Washing for Pizza

I’ve heard many different things about the status of pizza. It seems to me the equivalent of bread, yet most people say Mezonot on it and eat it without washing. Can you explain to me what the issue is with it?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Pizza is a bit of a gray area in terms of its status. You are right that at first blush it seems no different from an open sandwich.

The basic issue is as follows. When any of the five grains (wheat, barley, oats, rye, spelt) are baked into bread, they are considered the main part of the meal and are granted a special status. One makes a special blessing on them (“hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz”), must wash his hands before eating them, and says the entire Grace after Meals (Birkat Ha’mazon) after. Also, generally we do not make blessings over other foods eaten during a bread meal.

If, however, such grains are prepared in such a way that a person would generally not make a full meal out of them, such as if they are baked with flavorings or fillings, it is questionable if they are given the status of bread, and the blessing on them is Mezonot. Classic examples of such foods are cakes and pies. If, however, a person makes a meal out of such foods – such as by eating a full meal’s worth of cake, then it assumes the status of bread for him and requires washing and hamotzi.

Pizza in a sense resembles pies. Just as pies are filled (i.e. cooked together with) with fruit fillings, a pizza is baked together with cheese, sauce and other ingredients. Thus, only if a person eats a full meal’s worth of pizza – typically assumed to be two full-sized slices – would he treat it as bread. For less than that, he would treat it as cake and say mezonot.

This, however, is questionable. Fruit filling clearly makes bread into a snack, but why would cheese and sauce – which are typical foods put into sandwiches – do the same? In fact, although there is an opinion in Jewish law which equates fillings such as cheese, meat and potatoes to fruit, the majority opinion does not accept this.

Some explain that it still depends on the intent of the person eating it. If he eats only a single slice of pizza, he is clearly not making a meal out of it and thus is considering it a cheesy snack. If, however, he eats two slices or more he is considering it a meal. (Note that this reasoning would not apply if a person does eat one slice of pizza as a meal. I.e., he considers it his lunch, but just feels like a light lunch.)

A similar approach explains that it depends on how the food is prepared. If bread is baked together with cheese or meat and served in small pieces, then even such foods make the bread into a snack. Some examples of this are small wrapped franks, cheese danishes (even not very sweet) and potato knishes. If, however, it is served in pieces the size of full slices of bread, then clearly it is a “meal” food. Based on this reasoning, pizza, cut into large slices, would be considered bread.

Based on all the above, it is very questionable if pizza can be considered distinct from bread, even if one eats only a single slice of pizza. Thus, it is definitely preferable to wash on bread first before eating it. However, the common custom is to be lenient and to eat a single slice without washing. If, however, a person eats two slices or more, he has clearly made a meal out of it, and he must treat it as bread.

(Some pizzas are kneaded together with fruit juice or milk. If more fruit juice is used than water, then the pizza would be considered “cake” because of the dough itself, and the bracha would be mezonot for a single piece.)

Note finally that if a person takes ready-made bread, such as a pitta, and then re-bakes it with cheese and sauce, the blessing is certainly hamotzi. That is merely bread with cheese melted on it. The question of pizza only begins if dough was initially baked together with the cheese, since in that case it perhaps never became full-fledged bread.

For a good summary of the laws of blessings, see the course on our more advanced, The Aish Academy.

(Sources: Shulchan Aruch O.C. 168:17, Taz 20, Mishna Berurah 94, Biur Halacha s.v. pashtida, The Laws of Brachos pp. 234-236.)

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