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23. Unauthorized Brachot

October 14, 2015 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons and Rabbi Yair Spolter

An unnecessary bracha is a problem of "saying God's Name in vain."

In the previous classes we learned about ikar v'tafel. Now let's move on to a related topic, one that touches on the essence of all brachot.

The third of the Ten Commandments tells us not to utter God's name in vain.1 This refers not only to swearing falsely in God's name, but also to mentioning God's name in the form of a bracha when halachically inappropriate.2 There are two types of improper brachot:

  • bracha levatala – a bracha said in vain
  • bracha she'ayna tzricha – an unnecessary bracha3

Bracha Levatala

A bracha levatala is a bracha said in vain – i.e. it is said for no reason, or its purpose is not fulfilled.4 This violates the prescribed conditions that the Sages set for brachot.

You hold up an apple, carefully saying the words "borei pri ha'aitz," and then realize that the apple you are holding is completely rotten and inedible.

This is a bracha levatala because it ends up serving no purpose.5 So what should you do in such a situation? Later in this class we will discuss a method for how to "correct" a bracha levatala.

Bracha She'ayna Tzricha

A bracha she'ayna tzricha is an unnecessary bracha – i.e. it was said on a food that was already covered by a previous bracha.6 Although the bracha is in one sense "fulfilled" (i.e. the food is eaten), nevertheless the bracha is unnecessary and hence improper.

You begin your meal with bread, saying the bracha Hamotzee. You then take a piece of chicken and say the bracha Shehakol.

Since the bracha on bread covers other foods contained in that meal – e.g. chicken – your second bracha was totally superfluous, a bracha she'ayna tzricha.

Causing a Bracha She'ayna Tzricha

Beyond this, one is not even allowed to cause a bracha she'ayna tzricha to be said.7 This means that you may not say a bracha when it could have been avoided, as in the following case:

You sit down to a meal and first say the bracha Shehakol on the chicken. You then proceed to say a bracha on the bread.

Since the bracha on the bread would have covered the chicken as well, you should have said Hamotzee first and avoided the bracha Shehakol altogether. By reversing the order, this caused an unnecessary bracha.


This rule, however, only applies only when you are planning to eat the second food right away. If, however, the second food is not going to be eaten right now, the first food may be eaten with its own bracha.8

You come home from a long day at work and smell delicious home-made bread. "Dinner will be ready in five minutes," your wife calls out. You grab a drink to quench your thirst, saying the bracha Shehakol.

Had you waited until starting the meal, the bracha Hamotzee on the bread would have covered the drink as well. Does this mean that you should have waited, as not to cause a bracha she'ayna tzricha (the extra Shehakol)? The answer is no. Since the bread was not ready yet, and you were thirsty right now, you were not obligated to wait to take a drink.

It is important to note that the rule of "not causing an unnecessary bracha, when it would have been covered by another bracha" has the following exception: One may say a bracha on an appetizer that precedes bread, e.g. a grapefruit, since this is the normal sequence of a meal.9

Correcting a Bracha Levatala

You pour yourself a cup of apple juice, say the bracha Shehakol, and lift the glass to your mouth when suddenly... it slips from your hand and spills all over the floor.

What can you do in order to "save" this from being a bracha levatala?

1) The simplest advice is to pick the cup off the floor, and drink the few drops of apple juice remaining in the cup.10

2) If this is not possible (e.g. it was made of glass and shattered), then you should quickly pour some more juice from the container and drink that (assuming that when reciting the blessing, you had the intention to drink more from the container, or the container was on the table even without specific intention).11

3) If this is not possible, you could take another food that was "covered" (as in #2 above) by the first bracha.12

4) Finally, if none of these options exist, you should recite the following phrase, known as Baruch Sheim:13

As a praise of God, Baruch Sheim compensates, so to speak, for the previous dishonor to God.14

In Midstream

The above guidelines apply if the bracha levatala has already been said. But what about a case where you've begun a bracha, and in the middle realize that it's unnecessary? Here are the rules:

  • If you have only said the words, "Baruch Ata," then simply stop. Since you haven't said God's name, there's no harm done.

  • If you realize your mistake after saying "Baruch Ata Adonoy," then you should quickly continue with the words "lam'dayni chu'kecha." By doing so, you have recited a full verse from Psalms 119:12: "Baruch Ata Adonoy, lam'dayni chu'kecha" – and thus cleverly avoided saying God's name in vain!

