The Beracha on Bourekas and Knishes

Most people assume that bourekas and knishes are mezonos, but it seems that this is not so simple. In fact, there are many different factors involved relating to the proper beracha on bourekas and knishes. In the following paragraphs we will BE”H systematically address all of the relevant issues and attempt to arrive at a conclusion regarding the correct beracha to recite when eating them.

The Filling

Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 168:6-7) describes a pastry which the Gemara calls pas haba’ah b’kisnin and states that it’s beracha fluctuates depending upon the circumstances under which it is eaten. When it is eaten as a snack or desert it is mezonos, but one consumes a quantity which is appropriate for a meal one recites hamotzi.

Shulchan Aruch brings three opinions from the Rishonim regarding the identity of “pas haba’ah b’kisnin”, and one of them is filled dough. The classic example of this “filled dough” would be a pie or similar sweet pastry, the Poskim debate whether is also includes a savory pastry such as a meat knish. The Taz (OC 168:20) writes that that a pastry filled with meat, fish or cheese is included in the classification of pas haba’ah b’kisnin and one does not recite hamotzi on it unless eating a significant quantity, while the Magen Avraham (OC 168:44) disagrees and suggests that since this pastry is intrinsically a meal and not a dessert it should always be hamotzi.

The source of their debate revolves around the interpretation of the Piskei Ri”d (Berachos 37b) who states that a pashtida (which is baked dough filled with meat) is hamotzi. On the one hand, the Taz is correct that from the context it is clear that the Ri”d’s primary intent is that the dough is considered the ikar and not the meat filling, and when he writes hamotzi this is in contrast to shehakol and not mezonos. On the other hand, the Magen Avraham has a strong point that by choosing hamotzi over mezonos this indicates an incidental point that the Ri”d considers this pashtida to be equivalent to bread.

Ultimately, the later Rishonim seem to debate the same point. The Ria”z (6:13) writes that his grandfather the Ri”d mentioned hamotzi regarding pashtida since it is made to serve as bread and as a meal, which closely aligns with the Magen Avraham’s position. However, the Sefer HaTanya (28) writes that the Ri”d only mentioned hamotzi for pashtida in the circumstance where one is consuming a large quantity, similar to the Taz that it is pas haba’ah b’kisnin.

The Logic of Pas Haba’ah B’kisnin

Since there does not appear to be any conclusive proof to one side or the other from the Rishonim, we are compelled to analyze the underlying logic behind their respective positions.

As a starting point, the Beis Yosef (OC 168:8) writes that while pas haba’ah b’kisnin is technically bread, since it is not commonly eaten as the mainstay of a meal Chazal did not grant it the beracha of hamotzi. The implication being that anything which is technically bread and is also generally eaten as the mainstay of a meal is always hamotzi, even when consumed in small quantities.

In fact, the Derech HaChaim (Kuntras Acharon 28:3) extends this to the inverse as well and suggests that anything which is technically bread and most people do not eat as the staple of their meal is automatically and certainly pas haba’ah b’kisnin; accordingly one would recite mezonos on small quantities of it even when served as dessert during a meal. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the Beis Yosef does not accept this extension, as he concludes that there is a disagreement between the three descriptions of pas haba’ah b’kisnin and that out of doubt we say mezonos on all three. Clearly, the Beis Yosef holds that some breads which are not typically consumed as the mainstay of a meal remain hamotzi nonetheless.

Pashtida is clearly a pastry which most individuals would consume as the mainstay of their meal, consequently the Magen Avraham’s position is certainly consistent with this principle of the Beis Yosef.

However, the Taz presumably agrees with the Beis Yosef as well, he simply interprets the rule slightly differently. According to the Taz, when Chazal enacted the beracha of hamotzi they only included typical breads which are usually consumed as the mainstay of a meal and excluded those breads which are not, for example pas haba’ah b’kisnin. According to the opinion that this refers to filled dough, since most filled dough contains sweet filling and is unsuitable to serve as the mainstay of a meal, Chazal excluded the entire category of filled doughs from hamotzi, including pashtida. While the motive behind this classification may not be applicable in this specific case, since it falls into the category of filled-kisnin it was never granted the beracha of hamotzi. Consequently, in the Taz’s view we do not evaluate each individual pastry independently and according to contemporary culinary fashions, rather we must merely assess whether it is classified as the pas haba’ah b’kisnin that Chazal exempted from hamotzi or not.

