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In recent weeks, many soldiers and reservists have returned home after heroically defending our nation. Are they required to “bentch gomel”?

Based on Psalm 107, the Talmud (Berachot 54b) teaches: “Four [individuals] must give thanks: Seafarers, those who travel through the desert, one who was ill and has healed, and one who was imprisoned and released.”


The Rishonim question whether the obligation to recite Birkat HaGomel is limited to these four situations alone, or if the blessing should be recited by anyone who is saved from any life-threatening circumstance. The Rivash (337) and Tashbetz (4:3:30) explain that the Talmud merely uses these four situations as commonplace examples, and all the more so the blessing should be recited by anyone who survives a dangerous situation.

However, according to others, the blessing may only be recited in these four cases (See Orchot Chayim, vol. 1, Additions for Mondays and Thursdays, 24). The Abudarham even cites an opinion that reciting the blessing in other situations would be a beracha l’vatalah, as one is deviating from the enactment of Chazal (Birkat Hare’iyah, Hashevach, V’hahoda’ah).

The Shulchan Aruch records both opinions, and rules that it is proper to recite the blessing without Hashem’s name, except in the case of one of the four situations mentioned by the Talmud (Orach Chaim 219:9). But the Bach, Taz, Magen Avraham, Levush, Eliyah Rabbah, Mishna Berurah, and Aruch HaShulchan all rule that the minhag is to recite the blessing with Hashem’s name following any life-threatening situation.

There is also a dispute if one should recite the blessing if his life was not in imminent danger. According to some, one is only obligated to recite Birkat HaGomel if his ship is storm-tossed, or he travels through a dangerous desert (Ra’avad, as cited by Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchot Berachot 10:8; Rosh, Berachot 9:3; Tur, Orach Chaim 219), or recovers from a life-threatening illness (Tosafot, Berachot 54b, s.v. v’eimah; Ra’avad, as cited by the Tur). Others, however, rule that the blessing is recited when returning from any journey or recovering from any serious illness (Ramban, Torat Ha’adam; Ra’ah, Berachot 54b; Teshuvot HaRashba 1:82), even a minor illness (Aruch, cited by the Tur, Orach Chaim 219). It would seem that the Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 10:8) requires one to recite the blessing following any journey or any illness, as he writes “travelers on the road,” implying all travel, based on the Talmud Yerushalmi (See Tur, Orach Chaim 219).

As the Meiri explains (Berachot 54b), since the sea and desert are places which are inherently dangerous, one must always give thanks after having crossed them safely (See also Bi’ur Halacha 219, s.v. yordei hayam).

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 219:7) cites the Rosh and the Tur, and records that in France and Germany the minhag is to recite Birkat HaGomel following a journey fraught with danger, but rules that the minhag among Sefaradim is to recite Birkat HaGomel following any journey longer than a parsa (and in the case of a dangerous journey, even less), as all roads are considered dangerous.

While some poskim rule that a soldier or reservist returning from war – even one who did not see combat – should recite Birkat HaGomel, as he was in potential danger, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach limited the obligation only to a soldier whose life was in imminent danger (Halichot Shlomo 23:1). Others rule that any soldier returning from enemy territory, even if he did not come under fire, should recite Birkat HaGomel.

And while the custom among Sefaradim is to make the blessing with Hashem’s name only following one of the four situations mentioned in the Talmud, some poskim permit Sefardi soldiers to make the blessing with Hashem’s name when returning home from war, as they can be considered as ones who have returned from a journey (See Meishiv Milchama 2:134; Aseh Lecha Rav 1:32; Shevet Halevi 9:45). This is also the ruling of the IDF Rabbinate (Torat Hamachane 1:23). Other poskim advise Ashkenazi soldiers to make the blessing with Hashem’s name and have their fellow Sefardi soldiers in mind. The Sefardi soldier can answer amen to the beracha and fulfill his obligation according to all opinions.

Additionally, the poskim debate when and how frequently Birkat HaGomel should be recited. Rashi comments that one recites the blessing “when he is no longer in danger” (Berachot 54b, s.v. tzrichin l’hodot. See also Mishna Berurah 219:1). Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner ruled that a soldier on furlough should recite Birkat HaGomel each and every time he returns home safely from the battlefield (Shevet HaLevi 9:45). Other poskim rule that the blessing should be made once he completes his service and is no longer in any danger (See Techumin vol. 1, pp. 355-357).

We are grateful to Hashem for returning our soldiers and pray that He return all of our holy soldiers, along with the rest of the hostages, safely and speedily, amen.


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Rabbi Shimshon HaKohen Nadel lives and teaches in Jerusalem, where he serves as mara d'atra of Har Nof's Kehilat Zichron Yosef, rosh kollel of the Sinai Kollel and Kollel Boker at Hovevei Zion, and lectures at the OU Center.