For many of us, when we will be eating a pomegranate, fig or date this coming Tu B’Shevat, we will be reciting a Shehechiyanu in addition to borei pri ha’etz on the fruit. The question becomes which should we recite first: Ha’etz or Shehechiyanu?
Not surprisingly, there is considerable debate about this issue. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 3:15) does his usual fantastic job of summarizing the opinions and then arriving at a persuasive conclusion.
Arguments to Recite Ha’etz First
It would seem, at first, rather simple to resolve this issue. After all, the Gemara (Brachot 51b) teaches the famous and often applied rule of tadir u’sheino tadir, tadir kodem, when we have a choice of performing two mitzvot, the mitzvah done more frequently enjoys precedence. For example, men first place the tallit before tefillin, since tallit is done more frequently than tefillin. It would seem that we should apply this rule and recite Ha’etz first, since it is recited much more often than Shehechiyanu.
However, this is not so simple, as noted by Rav Ovadia. Indeed, the Gemara (Zevachim 91a) teaches that the rule of tadir applies only to obligatory mitzvot such as tallit and tefillin. Eating fruit is discretionary and thus it is not obvious that we apply the tadir principle to the order of the brachot recited before eating it.
Rav Yaakov Hagiz (Teshuvot Halachot Ketanot 1:236), though, puts forth the argument that Shehechiyanu should be recited second, since this is its usual place. Indeed, Shehechiyanu comes after reciting the brachot on Chanukah lights, megillah reading, sitting in the sukkah and taking a lulav.
Arguments to Recite Shehechiyanu First
Moreover, we can make two solid arguments in favor of first reciting Shehechiyanu. The Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 225:7) reasons that, fundamentally, the bracha of Shehecheyanu should be said upon seeing the fruit. It is merely customary to wait until one eats it, as noted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 225:3). Therefore, the Shehechiyanu is not intrinsically connected to the eating of the fruit and should not interrupt between the recital of Ha’etz and eating the fruit.
On the other hand, some argue that since it has become customary to recite Shehechiyanu before eating the fruit, it turns out that the bracha of Shehechiyanu is indeed connected to the eating.
Another point is that Shehechiyanu is less connected to the eating of the fruit, since its recital upon eating fruit is only discretionary, as taught by the Gemara (Eruvin 40b).
On the other hand, some understand the Gemara as referring to obtaining a new fruit upon which to recite a Shehechiyanu. However, once one has already acquired a new fruit, it is obligatory to recite it.
Rav Ovadia then notes that some great authorities, both Sephardic and Ashkenazic, first recited Shehechiyanu and only then a Borei Pri Ha’etz. The Chatam Sofer is cited by his son, the Ketav Sofer (Orach Chaim 25), as ruling that Shehechiyanu comes first, and the Ma’amar Mordechai (225:1) agrees.
Rav Ovadia’s Conclusion
Rav Ovadia prefers reciting Borei Pri Ha’etz first for three reasons: First, while the authorities who debate this issue are from the 18th and 19th centuries, Chacham Ovadia notes that in actuality, a much earlier authority of significant stature rules that Ha’etz comes first. None other than the Radbaz (Teshuvot 1:297) rules in this manner. Radbaz lived in the 16th century and is regarded as a borderline Rishon/Acharon.
Moreover, the Vilna Gaon (as recorded in Tosefet Ma’ase Rav number 21) also rules that Ha’etz comes first. The Vilna Gaon enjoys immense authority among all Jews.
Finally, the fact that Maran HaChida (Machzik Bracha 22:3) records that it is customary to recite Ha’etz first is of major importance. The Chida is regarded by all Jews as a great authority, but he enjoys an extra special place among Sephardim.
Rav Ovadia concludes, therefore, that Ha’etz should be recited first. However, in typical Rav Yosef big-tent style, he rules that those who recite Shehechiyanu first also have significant authority upon which to rely.
To complete our discussion, we should note that the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 225:5) records that the custom among Ashkenazim is to first recite Ha’etz. However, his preference and personal practice is to first recite Shehechiyanu. The Mishna Berurah (225:11) also prefers reciting Ha’etz second, while also presenting the option of first reciting Ha’etz, taking a small nibble of the fruit and then reciting Shehechiyanu.
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.