Birkat Hamazon is recited after consuming
a meal eaten with bread
|Halakhic texts relating to this article|
|Babylonian Talmud:||Berakhot ch.7|
|Mishneh Torah:||Hilkhot Berakhot|
|Shulchan Aruch:||Orach Chayim 182 - 201|
Birkat Hamazon or Birkat Hammazon (Hebrew: ברכת המזון, trans. Blessing on Nourishment), known in English as the Grace After Meals (Yiddish: בענטשן; translit. bentshn or "to bless",  Yinglish: Benching), is a set of Hebrew blessings that Jewish Halakha ("collective body of Jewish religious laws") prescribes following a meal that includes at least a ke-zayit (olive sized) piece of bread or matzoh made from one or all of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt. It is a mitzvah de-'oraita (Aramaic: דאורייתא), that is written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:10). It is a matter of rabbinic dispute whether birkat hamazon must be said after eating certain other bread-like foods such as pizza.
Birkat hamazon is typically read to oneself after ordinary meals and often 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, ברכון) 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. Several websites such as BirkatHamazon.org, Tefillos.com, Open Siddur Project, and others, have published the prayer(s) in various Nuschaot.
Source and text
Birkat Hamazon is made up of four blessings. The first three blessings are regarded as required by scriptural law:
- 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.
- The land: A blessing of thanks for the Land of Israel, is attributed to Joshua after he led the Jewish people into Israel.
- Jerusalem: Concerns Jerusalem, is ascribed to David, who established it as the capital of Israel and Solomon, who built the Temple in Jerusalem.
- God's goodness: A blessing of thanks for God's goodness, written by Rabban Gamliel in Yavneh. The obligation to recite this blessing is 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.”
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.
Psalm 126, 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 other days on which the penitential Tachanun prayer is not recited. This is frequently followed by reciting four further lines of four other Psalms, (145:21; 115:18; 118:1; 106:2), known as Tehillat Hashem (Praise of God). Less common is the recitation on weekdays of Psalm 137, Al Naharot Bavel (By the rivers of Babylon), which describes the reactions of the Jews in exile as would have been expressed during the Babylonian captivity (See Mishna Berura quoting the Shelah). Some Spanish and Portuguese Jews precede Birkat HaMazon with Ein Keloheinu on Shabbat and holidays.
Additional sections are added on special occasions. On Jewish holidays, the ya'aleh ve-Yavo paragraph is added and on Shabbat the retzei paragraph is recited, both just before the end of the third blessing. On Hanukkah and Purim al ha-Nissim is added to the middle of the second blessing. Some Religious Zionist communities also add versions of "al Ha-Nissim" on Yom HaAtzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim.
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.
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.
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.
According to Halakha when a minimum of three men 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.
Although the Talmud states that women are obligated to say birkat hamazon and that accordingly, three women can constitute a zimmun and lead it (Berachot 45b), later authorities, such as Maimonides and the Mishnah Berurah, held that women were exempt from leading a zimmun on grounds that women were not generally sufficiently educated to know how. A number of Modern Orthodox authorities have held that because of improvements in women's religious education women can now do so, and some say that they are now obligated to. Accordingly, women forming a zimmun and leading birkat hamazon has become increasingly common in Modern Orthodox circles. Such authorities disagree, however, on the appropriateness of women leading a zimmun in the presence of men (or of three men). A minority of Modern Orthodox authorities, citing earlier authorities including Meiri, Sefer HaMeorot and the Shiltei HaGibborim, also hold that 10 women can (or should) constitute a minyan for purposes of saying Zimmun B'Shem for birkat hamazon. Unlike in Conservative or Reform Judaism, even Orthodox authorities who hold that women can form a zimmun maintain that one cannot be formed from a combination of men and women.
According to the one opinion in the Talmud (Berakhot 49b), there are special versions of the zimmun if birkat hamazon is said by at least one hundred, one thousand or ten thousand seated at one meal. When one hundred are present, the leader says "Blessed is HaShem our God, of Whose we have eaten and of Whose goodness we have lived", and the group responds "Blessed is HaShem our God, of Whose we have eaten, and of Whose goodness we have lived." When one thousand are present, the leader of the Zimmun says "Let us bless HaShem our God, the God of Israel, of Whose we have eaten, and of Whose goodness we have lived", and the crowd responds, "Blessed is HaShem our God, the God of Israel, of Whose we have eaten, and of Whose goodness we have lived." When at least ten thousand are present, the leader of the zimmun says "Let us bless Hashem our God, the God of Israel, who dwells among the cherubim, of Whose we have eaten, and of Whose goodness we have lived," and the multitude responds, "Blessed is Hashem our God, the God of Israel, who dwells among the cherubim, of Whose we have eaten, and of Whose goodness we have lived."
None of these variations is ever used in practice: the codes lay down that the only variation is the addition of eloheinu (our God) when the number reaches or exceeds ten.
Cup of Blessing
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.
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), is not a mitzvah (a commandment), as the practice 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, but does not need to be.
Although the practice is based on a ruling recorded in the Talmud, 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. One should not pause between the washing and reciting birkat hamazon.
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.
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, before or after birkat hamazon. An additional abbreviated form of birkat hamazon in Ladino, called Ya Comimos, may also be said.
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. 
Notes and references
- Weinreich, History of the Yiddish Language
- Palley, Kate. "What is Birkat Hamazon, or Benching?". MyJewishLearning.com. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
- Klein, Isaac. "A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice". www.jtsa.edu. Jewish Theological Seminary of America, NY, 1988. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
- Pizza and birkat hamazon
- 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.
- 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.
- Frimer, "Women and Minyan"
- see Pesachim 119a.
- Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 191:1
- Hadad Brothers. "Mayim Achronim Set". Hadad Brothers. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 16 August 2010.
- Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Berakhoth 6:5.
- Pesachim 119b.
- "Let's Bench Custom Benchers Made in Israel - Celebrate with Photos". Let’s Bench. Retrieved 2018-07-10.
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