Question: Must one recite a blessing upon drinking a beverage within a bread meal?
Answer: The Rishonim disagree regarding whether or not one who drinks any beverage (besides for wine) within a bread meal must recite the “Shehakol Nihya Bidvaro” blessing on it or not. The Ba’al Halachot Gedolot and other great Rishonim maintain that one must indeed recite a blessing on beverages one drinks during a meal just as when one would drink them outside of a bread meal. On the other hand, the majority of Poskim rule that one should not recite a blessing on beverages drunk during a meal, for it is common to drink while eating; thus, since drinking is a result of eating, the beverages are exempted with the “Hamotzi” blessing similar to the law that the blessing on a primary food exempts the secondary food. Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam rule likewise.
Halachically speaking, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 174) rules in favor of the opinion that one should not recite a blessing on beverages drunk during a bread meal. Nevertheless, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch likewise quotes the opinion of the Ba’al Halachot Gedolot who rules that one should recite a blessing on such beverages and concludes the Halacha, as follows: “One who wishes to remove himself from all doubt should sit in the place one intends to eat his meal before washing one’s hands (for the bread) and recite a blessing with the intention of drinking during the meal.” This means that one should recite the “Shehakol” blessing on a small amount of beverage and by doing so, one will exempt all other beverages one will drink throughout one’s meal. Nonetheless, this is only an added stringency, for according to the letter of the law, the Halacha follows the opinion that one should not recite a blessing on beverages drunk during a bread meal.
One who wishes to act stringently and recite a blessing on a beverage before a meal must take care not recite a blessing on water unless one is thirsty, for if one is not thirsty at all, one may not recite the “Shehakol” blessing on water. Nevertheless, one may recite the “Shehakol” blessing on other flavored drinks, candies, or sweets with the intention to exempt water one will drink during one’s meal. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules likewise.
If one eats “Couscous,” some say that one should not recite the “Shehakol” blessing on the water one drinks along with it since this is a very dry food and requires one to drink copiously with it. Nevertheless, Maran zt”l has ruled that one should recite a blessing on water drunk along with “Couscous,” for only during a bread meal will one not recite a blessing on beverages one drinks; however, regarding other foods, even if they are very dry and thirst-inducing, one should recite the “Shehakol” blessing on beverages drunk along with them.
Summary: One should not recite a blessing on water or other beverages (besides for wine) one drinks during a bread meal. As an added stringency, it is preferable for one to recite a blessing on some water or another beverage (less than a Revi’it) before washing one’s hands in the place one intends to eat one’s meal.