A Guide to the Observance of Mitzvos (with Explanations)
Part 1: Brachos, Kiddush and the Shabbos Meals
by Asher Bush
There are five species of grains that the Torah considers to be the “official” grains for all purposes. These grains are wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats. While not spelled out in the Torah itself, the Mishna Pesachim 35a, Challah 1:1. rules that only these five species can be used for making matzah, become chametz, require HaMotzi & Birkas HaMazon, and are subject to the mitzvah of challah and the prohibition of chadash. Other starches or grains, rice included, do not fit into this category. Of significance for our discussion is the fact that four out of these five species contain gluten, with oats being the only one that does not. For the Gluten intolerant or allergic individual, aside from the general difficulties encountered in having a varied and fulfilling diet, the fulfillment of these otherwise rather simple mitzvos can often become quite challenging. The purpose of this essay is to provide guidance in each of these mitzvos so the gluten intolerant or allergic individual can fulfill each of these mitzvos in the optimal manner possible. Some of the rulings utilized are not be accepted by all poskim. However, since we are speaking of people with medical concerns–not those who refrain from gluten for non-medical reasons such as a desire to lose weight or eat healthier–given the significant hardship that this limited diet creates in many cases, it is appropriate to rely on leniencies that might not otherwise be recommended.
The Status of Oats in Halacha
As mentioned above, oats are one of the five grains of the Torah. It should be noted that this translation of “Shiboles Shual” is not accepted by all. While Rashi, Rabbeinu Gershom and other Rishonim clearly understood that this refers to oats, Rashi (Pesachim 35a sv Shiboles Shual) uses the French word Avena (similarly in his comments on Menachos 60b), as does Rabbeinu Gershom in his commentary to Menachos 60b. Also see below, note 4. other Rishonim, most notably the Aruch, Aruch (“Shibol”) presents two possibilities. The first is “sikala” (this same word “sigla” is used by Rabbeinu Gershom, Menachos 60b to explain Shifon, which is generally understood to be … Continue reading suggested an alternative translation and explanation. This matter was brought to the public’s attention in the 1960’s by Professor Yehuda Felix, an Orthodox scholar who taught at Bar Ilan University, who strongly argued that the designation of oats as Shiboles Shual was an error. One of the supports for this idea was the very fact that oats lack gluten, significantly limiting their use for bread-making. This idea was accepted by some authorities; Writing in 5752, Rav Moshe Sternbuch of the Eida HaChareidis of Yerushalayim (T’shuvuos V’hanhagos vol. 1 #302), strongly considers this possibility, concluding his responsum, “I have heard … Continue reading however the overwhelming majority of contemporary poskim Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Laws of the Pesach Seder, note 326), also quoted by Dr. Avraham S. Avraham in Nishmas Avraham (OC 461:4:3). Also see the journal Mesora vol. 13 pages … Continue reading strongly rejects this approach, and follows the understanding of Rashi, which has been the standard approach of all Jewish communities for well over a thousand years. This is primarily seen in the fact that the blessing of mezonos has traditionally been recited on oat cereals and cookies (although oats were not used for making bread and accordingly there was no ongoing tradition of reciting HaMotzi on oat bread).
Whatever the merits the other approach may have, for all practical purposes this essay will treat oats as one of the five grains of the Torah without any ambiguity or question, based on the rulings of the many leading poskim of our day and following the principle laid out at the end of the opening paragraph.
A Word of Caution Regarding Oats
However, even though oats are viewed in Halacha as one of the five grains and they do not contain gluten, cross-contamination from other grains is quite common. This can happen when oats are planted near wheat, when fields are used interchangeably when crops are rotated, and during transit, production or storage. For this reason the individual who needs to avoid any and all gluten should investigate to make sure that the oats or oat flour is processed in a dedicated facility. Such products will generally be labeled as gluten free. It is for this reason that the “gluten free” designation on packages can be of great significance.
Whether these trace amounts affect any given individual is a matter to be addressed by proper medical authorities, because the consequences can be quite significant.
It should also be noted that there are some individuals who cannot tolerate oats even when produced in a dedicated facility because they are sensitive to the protein avenin which is found in oats. For these people the status of oats will likely be the same as wheat since both generate severe reactions or other medical concerns, as will be detailed below.
