tasting?

The answer is that it depends. If the medication tastes so good that you would consider eating it even if you were not sick, then a bracha is required.

So if you always carry cough drops to soothe a sore throat, but occasionally pop one in your mouth as a snack, you should say a bracha. Similarly, children who love taking their chewable vitamins every morning because they taste like candy, should say a bracha.10

Most pleasant-tasting medications, however, only add flavoring to counteract the bitter taste of the medicine. No one would think of eating them as a food or drink (i.e. one who has no cough would not drink cough medicine). In such a case, some authorities rule that a bracha is not recited,11 while others are of the opinion that a bracha is required, since the pleasant taste provides pleasure.12

So what should we do? The elegant solution is to comply with both opinions, by saying the bracha Shehakol (which we'll learn about in class #5) on another food before taking such medicines.

Water

Foods and drinks are pleasurable mainly due to their taste. The pleasure of water, however, is a bit different: Water provides a pleasurable, thirst-quenching sensation which warrants a bracha. If you are not thirsty, however, then you get no pleasure from drinking water13 and no bracha is said. For example:

  • Your doctor advised you to drink 12 cups of water a day. When you're thirsty, say a bracha. But if you sometimes find yourself forced to down some cups to reach the quota, it should be without a bracha.14

  • You need to swallow a pill and drink some water to wash it down. The water does not need a bracha. However, if you drink more than the minimum amount necessary for the pill, you should say a bracha.15

  • You have something stuck in your throat, and grab a cup of water to wash it down. In such a case, don't say a bracha.16

All other drinks require a bracha, even if you are not thirsty. This is because the drink either has a "taste pleasure" or a "nutritional pleasure."17

Tasting Food

A bracha is only made on food that is consumed. If you are merely tasting food (and then spitting it out), a bracha is not said.

What if you swallow a piece of food only for the purpose of tasting it? Is a bracha required, or not?

In this case, there are various rabbinic opinions. So if you want to taste a food and swallow it, the best approach is to either:

  • Eat at least a kezayit (approx. 15 grams – 1 fluid ounce)18 or drink at least a revi'it (approx. 98cc – 3.3 oz).19 In this case, a bracha is certainly required.20
  • Eat with the intention of enjoying the food as well, not only to taste.21
  • First say a bracha on another food, which is being eaten for enjoyment.
  • Or as we said before, simply spit it out instead of swallowing.

Mark's cholent recipe called for just the right combination of spices. Before nibbling on one of the potatoes to check how it tastes, he took another vegetable from the fridge and said the proper blessing, Ha'adama.

Prohibited Food

One should not say a bracha on foods that are prohibited by Jewish law,22 as such a bracha would be disrespectful to God.23 This includes

  • food that is not kosher
  • food that is stolen or eaten without permission of its owner24
  • food that is eaten on a fast day, such as Yom Kippur

In situations where one is permitted to eat non-kosher food (e.g. to save one's life), a bracha is recited. The same is true for those who must eat on a fast day for medical reasons, when mandated by halacha.25

In Vilna (Lithuania) in 1848, a cholera epidemic broke out and doctors advised everyone to eat on Yom Kippur, since the long fast would increase the risk of contracting this life-threatening disease.

The great Rabbi Yisrael Salanter issued a public proclamation that all Jews in Vilna should eat on Yom Kippur. But in their great respect for the holy day, many people continued to fast. So at the end of the morning service, Rabbi Salanter went up to the pulpit of Vilna's Great Synagogue of Vilna, took out some wine and cake, recited the brachot, and ate in front of the entire congregation. By seeing the most pious figure in Vilna eating on Yom Kippur, this freed the others from their inhibitions about doing so.26

In our next class we'll discuss what to do if you mistakenly begin eating without saying a bracha.

Quick Review

  • Only pleasant-tasting foods require a bracha. Food eaten only for health reasons that are not pleasurable to eat, require no bracha.
  • Bitter medications require no bracha. Sweet medications are a matter of dispute.
  • Water: When drunk to quench thirst, a bracha is required.
  • Tasting food: If you don't swallow, no bracha is required. If you swallow – subject to dispute.
  • Prohibited food: You may not say a bracha on food that is prohibited by the Torah, unless circumstances permit the consumption of such food.


  1. Orach Chaim 210:1, with Mishnah Berurah 3
  2. See Orach Chaim 204:8, with Mishnah Berurah
  3. Mor U'Ketzia 196; Sha'arey Teshuva (O.C. 204:17); Iglei Tal (Tochen 62); Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 50:8; Shu”t Minchat Yitzchak 3:18; V’Zot HaBracha, pg. 113; Da'at Torah 208:1(Rabbi S.M. Shwadron), citing Sefer HaChaim
  4. Orach Chaim 202:2, with Mishnah Berurah 19
  5. Sha’ar Hatziyun 205:5
  6. Orach Chaim 202:16, with Mishnah Berurah 79
  7. Orach Chaim 202:2
  8. Mishnah Berurah 204:1-2
  9. Orach Chaim 202:2, with Mishnah Berurah 19
  10. The Laws of Brachos, pg. 140, footnote 38
  11. The Laws of Brachos, pg. 140, footnote 38
  12. Halachos of Brochos, pg. 200, footnote 15
  13. Sha’ar Hatziyun 204:34. If you enjoy the water, you were probably thirsty (Mishnah Berurah 204:40).
  14. Halachos of Brochos, pg. 202
  15. Mishnah Berurah 204:42
  16. Orach Chaim 204:7
  17. Mishnah Berurah 204:42
  18. See Tzitz Eliezer by R’ E. Waldenberg (11:13:9)
  19. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, cited in Haggadah Kol Dodi 2:6; Rabbi S.Z. Auerbach, cited in Halachos of Braochos, pg. 248
  20. Orach Chaim 210:2, with Mishnah Berurah 14
  21. Sha’ar Hatziyun 210:30, citing Chayei Adam
  22. Orach Chaim 196:1
  23. Talmud – Sanhedrin 6b, based on Psalms 10:3
  24. Talmud – Baba Kama 94a; see Mishnah Berurah 196:4
  25. Orach Chaim 196:2, 204:9 with Mishnah Berurah 46, 618:10. However, if the person is so repulsed by the idea of eating non-kosher food, then they would not say a bracha (Mishnah Berurah 204:48).
  26. T’nua’at HaMussar (1:11), and Mekor Baruch by Rabbi Baruch Epstein (II pg. 1012). For slight variations of the episode, see Mo’adim U’Zemanim (2:140) and Teshuvot V’Hanhagot (2:297).

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3. When is a Bracha Not Required?

August 11, 2015

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