Is Eating Without a B’rakhah Stealing?
R. Akiva Eiger, commenting in his Gilyon HaShas on Tosafot (Berakhot 12a) expresses a controversial opinion, shared by the Maharsha (Pesachim (102a) and the Even HaOzer (O.C. 214). Normally, the rule governing b’rakhot is that when it is not clear that one is required, we act leniently and omit the b’rakhah (safek b’rakhot l’hakel). However, these authorities hold, this would not apply to a b’rakhah recited before food. Since the Talmud compares eating without a brakhah to theft (B’rakhot 35a, and the food as such is forbidden, making the b’rakhah is a necessity, even if otherwise its obligation would not be definite.
Building off of these authorities, R. Avraham Pietrokovsky in his Piskei Teshuvah (#38) considers the question of one who does eat without a b’rakhah, and is now faced with birkat hamazon. The Rambam (Hil. B’rakhot 1:19) rules (against other rishonim) that one who eats forbidden foods does not recite birkat hamazon. Would this halakhah be applied in this case?
R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Resp. Minchat Shlomo, I, 18) observes that this opinion is not accepted l’halakhah, referencing the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 167:9 and 209:3). In explaining, he expresses a different understanding toward the notion of relationship of the b’rakhah and the permissibility of the food. We find instances, such as aninut, where one is forbidden to recite a b’rakhah, yet is still permitted to eat. Thus, it is not that the food is intrinsically forbidden; rather, once the Rabbis obligated b’rakhot, it becomes wrong to eat without one. In this respect, b’rakhot on food are indeed more stringent in nature than b’rakhot on mitzvot, for in the latter case no prohibition exists to perform mitzvot without a brakhah, and in the case of food a prohibition was created. That prohibition, though, is contingent on an obligation being present, and the rule of safek b’rakhot l’hakel governs. R. Shmuel Wosner (Resp. Shevet HaLevi, VII, 29) rules in a similar fashion, noting that the principle that eating without a b’rakhah is akin to stealing is a rabbinical innovation and thus subject to rabbinic regulation.