39. Answering Amen
When another person says a bracha, we answer "amen" as a testament that the statement is true.
"Amen." So much is contained in this one small word. The root of the Hebrew word for "faith" (emunah) is the word amen. Saying "amen" declares our belief in God and His dependability.1
Amen is also an acronym for the words El Melech Ne'eman, which means "God, the Trustworthy King."2
Saying "amen" is not just a nice thing to do. Whenever you hear someone else saying a bracha, you should answer amen, having in mind to affirm that the words of the bracha are true.3 This brings with it boundless potential, as the Sages say: "The gates of Heaven are opened up for whoever answers 'amen' with all his might."4
In fact, the Talmud5 suggests that in one respect, answering "amen" is even greater than reciting the bracha itself. This is because one who confirms the bracha with "amen" serves as the second witness to the declaration of the one who said the bracha, and in a court of Jewish law, two witnesses validate a testimony.6 Another reason given is that the one answering "amen" – unlike the person saying the bracha and eating – receives no physical benefit from the bracha.7
When is "Amen" Said?
You should say "amen" only to a bracha which another person says, but not to your own bracha.8 As we said, "amen" is a testament that the statement is true, and it makes no sense to validate your own statement. However, there is a way to "join in" the "amen" that enhances your bracha: Have intent to be "included" in the "amen" that other people will say on your bracha!9
In addition to the food-related blessings, you should also say "amen":
- in response to blessings said by others in the context of prayer and mitzvot10
- to the Harachaman blessings said by others in Birkat Hamazon11
- even to informal "blessings" given by one person to another (e.g. "Good luck on the test." "Amen!")12
In order to say "amen," you should preferably hear at least God's name and the end of the blessing, or more minimally the end of blessing alone.13 However, even if you heard none of the bracha but know what bracha was said, you should still say "amen". For example, if you see someone holding a carrot and mouthing a bracha, you could answer "amen" even if you did not hear it.14 Even in such a case, you know what blessing you are attesting to.
Technically, whenever hearing another person's bracha, you should say the words Baruch Hu U'varuch Shemo ("Blessed be He, and blessed be His Name") after the words Baruch Ata Ad-onoy. These days, it is most commonly said in the synagogue, particularly when responding to the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei. In any event, it should not be said by someone who is being yotzei with the blessing.15
"Amen" should not be said louder than the blessing itself.16
"Amen" should not be drawn out too long, nor cut too short. Aim for the approximate time it takes to say the words El Melech Ne'eman17 (for which "amen" is an acronym).
It is important to carefully pronounce the word;18 the correct Ashkenazi pronunciation is "awe-main."
You must wait until the person has completed his blessing before you say "amen."19
But then don't delay – you should say "amen" as soon as the person has finished, at least within 3 seconds.20
When is "Amen" Not Said?
Do not say "amen" to an invalid blessing. For example, if you see someone mistakenly say Hamotzee on an apple, don't say "amen."21
If you are in a place where you couldn't say a bracha, you can't say "amen" either.
Mike was in the bathroom when he heard his wife in the kitchen saying a bracha. Since the bathroom is a place where a bracha may not be said (see class #25), Mike may not answer "amen."22
If you have spoken after the person finished his blessing, you've lost the chance to say "amen."23
If you hear a bracha said over a microphone or the telephone, you should answer "amen," but not if you hear a bracha said on a recording.24 (It is doubtful whether one can be yotzei a bracha when hearing it over the telephone.25)
Don't say "amen" when a child says a bracha just for practice. However, if the child is reciting a proper bracha at the correct time, then answer "amen."26
There is a beautiful statement of the Sages based on the gematria (numerical value) of the word "tzaddik" (righteous person).27 As shown here, a tzaddik should endeavor to answer amen 90 times during the course of a day.
Furthermore, in reading from right to left, we see that one should try to answer the Kedusha prayer 4 times each day, and Kaddish 10 times. The idea of saying 100 brachot each day will be the topic of class #43.
The gates of Heaven are opened up for whoever answers "amen" with all his might.
You should say "amen" only to a bracha which another person makes, but not to your own bracha.
For Ashkenazim, the correct pronunciation is "awe-main."
You should say "amen" immediately after hearing the end of the bracha.
Do not say "amen" to an invalid blessing, or if you are in an unclean place.
- Midrash – Tehillim 89; Talmud – Shavuot 36a
- Talmud – Shabbat 119b
- Orach Chaim 124:6; Magen Avraham (OC 124:10)
- Talmud – Shabbat 119b; Aruch HaShulchan (OC 124:11)
- Brachot 53b, Nazir 66b
- Rabbeinu Bechaye (Exodus 14:31)
- Maharal (Netivat Olam - Netiv Ha'Avodah 11)
- Orach Chaim 215:1. A noted exception is the third blessing of Birkat Hamazon, where one does conclude with “amen.” This is to indicate the completion of a series of Torah-level brachot (Rema – Orach Chaim 215:1, with Mishnah Berurah 4). It is important to pause slightly before this “amen,” to show that it is not part of the main text (Mishnah Berurah 188:2).
- Rema – Orach Chaim 167:2
- Midrash, cited in Mishnah Berurah 215:9
- Mishnah Berurah 215:9
- Mishnah Berurah 215:9
- Rema – Orach Chaim 124:8, with Biur Halacha – s.v. V’yeish, Chayei Adam 1:6:1, Mishnah Berurah 215:6
- Mishnah Berurah 124:33, 215:6. The Talmud (Sukkah 51b) says that the Great Synagogue of Alexandria, Egypt had thousands of worshippers, and someone had to wave a flag to signal when the chazan had completed a bracha and it was time to say amen. This indicates that actually “hearing” the blessing is not an absolute requirement; it is sufficient to know which blessing has been said.
- Orach Chaim 124:5, with Mishnah Berurah 21
- Orach Chaim 124:12
- Orach Chaim 124:8, with Mishnah Berurah 36
- Orach Chaim 124:8
- Orach Chaim 124:8, with Mishnah Berurah 29, 30, 35
- Mishnah Berurah 124:34
- Orach Chaim 215:4
- Rema – Orach Chaim 84:1
- Taz (OC 124:6) with comments of Rabbi Akiva Eiger
- Shu"t Igros Moshe (OC 4:91:4)
- Shu"t Igros Moshe (OC 2:108); Yechaveh Da’at 2:68
- Orach Chaim 215:3
- Remah M’Pano 109, citing Sefer HaTikkunim