Berachot | ברכות

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Berachot (“Blessings”) is the first tractate in Seder Zeraim, the seder (order or part) of the Mishna that deals primarily with agricultural laws pertaining to Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). Zeraim is the first of six sedarim that make up the primary organization of Oral Torah as assembled by Chazal, once it became permissible to write down the Oral Law. This makes Brachot the very first tractate in all of the Talmud, with its iconic opening chapter, named for its incipit or first word, מאימתי (“From when?”). Despite being included in Zeraim, the major topic of Berachot is prayers, encompassing the two core Jewish prayers, Shema and Tefilla (Amida), as well as blessings said over food, drink, and other pleasant things for which one is grateful.

Table of Contents

Topics and Structure of Masechet Berachot

The first three chapters of Berachot deal with Kriyat Shema, a prayer that is required from the Torah (mi-de-Orayta) and which is taken directly from the Torah. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the core Amida prayer, known simply as Tefilla (“prayer”) in the Mishna (as well as Shmoneh Esreh, “the eighteen,” the original number of berachot included in it). Chapters 6, 7, and 8 deal with blessings over food, drink, and meals, including the Birkat ha-Mazon said after completing a meal including bread, which makes it a formal meal (seuda). The last chapter, Chapter 9, covers brachot ha-shevach, blessings of praise.

The Mishna already assumes the institution of these prayers and blessings as well as detailed knowledge of the matbea ha-tefilla (מטבע התפילה), the standard wording of the liturgy. It comes to codify questions of timing, performance, requirements, and combinations.

Chapter No.Chapter NameTopic of ChapterNo. of MishnayotPages in the Bavli
1Mieimatai | מאימתיShema: Timing and blessings52b-13a
2Haya Koreh | היה קוראShema: How813a-17b
3Mi she-Meto | מי שמתוShema: Who is exempt617b-26a
4Tefilat ha-Shachar | תפילת השחרTefilla (Amida): Timing, when traveling, Musaf726a-30b
5Ein Omdin | אין עומדיןTefilla (Amida): How and dealing with mistakes530b-34b
6Keitzad Mevarchin | כיצד מברכיןBlessings of enjoyment (berachot nehenin) on food and drink835a-45a
7Shelosha she-Achlu | שלשה שאכלוZimun and Birkat ha-Mazon (blessing on meals)545a-51b
8Eilu Devarim | אלו דבריםBeit Shammai and Beit Hillel on seudot (formal meals)851b-53b
9Ha-Roeh | הרואהBlessings of praise (brachot ha-shevach)554a-64a
Total Mishnayot: 57Total Dapim: 64

Why was Masechet Berachot included in Seder Zeraim?

The laws of prayer do not immediately seem to be a logical fit for an order of tractates that deals with agricultural laws. The most commonly-given answer to this question is given by Rambam in his introduction to the Commentary on the Mishna, in which he writes:

וחלק המאמר בסדר זרעים כמו שאומר. התחיל במסכת ברכות. והטעם שהצריכוהו להתחיל בה שהרופא הבקי כשירצה לשמור בריאות הבריא על תכונתה שהיא עומדת עליו יקדים תיקון המזון בתחלת רפואותיו ועל כן ראה החכם הזה להתחיל בברכות שכל מי שאוכל אין לו רשות לאכול עד שיברך וראה לסדר בתחלת דבריו ברכות כדי לתקן המזון תיקון שיש לו ענין.

And he [Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi, the compiler of the Mishna] divided the material in the Order of Seeds, as I will say: He began with the Tractate of Blessings (Berachot). And the reason that required him to begin with it is that when an expert physician wants to preserve the health of a healthy person upon the state that it is in, he begins by ordering the dietary regimen at the beginning of his medical prescriptions. And therefore, this sage saw [fit] to begin with Blessings, as anyone who eats does not have allowance to eat until he recites a blessing. And [so], he saw fit to order Blessings at the beginning of his words, so that he would order the food in a regimen that has substance to it.

Rambam, Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishna

Major Commentaries on Masechet Brachot

Mishna

As well as Rambam and Bartenura (and Rashi, included within his commentary on the Bavli), there are:

  • Tosafot Yom Tov on Berachot
  • Melechet Shlomo on Berachot
  • Yachin and Boaz on Berachot
  • Kehati on Berachot (contemporary and also available in English)
  • Mishnat Eretz Yisrael on Berachot (contemporary)

Tosefta

On Tosefta Berachot, in addition to Masoret ha-Tosefta which can be very helpful, there is mainly Tosefta Kifshuta (contemporary).

Yerushalmi

There is Pnei Moshe on Berachot, Mareh ha-Panim on Berachot, and two more recent commentaries, the Shaarei Torat Eretz Yisrael and the extremely helpful Or La-Yesharim on Berachot (don’t miss the helpful introduction that precedes Berachot to the whole Yerushalmi).

Bavli

As well as Rashi and (our) Tosafot, to Masechet Berachot in the Bavli there are:

  • Rif on Berachot
  • Rosh on Berachot
  • Rashba on Berachot
  • Ritva on Berachot
  • Meiri on Berachot
  • Shita Mekubetzet on Berachot
  • Pnei Yehoshua on Berachot
  • Petach Einayim (Chida) on Berachot
  • Ben Yehoyada on Berachot

Chapter Overviews

Perek 1: Mieimatai | פרק א: מאימתי

Perek 2: Haya Koreh | פרק ב: היה קורא

Perek 3: Mi she-Meto | פרק ג: מי שמתו

Perek 4: Tefilat ha-Shachar | פרק ד: תפילת השחר

Perek 5: Ein Omdin | פרקה: אין עומדין

Perek 6: Keitzad Mevarchin | פרק ו: כיצד מברכין

Perek 7: Shelosha she-Achlu | פרק ז: שלשה שאכלו

Perek 8: Eilu Devarim | פרק ח: אלו דברים

Perek 9: Ha-Roeh | פרק ט: הרואה


Image: by Levi Meir Clancy on Unsplash