Understanding the words of Birchas Hamazon & the preferred language it is be said in

Understanding the words of Birchas Hamazon & the preferred language it is be said in:[1]

Birchas Hamazon may be recited in any language [that he understands, as will be explained].[2] However, if one does not know the meaning of the words that he is saying in Birchas Hamazon, such as due to his lack of understanding of the language, then he does not fulfill his obligation.[3] This applies even if one knows [generally] that he is blessing Hashem through these words and he intends to do so while reciting them, nevertheless it is invalid.[4]

Saying in Lashon Hakodesh if one does not understand the words: Some Poskim[5] rule that the above law [that one does not fulfill his obligation if he does not understand the words of the language] applies even if one reads Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh. Accordingly, those women, and unlearned individuals, who do not understand Lashon Hakodesh are obligated to recite Birchas Hamazon in a language that they understand and not in Lashon Hakodesh. Likewise, they do not fulfill their obligation through listening to one saying it in Lashon Hakodesh, during a Zimun, and rather must say it to themselves in a language that they understand.[6] However, other Poskim[7] rule that if one recites Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh, in contrast to other languages, then he fulfills his obligation even if he does not understand the language. Accordingly, those women, and unlearned individuals, who do not understand Lashon Hakodesh fulfill their obligation of saying or hearing Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh, even though they do not understand the words. Practically, the custom is like this latter opinion to fulfill Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh even if one does not understand the language[8], even though it is proper to be stringent like the first opinion.[9] [Thus, initially, one must be very careful to study the language of the words of Birchas Hamazon.[10] However, Bedieved, if one recited Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh, he fulfills his obligation even if he does not understand the words of the blessing.[11] However, if one recited it in another language which he does not understand, he must repeat Birchas Hamazon according to all opinions.[12]]

The main words that require understanding:[13] The main words of Birchas Hamazon that require understanding and concentration are the words “Baruch Ata Hashem” and the conclusion of the sentence which states what one is blessing Hashem towards. This applies for both the opening and closing blessing of a long blessing [such as the first blessing in Birchas Hamazon which has an opening and closing blessing, however the 2nd-3rd blessing of Birchas Hamazon only has a closing blessing while the 4th blessing only has a beginning blessing]. However, the remaining words that are said in the middle of a long blessing, one fulfills his obligation by reciting them even if he does not know the meaning of the words or did not pay attention. This applies even towards words that invalidate the Birchas Hamazon if they are not recited, such as Bris and Torah and Birchas Haretz and Malchus Beis David that is recited in Boneh Yerushalayim, as only their lack of recital invalidates and not their lack of understanding.[14]

 

 

Summary:

One needs to understand the words of Birchas Hamazon, and is thus to study the meaning of the words when saying it in Lashon Hakodesh. This applies especially to the sentences of the blessing that begin with Baruch Ata Hashem. Nonetheless, the custom is to recite Birchas Hamazon in Lashon Hakodesh even if one does not understand the language. Despite the custom, it remains preferable to recite Birchas Hamazon in a language that one understands, then to say it in Hebrew, if one does not understand the language. If one said it in a different language that he does not understand, he must repeat Birchas Hamazon. This applies specifically if he did not understand or pay attention to the sentences of the blessing that begin with Baruch Ata Hashem, however the other words of the blessing do not invalidate the blessing if one recited it without understanding or paying attention.

 

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[1] 185:1

[2] Admur ibid; Michaber 185:1; Mishneh Sota 32a

The reason: As the verse [Devarim 8:10] states “And he shall bless Hashem etc” from which we learn that it may be recited in any language that one blesses in, as the verse only obligated one to bless Hashem your G-d, and in any language that one understands which he uses to bless Hashem your G-d for the good land that He has given us, he is able to bless. [Admur 185:1; Levush 185; Sota 33a]

