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The Great Watermelon Question

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

It is a question that a young lady had once posed in a tenth grade Hilchos Brachos class.  But first, a bit of an introduction:


There is a concept called kavod habracha – the honor one must accord to a blessing.  According to the Mishna Brurah (167:4), part of that concept is that a blessing should ideally be recited on a davar shalem – a whole item.  It seems from a later Mishn Brurah (168:5), however, that the idea of a whole item is a worthwhile quality to seek even when there is no preference on the food itself. According to the Levush (168:1), however, the reason may be slightly different.  He seems to write that it is more respectful to Hashem to bless on a nicer item.

Are these two different reason?  Also, is the Mishna Brurah committed to just one?  Perhaps he means both.  The Mishna Brurah in 168:5 and also in his Shaar HaTziyun there uses the term “Hiddur Mitzvah.”

[It could also be dependent upon how one learns the pertinent Gemorah (Brachos 39b) – where there is a debate between Rav Huna and Rav Yochanan regarding what is better to recite a blessing upon – a whole loaf or bigger pieces of bread.]


We will come back to this, but first let’s get to the young lady’s question:

What is the story with a watermelon?  Is it more ideal to bring a whole watermelon to the table and recite the bracha on the whole watermelon?  Or should one just bring slices to the table?

It is pretty clear that no self-respecting baalabusta would countenance the thought of serving from a whole watermelon, when, say, the new mechutanim are first invited over.  And yet, for Challah we make sure that the bracha is recited on the whole Challah.  What is the difference?


We can’t answer that bread is different than fruits, because the Mogain Avrohom (211:1) specifically writes that it is not just bread that is under discussion but any fruits as well.


Also, what is the story if the fruit or the bread are kind of rotten?  Do they still have the quality of shalem – a whole entity?  And what if a section of the Challah is still kind of doughy, or burnt? The Shaarei Teshuva in Siman 274 writes that if the Challah is a little bit burnt it still retains the quality of a Shalem.   Rabbi Shammai Gross, the author of the Shaivet HaKhasi (Vol. VI #120) wishes to apply this Shaarei Teshuvah to the case of a rotten fruit, but perhaps we can question whether this extension can be made.


What about pizza?  Would this halacha mandate that a person should preferably purchase a whole pizza (uncut) rather than two or three slices so that he can recite the bracha on a davar shalem?  I once had a roommate in Yeshiva who used to, well, never mind.

Rabbi Feinhandler z”l in his Avnei Yashpeh (Vol. III Siman 21:8) writes that if a person has a valid reason not to buy a whole pizza (such as wasting food or not wanting to gain the wait) he may certainly opt for that.



So, we perhaps have one answer here. If the person has a valid reason not to bring out the whole watermelon – because it is a social gaffe to do so – then the idea of reciting on a davar shaleim can be set aside.


Also, what happens if a person made a bracha on a half a cookie, and did not have in mind one way or the other, for the bracha to also cover a second whole cookie?  Does the bracha work?  We know that, if one made a mezonos on Rice Krispies, for example, and one did not have in mind that it should also cover the Honey Nut Cheerios, the bracha is ineffective.  If it was made on the Honey Nut Cheerios, however, it would cover the Rice Krispies – even if he did not have it specifically in mind.  This is all based on a Rashba found in Brachos 41a.  The Rashba is cited l’halacha in the Ramah (OC 211:5) as well as in the Beis Yosef (206:2 and at the end of 211).

[As a side note, although Ashkenazim follow the Ramah, there is a debate between the author of the Kaf HaChaim and Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul as to whether Rav Yoseph Karo himself ultimately went with the Rashba or not since he does not cite it in his Shulchan Aruch.  The Kaf HaChaim (206:31 and 211:24)rules that Rav Karo did not ultimately hold of the Rashba, but Rav Ben Tzion Abba SHaul (Ohr L’Tzion Vol. II chapter 14 note 16) held that this was not a proof at all.]

Do we apply the same principles in this Rashba to the idea of non-shalem versus shalem?

In his 5761 edition of the Sefer V’Zos HaBracha, the author originally wrote that non-shalem and shalem have the same halachos of this Rashba.  However, he retracted this ruling in his 5763 edition on account of him seeing Rav Elyashiv’s discussion on the matter in his shiurim on Brachos (p. 448).  Rav Elyashiv zt”l ruled that the halacha of shalem and non-shalem are qualitatively different than the other aspects of brachos in this regard.  This might be a second answer to the one we just saw or it could be following the same reasoning.


Perhaps we can say that the Mishna Brurah is not actually arguing with the Levush and holds of both reasons.  It could very well be that a whole watermelon is so awkward that it is actually disrespectful to Hashem to recite the bracha on it.  If this is the case, even though it is shalem – the awkwardness would beat out the other idea of shalem.  In the first chapter of the V’Zos HaBracha (note 2), the author cites Rav Elyashiv as ruling that it does not apply to watermelon.  We can conjecture that it is perhaps because it is simply not the manner to bring a whole watermelon to the table, whereas regarding Challah it is.

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One Response

  1. What about the fact that it takes quite some time to cut a watermelon, so between saying the bracha and eating it, there might be a considerable hefsek?

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