Birkat Hamazon (Hebrew: בִּרְכַּת הַמָּזוׂן), known in English as the Grace After Meals (Yiddish: בֶּענְטְשֶׁן‎; translit. bentshn or "to bless", [1] Yinglish: Bentching), is a set of Hebrew blessings that Jewish Halakha ("collective body of Jewish religious laws") prescribes following a meal that includes at least a kezayit (olive sized) piece of bread or matzoh made from one or all of wheat, barley, rye, oats, and/or spelt. It is a mitzvah de'oraita (Aramaic: דְּאוׂרַיְיתָא), that is written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:10).[2][3]

Birkat Hamazon
Various grains.jpg
Birkat Hamazon is recited after consuming
a meal eaten with bread
Halakhic texts relating to this article
Torah:Deuteronomy 8:10
Babylonian Talmud:Berakhot ch.7
Mishneh Torah:Hilkhot Berakhot
Shulchan Aruch:Orach Chayim 182 - 201

Birkat Hamazon is recited after a meal with bread or any food that is made from the five grains, with the exception of bread that comes as a desert (pas haba'ah b'kisanin)[4] and food that does not possess the form or appearance of bread (torisa d'nahama),[5] in which case a blessing that summarizes the first three blessings (birkat me'ein shalosh) is recited instead.

When a meal includes 3 slices of Pizza, it is a bread meal. Some hold 2 slices,[6][7] and still others hold that if that's your mid-day meal, even one slice.

Except when in teaching situations, Birkat hamazon is typically read to oneself after ordinary meals. Sometimes it's also sung aloud on special occasions such as the Shabbat and festivals. The blessing can be found in almost all prayerbooks and is often printed in a variety of artistic styles in a small booklet called a birchon (or birkon, בִּרְכּוׂן) in Hebrew or bencher (or bentcher) in Yiddish. The length of the different Birkat hamazon can vary considerably, from benching under half a minute to more than 5 minutes.[8] Several websites such as BirkatHamazon.org, Tefillos.com, Open Siddur Project, and others, have published the prayer(s) in various Nuschaot.

Contents

OverviewEdit

Hashem provides us sustenance; if He failed to do so we could not survive. For this we owe Hashem: הודאה -"ho’daah", level thanks. But Hashem does not stop there; in addition He benefits us until we are sated with goodness. For this, blessing is appropriate

God provides sustenance and therefore food for all creatures and for all living beings[9] through three main qualities:

  • favor or grace, just as it was for Noach
  • benevolence
  • mercy or clemency (Rachamim and Chessed)

The fact that Hashem indiscriminately sustains everything signals that this sustenance comes from His attribute of benevolence, since it is His benevolence that extends to everything and is shared equally by everything. This is the import of “His benevolence is universal” – meaning that it is boundless and not quantifiable. When Hashem’s benevolence is active do not imagine that it is finite or limited, for, “His benevolence is universal”. Hashem’s benevolence is without end and without restriction. Why, it may be asked, is this [qualify of boundlessness] true specifically about Hashem’s attribute of benevolence [and not of his other attributes]? It may further be asked, why does the phrase, “For His benevolence is universal” repeatedly recur in the Tehillim-song, “Hodu”? Similarly in the Hallel prayer we say, “Give thanks to Hashem, because He is good, for His benevolence is universal”. The reason is as follows. Most transmissions [from Hashem to man] are recipientdriven. For example, when judgement is imposed it is because the recipient is deserving of [that particular imposition of] judgement. This is true of mercy as well; mercy flows to a recipient who is entitled to mercy. Benevolence is the sole exception to this rule. Benevolence is an intrinsic property [that does not require a recipient for it to manifest itself]. Hashem emanates kindness and benevolence because it is his nature, so to speak, to do so, and He does so without regard to any particular beneficiary. He does so because He, Himself, is good. Attributes of Hashem that are intrinsic [and independent of external elements, such as recipients] share Hashem’s property of limitlessness. Thus His attribute of benevolence is infinite; without end or limitation. It is universal. Attributes like judgement or mercy, on the other hand, require objects; recipients for whom judgement is fitting by virtue of their actions or for whom mercy is fitting [by virtue of their status].[10]

In Jewish religion it is firmly believed that God rules whole world. Therefore, God has not only created universe, Earth, creatures and men, then letting the laws of nature evolve "in deterministic way" and almost autonomously. There is the paradox of free choice even though God has already foreseen and preordained everything: thus also creation and the human being, apex of Creation, are continually sustained and maintained in existence "miraculously". The Jew therefore knows the duty and the need to bless God as King of the world. The blessing contains ten praises: “our God” (1), “our Father” (2), “our King” (3), “our Sovereign” (4), “our Creator” (5), “our Redeemer” (6), “our Maker” (7), “our Holy One” (8), “Our Shepherd, the Shepherd of Yisroel (9) and “the King Who is good” (10).