  • If, however, you are already further into the bracha (i.e. you already said "Eloheinu"), the only corrective measure is to recite "Baruch sheim k'vod malchuto l'olam va'ed," as described above.

When in Doubt

What happens if you are in doubt about whether you've already recited a bracha?

Mike sat down to enjoy lunch with his best friend. They become so engaged in animated conversation, that Mike suddenly stopped and said, "Hey, did I say a bracha yet on the pretzels?"

If you are in doubt whether or not you said a bracha, you may not say a new bracha "just in case." By doing so, this would create a possible bracha she'ayna tzricha.16

So here are some good solutions:

  • Ask someone else who is starting to eat to "have you in mind" when saying his bracha.17 You should answer "Amen," and by doing so, his bracha is effective for you as well. (More details in class #38.)
  • Say a new bracha on a food that was not included in your original bracha.18
  • Change your location in a way that requires a new bracha.19 (More details in class #27.)
  • By the strict letter of the law, you could continue to eat without saying a bracha. This follows the general principal of "safek brachot l'hakel" – in a case of doubt regarding brachot, we follow the lenient position.20 In practice, however, the above options should be used first. And even if none of these options are available, it is better to recite the bracha without saying God's names aloud – i.e. while concentrating on God's names mentally.21

Teaching Brachot

When teaching children to say brachot, one is permitted to say the name of God in order to show the child the correct pronunciation.22

Similarly, when teaching an adult, the name of God may be uttered when necessary. For example, you could say a bracha word-for-word along with someone who doesn't know how to do so on his own.24

By the way, any time you hear someone else saying a bracha, it is proper to answer, "Amen." This is an affirmation of the blessing as a praise of God.25 (More details in class #38.)

Quick Review

  • It is a violation of the Ten Commandments to say God's name in vain. This includes saying a bracha in an inappropriate time or manner.

  • There are two types of inappropriate brachot:

    1. bracha levatala – a bracha that serves no purpose – e.g. on a food that you ultimately do not eat
    2. bracha she'ayna tzricha – an unnecessary bracha – e.g. on something that was already covered by a previous bracha
  • Correcting a bracha levatala: If you said a bracha levatala, immediately recite the words "Baruch shem kevod malchuto l'olam va'ed." If you only began the bracha and got up to the word "Ado-noy," continue with the words "lam'dayni chu'kecha."

  • When in doubt: If you forgot whether you said a bracha or not, you should ask someone else who is starting to "have you in mind," or say a bracha on a food not included in your original bracha.

  • One may pronounce the name of God in the course of teaching others how to say brachot.

  1. Exodus 20:7
  2. Talmud – Brachot 33a; Orach Chaim 215:4. According to most authorities, saying God's name in the context of an unnecessary bracha it is only a rabbinical violation of the law.
  3. See Mishnah Berurah 215:18. Although the terms "bracha levatala" and "bracha she'ayna tzricha” are often interchangeable in halachic literature, we have used the above definitions for the sake of clarity.
  4. Mishnah Berurah 215:18
  5. Orach Chaim 206:6
  6. Mishnah Berurah 215:18
  7. Mishnah Berurah 215:18
  8. Mishnah Berurah 176:2
  9. Mishnah Berurah 176:2
  10. Mishnah Berurah 206:24
  11. Biur Halacha 206:6
  12. The Laws of Brachos, pg. 65
  13. Orach Chaim 206:6
  14. Maimonides (Sh’vuot 12:11); Orach Chaim 206:6
  15. Orach Chaim 206:6
  16. Orach Chaim 167:9, with Mishnah Berurah 49
  17. Mishnah Berurah 167:49
  18. Halachos of Brachos, pp. 238-240, referring to Mishnah Berurah 174:39
  19. Shu”t Igros Moshe (OC 4:40:1)
  20. Orach Chaim 167:9
  21. Ben Ish Chai (vol. 1, Balak 7)
  22. Orach Chaim 215:3, with Mishnah Berurah 14
  23. Shu”t Igros Moshe (OC 2:56)
  24. Orach Chaim 484:1, with Mishnah Berurah 8
  25. Orach Chaim 124:6
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