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?
Summary of our response up to this point: The Talmud (Berachot 54b) states that there are four people who must say HaGomel, with the Rivash and Rav Gershon disputing whether this list is exclusive or not. Rabbi Tuvia Goldstein maintains that modern-day air travel cannot be compared to the types of danger listed in the Gemara, and thus one need not say HaGomel after flying. Rav Moshe Feinstein, however, argues that flying is inherently dangerous since only the airplane separates the passengers from death. If the airplane suddenly stops functioning, the passengers will almost certainly die.
We cited HaRav Yaakov Simcha Cohen who compares HaGomel to Dayan Ha’Emet. Just like we don’t say Amen in response to Dayan Ha’Emet (since we don’t wish to hear more bad news, explains HaRav Henkin), we don’t say Amen to HaGomel. Rather, we say “Mi shegemalcha…” We also noted Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s view that when reciting this blessing a person should not say “kol tuv – every good,” implying that he has received all his benefit. We noted the view of the Ktav Sofer that when reciting the blessing a person should have in mind two things: 1) that Hashem delivered him from danger and 2) that he experienced pain and suffering since suffering in this world is itself a good.
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.
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The Gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l (Igrot Moshe, vol. 8 Orach Chayim 14), discusses the obligation of women to say HaGomel. He maintains that in theory there should be no difference between men and women regarding saying HaGomel. (He cites the Mechaber, Orach Chayim 219 that we cited earlier and the Magen Avraham sk 1.)
However, our sages instituted that HaGomel should be said before a minyan upon getting an aliyah to the Torah. (The same is true of the berachah of Baruch Shepatrani that a father says upon the bar mitzvah of his son.) Thus, women don’t say HaGomel because we don’t give them aliyos.
(This responsum was the last Rav Feinstein wrote, at least partially. A note advises that part of it was delivered orally.)
He adds that we do not do as the Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 219:3) states – that the woman should say HaGomel before a minyan or before 10 women and one man – since a minyan of 10 women is meaningless. She can just say it before one person, a man or a woman. If she is married, she can say it before her husband.
The Gaon Rabbi Moshe Stern, the Debrecener Rav, zt”l (Ba’er Moshe, vol. 8:120) was once asked about the practice of gathering a minyan in the house of a yoledet (a woman who gave birth) for her to say HaGomel.
He answered that presumably this practice started because the woman was too weak to go to shul. He writes, though, that this practice is no longer the prevailing minhag. He also argues that the minyan does not gather so as to allow the woman to go out to the market place. The first time she should go out, he writes, is for a dvar mitzvah, such as going to shul to respond to Barchu or Kedushah or to say “Amen, yehei shmei rabbah…,” thus giving praise to Hashem who helped her successfully give birth in a good hour and in good health.
Rav Stern writes that there is a dispute among later authorities as to whether a woman says HaGomel in the women’s section of shul with the men responding Amen. Therefore, some have the custom to gather a minyan at the woman’s home for Maariv so that she can say HaGomel in an adjacent room. He writes that doing so is not our practice and a woman does not say HaGomel at all.
He explains that at least in the instance of a yoledet there are numerous reasons why she need not say HaGomel. For example, it is the nature of the world that women give birth and therefore it is impossible to say, “…hagomel l’chayavim – …who bestows kindness upon the culpable” for she is fulfilling Hashem’s commandment. Rav Stern writes that “we’ve never heard” of a man saying HaGomel on behalf of his wife. (He cites the Mishnah Berurah who clearly maintains that a husband can say HaGomel on her behalf, but it seems that he dismisses this view, as does Rav Feinstein.)
Rav Stern offers what he considers to be a practical approach that satisfies all views; he advises that it be publicized. The woman should go to shul, he writes, and when her husband is called to the Torah for an aliyah, he should concentrate when he says, “Barechu et Hashem ha’mevorach – Blessed is Hashem, the blessed one,” and have in mind to give thanks to Hashem for his wife giving birth b’sh’ah tova u’mutzlachat. His wife should then respond Amen. He notes that the same should be done when a woman recovers from a serious illness.
(To be continued)