Navigating the Pizza Paradox: Pas or Pas Nisht

Kashrus Kurrents, Winter 2021

If you ask any out-of-town kiruv professional involved in outreach, “What are the two most important community ‘must-haves’ needed to attract baalei teshuvah or create growth in a particular Jewish community?”, nine times out of ten the answer you will get is 1) an eruv and 2) a kosher pizza shop! I can bear witness to this fact. At the beginning of my tenure as executive director of the Vaad Hoer of St. Louis 35 years ago, I sent out a questionnaire to the frum kehilos and the community at large asking what they think would enhance the St. Louis frum community. Believe it or not, the overwhelming response was a kosher pizza shop. Soon thereafter, a kosher pizza shop opened. Subsequently, two community eruvim were also built.

Similarly, over 40 years ago in my shul in Birmingham, Alabama, where the community was too small to support either a kosher pizza shop or an eruv, one of the congregants who happened to be a professional pizza chef made kosher pizzas for the shul every month.

The History of Pizza

When did pizza become so popular? Speculation has it that pizza, a popularly known flatbread topped with cheese and vegetables, dates back to ancient times. According to some Hebrew historians, the word ‘pizza’ is derived from a kosher cookie called ‘pizzarelle’, which was eaten by Roman yidden after coming home from shul. This etymology is one amongst many, but probably the most intriguing.

Contemporary historians attribute the modern-day pizza to the Italian pizza maker, Raffaele Esposito, who created the pizza in honor of Queen Margherita of Savoy, Italy in 1889. His creation was called ‘Pizza Margherita’. In the early 1900s, the first pizza shop was opened in New York City by Gennaro Lombardi. At that point, pizza was exclusively viewed as an ethnic dish and did not cross over to the U.S. at large until after World War II, when servicemen returned from Europe and pizza shops began to proliferate. Of course, with the commercialization of pizza it did not take long for kosher pizzerias to make their appearance in Jewish communities throughout the New York area.

The kashrus of pizza ingredients is relatively simple: Flour, water and yeast for the dough and kosher tomato sauce, kosher cheese, herbs/spices and vegetables (no pepperoni) for the toppings. What was not so simple was determining what bracha to make over pizza. Pizza dough is a bread dough and the bracha made would be Hamotzi; however, the pizza’s other components could transform it to a completely different bracha. Pizza falls into a unique category of bread-like products known as Pas haba’a b’kisnin. Pas Haba’a B’kisnin literally means ‘pocket bread’.  Horav Moshe Heinemann, shli”ta, gave us a novel explanation of the term ‘b’kisnin’ as a bread product that you can put in your pocket.  This should be taken figuratively, not literally. However, Rav Heinemann maintained that it was called pas haba’a b’kisnin for its snack-like qualities.  These products were not created for k’viyas seuda, breaking bread at a meal.

Determining the Criteria

What defines pas haba’a b’kisnin? Interestingly, halacha provides four approaches to define pas haba’a b’kisnin:

  1. The Tur, Rosh, Aruch, and the Rashba say that pas haba’a b’kisnin is a bread product that is filled with honey, nuts, sweets and spices.
  2. Rambam and Bais Yosef maintain that the dough itself is distinctively sweet or fruity. The dough should taste markedly cake-like rather than bread-like.
  3. The Bach expands on the position of the Rambam/Bais Yosef. Eggs, honey and other sweet or spicy ingredients should not only give the dough a distinctly sweet or spicy taste, but should also be a major component of the recipe.1
  4. Rav Hai Gaon‘s approach to pas haba’a b’kisnin is that the bread dough is baked into a crisp, hard cracker, e.g., flatbread, bread sticks, and pretzels.2

Halacha concludes that all four opinions fulfill the criteria of pas haba’a b’kisnin, and the bracha recited would be Borei Minei Mezonos.3

Putting the Consumer Into the Picture

Nevertheless, as with every general principle there are exceptions; Pas haba’a b’kisnin, is no different. There are two common scenarios when a “Mezonos” pas haba’a b’kisnin product can be elevated to Hamotzi status.

When One is Kovea Seuda

When one eats enough pas haba’a b’kisnin for a full dinner meal, or if one eats pas haba’a b’kisnin to augment other side dishes for a full meal, the bracha one makes on that pas haba’a b’kisnin is Hamotzi. Why? In these cases, when one eats the pas haba’a b’kisnin as one would eat bread, the pas haba’a b’kisnin has been elevated to bread-like status; hence, the bracha would be Hamotzi. In all instances of exclusive pas haba’a b’kisnin, the amount that an average person consumes for a dinner meal determines how much pas haba’a b’kisnin constitutes a full meal.4 When the pas haba’a b’kisnin augments the meal, such as cake or a pas haba’a b’kisnin roll with an airline meal, even if the pas haba’a b’kisnin roll or cake tastes like cake, once one eats this cake or roll with a meal it fulfills a bread-like criteria and one would have to wash and recite Hamotzi on the cake or Mezonos roll.

Current Pizza Consumption Habits

When Kashrus Kurrents took a pizza poll of current pizza consumption, the results revealed that the average person eats one slice of an 18” pizza (alone, without any sides) as a snack, three slices of an 18” pizza (alone, without any sides) as a meal. Two slices of an 18” pizza (alone, without any sides) was questionable. Most pizza shops agreed that the average consumer orders two slices of thin or thick crust pizza with a side dish for dinner. Similarly, one slice of square dish Sicilian pizza eaten alone as a meal is questionable. In order to avoid a sofek, doubt, on what is the correct bracha, two slices of 18” pizza or one slice of Sicilian pizza should not be ordered alone, but rather with side dishes, be it thin or thick crust pizza and the bracha would be Hamotzi.

