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34. Birkat Hamazon – Part 1

November 18, 2015 | by Rabbi Shraga Simmons and Rabbi Chaim Gross

The special after-bracha said following a bread meal.

The last few classes have discussed which bracha achrona to say for different foods. In this class, we'll learn that if your meal included bread, then (assuming you ate a kezayit quickly enough) you are obligated to say Grace After Meals. This is called Birkat Hamazon (Hebrew for "the food blessing"), and is commonly referred to as bentching – which means "blessing" in Yiddish. (A prayer book that contains the text of Grace After Meals is often called a bentcher.)

Birkat Hamazon is the consummate bracha achrona, because while most of the food blessings were instituted by the Sages, Birkat Hamazon is a Torah-level obligation, based on Deuteronomy 8:10: "You shall eat, and be satisfied, and bless."1

Birkat Hamazon is longer and more encompassing than a regular bracha achrona. It is comprised of four brachot:2

  1. The first blessing acknowledges the food that we ate. It was formulated by Moses when the manna fell in the desert.
  2. The second blessing expresses our thanks for being given the Land of Israel. It was formulated by Joshua when he led the Jewish people into Israel.3
  3. The third blessing expresses our yearning to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem. It was formulated by King David when he inaugurated Jerusalem as the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago, and when his son King Solomon built the Holy Temple.4
  4. The fourth blessing declares how God bestows His goodness to all creatures. It was instituted during the Second Temple period, when permission was given to bury millions of Jews who had been slaughtered by the Romans.5

Additionally, we should recite one chapter of Psalms before beginning Birkat Hamazon:6

  • On weekdays, Psalm 137: "By the rivers of Babylon..."
  • On Shabbat and holidays,7 Psalm 126: "Shir HaMa'alot..."

Grace After Meals

Ashkenazi Pronunciation

Sefardi Pronunciation

The next two classes will cover nine main points relating to the laws of Birkat Hamazon. So let's get started:

(1) How Much Food?

As is true with other after-brachot, Birkat Hamazon is only recited when you have minimally eaten the volume of a kezayit.8 This is estimated to be approximately:9



white bread

one-third of a slice (8 grams)

rye bread

half a center slice (10 grams)


10% of an average size bagel (13 grams)


slightly less than half of a standard machine matzah(15 grams)

On a Torah level, the obligation to bentch is only when you are satiated;10 on the rabbinic level, it applies even when a kezayit of bread is consumed.11 We will see that this distinction can have practical consequences.

(2) How Quickly?

As we learned, in order to obligate a bracha achrona, the kezayit has to be consumed within the time period of kiday achilat pras, which is within 3-4 minutes.12

However, with Birkat Hamazon, there is another factor to bear in mind: What if you have not eaten a kezayit of bread within the time period of kiday achilat pras, but you do feel full and satisfied from your meal (having eaten many other food along with the bread)? In such a case, you should specifically try to eat a kezayit of bread within 3 minutes in order to obligate yourself to bentch.

However, if you really can't stomach it (after all, there's no mitzvah to stuff yourself!), or the bread basket is empty, then you do not say Birkat Hamazon, even if you are satiated.13 Of course, if you did eat a kezayit of a combination of other foods within kiday achilat pras, then you would say the appropriate bracha achrona (e.g. Borei Nefashot) for the combination.

David had a roll, steak and fries for dinner, and is nice and full by the end. However, he ate the bread very slowly. Ideally, he should take a slice of bread the volume of a kezayit, eat it within 3 minutes, and then bentch.

(3) Covers Other Foods

Normally speaking, Birkat Hamazon covers all foods eaten in the course of a bread meal, even foods upon which you said a separate bracha rishona.14

Dan washed and said Hamotzee on bread. Then he ate soup and meat. He washed it all down with some white wine (for which he had to say Ha'gafen), and then ate some strawberries for dessert (for which he said Ha'adama). Now he says Birkat Hamazon and it "takes care" of all these foods.

What if you ate some food before you said Hamotzee? Can you rely on the fact that you are about to eat bread – and have the food "covered" by Birkat Hamazon later? Or does this food need its own bracha achrona? This depends:15

(a) Appetizer-Link: If you ate the food (e.g. grapefruit) as an appetizer before Hamotzee specifically to whet your appetite for the bread meal, then you do not say a separate bracha achrona.16 However, it's best to avoid such a situation, either by eating less than a kezayit of the apple, or taking longer than kiday achilat pras.17

(b) Kiddush-Link: On Shabbat, when you say Kiddush on wine before eating bread, you do not say a separate Al Ha'gefen.18 This is because the very essence of Kiddush is that it must be said in conjunction with a meal.19

(c) Bracha-Link: If you've been eating an apple, and then sit down to your bread meal, you will need to say a bracha achrona before saying Hamotzee. This is because – unlike the grapefruit or Kiddush wine which was a precursor to the meal itself – the apple was not eaten at all in conjunction with the meal.20

