Question: If one eats a slice of bread along with fish, is it possible that one only recites a blessing on the fish and the bread will be considered secondary to the fish and exempted by it?
Answer: In the previous Halacha we have explained the basic laws of primary and secondary foods regarding blessings, in that the blessing on a primary food exempts the secondary food. For instance, if one wishes to eat a dish of rice with some beans on top, the “Boreh Peri Ha’adama” blessing is not recited on the beans; rather, the “Boreh Minei Mezonot” blessing on the rice, which is the primary food, is sufficient for both.
Can Bread be Secondary to Other Foods?
The Mishnah (Berachot 44b) states: “If one was served something extremely salty or extremely sweet (see Tosafot ibid.) along with bread, one recites a blessing on the sweet or salty food and this exempts the bread, for the bread is secondary to it. The rule is as follows: Whenever there is a primary and secondary food, one recites a blessing on the primary food and this exempts the secondary food.”
The case in the above Mishnah refers to one who was served fruits or various kinds of jam that are very sweet and because of the extreme sweetness, one eats some bread afterwards in order to weaken the intensity of the fruit’s sweetness. Similarly, if one eats an extremely salty or spicy food and one intends only to enjoy this specific food but then wishes to eat some bread afterwards to dull some of the saltiness or spiciness, in the above instances, one would not recite a blessing on the bread, for it is completely secondary to the other foods one is eating.
The Opinion of Rabbeinu Yonah
Rabbeinu Yonah writes that this Mishnah is certainly not coming to teach us the obvious law that the blessing on a primary food exempts a secondary food, for the Mishnah on the previous page has already taught us this by stating, “If one recites a blessing on bread, he has exempted other foods eaten during the meal.” Rather, this Mishnah comes to teach us that even bread, which is the most significant of all foods, can sometimes take on a secondary status, such as, when it is eaten along with another food merely to dull the strong taste of the other food.
Indeed, the Poskim, as well as Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 212), rule as follows: “If one eats a primary food along with another less significant food, one recites a blessing on the primary food and exempts the secondary food from both before and after blessings. Not only does this apply when the primary and secondary foods are mixed together; rather, this law applies even if they are separate. Even if bread, which is the most significant food, is secondary, such as, if one is eating salty fish and eats bread along with it so that one’s throat is not harmed by the saltiness, one recites a blessing on the fish and exempts the bread since it is indeed secondary.”
Bread is Usually Considered a Primary Food
Nevertheless, it is clear that one cannot always claim that the bread is secondary to another food one is eating, such as, if one eats a slice of bread with some peanut butter or a piece of cheese and claims that the spread or cheese is more significant to him than the bread; this is certainly not the case, for in this instance, the bread is considered primary and the “Hamotzi” blessing is recited which exempts the topping as well. Only when the bread comes to remove the strong taste of the food one has eaten before it can the bread be considered secondary since one is not interested in eating it for its own sake, in which case no blessing is recited on the bread whatsoever.
Summary: If one eats something extremely sweet or salty and then wishes to eat some bread for the sole purpose of removing the strong taste of the food he has eaten right before, one does not recite a blessing on the bread, for it is completely secondary to and exempted by the blessing on the original food. However, if the bread is being eaten for taste, such as, a slice of bread with a piece of fish on it, the bread is considered primary and a blessing is recited upon it and not on the fish.
In the following Halacha, we shall, G-d-willing, discuss some related laws.