In the time of the Beis ha-Mikdash, a person who survived a potentially life-threatening situation brought a Korban Todah, a Thanksgiving Offering, to express his gratitude to Hashem. 1 The Talmud 2 defines crossing a desert or a sea, imprisonment and serious illness as potentially life-threatening situations.
Nowadays, when the Beis ha-Mikdash no longer stands and offerings cannot be brought on the Altar, we substitute a public proclamation of gratitude to Hashem for an offering. 3 A survivor of any of the perils mentioned above publicly recites Birkas ha-gomel, thanking Hashem for saving him from danger.
The text of the blessing is as follows: Baruch Atah… shegemalani kol 4 tov. After answering Amen5 the congregation responds: Mi shegemalcha… . 6
Birkas ha-gomel, just like the Korban Todah, 7 is an optional mitzvah; it is not a pure obligation and one who fails to recite it does not commit a sin. 8 The poskim, however, strongly suggest that one be careful to fulfill this mitzvah, just as he would have seen to it to bring a Korban Todah if he had the opportunity to do so. 9
In addition to reciting the ha-gomel blessing in lieu of the Korban Todah, Chayei Adam 10 writes that one should give a charitable donation equal to the value of the animal that he would have brought as a sacrifice. When giving the money, he should expressly state that he is donating the money instead of bringing a Korban Todah. He further instructs one to recite certain verses in the Torah which deal with Korban Todah11 along with an additional text that he authored when he himself was saved from an explosion in the year 1804.
Question: When and where is ha-gomel said?
Discussion: As birkas ha-gomel is a public expression of gratitude, it cannot be recited in private. Indeed, the basic halachah follows the opinion that the blessing is said only in the presence of at least ten men. For this reason it became customary that ha-gomel is recited right after the public reading of the Torah. But like any other mitzvah, there are l’chatchilah and b’diavad methods of performing it. In addition, there are some recommendations which fall under the category of hiddur mitzvah. Let us elaborate:
Birkas ha-Gomel — L’chatchilah:
•Birkas Ha-gomel should not be delayed more than three days after surviving a danger. 12 The custom is to recite ha-gomel at the soonest Kerias ha-Torah possible. 13
•At least ten men, including two Torah scholars and the one reciting ha-gomel, should be present. 14
•Birkas ha-gomel is recited immediately after the Kaddish which follows Kerias ha-Torah.
•Birkas ha-gomel is recited while standing. 15
•Birkas ha-gomel is recited during daytime hours only. 161
•If a number of people in shul are obligated to recite ha-gomel, each individual should recite his own (and not discharge his obligation by listening to another person’s ha-gomel blessing). 17 If, however, they are expressing gratitude for an incident which they experienced together, one person recites the blessing on behalf of everyone. The others respond: Mi shegemalanu kol tuv Hu yigmaleinu kol tov sela. 18
Birkas ha-Gomel — B’diavad / Extenuating Circumstances:
•If three days elapsed, the blessing should be said within five days. 19 If five days passed, the blessing should be recited within thirty days. 20 If thirty days passed, the blessing may still be recited as long as the feelings of joy and gratitude are still alive in the mind of the survivor. 21
•If two Torah scholars are not available, the blessing is recited in front of any ten men, at any time. 22 [A minority view holds that under extenuating circumstances, ha-gomel is recited even with fewer than ten men present. 23 It is not customary, however, to do so. 24] •Birkas ha-gomel may be recited even at night.
•Birkas ha-gomel is valid if one was sitting when it was recited. 25
•One can fulfill his obligation of birkas ha-gomel by hearing the blessing recited by another person who is obligated to recite ha-gomel. 26
Birkas ha-Gomel — Hiddur Mitzvah:
•At least ten men, plus two Torah scholars, plus the one reciting the blessing (altogether thirteen men) should be present. 27 The more people present, the greater hiddur mitzvah there is. 28
•The one reciting birkas ha-gomel receives an aliyah to the Torah, 29 and after he recites the final blessing on the Torah, ha-gomel is recited. If he received the last aliyah, ha-gomel is recited before the Kaddish which follows Kerias ha-Torah. 30
•Although the one reciting birkas ha-gomel should be standing, those who are listening to the blessing should be seated. 31
Question: Do women recite the ha-gomel blessing?
