Don’t Shush Me

Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg

We are all aware that speaking between the recitation of a bracha and the eating of food is problematic. In fact, whereas many prohibitions are not enforced on children before a certain age, in most households, even the youngest children can be heard joining in on the collective shushing of anyone who breaks the silence, especially when it comes to reciting hamotzi at the shabbos table. Ironically, talking after a bracha may not be the grave error we believe it to be, depending, of course, on the content (no, football scores don’t make the cut).

The Talmud offers the following (Berachos 40a):

“Rab said: [If the  host says to his guests,] Take, the benediction has been said, take, the benediction has been said, he [the host] need not say the benediction [again].  If he said [between the benediction and the eating], Bring salt, bring relish, he must say the benediction [again]. R. Johanan, however, said that even if he said, Bring salt, bring relish, the benediction need not be repeated. If he said, Mix fodder for the oxen, mix fodder for the oxen, he must repeat the blessing; R. Shesheth. however, said that even if he said, Mix fodder for the oxen, he need not repeat; for Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: A man is forbidden to eat before he gives food to his beast, since it says. And I will give grass in thy fields for thy cattle, and then, thou shalt eat and be satisfied.”

We can clearly see from this that some form of talking is permitted between the recitation of hamotzi and the actual consumption of bread. Rashi explains that even though talking is considered a hefsek between the recitation of the bracha and the action, such as talking between placing the tefillin of the yad and tefillin of the rosh, in this case since the sicha is relevant to the bracha, it is not considered a hefsek. 

But in order to determine the permissibility of this action, we should first get a basic understanding of the hefsek. Clearly, the Talmud has an assumption that any talking whatsoever between the bracha and the achila is problematic. The chiddush is that sometimes it is not, and it is dependent upon whether it is tzorech bracha. It is quite clear that the halachic (as opposed to the philosophical) concept of reciting a bracha is a revelation of one’s thoughts, a gilui daas. Enunciating the bracha creates the need for a tziruf, or connection, between his daas and the bread he is to eat. This being the case, there could be two ways to view dibbur after the bracha is recited. One possibility is that any talking done after the bracha is viewed as a separate dibbur altogether. In other words, the new dibbur itself is viewed as discrete in relation to the initial bracha. No matter what the content of the dibbur may be, the fact that it is another dibbur breaks the tziruf. Yet there is another way one can view dibbur after the bracha. Rather than dibbur itself creating the break, the tziruf can exist as long as there is a thematic tie between the bracha and that which he is speaking about. In other words, there is a natural thematic relationship between the bracha and that which is tzorech bracha. The dibbur functions as an extension of the dibbur of the bracha, rather than taking on its own identity. As long as the dibbur has this feature, it is viewed as an extension of the daas of the mevarech, and there is no break in the tziruf. 

The Talmud must now qualify what fits under the category of tzorech bracha. One common idea that ties the three examples together is that tzorech bracha refers to that which helps bring about the implementation of the achila. For example, feeding the animals before one eats is part of the overall performance of eating bread after the bracha is recited. The same can be said for bringing salt or for instructing that the bread be passed to the other participants of the meal. (Each one of these issues requires its own sevara, but these will not be included due to space considerations)

This helps clarify the basic concept of tzorech bracha, but there is an issue raised that further refines this idea. The Bais Yosef (OC 167) writes that according to Rashi (and others), tzorech bracha refers to those matters relevant to the eating of bread, the topic of the specific bracha. The examples of the Talmud, then, are to be strictly adhered to. Asking for salt is ok, but asking to bring the chulent to the table would be considered an interruption. However, the Rambam seems to maintain otherwise. He seems to indicate (Hilchos Brachos 1:7) that any dibbur related to the overall seudah is permitted. So, asking to bring the kugel (not to be too stereotypical) is permitted and would not be considered a hefsek. How do we understand this debate? 

One possible approach lies in the unique concept of bread being the key element in creating seduah. Both opinions agree that one is koveah seudah with bread. The question is whether the bracha plays a role in its creation, or does it emerge through eating the bread. According to Rashi, it is only once the bread is consumed that the phenomenon of seudah exists. Therefore, one may only speak about matters directly related to the specific bracha and food, like any other birchas nehenin. Yet according to the Rambam, it could be that the bracha is actually the haschalas seudah. Imbued in the very bracha itself is the concept of keviyas seudah im lechem. In other words, the bracha of hamotzi is really a bracha on seudah, and not just the bread itself. Therefore, there is a natural tziruf between any dibbur related to the meal and the bracha.

There are some other issues that are taken up by the poskim. One interesting one deals with at what point when eating is a person allowed to speak. In general, consumption is viewed in terms of swallowing. The Magen Avraham (OC 167:16) maintains that one should therefore not speak while he is still chewing, or prior to swallowing. However, if one did speak while chewing, he need not recite the bracha again. However, the Eliah Rabbah (as cited by the Shaar HaTziyon 167:30) seems to maintain that one should recite the bracha again. The Mishneh Berura (ibid 35) leaves the issue in doubt, unsure whether or not one needs to repeat the bracha. The Aruch Hashulchan (ibid 13) indicates that one should not repeat the bracha.

Another issue is taken up by R Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe OC 2:49) regarding reciting the bracha in one language, and then translating it into another prior to eating the bread. If someone recited the bracha in English, and then translated into Hebrew, the second recitation would be considered not just a hefsek, but a bracha levatala. The rationale for this is that a bracha can be recited in any language (See Rambam Hilchos Brachos 1:6), so a translation would be a repetition. However, if someone first recited the bracha in Hebrew, and then translated it into English prior to eating the bread, he would not be reciting a bracha levatala; but it is still considered a hefsek. The reason why, according to R Moshe, is that reciting the bracha in English does not involve enunciating the name of God. If one needs to translate the bracha, he should recite the bracha first, eat a little, and then translate. Those relying on his bracha to eat their own bread are permitted to wait until the completion of the translated bracha.

So, the next time the mevarech instructs those at his table to eat their bread before he has eaten his own, just relax. No need to be concerned with this “interruption”, as it is just a continuation of the bracha.