However, if you plan to eat more fruit (whether apples or any other fruit) during the meal – to the extent that when you said the bracha rishona on your apple you also "had in mind" the "during-meal fruits," then the "before-meal fruit" has been "connected to the meal." As such, it will be covered by Birkat Hamazon, without the need for a separate bracha achrona.21

(d) Mezonot-Link: If you'd been munching away at some pretzels before a meal, you do not say a bracha achrona before Hamotzee. As we learned in classes #10-11, Pat Haba'ah B'Kisnin (baked mezonot foods)22 are related to the "bread family" and thus automatically considered "joined" to the main meal.23

However, there is one condition: At the time you said the bracha rishona on the pretzels, you were already planning to soon eat a meal.24

Sarah and Rachel were excited to go to their friend's birthday party. They arrived early and enjoyed the delicious cake appetizers. Sarah planned to stay for the formal meal, so she did not need to say a bracha achrona on the appetizers.

Rachel, though, had a prior appointment and was not planning to stay for the meal. However, Rachel got a phone call letting her know that the appointment was cancelled. Rachel was now able to stay for the meal, but she first needs to say a bracha achrona on the cake appetizers, since at the time she said the bracha rishona she did not plan to connect it to a meal.

In the event of a long intervention between the appetizers and meal, for example a wedding ceremony, it may necessitate a bracha achrona after the appetizers. More on this in class #36.

(4) Alternate Bread-Types

Let's talk more about Pat Haba'ah B'Kisnin, the baked mezonot foods. We learned that when eaten in a small quantity as a snack, their bracha rishona is "borei minei mezonot" and their bracha achrona is Al Ha'michya. However, when eaten in a large quantity (shiur keviyat seudah), we treat them like bread – we wash, say Netilat Yadayim and Hamotzee. And when we finish eating, we say Birkat Hamazon.25

  • Let's say you initially had in mind to eat a shiur keviyat seudah of cookies, so you washed and said Hamotzee. However, you soon lost your appetite and ending up eating less than a shiur keviyat seudah, but more than a kezayit (within kiday achilat pras). In this case you should say Al Ha'michya rather than Birkat Hamazon.26

  • Now consider the converse – you wanted to eat a small amount of cookies, so you said Borei Minei Mezonot. Then your appetite improved and you ending up eating a shiur keviyat seudah. In this case, you should say Birkat Hamazon, and not Al Ha'michya.27 (Regarding whether you would need to wash Netilat Yadayim and say Hamotzee, see class #11.)

This concludes class #34. Our next class will continue with the remaining nine points relating to the laws of Birkat Hamazon.

  1. Orach Chaim 184:4
  2. Talmud – Brachot 48b
  3. Levush (OC 187:2)
  4. Levush (OC 188:1)
  5. Tur (OC 189)
  6. Mishnah Berurah 1:11
  7. or any day when Tachanun is not said during the morning and afternoon prayers
  8. Orach Chaim 168:9, 184:6, 210:1
  9. examples by Rabbi Yisroel Pinchas Bodner in Halachos of K’Zayis
  10. Orach Chaim 184:4, with Mishnah Berurah 22. This is implied by the verse (Deut. 8:10), “You shall eat, and be satisfied…”
  11. Talmud – Brachot 20b, 45a
  12. Aruch HaShulchan OC 202:8
  13. Shu”t Igros Moshe (OC 1:76, OC 4:41)
  14. Orach Chaim 177:1, with Mishnah Berurah 7
  15. The following “link” terms are borrowed from Rabbi Bodner in Halachos of Brochos (Bentching III, ch. 19).
  16. Mishnah Berurah 176:2
  17. Sha’ar Hatziyun 176:9
  18. According to Biur Halacha 174 (s.v v’chen), you should have in mind when bentching to also cover the wine that you drank.
  19. Orach Chaim 273:1; Shu"t Igros Moshe (OC 4:63)
  20. Mishnah Berurah 176:2. If you forgot to say the appropriate bracha achrona before saying Hamotzee, you should still say it during the course of the meal. If you have already said Birkat Hamazon after the meal, then even post facto, your Birkat Hamazon does not cover the other after-bracha, unless the original food under discussion was wine, dates, or mezonot products (other than rice). (Mishnah Berurah 176:2, 208:62, 75, 77; Sha’ar Hatziyun 208:75)
  21. Mishnah Berurah 176:2
  22. as opposed to “cooked” mezonot like spaghetti (where only post facto do some opinions consider that Birkat Hamazon covers the spaghetti, if you had intention to cover it).
  23. Biur Halacha 176; Shu"t Igros Moshe (OC 3:33)
  24. Halachos of Brochos, pg. 337, citing Rabbi S.Z. Auerbach
  25. Orach Chaim 168:6
  26. Piskei Teshuvot 168:7
  27. Orach Chaim 168:6; Shu”t Igros Moshe (OC 2:54, YD 3:120)


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