Source and textEdit

The scriptural source for the requirement to recite a blessing after a meal is Deuteronomy 8:10 "When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He gave you". The process is often referred to as bentching[11]; the word "bentch" means to bless.

Birkat Hamazon is made up of four blessings.[12] The first three blessings are regarded as required by scriptural law:

  1. The food: A blessing of thanks for the food was traditionally composed by Moses (Berakhot 48b) in gratitude for the manna which the Jews ate in the wilderness during the Exodus from Egypt.
  2. The land: A blessing of thanks for the Land of Israel, is attributed to Joshua after he led the Jewish people into Israel.
  3. Jerusalem: Concerns Jerusalem, is ascribed to David, who established it as the capital of Israel and Solomon, who built the Temple in Jerusalem.[13]
  4. God's goodness: A blessing of thanks for God's goodness, written by Rabban Gamliel in Yavneh. The obligation to recite this blessing is generally[12][14] regarded as a rabbinic obligation.

Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook described the order of these four blessings as a “ladder of prayer,” as we raise our sights and aspirations. The first blessing refers to one's personal needs; the second, the physical needs of the nation (through the Land of Israel); the third, the nation’s spiritual aspirations (Jerusalem and the Temple); and the fourth blessing, our ultimate aspiration to be a “light unto the nations.”[15]

The statutory birkat hamazon ends at the end of these four blessings, with the words, al yechasrenu Grace after meals. After these four blessings, there is a series of short prayers, each beginning with the word Harachaman (the Merciful One), which ask for God's compassion.

There are several known texts for birkat hamazon. The most widely available is the Ashkenazic. There are also Sephardic, Yemenite and Italian versions. All of these texts follow the same structure described above, but the wording varies. In particular, the Italian version preserves the ancient practice of commencing the second paragraph with Nachamenu on Shabbat.[16]

Preliminary psalmsEdit

  • On weekdays, some recite Psalm 137, Al Naharot Bavel (By the rivers of Babylon) before Birkat Hamazon. This psalm describes the reactions of the Jews in exile as would have been expressed during the Babylonian captivity (See Mishna Berura quoting the Shelah).
  • Psalm 126, eponymously called Shir Hama'alot (Song of Ascents), which expresses the Jewish hope of return to Zion following their final redemption, is widely recited by Ashkenazi Jews before Birkat Hamazon on Shabbat, Jewish holidays, and certain other days or special occasions[17] Some[18][19] follow this by two[20]from Psalms, (145:21; 115:18; 118:1; 106:2), known as Tehillat Hashem (Praise of God). Some Spanish and Portuguese Jews precede Birkat Hamazon with "Ein Keloheinu" on Shabbat and holidays.
  • Tzur Mishelo Achalnu is sung in some communities as "as an introduction to the Grace after Meals in all joyous occasions."[21] Whereas it is commonly found among the songs printed for singing Friday night[22], among those who use it for zimun it is never sung in the middle of a meal, since it would signal the meal's end.[21]

Shabbat and HolidaysEdit

Additional sections are added on special occasions.

  • On Shabbat the retzei paragraph is recited, just before the end of the third blessing.
  • On Jewish holidays, the ya'aleh ve-Yavo paragraph is added in the same place[23]
  • On Hanukkah and Purim al ha-Nissim is added to the middle of the second blessing.[24]

If one forgets Retzei or ya'aleh ve-Yavo, one inserts a short blessing before the fourth blessing. If this is also forgotten, then at the first two meals of Shabbat and major holidays (with the possible exception of the Rosh Hashanah day meal), one must repeat the entire Birkat Hamazon. At later meals, or on Rosh Chodesh or Chol Hamoed, nothing need be done.

If one forgets al ha-Nissim, one does not repeat Birkat Hamazon, although one recites a special Harachaman toward the very end, followed by the paragraph Bimei, which describes the respective holidays. If this prayer is also forgotten, nothing need be done.

Sheva BrachotEdit

When birkat hamazon takes place at the Sheva Brachot (seven blessings) following a traditional Jewish marriage, special opening lines reflecting the joy of the occasion are added to the zimmun (invitation to grace) beginning with Devai Haser. At the conclusion of birkat hamazon, a further seven special blessings are recited.

Brit milahEdit

At birkat hamazon concluding the celebratory meal of a brit milah (ritual circumcision), additional introductory lines, known as Nodeh Leshimcha, are added at the beginning and special ha-Rachaman prayers are inserted.

