Question: I am very appreciative and, if I might add, flattered that you answer and publish many of my questions. Due to your superior knowledge, I am always confident when I send in a question that I will receive a proper response. I wonder if you could address whether one should say Birkat HaGomel after flying even though flying is statistically safer than driving. Also, do women say HaGomel as well or only men?
Answer: Previously we mentioned that the Shulchan Aruch states that a person can discharge another’s obligation to say HaGomel. In fact, both the Aruch Hashulchan and the Mishnah Berurah argue that it is better for a husband to say HaGomel for his wife than for her to say it herself.
The Debrecener Rav seems to suggest that a woman is relieved of any requirement to recite HaGomel after childbirth because giving birth is “derech ha’olam” – the way of the world as set up by Hashem. Surely we cannot consider this mitzvah a dangerous event.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l (Halichot Shlomo 23:4), writes that the prevailing custom in Jerusalem is that a yoledet says HaGomel when her relatives gather at her house. If she needs to say HaGomel for a different reason, she does not say it nor does her husband say it on her behalf. In his notes he explains that HaGomel is supposed to be said before a minyan and doing so for a woman would be immodest since “kol kvudah bat melech pnima – the honor of a king’s daughter is dwelling within” (Psalms 45:14).
Why, then, does a yoledet say HaGomel? Because the Torah (Leviticus 12) requires a yoledet to bring a sacrifice (if there is a Temple).
The Debrecener Rav (Torat Chayyim, novella to Sanhedrin 94a) writes that ideally a woman should discharge her HaGomel obligation by going to shul and saying Amen to the berachah her husband makes when receiving an aliya since berachah and hoda’ah are essentially the same.
The previous Rishon Le’tzion, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef zt”l (Responsa Yechaveh Da’at 15) cites numerous authorities (the main one being the Mechaber) who disagree. Yet, he finds a support for the view of the Torat Chayim in the words of Rabbi Chayyim Abulafia (Responsa Nishmat Chayyim, Orach Chayim 2) who argues that if a place has the custom of the husband reciting HaGomel for his wife, we do not nullify its custom since there some authorities who dispute the Mechaber.
Nevertheless, he notes that we follow the rulings of the Mechaber and, thus, the husband’s recital of Birkat HaTorah does not absolve the yoledet of her requirement to say HaGomel. He also notes that the Birkat HaTorah contain no mention of kingship and R. Yochanan (Berachot 40b) maintains that any blessing that does not contain kingship is not considered a blessing. The Barechu of Birkat HaTorah may be attached to the concluding blessing that follows, but it itself contains no mention of kingship and it is the Barechu that would be in place of HaGomel.
Rav Yosef cites the view of Rabbi Avraham Palagi (Responsa Vaya’an Avraham 17) who opines that the reason women don’t say HaGomel is because they are not ritually clean. He quickly dismisses this view, though, since women recite blessings all the time in their impure state and words of Torah are not subject to tum’ah.
Rabbi Yosef also dismisses the view found in Responsa Mateh Levi (vol 2:8) that since women are commanded to bring forth children, we should not consider childbirth so dangerous as to require the recital of HaGomel. In fact, the Mishnah (Shabbos 31b) states explicitly, “For three sins women die in childbirth….” We thus see that childbirth is inherently dangerous.
Rav Yosef believes women should come to the synagogue and recite the blessing from the women’s section.
His son, the current Rishon Le’tzion, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef (Yalkut Yosef to Orach Chayyim 219:7), notes that a man can discharge his wife’s obligation if they both went through the same dangerous event together (e.g., traveled together overseas).
In general, if a woman needs to say HaGomel for any other reason besides childbirth, it would seem that she would follow the same procedure that men do and say HaGomel either in the women’s section or before one man. She has an obligation to meet and she should meet it in a manner consistent with the sages’ rules of modesty.