Traditional Judaism requires that blessings (brachot) be said before eating anything. It’s considered like a sort of permission; an acknowledgement that the food really belongs to God and that the eater is treating it like a gift.

These blessings are all only one sentence long. Modern Jewish philosophers like to see a blessing as a sort of meditation; a statement to the world that the eater isn’t an animal who has to rush to satisfy her desires, but rather a human who can elevate any action to the spiritual.

But like everything, it isn’t that simple. There are different blessings for different types of food. The standard beginning of a blessing goes:

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheynu melech ha’olam…
Which translates from Hebrew as:

Blessed are you GOD, our God, king of the universe…

The different endings are as follows:

1) Bread products
…ha’motsie lechem min ha’aretz.
…who brings out bread from the land
This is specifically for bread products: wheat bread, rolls, matzo etc. It’s not for all wheaten things. This is actually the most complicated of the food blessings as it has a preamble: Washing hands. It’s also a ‘catch-all’ blessing; it can be made before a meal, and then it covers the whole meal whatever is eaten.

2) Grain products

… borei minei mezonot
… who creates many types of food

This applies for any grain product not covered by the blessing for bread products. Crackers, cake and biscuits (cookies) are good examples

3) Grape products

… borei p’ree ha’gafen
… who creates the fruit of the vine

This covers wine and grape juice. It doesn’t cover grapes and raisins.

4) Fruit

… borei p’ree Ha’Etz
… who creates the fruit of the tree

Well, it’s for fruit, but only fruit from a tree. Remember the business over the tomato? It’s like that, only the opposite. Anyway, oranges and lemons count as do apples and pears, and nuts. Bananas and Pineapples don’t. Orthodox Jewish kids learn which is which in Kindergarten. Oh, this is where the grapes and raisins fit in too.

Another limit here is that you have to be able to "see" the fruit. So it's the blessing for an apple but not for apple juice.

5) Vegetables

… borei p’ree Ha’adamah
… who creates the fruit of the ground

This is for all the growing things not covered by the 'fruit' blessing. So all genuine vegetables, plus the bananas and pineapples, fit here. The rule about being able to 'see' the vegetable applies like in the fruit blessing.

And finally:

6) Everything else

She'hakol nihiyah bidvaroh.
… that everything exists by his word.

which covers everything else. Water, milk, meat and fish, tea and coffee, rice, beer, chocolate, apple juice and Pringles, it’s all caught here.

But wait...

Many foodstuffs are a mix of types of food. What blessing does the good Jewish boy say over these?

Well, it depends what’s the most significant part of the food. Generally, this is taken to be the carbohydrate. So a meat pie would take the grain blessing, and a risotto the general one. It’s not always clear, but then what is?

Now there are also blessings after food, but that’s another story.

So one fine Friday morning several years ago, the Chatham County Commission was in session. Typically, before discussing things like budgets, cutbacks, graft, construction projects, liquor licenses, and things of this nature, an invocation is made. Usually, this is by some member of the clergy who prays that the commission might administer all affairs fairly and under divine providence.

Occasionally, when a member of the cloth isn't available, a commissioner will make the invocation. On this day, they chose a commissioner who happened to be Jewish.

You have to understand: this guy is about as secular as you get. No yamica; doesn't keep kosher; works on Rosh Hashana; goes to shul for a bar-mitzvah. Yet, I guess in some small way, he does identify religiously -- yet he doesn't really know what to say. So, without preamble, he walks up to the mike and belts out: "Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam, hamotzi lechem min ha-aretz", and sits down without further explanation.

Whereupon my friends and I burst out laughing, as this is the blessing over bread!

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