The beginning of this dramatized conversation has its roots in a conversation recorded in the Talmud between two Amoraim:
Boruch: I’m in that national berachos bee and I’m really studying hard!
Reuven: What could be so hard? Fruits are Ha’eitz, vegetables are Ha’adamah. Most other food is Shehakol.
Boruch: I’m afraid that they’ll ask me to tell them the berachah on hearts of palm.
Reuven: Well, in case of trouble you could always grease the moderator’s palm. Still, this seems easy. Hearts of palm are young shoots of the palm tree. They will eventually harden and become a palm branch. At that point they will be inedible. Therefore, even if they are eaten while still soft, the berachah should be Shehakol.
Boruch: Good point, but easily contradicted by anyone who knows Masechta Berachos like the palm of their hand. Radishes, if left in the ground, will become hard and inedible. Yet the correct berachah on them is Ha’adamah when eaten while soft.
Reuven: Okay, my argument was not well grounded. But you are obviously correct. The berachah on hearts of palm should be Ha’adamah. So what’s the problem?
Boruch: Hearts of palm are essentially a branch of a tree. Since when do you recite anything but Shehakol over branches and twigs? The berachah on the fruit of a tree is Ha’eitz, but shouldn’t the leaves and branches be Shehakol? I need some help piloting through this palm hearts issue.
Reuven: You can’t see the forest for the trees. Other parts of the tree can be significant as well. A good case in point is the caper bush. The Gemara clearly states that caper berries are Ha’eitz. Yet leaves from the caper bush are Ha’adamah. Since the leaves are edible but are of secondary importance to the fruit, the correct berachah on the leaves is Ha’adamah. These palm branches might be secondary to the dates or the coconuts, but should still require Ha’adamah.
Boruch: You’ve given me some food for thought. Yet I feel that you missed a major point. Rashi says that caper leaves are indeed secondary to the fruit, but they are still important. The farmer intends to harvest some leaves when he plants the caper bush. However, no farmer ever intends to harvest hearts of palm. If you harvest the hearts of palm, you have essentially killed that branch. This will greatly diminish the number of dates and coconuts that the tree produces. No farmer would ever do that. The Gemara records that the berachah on hearts of palm is Shehakol for this very reason. Your attempt to convince me otherwise proved quite fruitless.
Reuven: We’re trying to get to the root of the issue, and you knew all along that the Gemara says that the correct berachah is Shehakol! Why did you waste my time?
Boruch: The truth is that the facts about palm growers quoted by the Gemara are dated. Why don’t you make like a tree and leave for Costa Rica? Costa Rica is the largest exporter of hearts of palm to the United States. (Ecuador is a close second.) Visit the palm orchards where they cultivate hearts of palm. I doubt you will see any dates or coconuts there. The primary tree cultivated for hearts of palm is the peach palm. Its fruit, the pejibaye, is certainly secondary in importance to the hearts of palm. To the best of my knowledge, hearts of palm are exported but pejibayes are not. The farmers’ primary intent in planting the peach palms is certainly for the hearts of palm. The circumstances have changed since the time of the Talmud. Perhaps the berachah changed as well.
Reuven: Okay, now I get it. But isn’t it obvious based on what you just said that the berachah should be Ha’adamah nowadays? This is directly comparable to the caper bush. The leaves which the farmer wants and intends to consume necessitate a Ha’adamah. Since the farmer wants these hearts of palm, they should likewise be Ha’adamah.
Boruch: Are you trying to palm off your logic on me? As I just finished explaining, the primary intent of the commercial farmers is to harvest the hearts of palm. The berachah should be Ha’eitz. The primary intent of caper berry farmers is to harvest the berries. The leaves are a side benefit of secondary importance. That is why the leaves only deserve a Ha’adamah. Since cultivating palm shoots is the primary intent of these farmers, they deserve Ha’eitz.
Reuven: Ha’eitz?! That’s ridiculous and certainly not grounded in fact. How could you possibly say “Borei p’ri ha’eitz,” which means “Who creates fruit of the tree”? Hearts of palm are young shoots; they are branches of the tree! They are not fruit. Maybe you could say “Borei ha’eitz,” “Who creates trees,” although I’ve never heard of such a berachah.
Boruch: Now you have cut into the heart of the issue. Many Rishonim say that the berachah on sugar cane is Ha’adamah. Although it is somewhat similar to bamboo and is considered a tree, the sugar cane is not actually a fruit; it is the tree itself. Since you are licking the actual tree and not a fruit of a tree, you are essentially consuming a fruit of the ground. The tree itself is a fruit of the ground, just like a vegetable such as cabbage or lettuce. The correct berachah on a “fruit of the ground” is “Borei p’ri ha’adamah.” Sugar cane is not the fruit of a tree, and according to these Rishonim, Ha’eitz is inappropriate.
Reuven: Sweet! But now we are back to Shehakol. The Shulchan Aruch rules like the Rambam that on sugar cane and sugar we make Shehakol. If hearts of palm are similar to sugar cane, it should warrant a Shehakol.
Boruch: That question gives me pause, but I won’t have a change of heart. The Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch HaShulchan both say that the reason the Rambam said that the berachah is Shehakol is that sugar cane is itself not edible. You can lick or boil the sugar off, it but that doesn’t make the branch itself edible. It is similar to sweetening a branch of an oak tree. It will just be a sweetened inedible branch. Since the sugar is not a fruit and the branch is inedible, the Rambam felt that the appropriate berachah on sugar or sugar cane is Shehakol. Hearts of palm, on the other hand, are indeed edible. They are not licked or squeezed. They can even be eaten raw right off the tree! So even the Rambam may concede that the berachah on hearts of palm is not Shehakol.
Reuven: This discussion is certainly not for the faint of heart. If it’s not Shehakol, then what berachah is it? I recall that I argued that Ha’eitz wasn’t an option because it isn’t a fruit of a tree, rather it’s the tree itself!
Boruch: Indeed, I asked one poseik who is a man after your own heart. He said that hearts of palm are Ha’adamah because Ha’eitz is an inappropriate berachah. It seems that this very point was made regarding sugar cane by many Rishonim.
Reuven: You’re holding back on me; tell me the rest. I have itchy palms.
Boruch: Well, Rabbi Heinemann from the Star-K says the correct berachah is Ha’eitz and my friend told me that he asked another well-known poseik and was likewise told Ha’eitz.
Reuven: Please have a heart! Tell me what I should do.
Boruch: I’m no poseik. I’m just studying for a berachos bee. But I will tell you that there is a well-known rule that if one has a doubt whether a food item is Ha’eitz or Ha’adamah, then he should recite Ha’adamah. This is because if one inadvertently made a Ha’adamah on fruit, the berachah is still valid. If one makes Ha’eitz on a true vegetable the berachah is not valid. Therefore, if one recites Ha’adamah he is always covered at least b’dieved.
Reuven: With a heavy heart, I have to admit that before I learned the laws of berachos, I always recited Ha’eitz on hearts of palm. Was I yotzei according to that poseik who ruled the berachah is Ha’adamah, or was it a berachah l’vatalah, chas v’shalom?
Boruch: No, you don’t deserve a caning. The Mishnah Berurah rules that even on sugar cane, where the Rambam clearly disagrees, the berachah of Ha’eitz suffices, at least b’dieved.
Reuven: Shoots! How are you expected to know all this for your berachos bee!
Boruch: Nooooo. Don’t get me started. Bamboo shoots may have similar issues as hearts of palm.
Reuven: At least your heart is in the right place! v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.