According to this standard, it seems clear that the Taz would consider a potato bourekas and knishes pas haba’ah b’kisnin due to their filling, while the Magen Avraham would consider them true bread which is always hamotzi.

While there is considerable debate among the Acharonim whether the halacha of pashtida follows the opinion of the Taz or that of the Magen Avraham, the Mishnah Berura (168:94) conclusively rules in accordance with the Magen Avraham. While in Beiur Halacha (ד”ה פשטידא) he suggests a compromise position that very small knishes could be considered pas haba’ah b’kisnin, this is entirely consistent with the Magen Avraham since the size and shape of these specific pastries indicates that they are not intended to serve as the mainstay of a meal.

Accordingly, is seems that according to the Mishnah Berura the accepted beracha on knishes and potato and cheese bourekas—based upon their filling—should be hamotzi.

In fact, it seems that this debate can be linked to related instances in which the halacha is broadly accepted as following the logic of the Magen Avraham.

Another of the three opinions regarding the identity of pas haba’ah b’kisnin is hard, thin crackers. A number of Sefardi Poskim consider this to include matza, as physically they are identical to these crackers. However, the consensus of the Ashkenazi Poskim is that since matza is predominantly consumed as the mainstay of a meal and not as a dessert or snack, it is always hamotzi. HaRav Bentzion Abba Shaul zatzal in Ohr le’Tzion concurs with this logic, though he allows a Sefardi to rely upon the minhag to recite mezonos.

The rationale for making hamotzi on matza follows the reasoning of the Magen Avraham that we follow the current usage of the matza, which is a staple of the meal and equivalent to bread. On the other hand, the justification for considering matza to be mezonos relies upon the Taz’s logic that if an item fits the description of what Chazal excluded from hamotzi we ignore its current usage.

Accordingly, it seems that at least for Ashkenazim the accepted halacha follows the Magen Avraham, and pashtida should always be hamotzi.

In conclusion, the accepted halacha is that the filling of a knish or bourekas does not provide sufficient grounds to render its beracha mezonos.

The Composition of the Dough

The third opinion regarding the identity of pas haba’ah b’kisnin is a dough which has been flavored or sweetened. The Mechaber and Rema disagree regarding the amount of other liquids required to render the pastry mezonos; according to the Mechaber it is sufficient if their flavor is noticeable in the dough while according to the Rema they must convey a dominant taste. Indeed, the puff pastry or phyllo dough typically used for bourekas and knishes is primarily oil and margarine with only a small quantity of water.

However based upon what we wrote in the previous section, if the pastry would not be consumed by most individuals as a dessert or snack and would regularly serve as the mainstay of a meal, this should not be sufficient to deny it the beracha of hamotzi. Certainly knishes and potato and cheese bourekas are not eaten as dessert, and they are often served as the side dish during a meal.

It is true that according to the Taz this is not the deciding factor and if the flavor of the margarine is significant enough that during Chazal’s time people would not have consumed pastries from these doughs as the mainstay of a meal it would remain mezonos even today, but in the previous section we demonstrated that this is not the accepted position at least for Ashkenazim. Furthermore, it is doubtful if the flavor of the margarine can be considered “dominant” enough to meet the Rema’s standard.

However, there is an opinion that any pastry which contains a majority of other liquids by volume is automatically mezonos regardless of its flavor, and if these liquids have no impact on its flavor presumably one would still consume them as the mainstay of a meal.

The Maharsham writes in Daas Torah that the thresholds of the Mechaber and Rema are only required when the other liquids are a quantitative minority in the dough and there is more water than “other” liquids. However, he continues, if there is a majority of these other liquids they render the pastry mezonos even if their contribution to the flavor is not discernable. Based on this opinion, some bakeries have invented the concept of the “mezonos roll”.

The logic behind the Daas Torah is not that he argues on the Beis Yosef’s principle that pas haba’ah b’kisnin is bread which is not generally consumed as the mainstay of a meal, rather he suggests that without a majority of water the pastry is not considered “bread” altogether. This is based on the context of aforementioned principle in the Beis Yosef. The Beis Yosef brought the Rambam’s opinion that pas haba’ah b’kisnin is dough mixed with other liquids or spices which affect its flavor. Initially, the Beis Yosef proposed that the Rambam is referring to circumstances where the other liquids are the majority over the water and accordingly the dough is not considered bread, implying that if it were considered “bread” its beracha would inevitably be hamotzi. The Beis Yosef proceeds to challenge this assumption as it is unreasonable to interpret spices as comprising a majority of the dough since their flavor is so strong, accordingly he concludes that both “other” liquids as well as spices will render the dough mezonos even when they are in the minority. He concludes that even though this dough which is primarily water will be considered “bread”, not all bread is necessarily hamotzi.

