Question: What is the blessing on vegetables that grow from the water (and not from the ground)? Likewise, is it permissible to plant such hydroponic produce during Shevi’it?
The Blessing on Mushrooms and Truffles
The Mishnah in Masechet Berachot (40b) states: “On things which do not grow from the ground, one recites the ‘Shehakol Nihya Bidvaro’ blessing.” The Gemara states that mushrooms and truffles require the Shehakol blessing. The reason why mushrooms do not require the Ha’adama blessing is because the primary absorption of the mushroom is not from the ground; rather, their primary absorption is from the air. Thus, since they are not a “fruit” of the ground, the “Boreh Peri Ha’adama” blessing cannot be recited upon them. The Rambam (Chapter 8 of Hilchot Berachot, Halacha 8) and the Tur and Shulchan Aruch (beginning of Chapter 204) rule likewise.
Based on the above, regarding our question, since hydroponic produce available nowadays (such as Chinese sprouts and the like) do not grow from the ground and the absorption of their nutrients comes from the water alone, they require the Shehakol blessing and not the Ha’adama blessing.
Indeed, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules that hydroponic produce requires the Shehakol blessing. Nevertheless, if one is doubtful whether a specific vegetable was grown from the ground or on water, one must follow the majority, i.e. if a majority of this specific vegetable grows from the ground, its blessing will be “Boreh Peri Ha’adama.” However, if most of this kind of vegetable is hydroponically grown, such as sprouts, its blessing is Shehakol.
Hydroponic Produce During the Shemitta Year
It seems that the same should apply to the Shemitta year, and one should even be permitted to plant such produce that does not grow from the ground.
Indeed, Hagaon Harav Yonah Navon (teacher of Maran Ha’Chida) has already discussed this issue in his Responsa Nechpa Ba’Kesef (Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 5) and rules that it is forbidden to plant in a bowl with water and some earth, for this is comparable to planting in a flower pot during Shevi’it which is forbidden although the plant does not absorb nutrients directly from the ground.
Nevertheless, in our situation where not even a drop of earth is used, it seems that even Hagaon Harav Navon will agree that it is permissible to plant in this way during Shevi’it. Indeed, Hagaon Chazon Ish rules that it is permissible to plant in flower pots full of water, for the Torah forbids only planting in the usual manner which is in the earth, as the verse states, “You shall not sow your field.” Thus, planting in water alone does not have the status of “ground” or “land” and is permissible.
Although there are many who rule stringently on this matter, the great Rishon Le’Zion, Hagaon Yitzchak Yosef Shlit”a writes in his Yalkut Yosef-Shevi’it (page 301) discusses this matter at length and rebuffs their opinion. He likewise rules (ibid. page 310) that it is permissible to poke an avocado with toothpicks during Shevi’it and place it on water which causes it to sprout nice leaves since this is not being done on the ground. In any event, there is certainly room for leniency when this is being done inside one’s home, for one is even permitted to plant in the earth of an unperforated flower pot, as we have discussed previously.