Reciting the Correct Bracha
Fortunately for those who cannot eat gluten or wheat, lately more and more kosher certified products are being produced that do not contain wheat and are certified as gluten-free. The grain or starch in these products is often (brown) rice flour, corn starch, tapioca, potato, and sorghum, and can include yeast and xanthan gum among other ingredients. These include various forms of cookies, cakes, breads and even “challah” rolls. The definition of bread in Halacha does not vary due to a person’s dietary limitations. Even if an item serves as a bread or cake substitute, if it is not made with the five grains, it is not considered a bread or cake. In most cases the only possible bracha to recite on it is She’hakol, followed by Borei Nefashos. The only exception to that rule is cakes made of rice/rice flour, for which the bracha before eating is Mezonos, and after is Borei Nefashos. While these slices of bread or rolls may look like “regular” bread or “challah” and even serve the same function at a meal, this does not affect their halachic status. The fact that some products are even labeled as “challah” should not mislead the consumer.
However, this does not mean that a gluten intolerant or allergic individual will never have the opportunity or need to recite HaMotzi and Birkas HaMazon. There are several alternatives that will obligate the person unable to eat wheat or gluten to recite these brachos. One example is oat matzah, produced for Pesach and used by many all year long for HaMotzi on Shabbos. The other alternative is bread made from oat flour. While not available in all stores, there are even kosher certified commercially produced gluten free oat breads. Perhaps more commonly, many families who face this issue bake their own oat bread. Oat bread is not made with 100% oat flour because it would likely be very dense and gummy. Rather, the oat flour is typically mixed with smaller quantities of other flours or starches, resulting in tasty bread. A popular recipe for oat flour bread found online (Yammie’s Gluten Free) contains 3.3 cups oat flour, ½ cup corn starch or tapioca flour, ½ cup rice flour, 2 teaspoons xanthan gum, along with … Continue reading
Since these breads often contain a large variety of ingredients, it is important to note that the Shulchan Aruch OC 208:9 rules that bread made from a combination of any one of the five grains with other “non-grains” requires HaMotzi and Birkas HaMazon. Bread made with such a combination of flour and other ingredients requires HaMotzi even if it contains only a small amount of oat flour, as long as the oat flour provides a “noticeable taste” or flavor. The general standard in Halacha is that once an item exists in ratios of greater than one part in sixty it is considered to “provide flavor.” It should be noted that when making this calculation of one part in sixty, all ingredients are factored in, not just the various flours of other species. Given that some foods give off a stronger … Continue reading Presumably, this rule would also apply to oat flour mixed with other flours. Following this formula, almost any bread baked with oat flour along with various other ingredients would receive the bracha of HaMotzi. Oats that are merely sprinkled on top of bread (as is often seen in various multi-grain loaves) have no halachic significance and the bread’s bracha is determined by the other ingredients, either as She’hakol or Mezonos (if made of rice).
However, the rules for reciting HaMotzi (or Mezonos on cake) are different from the rules for reciting Birkas HaMazon (or Al HaMichya). As mentioned, any bread or cake that has the “taste” of oats is treated as an oat bread or cake for purposes of the bracha beforehand. On the other hand, the quantity required for Birkas HaMazon is a significantly higher ratio, namely that the mixture contains a sufficient portion of oats that one consumes a “k’zayis” (olive sized piece, approximately one fluid ounce) of oats in the amount of time that it takes to eat “achilas pras” (roughly nine minutes). OC 208:9 While there is some debate about this amount, it is generally understood that this means that the oats must be at least one sixth or one eighth of the total flour. Therefore, if the oats are (for example) ¼ of the total, then one will only be obligated to recite Birkas HaMazon if one eats at least four k’zayis-sized pieces in nine minutes. In other words, the amount eaten needs to correspond to the percentage of oat flour used, but can never be less than 1/6 or 1/8. In the recipe noted above, the oat flour content is greater than 50% of the total ingredients, obviating any of these issues.
Despite the compelling logic that there should not be any distinction between the quantities and percentages for the recitation of Birkas HaMazon and Al HaMichya, the Mishna Brura 208:48 writes that the common practice is to recite Al HaMichya on cookies and cake even if the k’zayis eaten does not contain a full amount of the 1/6 or 1/8 ratio of the oat (or wheat) flour, as long as one has eaten an olive-sized piece. This practice notwithstanding, he writes that preferably Al HaMichya should only be recited if a larger amount of this cake is eaten, similar to the standard used for Birkas HaMazon. Since commercially produced gluten free oat breads and cakes are generally made with these halachic concerns in mind (and oat flour is the first ingredient listed), these concerns are more relevant for homemade breads and cakes.
