Grace after Meals
GRACE AFTER MEALS
GRACE AFTER MEALS (Heb. בִּרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן, Birkat ha-Mazon), a central feature of the liturgical service in the Jewish home. It is considered to be a biblical ordinance, inferred from the verse "Thou shalt eat and be satisfied and bless the Lord thy God for the good land which He has given thee" (Deut. 8:10). If one is in doubt whether he has recited it it should be repeated rather than not said at all (Tur and Sh. Ar., oḤ 184; Maim., Yad, Berakhot 2:14; cf. Ber. 21a). Grace after Meals consists of four blessings and is recited only after a meal at which bread has been eaten. If bread is not eaten, a shorter form of grace is recited (for versions see below). The first blessing (Birkat ha-Zan) praises God for providing food for all His creatures. The second (Birkat ha-Areẓ) expresses Israel's particular gratitude for the "good land" God has given it, the redemption from Egypt, the covenant of circumcision, and the revelation of the Torah. The third benediction, called Boneh Yerushalayim and also Neḥamah (consolation), asks God to have mercy on Israel and to restore the Temple and the Kingdom of David. It includes a plea that He may always sustain and support Israel. To these three benedictions which form the core of the Grace a fourth (Ha-tov ve-ha-metiv) was added after the destruction of *Bethar. It combines thanks for God's goodness, with the prayer that He may fulfill specific desires (Ber. 48b–49b). It is followed by several petitions which begin with the word Ha-Raḥaman ("May the All-Merciful…"). Originally phrased to suit individual desires, the supplications have now become standardized. The number of these petitions varies greatly in different rites; the general Sephardi rite has some 15, while the Ashkenazi has nine.
According to the Talmud (Ber. 48b), the first benediction was instituted by Moses when the manna fell from heaven; the second by Joshua when he conquered Ereẓ Israel; the third by David and Solomon; and the fourth by the rabbis of *Jabneh in gratitude for the miracle that the corpses of the unburied dead of Bethar did not decay, and that permission was ultimately granted for their burial (see: *Bar Kokhba). Finkelstein, however, points out that the fourth blessing was known to *Eliezer b. Hyrcanus (Ber. 48b) who died before the fall of Bethar, and to *Yose the Galilean (Tosef., Ber. 1:9) and *Ishmael (tj, Ber 7:1, 11a), who do not mention the incident. He, therefore, suggests that this blessing may have originated in the early years of the reign of *Hadrian. The Book of Jubilees (22:6–9) quotes the original threefold blessing, and attributes it to Abraham. Josephus (Wars, 11:131) testifies to the custom of thanksgiving after meals, and traces it back to *Simeon b. Shetah (also mentioned in tj, Ber. 7:2, 11b). The Book of Ben Sira (Ecclus. 36:12–14, 17–19) clearly follows parts of the third benediction, and the Christian thanksgiving prayer in the Didache (a Christian work of the last decade of the first century) chapter 10, also bears strong resemblances to the Jewish formula. Among Portuguese Jews the Grace is known as benção, and among Ashkenazim by the Yiddish term benshn, a corruption of the Latin "benedictio" (by way of Old French).
According to the Talmud (bb 60b) it is forbidden to forget the destruction of the Temple even during meals, and thus the recitation of Grace should be preceded on weekdays by Psalm 137. The custom, however, is not often observed. More common is the practice to recite Psalm 126 on Sabbaths and festivals, its optimistic vision better fitting the spirit of these days. The rabbis ordained that whenever three or more have eaten bread together, one of them must summon the others to say Grace with him (Ber. 7:1–5). In reply to the invitation "Gentlemen, let us say Grace" (in Sephardi usage "with your permission"), the others reply "Blessed be the name of the Lord henceforth and forever." The leader repeats the statement and then continues, "With your consent (in Sephardi usage "with the permission of Heaven") let us now bless Him of whose food we have eaten." The others then respond: "Blessed be He whose food we have eaten and through whose goodness we live." This formula is known as zimmun, and according to the Talmud (Ber. 45b; Ar. 3a) must even be recited by three women who eat together. According to one opinion in the Mishnah, the zimmun formula becomes increasingly elaborate as the number of participants grows to ten, a hundred, a thousand, and ten thousand; more numerous and more solemn epithets of God are added every time (Ber. 7:3; Meg. 4:3). In modern times, the word Elohenu ("our God") is inserted in the third line of the formula when the number of participants is ten or more. The custom of communal grace, originally used only when the participants numbered at least ten, can be traced back to the custom of *ḥavurah (community) meals, held especially on the Sabbaths. The practice was widespread in the Second Temple period among the Pharisees, and certain sectarian groups such as the Essenes.
