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When Bread Isn’t Bread

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JewishTreats.org

A question for those who bake and for those who love dessert: What is the difference between bread and cake? Yeast, some might answer. Bread has yeast and rises. But what about yeast cakes such as babka or cinnamon buns? Believe it or not, the definition of bread is a question discussed thoroughly in halacha, Jewish law.

Bread is more than just something we eat. Bread, in Judaism, represents actual sustenance, as it is the basic necessity for survival (at least before everyone began to eat processed, white bread, of course!). For this reason, when sitting down to a meal with bread, it is considered appropriate to ritually wash one’s hands, recite the hand washing blessing, and then recite the blessing of Ha’Motz’ee before eating the bread. A meal with bread concludes with the Grace After Meals (Birkat Ha’mazon). Likewise, whenever one eats bread, even if not as a sit-down meal, one is required to wash, recite Ha’Motz’ee and say the Grace After Meals when finished. When Ha’Motz’ee is recited, it is no longer necessary to make individual blessings over the other foods of that meal (with some exceptions).

While “bread” sounds like a clearly identifiable food, the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaym 168) defines bread as something made of the five species of grain (wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt) that is baked in an oven or cooked in a dry vessel. It may not have sweets, fruits or spices as the major ingredients or fillings.

While this final qualification makes it simple to understand why cinnamon buns are considered desert/snack (and therefore one recites the m’zo’note blessing), this does lead to complications when a sweet challah (such as a raisin challah or other sweet challahs) are used for ha’motz’ee on Shabbat. The question comes down to the definition of “major ingredient.” According to the custom of the Sephardi community, the taste of the spice/flavor need only be discernable to disqualify it as bread. The Ashkenazi community, however, rules that the extra flavor must really alter the main flavor.

*One should ask their own rabbi for clarification, if one has a question.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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