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The Birkat Hamazon must be recited after any meal that included bread. It is the only blessing in our liturgy that the Torah explicitly requires us to recite.1 Accordingly, it is especially important to be dressed properly when reciting Birkat Hamazon, even more so than for other prayers.2 It is preferable to recite Birkat Hamazon in the original Hebrew,3 but it may be recited in any language, if necessary.4

The Birkat Hamazon should not be recited from memory. It should be read from a text, in an audible manner,5 and with feelings of thanksgiving6 and happiness.7 It is even recommended that one partake of one’s favorite foods and drinks at every meal in order to help ensure that one will be in good spirits for the Birkat Hamazon.8 We are taught that one who is meticulous with reciting Birkat Hamazon will be provided with an honorable living.9 There is a story told of an individual who was eternally punished over not having recited Birkat Hamazon with the proper intent and concentration.10

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One should tidy up the table in preparation for Birkat Hamazon, such as by removing empty serving dishes and cleaning up any unsightly spills and messes.11 The tablecloth, bread left over from the meal, and the salt dispenser should remain on the table until after Birkat Hamazon.12 Indeed, we are taught that allowing bread to remain on the table until after Birkat Hamazon is a segula for a number of blessings.13 The custom to leave the bread on the table was also instituted in order to ensure that food would be readily available should a hungry person come knocking at one’s door in search of food.14

Many individuals have the custom to cover or remove any knives that are on the table before reciting the Birkat Hamazon.15 This is because knives, reminiscent of swords, are items that shorten a man’s life, while the table, which represents the altar of G-d, lengthens it.16 Another reason the knives are covered or removed is that there was once an individual who became so distressed at the mention of Jerusalem in the course of the Birkat Hamazon that he took a knife that was on the table and stabbed himself with it.17 It also serves to recall the teaching that the Angel of Death has no power over those who recite Birkat Hamazon carefully and with concentration.18 It is not necessary to cover or remove the knives on Shabbat and holidays, as the holiness of these days protects us from any possible trouble.19 Plastic knives need not be removed or covered.20 It is noted that most people are not especially particular to observe this halacha, and a number of contemporary authorities have justified their conduct.21

The requirement to recite Birkat Hamazon is only a Torah-level obligation if one is full after the meal. If one is not truly satiated from the meal, the obligation is only rabbinic in nature.22 There is also a view that one must drink something during the meal for the Birkat Hamazon to be a Torah-level obligation.23 One who is unsure of having recited the Birkat Hamazon is required to repeat it24 if still satiated from the meal.25 One should recite Birkat Hamazon promptly after completing a meal, and definitely within 72 minutes from the end of the meal.26 One who did not recite Birkat Hamazon within 72 minutes is still required to recite it no matter how much time has passed, if still feeling satiated from the meal.27 There is some discussion whether or not women are fully obligated in the mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon, though common custom is to treat Birkat Hamazon as a Torah-level obligation for both men and women.28

There is some discussion on how to recite the Harachaman section of the Birkat Hamazon after eating a bread meal outdoors, in a car or on a plane. In a regular situation, one would recite “Harachaman, Hu yishlach lanu beracha meruba babayit hazeh” (“May the Merciful One send us abundant blessing in this house”). However, it makes no sense to recite this passage when eating in such places.

Some authorities suggest that one substitute the standard wording with “Harachaman, Hu yishlach lanu beracha meruba b’halichateinu u’beyeshivateinu ad olam” (“May the Merciful One send us abundant blessing in our travels and our encampments forever”), as this wording better reflects such circumstances.29 Some hold that this wording should also be used when reciting Birkat Hamazon in the home or presence of a non-Jew.30 There are also grounds to suggest that this passage should simply be omitted rather than altered.

It is interesting to note that in some communities, the custom is to recite all the Harachaman passages as usual even when they are completely inapplicable. According to this approach, one recites “Harachaman, Hu yevarech et avi mori ba’al habayit hazeh…” (“May the Merciful One bless my father, the master of this house…”) even when eating in a friend’s home and even when one’s parents are no longer alive.31 Common custom, however, is not in accordance with this view.

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  1. Devarim 8:10.
  2. Rivevot Ephraim 8:106.
  3. Mishna Berura 185:1.
  4. Rambam, Hilchot Berachot 6:1; OC 185:1.
  5. OC 185:2. However, if it wasn’t recited audibly, one has still discharged one’s obligation (ibid.; Yabia Omer 4:18).
  6. Piskei Teshuvot 185:2; Rivevot Ephraim 6:120:2.
  7. Elya Rabba 183:7.
  8. Pele Yoetz, s.v. “Simcha.”
  9. Mishna Berura 185:1.
  10. Sefer Chassidim 46; Mishna Berura 185:1.
  11. Mishna Berura 180:7; Kaf Hachaim, OC 180:5.
  12. OC 180:1; Magen Avraham 180:1; Ben Ish Chai, Shelach; Kaf Hachaim, OC 180:3; Ketzot Hashulchan 39:17.
  13. OC 180:2; Rivevot Ephraim 1:135, 2:190, 3:105, 4:46, 5:225.
  14. Mishna Berura 180:2.
  15. OC 180:5; Rokei’ach 332; Sefer Chassidim 102; Sefer Kushiot 84; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 44:4; Kaf Hachaim, OC 180:15. For more on covering vs. removing the knives, see Shibolei Haleket 155; Kaf Hachaim, OC 180:15; Rivevot Ephraim 8:76:2.
  16. Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 180:6; Mishna Berura 180:11; Shibolei Haleket 155. See also Rashi, Shemot 20:22. Even if the knives are made of gold or silver (metals from which swords are not generally manufactured) they should still be covered (Siach Yitzchak 95).
  17. Shibolei Haleket 155; Beit Yosef, OC 180; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 44:4; Mishna Berura 180:11.
  18. Elya Rabba 180:6.
  19. Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 180:6; Rivevot Ephraim 7:250:3. See also Magen Avraham 180:5. For some interesting discussion on whether the knives have to be covered when reciting Birkat Hamazon at night, see Rivevot Ephraim 1:136, 8:346. Regarding covering the knives at the Melave Malka meal, see Or Yitzchak 117.
  20. Rivevot Ephraim 7:250:3; Az Nidberu 7:2.
  21. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 44:6; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 180:6. See also Or Yitzchak 56 for some interesting commentary on this custom.
  22. Rambam, Hilchot Berachot 1:1; Mishna Berura 184:15, 22.
  23. Rema, OC 197:4.
  24. Rambam, Hilchot Berachot 2:14, OC 184:4.
  25. Mishna Berura 184:15.
  26. Biur Halacha 184.
  27. OC 184:5.
  28. Berachot 20b; OC 186:1; Mishna Berura 186:2; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 186:3; Yechave Da’at 6:10; Rivevot Ephraim 5:164, 7:253:2.
  29. Ahalech B’amitecha 11:25.
  30. Mishna Berura 193:27. See also Magen Avraham 189:1; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 44:18.
  31. Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 189:1.
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Rabbi Ari Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He teaches halacha, including semicha, one-on-one to people all over the world, online. He is also the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (9 volumes), the rabbinic director of United with Israel, and a rebbe at a number of yeshivot and seminaries. Questions and feedback are welcomed: rabbiari@hotmail.com.