ZimmunEdit

According to Halakha when a minimum of three adult Jewish males eat bread as part of a meal together they are obligated to form a mezuman (a "prepared gathering") with the addition of a few extra opening words whereby one man "invites" the others to join him in birkat hamazon. (This invitation is called a zimmun). When those present at the meal form a minyan (a quorum of ten adult Jewish men) there are further additions to the invitation. A Zimmun of 10 is called a Zimmun B'Shem.


Cup of BlessingEdit

It is customary for the person leading the zimmun to recite the blessings over a cup of wine called the kos shel beracha (cup of blessing). Although sometimes done at ordinary meals, it is more commonly done on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays, and almost universally done at meals celebrating special events. At a Passover Seder, the cup of blessing is drunk by everyone present, and functions as the "Third Cup". The practice of a cup of blessing is mentioned in the Talmud.[25]

Mayim AcharonimEdit

There is a practice in many Orthodox communities to wash the hands before reciting birkat hamazon. This practice is called mayim acharonim (final waters). It is held that this, though a chovah (duty),[26] is not a mitzvah (a commandment) as the practice,[27] was instituted for health reasons (specifically, to avoid the danger of touching the eyes with harmful salts). There is therefore no blessing said for this washing. A special ritual dispenser can be used to dispense the water,[28] but does not need to be.

An additional factor we must take into account that mitigates toward an after-meal washing obligation is that our Sages instructed us to eat salt (with bread) during every meal and so salt is, for us, a standard meal component

Although the practice is based on a ruling recorded in the Talmud[29], whether or not this ruling is still binding is a matter of dispute among various Orthodox communities, given that the practice of eating with knives and forks seems to remove the practical reason for it. Some practice it as a binding halachah, others as an optional custom, and others do not practice it at all.

Among those who do practice mayim acharonim, the majority simply pour a small amount of water over their finger tips. According to the Mishnah Berurah, this does not fulfill the terms of the obligation at all; but according to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch(43:1) one "need not wash the entire hand. It is sufficient to wash until the second joint of the fingers." A minority, primarily Yemenite Jews or related groups, wash up to the wrist.[30] One should not pause between the washing and reciting birkat hamazon.

Abbreviated formEdit

An abbreviated form is sometime used when time is lacking. It contains the four essential blessings in a somewhat shortened form, with fewer preliminaries and additions. In liberal branches of Judaism, there is no standard text to be recited and customs vary accordingly. Many Sephardi Jews, especially Spanish and Portuguese Jews often sing a hymn in Spanish (not Ladino as is commonly assumed), called Bendigamos,[31] before or after birkat hamazon. An additional abbreviated form of birkat hamazon in Ladino, called Ya Comimos, may also be said.

BenchersEdit

Benchers /ˈbɛn·ʧəɹ/ (or bentchers, birkhonim, birkhon, birchon, birchonim) are small Birkat Hamazon booklets usually handed out at bar and bat mitzvahs, weddings and other celebratory events. Traditionally, the cover of the bencher is customized to reflect the event. Some benchers now feature photography of Israel throughout. There are several services currently available that customize the bencher using graphics, logos and/or photographs. [32]

TraditionsEdit

The Talmud relates that at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead, a special feast will take place. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Joshua will all claim unworthiness to lead the grace and the Cup of Blessing will pass to King David, who will accept the honour.[33]

