The Great Tomato Debate

When I was kid a science teacher gave me and my classmates entree into the raging debate over the status of a tomato. Is it a vegetable or a fruit? The dilemma is aptly described in the haiku I composed to celebrate this puzzle.

such an enigma
oh sweet juicy tomato
what the hell are you?

According to Oxford dictionaries: “Scientifically speaking, a tomato is definitely a fruit.” Or if you prefer to be confused, Yard & Garden Solutions tells us: “Botanically speaking, the tomato you eat is a fruit. Horticulturally speaking, the tomato is a vegetable plant.” Thank you so much because that clears it all up. In other words according to science a tomato is a fruit, unlesss you’re speaking horticulturally.
Legally though science is wrong. According to Wikipedia the US Supreme Court declared in 1893 that the tomato is a vegetable. I wonder if Bush uses a judge’s stand on the tomato issue as a litmus test for appointment to the Supreme Court? I’d love to see Chuck Schumer ask that question of a nominee. But I digress.
From a Torah point of view the Supreme Court is correct and the scientists are a bunch of faithless heathens. On every item of food that we eat we must first recite a bracha (blessing) thanking G-d for the bounty he hath given us. To emphasize our thanks and recognize the detailed gift we have been given we must give more than a generic “Rub-a-dub-dub thanks for the grub”. For different types of food we have to say different brachos (blessings). On fruits we say the bracha of “borei pri ha’eitz” (Creator of the fruit of the tree) and on vegetables we say the bracha of “borei pri ha’adama” (Creator of the fruit of the ground). So according to halacha, a fruit grows on trees and a vegetable grows in the ground. Guess where tomatoes grow? In the ground. And we say a bracha of “borei pri ha’adama” on tomatoes.
So to be more precise, according to the US Supreme Court and G-d Almighty a tomato is a vegetable. According to scientists (botanically speaking of course) a tomato is a fruit.
PS: Am I the only one who sees Divine Providence in that the Lakewood Yeshiva is in a state that currently has legislation pending to designate a tomato as the official state VEGETABLE? Hallelujah for New Jersey!
PPS: For those who cannot see through my strange brand of humor: There is really no disagreement between halacha and science. They each just have different definitions for different terms. Get it? You say a “borei pri ha’adama” on something that grows in the ground regardless of whether it is a fruit or vegetable.

9 thoughts on “The Great Tomato Debate

  1. i don’t know about you, but i say ‘borei pri ha’adamah’ for MANY fruits; namely those that don’t grow on trees. strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, melons, bananas (that’s a whole other debate), the list goes on and on…

    1. I just read that bananas, although they grow on trees… The trees that they grow on are not considered trees by halakhic standards and that in fact we should boray p’ree ha adama instead of boray p’ree ha aits

  2. I think tomatoes are yummy. I usually eat them in the context of a sandwich and or a meal and so I don’t often think about bracha issues. Good post lchaim!

  3. Can we now get a post about our nuts?
    peanuts and sunflower seeds are ‘vegetables’, pistachios and cashews are ‘fruits’? (sorry, I didn’t pay attention in ecology class).

  4. The definitions of fruit, vegetable, herb, and berry, are not really distinct from one another. Halakhically, it matters, to some extent, whether the edible portion of the plant is viewed as getting its nutrients from the soil or a plant. Typically, those plants which stay around from year-to-year and yield fruit separate from the plant itself will be ha-eitz. Those fruits that come from a vine that will wither post-season (melons) or those veggies that we eat the actual leaves (lettuce) are viewed as coming from the ground, hence ha-adamah.
    Of course, one can horticulturally draw the distinction between a plant that produces a fruit (the swollen, seed-feeding, remnants of the flower) and those that we simply eat (leafy greens), but anything else (tomato vs. pear vs. blackberry vs. banana) is tough to distinguish.
    All yummy though.

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