Grace may be recited in any language (Sot. 7:1), but must be said at the table from which one has eaten (Maim. Yad, Berakhot, 4:1) and on which some bread should be left until the conclusion of the benediction (Tos. to Ber. 42a and Sanh. 92a). It is followed by a blessing on a cup of wine. The codifiers differ as to whether the cup of wine is required only when Grace is recited with zimmun or even when it is recited individually (Sh. Ar., oḤ 182:1). It has become customary to have the cup of wine only at zimmun on Sabbaths, festivals, and other special occasions. Various changes are made in the grace to suit different circumstances. On Sabbaths and festivals a special section (Reẓeh and Ya'aleh ve-Yavo respectively) is inserted in the third blessing and an additional petition added in the series of Ha-Raḥaman; in the Ashkenazi rite the word Magdil (from Ps. 18:51) in the final Ha-Raḥaman is changed to Migdol (from ii Samuel 22:51). The change probably originated through the confusion, by some early editors of the siddur, between בש״ב "B.SH.B." (meaning "in ii Samuel"), and בשב׳ be-Shabbat ("on Sabbaths"). Special Ha-Raḥaman petitions are also inserted on New Moons, Rosh Ha-Shanah, Sukkot, and the Passover seder. On Hanukkah and Purim, Al *ha-Nissim is said during the second blessing which is devoted to thanksgiving (Shab. 24a; cf. Rashi ibid.). At a wedding banquet, the third line of the zimmun is changed to read "Blessed be our God in whose abode is joy, of whose food we have eaten and through whose goodness we live" (Ket. 8a; cf. Rashi ibid.), and the seven wedding benedictions are recited at the conclusion of Grace (Maim. Yad, Berakhot, 2:9, 5:5). At the house of a mourner, a special prayer is substituted for the end of the third benediction, a change is made in the text of the fourth, and the zimmun is slightly changed (Ber. 46b; Sh. Ar., yd 379, oḤ 189:2). At the meal which follows a circumcision ceremony, the wording of the zimmun is changed to suit the occasion. Among the several lines which begin with Ha-Raḥaman in the fourth blessing, a child, a guest (see Ber. 46a), and the master of the house may each insert passages to suit their particular circumstance (see Tur., oḤ 189). Since the establishment of the State of Israel, some families have also inserted a fourth Ha-Raḥaman "May the All-Merciful bless the State of Israel, and all who work for her."
Ever since the formulation of a "complete" Birkat ha-Mazon, there have been shorter versions for extraordinary occasions. The guiding principle has been that the mitzvah of reciting Birkat ha-Mazon is commanded by the Torah, but the actual content has developed over the ages. Workmen who eat during working hours, therefore, may recite a shortened form, consisting of the first berakhah, the "blessing for the land," and mention of Jerusalem (Sh. Ar., oḤ 191:1). Children are required to recite only small sections. In cases of extreme emergency, he who says, "Blessed be the Merciful One, the King, the Master of this land" has fulfilled his obligation. The siddur of Saadiah Gaon contains a highly abbreviated version of Birkat ha-Mazon. Another shortened form is found in the Magen Avraham commentary to the Shulhan Arukh (oḤ 192:1). In general, shorter forms include the entire first berakhah, mention of the Covenant and the Torah as well as the blessing for the land in the second berakhah, and mention of Israel and the Davidic Kingdom in the third berakhah.
In the United States, the Conservative movement has evolved a shortened version based on this formula, used at public gatherings and summer camps (the traditional long form is usually recited on the Sabbath).
The Reform Prayer Book has a short version made up of two English paragraphs and concluding with the Hebrew ending of the traditional first berakhah.
When bread is not eaten there are two other forms of grace (known as Berakhah Aḥaronah – "final benediction") to be recited, depending on the nature of the food consumed. For food prepared from the five species of grain (wheat, barley, rye, oats, and spelt), wine, or the fruits of Ereẓ Israel (grapes, figs, olives, pomegranates, and dates) a short summary of the Grace after Meals is said. This is in the form of one benediction with insertions for the type of food eaten and for special occasions such as the Sabbath and festivals. This is called in the Talmud Berakhah Me'ein Shalosh – "the benediction summarizing the three" (benedictions of the regular grace). For any other food a short benediction (called in the Talmud Ve-Lo-Khelum, "Nothing," but popularly known by its first two words (Bore Nefashot) is recited (Ber. 37a–b; laws codified Sh. Ar., oḤ 207–8; texts Hertz, Prayer, 984, 988).
Finkelstein, in: jqr, 19 (1928/29), 211–62; Abrahams, Companion, 207ff.; et, 4 (1952), 475–511; Heinemann, in: jjs, 13 (1962), 23–29.