OriginEdit

The giving of thanks for the food received dates back to the first Jewish Patriarch, Abraham. A Midrash says that his tent for hospitality had openings onall four sides. He invited guests bless the Heavenly source of the food. If they refused, he told them that he would have to pay 10 gold coins for bread, ten for wine and ten for hospitality. To their amazement for the excessive price he replied that that price corresponded to those delights difficult to find in the desert; then they accepted God and thanked Him.[34]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ Weinreich, History of the Yiddish Language
  2. ^ Palley, Kate. "What is Birkat Hamazon, or Benching?". MyJewishLearning.com. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  3. ^ Klein, Isaac. "A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice". www.jtsa.edu. Jewish Theological Seminary of America, NY, 1988. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  4. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 168:6
  5. ^ Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 168:11. See the Rema's gloss, which defines what torisa denahama means.
  6. ^ R'Moshe Feinstein held 2 slices.
  7. ^ "Mezonos Bread".
  8. ^ The shortest known Birkat Hamazon would be that in the Siddur of Saadia Gaon. From: Bar-Hayim, David. "Birkat HaMazon: Is There Just One 'Proper' Nusah?". machonshilo.org/en/eng/component/content/article/34-featured/810-zimun-a-birkat-hamazon-how-does-it-work. Machon Shilo. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  9. ^ The blessing enumerates four forms of sustenance that Hashem provides. The first is zan, "food nourishment", what one eats in order to stay alive. The second is parnasa, "livelihood"; all the other things a person needs to live fall under that category of livelihood. U’maitiv la’kol, “and He is benevolent to all”... is the third form of sustenance: this category includes the “bonus” benevolence of [non-essential items] as we discussed earlier. [Finally we have u’machin mazon l’chol briyosav, “He prepares nourishment for all His creations”: this refers to non-human creations. For these creations “He prepares…” is the appropriate phrase rather than “He provides…” [which was said earlier regarding man] because “provides” implies a recipient capable of [actively] accepting that which was provided, such as man, whereas for non-reasoning beings [like animals], it is only possible to use [the weaker] “prepares” [since there is no process of active acceptance, only the consumption of that which the animal happens to find] (Maharal of Prague)
  10. ^ Willner, Eliakim. Nesivos Olam, Nesiv HaAvodah (Maharal of Prague)
  11. ^ "Food brings Jewish, Muslim communities in Charleston together". Charleston Post courier. January 26, 2019. In the Jewish faith, “benching” (the Birkat Hamazon) is ...
  12. ^ a b Rabbi Michael Bernstein (July 26, 2002). "The mystery of the fourth blessing". The Jewish Press. p. 43. There is a difference of opinion... Biblical ... or a Rabbinic enactment.
  13. ^ There is yet another way to understand the progression of these three blessings. The "HaZon" blessing signifies completeness from the standpoint of the [physical] laws of nature; people by nature need food. Completeness in terms of the land, however, while possessing a physical component, is also completeness from a spiritual and Godly standpoint. It is known, for example that the atmosphere of Israel sharpens the mind; this in addition to other characteristics [that are of a spiritual nature]. This needs no further elaboration. Nonetheless, even though the completeness inherent in giving us the land of Israel has a spiritual component, it is not entirely spiritual as are Yerushalayim and the Temple. The holy city of Yerushalayim and the Temple, the holy and Godly abode, are unadulterated spiritual completeness. That is why, as our Sages taught, ten miracles occurred in the Temple. The essence of the Temple is pure holiness and Yisroel’s [possession of the Temple] positions them at the height of holiness as well. This explanation is similar to the preceding one. All three of these forms of completeness are appropriate for the after-meals blessings because these blessings were established to acknowledge fulfillment – Hashem completes us by supplying our lacks – and [with the elements that are described in] these three blessings we are sated and rendered complete in all respects (Willner, Eliakim. Nesivos Olam, Nesiv HaAvodah (Maharal of Prague): The philosophy and practice of prayer (Chapter 18)
  14. ^ The article ends "Excerpted from Windows To the Soul ... ArtScroll"
  15. ^ Kook, Abraham Isaac Kook; Morrison, Chanan (2013). Sapphire from the Land of Israel: A new light on Weekly Torah Portion from the writings of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook. pp. 288–291. ISBN 1490909362.
  16. ^ "How do Benè Romì tie tzitzit?". tzitzit.tallit-shop.com (Ben's Tallit Shop). .. Italian siddur and Nachamenu in Birkat Hamazon for Shabbos ...
  17. ^ Weddings, Brit Millah, Pidyon HaBen
  18. ^ "T'hillat H' In Bentching". It seems to be restricted to MO circles
  19. ^ a Lakewood publisher now prints bentchers with just the first two, and, has two phone#s, one for orders, one for "questions" :TALK Tehilas/Tehilat/Tehillas/Tehillat and HoDu
  20. ^ and some all four
  21. ^ a b "Tzur Mishelo".
  22. ^ ArtScroll
  23. ^ After "ReTzei" on Shabbat
  24. ^ Some Religious Zionist communities also add versions of "al Ha-Nissim" on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim.
  25. ^ see Pesachim 119a.
  26. ^ Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 191:1
  27. ^ "We entered into this discussion only to make the point that our Sages were extremely meticulous about after-meal washing and the consequence of ignoring it are worse than ignoring pre-meal washing. Therefore I declare that one must never, under any circumstance, flout the words of our Sages" (Maharal of Prague)
  28. ^ Hadad Brothers. "Mayim Achronim Set". Hadad Brothers. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
  29. ^ Abaye
  30. ^ Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Berakhoth 6:5.
  31. ^ E. Seroussi; Studia Rosenthaliana; JSTOR (2012). The Odyssey of Bendigamos: Stranger than Ever.
  32. ^ "Let's Bench Custom Benchers Made in Israel - Celebrate with Photos". Let’s Bench. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
  33. ^ Pesachim 119b.
  34. ^ Medrash

External linksEdit