Discussion: Expressing gratitude to Hashem for His kindness is certainly incumbent upon women as well as men. Indeed, when the Beis ha-Mikdash was standing, women, too, brought a Korban Todah. 32 But traditionally among the Ashkenazim, women did not recite ha-gomel even though it was instituted as a substitute for the Korban Todah. This tradition developed because, as stated earlier (9-10 Teves), ha-gomel is recited in the presence of at least ten men, and it was considered immodest for a woman to make a public recitation. While many poskim questioned and criticized this tradition and suggested ways where women, too, might fulfill this mitzvah, 33 others maintained that the tradition be upheld and that women not recite birkas ha-gomel. 34 Read tomorrow’s Discussion for more details.
Still, there are a number of options which a woman can choose in order to express her gratitude to Hashem:
•While remaining in the women’s section, she should recite birkas ha-gomel loudly enough for it to be heard by ten men. The men then respond with Mi shegemalach … 35 This can also take place in the woman’s home when ten men are present. 36
•She should answer Baruch Hashem ha-mevorach le’olam va’ed and Amen to her husband’s aliyah to the Torah with the specific intent of fulfilling her obligation to thank Hashem for His grace to her. 37 Traditionally, this was the method used by women who wished to fulfill their obligation of expressing gratitude to Hashem after giving birth. 38
•Harav M. Feinstein is quoted as ruling that a woman may recite birkas ha-gomel in anyone’s presence, man or woman. If she is married, she should preferably do so in her husband’s presence. 39
•Harav S.Z. Auerbach suggested that upon reciting the morning blessing of ha-gomel chasadim tovim l’amo Yisrael, a woman should have in mind to fulfill this mitzvah as well. 40
Although there are various opinions, the accepted custom today is that minors do not recite ha-gomel, nor does their father recite the blessing on their behalf. 41
1. Vayikra 7:12 and Rashi and Rashbam.
2. Berachos 54a, based on Tehillim 107. See also Rashi, Zevachim 7a (s.v. lo) and Menachos 79b (s.v. l’achar).
3. Rosh, Berachos 9:3, as explained by Chasam Sofer, O.C. 51 and Avnei Nezer, O.C. 39.
4. Some original texts omit the word kol, an omission approved by Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo 1:23-7).
5. Sha’arei Efrayim 4:30; Aruch ha-Shulchan 219:5.
6. O.C. 219:2. B’diavad, if the congregation did not respond, one fulfills the mitzvah regardless; Mishnah Berurah 219:5.
7. See Maharam Shick, O.C. 88 and Sdei Chemed, Asifas Dinim, Berachos, 2:10.
8. Based on Magen Avraham, O.C. 219:1.
9. See Pri Megadim 219:1; Chasam Sofer, O.C. 51 and Minchas Yitzchak 4:11-9. 10. Seder Amiras Korban Todah, published in Chayei Adam following Klal 69 and quoted in part by Mishnah Berurah 218:32.
11. See similar instructions in Shulchan Aruch ha-Rav, O.C. 1:9.
12. O.C. 219:6 and Mishnah Berurah 20.
13. Sha’arei Efrayim 4:27.
14. O.C. 219:3 and Mishnah Berurah 6 and Sha’ar ha-Tziyun 7. See Tzitz Eliezer 13:18.
15. Mishnah Berurah 219:4.
16. Chasam Sofer, O.C. 51; Kaf ha-Chayim 219:14. Women who recite birkas ha-gomel after childbirth may do so at night l’chatchilah; Tzitz Eliezer 13:17.