Furthermore, the pizza poll concluded that amounts qualifying for an average meal that would require a Hamotzi include half of a 14” thin crust pie, half of a 12” regular crust pie, half of a 9” deep dish pizza, or a complete 9” or 10”pie for dinner.5 Relatively new pizza shop offerings qualifying for Hamotzi include one slice of vegetable pizza, half of a calzone, half of a large garlic knot and half of a pizza shop soft pretzel.

The Great Pas haba’a b’kisnin Oxymoron

The term “Mezonos roll” is one of the great kashrus oxymorons. Often, a roll comes with a sticker stating, “Made with Apple Juice – Birchoso Mezonos”. If the roll is bread, how can the bracha be Mezonos? If the roll looks like bread and tastes like bread, how can the bracha not be Hamotzi? Even if apple juice is used in the recipe, if it looks like a roll and tastes like a roll then it is still considered to be a roll.

However, an excellent example of a pas haba’a b’kisnin challah is a new Baltimore creation, the Cinnamon Babka Challah, the bracha of which is Mezonos. This challah is braided like a regular challah, and is topped with a streusel topping, loaded with cinnamon; it looks like a challah but tastes like a babka. This fulfills the criteria of pas haba’a b’kisnin, and the bracha would be Mezonos unless it is eaten together with your Shabbos meal, in which case the bracha would be upgraded to Hamotzi.

A Pas haba’a b’kisnin Anomaly: Putting the Producer Into the Picture

At times, a product appears to be classic pas haba’a b’kisnin yet the bracha is Hamotzi.  This is due to a fundamental pas haba’a b’kisnin principle – the intention of the producer. If the intention of the baker was to bake bread, that item is considered full-fledged bread and the bracha would be Hamotzi even if that product is subsequently formulated into an item with pas haba’a b’kisnin properties. That cracker-like product is still halachically considered to be bread, and the bracha will be Hamotzi. Conversely, if the intention of the baker is to create a snack product, that product is considered to be pas haba’a b’kisnin.

Bagel Chips: One of the most elusive pas haba’a b’kisnin bakery products is the bagel chip. Bagel chips can theoretically be made in many fashions: baked, toasted, fried, manufactured commercially, or made locally on a small scale and sold by bakeries in clear poly bags. Commercially produced bagel chips, according to the bagel chip companies that were researched, do not take fresh bagels and slice and toast them into bagel chips. In order to get a uniform bagel chip product, commercial bagel chips have fairly strict quality control baking criteria: size, thickness and texture. To this end, commercial bagel chips are made from long loaves of bagel dough that are extruded and cut into uniformly sized bagel chips that are seasoned, baked and toasted. These commercial bagel chips are manufactured as a snack food, and the bracha would also be Mezonos.

How can you tell the difference between a commercial and a local bakery bagel chip? Commercial bagel chips do have a bagel look and texture, yet many of them do not have a hole! Furthermore, they are all uniform in size and thickness. Bagel chips fitting these criteria would be pas haba’a b’kisnin. On the other hand, bagel chips made from leftover bagels, which were originally intended to be eaten as a meal, would be similar to Melba toast and the bracha on these bagel chips is Hamotzi. If the baker has no specific intention, he or she often bakes bagels knowing that some of them will eventually be converted into bagel chips. Those bagel chips would be pas haba’a b’kisnin.

Melba toast is a classic example of bread that is subsequently toasted. Melba toast was named after Dame Nellie Melba, who wanted a low-fat alternative to bread so that she could watch her weight. The baker’s intention when making the Melba toast was to create an alternative to bread. Even though Melba toast resembles Rav Hai Gaon’s criteria of pas haba’a b’kisnin, the bracha on Melba toast is Hamotzi. Conversely, frozen pizza boards that are par-baked and edible are manufactured with the intention of being further processed into pizza, a product that is a snack food, and is pas haba’a b’kisnin upon which one recites Mezonos.

Frying creates a completely different halachic ruling with all bread products. Any fried bread product – croutons, pita chips, bagel chips and the like – warrants a Mezonos because frying nullifies the bread status of a bread product less than a k’zayis. Boiling a flour-based product, such as pasta, always creates the Borei Minei status because it is not bread and does not have the texture of bread.

Baruch Hashem, we are living during a time when we can benefit from Hashem’s generous bounty and  experience the culinary  innovation to create delicious dishes. Also, Baruch Hashem for giving us the chochma, wisdom, to properly apply the halachic fundamentals to understand what we are eating so that we can  recite the correct brocha.  We are fortunate to have the double benefit of being able to enjoy the fruits of our labor while giving nachas ruach to the Ribbono Shel Olam.

  1. Be’er Heitev O.C. 168 No. 12. According to this opinion, the pas haba’a b’kisnin is comparable to cake that is eaten at the end of a meal.
  2. According to this opinion, pas haba’a b’kisnin means’ food that one chews’.
  3. Be’er Heitev, O.C. 168 No. 10
  4. See Be’er Halacha, ibid No. 6. It seems clear that an elderly person or a young child who eats smaller portions would have to wash and bentch on the amount that they normally eat because their age group is satiated with a smaller amount.
  5. For other scenarios and halachic issues regarding pizza, see here.