Rabbi Ari Enkin
There is a difference of opinion on whether a blessing must be recited before chewing gum. Actually, it seems to be somewhat obvious that a blessing should be recited, as it says in Shulchan Aruch, “One recites shehakol on sugar, and shehakol is also recited when sucking sweet sticks.” It appears that gum fits nicely into both of these categories, as it is essentially sugar that is sucked (chewed) for its taste (the sugar). Most contemporary halachic authorities agree with this approach and rule that a blessing must be recited upon gum.
Nevertheless, the sefer Birkat Hashem maintains that a blessing is not required on gum. This is because the gum’s taste is first absorbed into one’s saliva before it is swallowed. He argues that saliva, even if flavored, is not something upon which a blessing is ever recited. So too, Rav Chaim Tabasky cites a number of authorities who rule that a blessing is not recited upon gum, as it is not considered to be “hana’at achila,” the manner in which food is typically enjoyed. Among those who agree with this approach are Rav Dov Lior, Rav Tuvia Goldstein, and Rav Seraya Deblitzky. In fact, Rav Lior rules that one who recited a blessing on gum has recited a beracha l’vatala and must therefore say “baruch shem kevod malchuto l’olam va’ed” accordingly. It is also reported that Rav Shimon Schwab did not recite a blessing before chewing gum. Rav Yisroel Belsky rules that hard gum requires a blessing while soft gum does not. The reason for the difference is that pieces of the shell of hard gum are inevitably swallowed when chewing it.
Most halachic authorities disagree with the ruling of the Birkat Hashem and rule that a blessing must be always be recited on gum. Nevertheless, there might be room to differentiate between regular gum and sugar-free gum. One reason for this is that sugar-free gum contains no ingredients that are ingested. For example, the package for the Elite Must gum, Israel’s most popular sugar-free gum, states that a piece of gum contains two calories. From the ingredients list, it appears that these two calories might only be from the aspartame and/or food coloring content. Considering the fact that aspartame and coloring agents can hardly be considered to be “foods,” especially when consumed on their own, they may be exempt from a blessing. Furthermore, these two calories are likely completely dissolved in one’s saliva. So too, the movement of the gum around the crevices of one’s mouth, especially between the teeth, likely renders this small amount of aspartame (or other caloric content) batel, completely nullified and insignificant, even if it actually does make its way into one’s stomach, at all. There may be further grounds to be lenient with sugar-free gum considering that there are opinions that a blessing is not recited when tasting – even if swallowing – minute amounts of food. In sugar-filled gum, of course, there is a considerable amount of sugar that is ingested while chewing it, which warrants the recitation of a blessing.
Some time ago I discussed this issue with Rav Ephraim Greenblatt. He agreed with me that a case can be made to suggest that sugar-free gum should be exempt from a blessing. He suggested, however, that one wishing to chew sugar-free gum should first recite a shehakol blessing on a different food item with the intention that the blessing serve to cover the sugar-free gum, as well. In this way one avoids the dispute entirely.
Somewhat related to the gum issue is the discussion as to whether a blessing should be recited before smoking. The Magen Avraham writes that “further study” is required in order to determine whether “those who smoke tobacco through a pipe and inhale the smoke into their mouths and then exhale” should recite a blessing before doing so. Almost all authorities, however, rule that a blessing is not recited before smoking. One of the reasons for this is that a blessing may not be recited on something that is damaging to one’s health. Indeed, almost all halachic authorities rule that it is forbidden to smoke, and one who does so is obligated to make an effort to quit. Nevertheless, there is an opinion that one should recite a shehakol blessing on a food item before smoking tobacco with the intention that the blessing serve to cover the enjoyment that one will receive from the tobacco.
Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the Dalet Amot of Halacha series (7 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and is a RA”M at Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah and Yeshivat Ashreinu. www.rabbienkin.com
 OC 202:15.
 Yabia Omer 7:33, 9:108; Igrot Moshe, OC 2:57; Or L’Tzion 2:14:8.
 Devar Chevron 2:194.
 Devar Chevron 2:194.
 OC 210:2.
 Devar Chevron 2:573.
 Magen Avraham 210:9.
 Mishna Berura 210:17; Kaf Hachaim, OC 210:32.
 Mishne Halachot 9:161; Avnei Yashfei 1:42. See also Aruch Hashulchan, OC 216:4.
 Shevet Halevi 10:295; Tzitz Eliezer 15:39; Be’er Moshe 6:160; Rivevot Ephraim 3:487; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 3:354.
 Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 210:1.