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The Bracha on Papaya: Ha’eitz or Ha’adama?

As we approach Tu B’Shevat, Sephardic Jews focus on the halachot of brachot. We will follow suit and discuss a topic on which Sephardic poskim have taken the lead: the proper bracha on papaya. We will present the responsum from Teshuvot Rav Pe’alim, Rav Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (known as the “Ben Ish Chai”) for direction regarding this issue.

Description of the Growth of the Papaya Tree

The papaya is a hollow tree that can grow to the height of 20 feet. If one plants a papaya seed, fruit will be produced within one year. After the third year of growth, the papaya trees’ fruits decrease in quality and the tree is no longer economically worthwhile to maintain. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (17:277) notes that “under favorable conditions, the life of a [papaya] plant may be five years or more.” The papaya tree consists of a stem without branches, has antennae-like leaves emerging from its stem, and fruit emerging from the stem. After the fruit is removed from the stem, fruit will no longer grow from that section of the tree. The stem will grow considerably higher and produce fruit from the newly grown area in the second year. The same occurs in the third year.

First Thought of the Teshuvot Rav Pealim

Teshuvot Rav Pealim (2:30) was the first major halachic authority to address the question of which bracha to recite on papaya. At first, he thought that the proper bracha for papaya should be Ha’eitz. This followed from the following Talmudic passage and its commentaries. The Talmud (Brachot 40a) states: “Whence do we recite Borei Pri Ha’eitz? In case when one if removes fruit, the gavza (Rashi: tree branch) remains and subsequently produces fruit. However, in a case when the fruit is removed there no longer remains a branch that produces fruit, we do not recite Borei Pri Ha’eitz; instead, Borei Pri Ha’adama is recited.”

The Rosh (Brachot 6:23) explains that the Gemara teaches that “anything that produces fruit yearly is defined as a tree, and anything that requires yearly replanting is considered a fruit of the land (on which Ha’adama is recited).” The Rosh adds an additional definition from the Tosefta in the third chapter of Kilayim:

Whatever produces leaves [which bears fruit] from its roots requires a Borei Pri Ha’adama, and whatever produces leaves from its branches that produces fruit is considered a tree on which a Borei Pri Ha’eitz is recited.

We see that the Rosh believes that the Gemara’s distinction between perennials and annuals is not the sole criterion in determining whether Ha’eitz or Ha’adama is recited. Other Rishonim, however, disagree with this assumption of the Rosh. For example, the Mordechai (Brachot 131) cites the Maharam of Rothenburg and Rabbeinu Tam who believe that one should recite Ha’eitz on strawberries since strawberries are perennials. Nevertheless, the Mordechai cites opinions that agree with the Rosh. These authorities believe that Ha’adama is the appropriate bracha for strawberries, since its leaves emerge from the roots of the plant rather than from branches.

The Tur (Orach Chaim 203) cites both opinions regarding the correct bracha for strawberries. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 203:2 and 3) rules in accordance with the Rosh. The Rama explains that “since the tree collapses in the winter and only subsequently regrows from its roots, the proper bracha is Borei Pri Ha’adama.” The same halacha applies to bananas and pineapples, and thus their bracha is Ha’adama.

Based on the two criteria outlined by the Rosh, the bracha on papaya should be Ha’eitz. The papaya does not have to be replanted each year and its stem remains intact throughout the winter. Thus, the Rav Pe’alim writes that at first glance it would appear that Ha’eitz should be recited on papaya. The Rav Pe’alim also notes that the fact that the papaya fruit in the second year grows from a newly grown section of the tree is irrelevant, and he understands the aforementioned Gemara’s requirement that “the branch remains and later produces fruit” as meaning that if the tree remains through the winter and continues to produce fruit, the correct bracha is Ha’eitz. However, the Gemara does not require that the same branch produce fruit the next season in order for the bracha to be Ha’eitz.

Conclusion of the Teshuvot Rav Pealim: The Eggplant Precedent

The Rav Pe’alim, however, concludes that Ha’adama is the correct bracha for papaya. His conclusion is, for the most part, based on the precedent to recite Ha’adama on eggplant. He presents sources indicating that there is an old tradition to recite Ha’adama on eggplant.

The first source is the Teshuvot Radvaz (1:296 and 3:531), who discusses the permissibility of eating eggplant. He describes that eggplant grows within a year of planting and continues to produce fruit only for the next two years. Accordingly, all eggplants are from the first three years of growth. Thus, it would seem that eggplants should be forbidden to be consumed since they appear to be considered orlah. Indeed, an important authority, the Kaftor Vaferach (Chapter 56), rules that it is forbidden to eat eggplant for this reason. Nevertheless, the Radvaz notes that the practice among Jews living in the Land of Israel is to eat eggplant. Those who ate eggplant include very prominent figures such as Rav Yosef Karo, The Arizal, Rav Chaim Vital and Rav Moshe Alshich (see Birkei Yosef to Yoreh Deah 294). The Radvaz defends this practice by stating that any plant that produces fruit within a year of planting is considered a vegetable and not a fruit. Only vegetables grow within a year of planting, and thus eggplant must be a vegetable and not subject to the restrictions of orlah. Accordingly, the bracha on eggplant is Borei Pri Ha’adama. The Rav Pealim reasons that the halacha regarding papayas should be the same as that regarding eggplants, since papaya trees also bear fruit within a year of planting its seed. Moreover, the Rav Pe’alim cites that the Teshuvot Halachot Ketanot (83) offers another reason why the bracha for eggplant is Ha’adama, Namely, the fact that the eggplant stem is hollow is characteristic of vegetables and not of fruit trees. The Rav Pe’alim notes that the papaya tree is also hollow, thus providing another reason why the bracha for papaya should be Ha’adama. Thus, the Rav Pe’alim concludes that the correct bracha for papaya is Ha’adama. The Kaf Hachaim, Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu all concur with Rav Pe’alim’s decision.

The Rav Pe’alim points out that even if there remains some doubt whether Ha’adama or Ha’eitz is the proper bracha for papaya, Ha’adama should be recited. This is because in any case of doubt whether Ha’adama or Ha’eitz is the required bracha, Ha’adama should be recited since b’dieved (post facto) one has fulfilled his obligation to recite a bracha even if he uttered Ha’adama on a food item that one should have said Ha’eitz on (see Rama Orach Chaim 202:18).

By Rabbi Haim Jachter


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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