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Shabbat Parashat Bo 5772

Ask the Rabbi: Solving Netillat Yadayim Problem on a Plane

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Airline kosher food often contain “Mezonot rolls,” and I used to, conveniently, not wash on the plane. Nowadays, many rabbis have come out against this concept, and the rolls are often labeled as “Hamotzi.” Considering that during mealtime, it is not feasible to go to wash, what should I do?

 

Answer: We will start with just a brief view of the contemporary machloket on “Mezonot rolls,” about which so much has been said and written. 

The gemara (Berachot 42a) discusses pat haba’ah b’kisnin (=phbbk), which is a baked grain-based food that shares qualities with bread but is different from normal bread. The gemara says that whether one recites Hamotzi or Mezonot on it depends on whether one is kovei’a seuda (sets a meal) on it. The Shulchan Aruch says that the other halachot of bread apply to phbbk when one does so, namely, that one recites Birkat Hamazon on it (Orach Chayim 168:6) and has to wash before eating it (ibid. 158:1).

What are the characteristics that make a baked product of flour from the five main grains phbbk instead of bread? The Shulchan Aruch (ibid.:7) cites three opinions: it has a pocket of sweet filling; its dough contains significant amounts of ingredients such as sugar and oil, besides flour and water; it is thin and crispy. It is unclear whether these opinions are mutually exclusive or whether any of these non-bread characteristic makes it phbbk (see Biur Halacha to 168:8). The idea of Mezonot rolls is to make it phbbk by kneading the flour with juices and little or no water.

There are three main complaints against this application, and each complaint has a weakness. One is that these rolls are made to be eaten as the main part of a meal. We endorse this approach and have written our belief that pizza should be treated like bread no matter how much one eats. Yet, that is not the prevalent minhag, and it is hard to accept that these rolls are more central to meals than pizza. Another claim is that when eaten as part of a full meal, even a relatively small amount of phbbk should be treated as bread nowadays that people eat only a little bread at a meal (based on Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim III, 32). However, that logic should apply to burekas and some kugels during a meal, and that too is certainly not the accepted minhag. A third claim is that this roll passes for a regular roll, and we are more interested in the way it looks and tastes, not the ingredients. One can deflect this claim as well. Usually it is discernable that it is not a regular roll, and people are willing to use it as a roll mainly to save them from the problem of washing on a plane. Our opinion is to wash, say Hamotzi, and bentch on most “Mezonot rolls,” but we do not discount the ruling to treat it like cake.

We have practical solutions to the washing issue, which have the added benefit of obviating the doubt of the berachot on questionable rolls. Bring with you a piece of bread per meal. Before the stewardesses start giving out the food (special orders, including kosher, are usually first), go wash, and make Hamotzi on the bread, and continue the meal with what they bring you later. (It is best to use a permanent cup and to wash in the sink by the little kitchenette, where you can make the beracha right away. If necessary, you can wash in the bathroom, but dry your hands and make the beracha outside of it). Another possibility is to eat the meal without the bread and/or roll first, and make appropriate berachot acharonot. Some time later (right away would raise problems of unnecessary berachot), when the aisle traffic eases, wash and have the bread (you may save some spread too to make it more appealing).

It is important to realize that while we do not want to compromise halachic requirements while on a plane, we do not want to make a chillul Hashem or unfairly inconvenience others. It is legitimate to be lenient, and it is praiseworthy to inconvenience ourselves in eating under less than ideal conditions.

 

 

 

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