The chiddush of the Daas Torah is that even in the Beis Yosef’s conclusion, a portion of his original assumption remains; namely, any dough which is only a minority water cannot be bread and accordingly is not hamotzi. (There remains an unresolved question on this approach, as if pastries which are a minority water are not “bread”, why would one recite hamotzi upon eating a large quantity?)

It should be noted that the Maharsham’s opinion does not actually justify many of the cases in which it is commonly used. The Maharsham himself (ad loc) qualifies that many fruit juices are technically water according to halacha and would not deny a pastry baked with them the status of bread. Juices which are extracted by squeezing are halachically considered זיעה בעלמא, with the exception of wine/grape juice and olive oil; only juices which are extracted by cooking the fruit—such as tomato juice—are halachically considered non-water. Accordingly, the apple juice used in mezonos rolls and the margarine manufactured from soy or canola oil used for bourekas and knishes would halachically be considered water according to the Maharsham, and they would both be hamotzi.

Additionally, the Maharsham writes that even liquids which are not technically water do not necessarily deny a pastry the status of bread. Only a liquid which has an unusual appearance or a strong flavor and would typically render the dough significantly different than typical bread is considered “non-water” for our purposes, but not a liquid which is bland and colorless.

Apparently, those who endorse “mezonos rolls” and similar products are basing themselves on a portion of the Maharsham’s opinion while not adopting it in its entirely.

Furthermore, many Poskim clearly reject the Maharsham’s opinion altogether; for example, the Taz (168:7) writes that according to the Rema dough which contains honey becomes mezonos only if the honey comprises the majority of the flavor of the dough and it is not dependent upon the majority of its volume. The Mishnah Berurah (168:33) quotes the Taz’s position.

The Texture of the Dough

Based on what we have brought so far, it seems that knishes and bourekas should always be hamotzi, even when one is only consuming a small quantity of them; which admittedly is not the commonly accepted practice. However, it seems to me that there may be grounds for reciting mezonos on them, even though I have not seen the following angle discussed in the Poskim.

The Shulchan Aruch and Poskim in 168:8, 15 and 16 discuss various baked goods which are either never hamotzi or at least not hamotzi unless one consumes a significant quantity of them. The common denominator between them is that all of them are produced from a liquid batter as opposed to a solid dough, and all of them are considerably thinner than typical bread. In fact, these pastries can be broken down into 2 separate categories:

  • Some items have to’ar lechem—the appearance of bread—and are consequently technically classified as bread. Nevertheless, they are not hamotzi when eaten in small quantities. The Shulchan Aruch HaRav and others explain that it is not a coincidence that their halacha is equivalent to that of pas haba’ah b’kisnin, as both share the same logic that they are technically bread but most people do not consume them as the mainstay of a meal due to their flavor or texture and since they are not prepared in the manner typical for bread. This category would include pancakes and similar items.
  • Other items are so extremely thin that they bear such a distant resemblance to bread that they cannot be classified as bread. These pastries remain mezonos no matter how much one eats of them. While the Poskim mention blintzes as an example of the previous category, it would appear that they are referring to something thicker than what we are familiar with and in fact our blintzes should fit into this classification.

While I am on record as saying that being a liquid batter is a critical factor in these classifications, the Aruch HaShulchan and Minchas Yitzchok disagree and write that even a solid dough which has been rolled so thin as to lose its to’ar lechem will never be hamotzi.

According to their opinion, it would be conceivable that the phyllo or puff pastry dough used for bourekas and knishes would be considered to have an appearance sufficiently distinct from typical bread that it would be placed into the second category mentioned above and would always be mezonos.

In Conclusion

It seems to me that bourekas should be considered equivalent to typical bread and should always be hamotzi; however, there are grounds to suggest that they may always be mezonos. It would be praiseworthy to always wash on a piece of bread before eating bourekas to avoid any doubt.

While I am aware that some recent seforim suggest that bourekas should be considered equivalent to pas haba’ah b’kisnin and one should say mezonos on a small quantity and hamotzi upon consuming a large amount, I do not see the logic behind this ruling.

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