The view of Judaism is that humankind has the unique ability to synthesize the physical and the spiritual elements of life. Hence, Jewish law requires Jews to recite a blessing over food they are about to eat. What that blessing is depends on the type of food. The wording of the blessing enhances an individual’s connection to the particular (often amazing) source of the food.

Today, on the anniversary of the establishment of the first commercial hydroponics farm in Montebello, California, Jewish Treats asks whether a vegetable, a fruit of the ground, is still a vegetable if it does not grow in the ground. Produce grown through hydroponics sit in water and absorb the necessary nutrients from a liquid source, while, similarly, produce grown via aeroponics are “fed” via a nutrient-rich mist. Neither method produces anything from the ground.

While research into hydroponics has been going on since the Middle Ages, the actual use of the technology only began in the mid-20th century. For Jews, this led to a number of questions such as whether hydroponic plants could be grown and/or harvested during the Shemittah (Sabbatical) year in Israel (yes), and whether it is required to wait three years to harvest fruit from a hydroponic fruit plant (the mitzvah of orlah, and no).

The most common question, however, was what blessing should be recited over such produce. The blessing recited over most vegetables is bo’ray p’ree ha’ah’dama–blessed is [God] Who created the fruit of the earth. Since hydroponic/aeroponic plants do not grow in the ground, this blessing would be inaccurate. The general opinion is that if a person knows that they are eating produce from hydroponics, the blessing to be recited is sheh’ha’kohl nee’yeh bid’varo,–blessed is God by Whose word all things came to be. If the source of the produce is unknown, a person can assume that the regular ha’ah’dama blessing would apply. These halachic opinions, however, are not unanimous and each person should consult their local rabbi.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), a local rabbi should be consulted for practical guidance.

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