Birkat Hamazon is recited after consuming
a meal eaten with bread
|Halakhic texts relating to this article|
|Mishnah:||Berakhot ch. 7|
|Mishneh Torah:||Hilkhot Berakhot|
|Shulchan Aruch:||Orach Chayim 182 - 201|
Birkat Hamazon (Hebrew: , The Blessing of the Food), known in English as the Grace After Meals (Yiddish: ; translit. bentshn or "to bless", 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: ), that is written in the Torah (Deuteronomy 8:10).
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 dessert (pas haba'ah b'kisanin) and food that does not possess the form or appearance of bread (torisa d'nahama), in which case a blessing that summarizes the first three blessings (birkat me'ein shalosh) is recited instead. It is a matter of rabbinic dispute whether birkat hamazon must be said after eating certain other bread-like foods such as pizza.
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, ?) 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.
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; the word "bentch" means to bless.
Birkat Hamazon is made up of four blessings. The first three blessings are regarded as required by scriptural law:
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.
Additional sections are added on special occasions.
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 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.
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.
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, 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.
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 /'b?n·/ (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. 
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.
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 on all 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.
In the Jewish faith, "benching" (the Birkat Hamazon) is ...
There is a difference of opinion... Biblical ... or a Rabbinic enactment.
.. Italian siddur and Nachamenu in Birkat Hamazon for Shabbos ...
It seems to be restricted to MO circles