17. Based on Mishnah Berurah 8:13, 213:12. See also Rav Akiva Eiger on O.C. 219:5.
18. Chasam Sofer (Sefer ha-Zikaron), quoted in Piskei Teshuvos 219:17.
19. Be’er Heitev 219:9.
20. Mishnah Berurah 219:8.
21 Based on Aruch ha-Shulchan 219:7.
22. O.C. 219:3 and Beiur Halachah (s.v. lo).
23. See Mishnah Berurah 219:8
24. See Kaf ha-Chayim 219:3 and 26. See also Beiur Halachah 219:3 (s.v. v’yeish omrim).
25. Mishnah Berurah 219:4.
26. O.C. 219:5.
27. Sha’arei Efrayim 4:27 (at least thirteen people); Chayei Adam 65:6 and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 61:2 (at least eleven people).
28. Shulchan ha-Tahor 219:2, who therefore recommends waiting until Shabbos, since more people and Torah scholars will be present.
29. Sha’arei Efrayim 4:27 and Chasam Sofer, O.C. 51. See also Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:14. But since this is only a hiddur mitzvah, he does not have priority over other chiyuvim; Sha’arei Efrayim 2:11 and Beiur Halachah 136:1 (s.v. b’Shabbos). See note 51.
30. Eishel Avraham Tanyana 219.
31. Birkei Yosef 219:6, quoting an oral ruling of the Rambam; Sha’arei Efrayim 4:27; Kaf ha-Chayim 219:15; Tzitz Eliezer 13:19-3.
32. See, however, Tzafnas Pa’aneiach, Berachos 10:8.
33. An authority as early as the Magen Avraham (219:4) already suggested that a husband recite birkas ha-gomel on behalf of his wife. But besides the fact that this would not solve the problem for girls and unmarried women, Beiur Halachah (219:4, s.v. v’ain) rejects this option from a halachic point of view, and Aruch ha-Shulchan (219:9) testifies that it never gained acceptance. Mishnah Berurah suggests that a woman recite birkas ha-gomel in front of [ten] women plus one man, but subsequent poskim rejected this solution; see Aruch ha-Shulchan 219:6; Kaf ha-Chayim 219:3; Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:14; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo 1:23-4). Harav Y.S. Elyashiv was asked the following question: Mishnah Berurah suggests that a woman who needs to recite birkas ha-gomel should do so in the presence of [nine or] ten women plus one man. While we can understand how ten women can satisfy the requirement that ha-gomel be recited in front of ten people, it is not clearly understood why the Mishnah Berurah recommends that one man be present. Harav Elyashiv answered that quite possibly, Mishnah Berurah is referring to the halachah quoted in Shulchan Aruch that ha-gomel be recited in the presence of at least two scholars. In several areas of halachah we find the concept that a group of women is considered like one man (see Yevamos 88b and 15a). Thus one additional man will complete the requirement of having two scholars present.
34. Sha’arei Efrayim 4:28; Aruch ha-Shulchan 219:6; Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. 1, pg. 91, quoting Chazon Ish and Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky; Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Halichos Shelomo 1:23-4); B’tzeil ha-Chochmah 6:78; Teshuvos v’Hanahgos 1:195.
35. Be’er Heitev 219:1, quoting Knesses ha-Gedolah; Birkei Yosef 219:2; Chayei Adam 65:6; Ben Ish Chai (Eikev 5); Yechaveh Da’as 4:15.
36. Minchas Shelomo 2:4-31.
37. Eliyahu Rabba 219:5, quoted by Sha’arei Efrayim 4:28 and Minchas Yitzchak 4:11-9.
38. This is the source of the widespread custom that as soon as a yoledes recovers, she goes to shul to hear and to respond to Barechu es Hashem ha-mevorach. In this case, her husband’s aliyah has priority over almost any other chiyuv; Beiur Halachah 136:1 (s.v. b’Shabbos.)
39. Oral ruling quoted in Igros Moshe, O.C. 5:14.
40. Halichos Shelomo 1:23-8, and note 10.
41. Sha’arei Teshuvah 219:1 and 3 and Mishnah Berurah 219:3. See Har Tzvi, O.C. 113.
Weekly-Halacha, Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Torah.org.
Rabbi Neustadt is the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Harabbonim of Detroit and the Av Beis Din of the Beis Din Tzedek of Detroit. He could be reached at [email protected]