Regarding the mitzvah of washing hands before eating bread, the Shulchan Aruch OC 158:2; Mishna Brura 158:9. The reason washing is only required an egg-sized or larger piece is that the impurity of foods only applies to pieces of this size and larger. The opinion that washing … Continue reading records two opinions as to whether it is required when eating a k’zayis-sized piece of bread or only if one eats an k’beitza (egg-sized) piece. The Mishna Brura OC 158:9 rules that if eating a slice that is larger than a k’zayis but smaller than a k’beitza, one should wash but not recite the bracha on the washing. Following the rule established above regarding Birkas HaMazon, when flour of the five grains are mixed with other grains a full k’zayis of wheat or oats must still be eaten in order to be obligated in this mitzvah of washing hands with a bracha. Therefore, even a larger slice does not obligate if it does not contain that amount of oats and it is not eaten as described above.
Shabbos Meals and Kiddush
One of the highlights of Shabbos is the mitzvah to eat three festive meals. The Rishonim debated whether the third meal, Seudah Shlishis, must include bread, or suffices with cake or even “lesser foods” such as eggs, fish and even fruits. OC 291:5, also see Biur Halacha (188 sv Seudah Shlishi) who writes “but the first two meals, one is certainly obligated to use bread according to all opinions… and so too for Yom Tov.” But there is no such debate about the Friday night and Shabbos day meals; according to all authorities these meals must include bread. Based on all of the above, that would mean that the gluten intolerant individual must eat either oat matzah or oat challah as this bread. As in the case of “regular” challah and matzah, one needs to use two loaves, each a complete loaf or matzah.
Additionally, Kiddush must be recited at the location where the meal will be eaten. Since the definition of these first two meals includes bread/matzah, the use of this oat bread or matzah takes on added significance. They enable fulfillment of the mitzvah of Kiddush. However, there may be situations in which a person does not have these needed two loaves; the following paragraphs address a number of these situations.
If a person has bread but does not have two full loaves, he should still do the most possible. Accordingly, if he only has one complete loaf (either because another was already cut or he has no other loaves but has oatmeal cookies), he should recite HaMotzi on the one complete loaf and use the other item in place of the second loaf. Kaf HaChayim 274:6 If one has only one loaf and no partial loaves or cakes, one should recite HaMotzi on that one loaf. If one only had cut up/sliced bread, one should take two slices as the lechem mishne (two “loaves”). The Aruch HaShulchan (274:5) writes that if one does not have complete loaves, “one should use two slices or pieces as this too qualifies as lechem mishne even though it is not a very honorable … Continue reading Lacking any bread, one should use cakes or cookies containing oats or oat flour, or even oat cereal because the grain will officially constitute the meal. Rav Avidor Nebenzahl writes in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Yerushalayim B’Moadeha, Shabbos vol. 2, question #112 and footnote #111) that cakes or cookies can count as the meal itself … Continue reading
However, bread and rolls made without any of the five grains cannot be used for lechem mishne on Shabbos, even when lacking any substitute, since they are not considered bread in the eyes of Halacha. Nevertheless, even if there are no oat alternatives available, it is clear that someone allergic to or intolerant of gluten should not eat bread containing gluten (or in the case of allergies, whatever the allergen would be) on Shabbos, as the essence of the Shabbos meals is the mitzvah of Oneg Shabbos (Shabbos delight). Eating a meal that by definition causes sickness or discomfort certainly does not fulfill or enhance this mitzvah. OC 291:1 rules that one need not eat the third meal when one is full and will feel ill by eating more. In this context the Mishna Brura (291:3) writes, “The meals are given for delight and not … Continue reading
It is likely that a gluten intolerant individual will sometimes find himself without any oat breads/cakes (or be medically unable to eat them). However, since he needs to have a “halachically valid meal” in order to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush, we will explore what alternatives, if any, exist. Many of the gluten free breads, cakes and cookies available to consumers are made with a rice flour. While rice is not one of the “five grains,” it is to some degree in the same category in that the generally accepted bracha recited over rice is Mezonos, the same bracha recited over cakes and cookies of the five grains. OC 208:7, the reason for this is that like the five grains, rice satiates. Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of poskim do not accept the use of rice cakes in the place of the five flours for the Shabbos meal, so that Kiddush accompanied with rice cakes is not considered in the location of the meal. Chazon Ovadia (Shabbos, vol. 2, Kiddush B’makom Seudah, section 7, pages 141-5). There are a small number of poskim who accept this idea, since rice satiates in a manner similar to the five grains; Responsa Sha’arei Zion (OC #9). Responsa Magid T’shuva (vol. 2, #18) permits this for Shabbos mornings only; both are quoted in Chazon Ovadiah (ibid). accordingly, a good case can be made that a gluten intolerant person who has no gluten free oat bread/cakes should use rice crackers to serve this purpose. While this is not generally quoted, Rav Ya’akov Emden (Ya’avetz, Pesachim 114a) considers any food used for a meal as “lechem” regarding reciting Kiddush at the place of a meal. He … Continue reading However, there will rarely be a need to rely on this minority opinion because the Shulchan Aruch rules that drinking the Kiddush wine (or other wine afterwards) is considered the meal itself. OC 273:5 Accordingly, lacking bread, cake or cookies, the drinking of a revi’is of wine (approximately 3 fluid oz.) is considered as a “meal” for this purpose. The generally accepted practice is to consider grape juice to be the same as wine. Chazon Ovadia vol. 2, page 141. Rav Ovadia Yosef ruled that grape juice is considered wine for this purpose. He also quotes from the journal Or Torah (Sivan 5767) where it is reported that Rav … Continue reading
In a home setting this would generally be easy to accommodate, making sure that an individual who cannot eat the challah will receive an ample portion of wine or grape juice. However, at a public Kiddush such as in a shul, this is not always feasible. In this case it is important to know that even though the mitzvah of Kiddush cannot be fulfilled (and assumedly will be performed when returning home), that does not necessarily preclude eating at this time. Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled Igros Moshe OC vol. 1, no. 63. The Shulchan Shlomo (Rav Shlomo Zalman Av Beis Din of Mir, 273:2) ruled that bedi’eved even eating fruits can count as the location of the meal for Kiddush. This is … Continue reading that even though Kiddush in the location of the meal can only be fulfilled with eating as mentioned above, nevertheless, one is permitted to eat following the recital of Kiddush even if one will only be eating lesser foods such as fruits or fish and reciting Kiddush again when returning home for lunch.
The second part of this two-part series is scheduled for Monday morning (4:30am Israel time), February 10th.
|↑1||Pesachim 35a, Challah 1:1.|
|↑2||Rashi (Pesachim 35a sv Shiboles Shual) uses the French word Avena (similarly in his comments on Menachos 60b), as does Rabbeinu Gershom in his commentary to Menachos 60b. Also see below, note 4.|
|↑3||Aruch (“Shibol”) presents two possibilities. The first is “sikala” (this same word “sigla” is used by Rabbeinu Gershom, Menachos 60b to explain Shifon, which is generally understood to be rye) and the second is “Vina” (from the Latin word avena for oats).|
|↑4||Writing in 5752, Rav Moshe Sternbuch of the Eida HaChareidis of Yerushalayim (T’shuvuos V’hanhagos vol. 1 #302), strongly considers this possibility, concluding his responsum, “I have heard that today they bake special Shmura Matzos from Shiboles Shual (Oats) and fulfill with this the mitzvah since it is one of the five species. In the journal Shaarei Zion (Elul 5748) it was shown that our oats are not Shiboles Shual, as is seen in the fact that oats do not rise and form chametz, and the common practice is an error when it assumes that oats are one of the five species. Accordingly following this approach one would not fulfill the mitzvah of Matzah and it would be necessary to find another species that can be eaten without causing medical harm.” [This last point is a matter of contention and will be addressed below in the section on Pesach.]|
Strikingly, in vol. 5 of T’shuvos V’hanhagos (#130), published 21 years later in 5769, Rav Sternbuch strongly rejects any suggestion that oats might not be a correct identification of Shiboles Shual. His only Halachic concern in this responsum is properly ensuring that they do not become chametz and he recommends only making the minimum amount needed for the mitzvah. At no point is there any discussion or attempt to explain his significant change of opinion. On the contrary, in his last few lines he sharply criticizes those who question longstanding and ancient traditions.
|↑5||Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Laws of the Pesach Seder, note 326), also quoted by Dr. Avraham S. Avraham in Nishmas Avraham (OC 461:4:3). Also see the journal Mesora vol. 13 pages 66-71, where Rav Yosef Efrati wrote in the name of Rav Elyashiv (of whom he was a close disciple) that he strongly insisted that Shiboles Shual is oats for all Halachic purposes, namely chametz, matzah, the mitzvah of challah, chadash, mezonos and kilayim, without any doubt.|
Rav Ovadia Yosef (Chazon Ovadia, Pesach, Laws of the Pesach Seder, page 66) rules similarly.
|↑6||The grain or starch in these products is often (brown) rice flour, corn starch, tapioca, potato, and sorghum, and can include yeast and xanthan gum among other ingredients.|
|↑7||A popular recipe for oat flour bread found online (Yammie’s Gluten Free) contains 3.3 cups oat flour, ½ cup corn starch or tapioca flour, ½ cup rice flour, 2 teaspoons xanthan gum, along with eggs, various liquids and flavorings. A bread made following this recipe requires HaMotzi and Birkas HaMazon, and is suitable for Lechem Mishneh. The ingredient listing for Katz’s brand “Round Oat Raisin Challah” lists oat flour as the first ingredient, followed by white rice and tapioca flours.|
|↑8, ↑10||OC 208:9|
|↑9||It should be noted that when making this calculation of one part in sixty, all ingredients are factored in, not just the various flours of other species. Given that some foods give off a stronger flavor than others, when baking a loaf in order to be able to recite HaMotzi on it, it would be prudent to have a somewhat higher ratio of oat flour than one part in sixty to insure that it would provide flavor.|
|↑11||In the recipe noted above, the oat flour content is greater than 50% of the total ingredients, obviating any of these issues.|
|↑13||OC 158:2; Mishna Brura 158:9. The reason washing is only required an egg-sized or larger piece is that the impurity of foods only applies to pieces of this size and larger. The opinion that washing is required even when eating an olive-sized piece connects the obligation to wash with the obligation of Birkas HaMazon, which applies even when eating the smaller, olive-sized piece of bread.|
|↑15||OC 291:5, also see Biur Halacha (188 sv Seudah Shlishi) who writes “but the first two meals, one is certainly obligated to use bread according to all opinions… and so too for Yom Tov.”|
|↑16||Kaf HaChayim 274:6|
|↑17||The Aruch HaShulchan (274:5) writes that if one does not have complete loaves, “one should use two slices or pieces as this too qualifies as lechem mishne even though it is not a very honorable manner.” The Mishna Brura (274:2) writes that one who does not have full loaves and only has a small (kezayis-sized) piece of bread should still recite Kiddush and HaMotzi, as the lack of two complete loaves does not prevent the fulfillment of these mitzvos.|
|↑18||Rav Avidor Nebenzahl writes in the name of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Yerushalayim B’Moadeha, Shabbos vol. 2, question #112 and footnote #111) that cakes or cookies can count as the meal itself (and not just validate the Kiddush) and in such a case the person should use two cakes or cookies. Strikingly, Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa (chapter 54, note 63) rejects this idea, ruling that the meal itself must include bread following the ruling of the Mishnah Brura.|
|↑19||OC 291:1 rules that one need not eat the third meal when one is full and will feel ill by eating more. In this context the Mishna Brura (291:3) writes, “The meals are given for delight and not suffering.” This idea is clearly relevant to someone who will feel discomfort by eating gluten breads at any Shabbos meal.|
|↑20||OC 208:7, the reason for this is that like the five grains, rice satiates.|
|↑21||Chazon Ovadia (Shabbos, vol. 2, Kiddush B’makom Seudah, section 7, pages 141-5).|
|↑22||Responsa Sha’arei Zion (OC #9). Responsa Magid T’shuva (vol. 2, #18) permits this for Shabbos mornings only; both are quoted in Chazon Ovadiah (ibid).|
|↑23||While this is not generally quoted, Rav Ya’akov Emden (Ya’avetz, Pesachim 114a) considers any food used for a meal as “lechem” regarding reciting Kiddush at the place of a meal. He specifically mentions an ill person who cannot eat bread, of great relevance to our discussion.|
|↑25||Chazon Ovadia vol. 2, page 141. Rav Ovadia Yosef ruled that grape juice is considered wine for this purpose. He also quotes from the journal Or Torah (Sivan 5767) where it is reported that Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv was not comfortable with this idea.|
Rav Ovadia also ruled (ibid page 137, note 6) that even though chamar medina (other prestigious beverages) can be used for Kiddush on Shabbos day, drinking them is not considered as having eaten for the purpose of Kiddush in the location of the meal.
|↑26||Igros Moshe OC vol. 1, no. 63. The Shulchan Shlomo (Rav Shlomo Zalman Av Beis Din of Mir, 273:2) ruled that bedi’eved even eating fruits can count as the location of the meal for Kiddush. This is not the common practice and those who eat in these cases are generally following Rav Moshe Feinstein’s ruling.|