[3] Admur 185:1; brought also in Admur 62:2; Tosafus Brachos 45b; Rabbeinu Yona Brachos ibid; Rosh Brachos 7:6; Mordechai Remez 158; Michaber 193:1 regarding hearing Birchas Hamazon from another; Implication of Tur 690; Beis Yosef 690 in name of Maggid Mishneh Megillah 2:4; Ramban Megillah 171; Rashba Megillah ibid

The reason: As the verse states “And he shall bless Hashem your G-d” and if one does not understand the words of the blessing that he is verbalizing then he is not considered to be blessing Hashem. [Admur 185:1]

Other opinions: Some Poskim rule that one who reads Birchas Hamazon fulfills his obligation even if he does not know the meaning of the words, and only when hearing it from another is it required to understand the meaning of the words. [Levush 193:1; Olas Tamid 193:2; M”A 193:2; Soles Belula 193:1; Shaar Efraim 13; Kaf Hachaim 193:4; Aruch Hashulchan 185:7] This seemingly applies to all languages. [Kaf Hachaim ibid] However some Poskim rule that this only applies to Lashon Hakodesh while other languages everyone agrees that one must understand the language. [P”M 193 A”A 2, brought in Kaf Hachaim ibid] Admur ibid negates this entire ruling and in the gloss on this Halacha [possibly written by Admur or the Maharil] he argues that based on Megillah 18a it is not possible to accept this differentiation between the verbalizer and listener and so is clearly written in Rosh ibid and Rabbeinu Yona ibid that one must always understand the language, even in Lashon Hakodesh. [See however Kaf Hachaim ibid that their intent is only Lechatchila]

[4] The reason: Regarding Bittul Chametz we find in the M”A 434:6 and Admur 434:8 that one fulfills his obligation even if he does not know the meaning of the words so long as he understands the intent of what he is saying; that he is nullifying the Chametz. Nevertheless, this is because by Bittul Chametz, the main aspect of the Mitzvah is not the verbalization, but the intent of the heart to nullify it, as brought in Chok Yaakov 434:1. However, Birchas Hamazon must be verbalized in order to fulfill the Mitzvah, and hence one must understand the words that he is verbalizing. [Admur ibid in parentheses]

[5] Admur 185:1; brought also in Admur 62:2; Tosafus Brachos 45b; Rabbeinu Yona Brachos ibid; Rosh Brachos 7:6; Mordechai Remez 158; Michaber 193:1 regarding hearing Birchas Hamazon from another; Implication of Tur 690; Beis Yosef 690 in name of Maggid Mishneh Megillah 2:4; Ramban Megillah 171; Rashba Megillah ibid

[6] Admur ibid; Michaber 193:1; Tosafus ibid; Rabbeinu Yona ibid; Rosh ibid

[7] 2nd opinion in Admur 185:1; Rashi brought in Taz 193:2, M”A 193:2, Beis Yosef 193, Rosh and Mordechai ibid; Tosafus and Rabbeinu Yona in name of Yeish Omrim

[8] Admur ibid; Rama 199:7; Darkei Moshe 193:1“So is the custom and I have never seen anyone protest it”; Bach 193; Taz 193:2; M”A 193:2; Elya Raba 193:2; Kneses Hagedola 293:2; Olas Tamid 193:2; Kaf Hachaim 193:2

[9] Admur 185:1; See Taz ibid that we rule like the first opinion and only when its either this or nothing that we say one should follow Rashi even initially,

[10] Admur 185:2 regarding paying attention to the words and the same would apply regarding learning the meaning of the words; Birchas Habayis 41:43; See Tehila Ledavid 193:1 who questions Admur as to why in 185:1 he concludes that it is only “proper to be stringent like the first opinion” and here in 185:2 he concludes “one Must be very careful.” One can simply say that in 185:1 were discussing a case that one right now has a choice to Bentch either in English or Lashon Hakodesh which he does not understand, and on this Admur states the initial law and custom. However here in 185:2 Admur is discussing mainly paying attention to the words of the language that he already understands, and thus concludes one must be very careful, especially in Birchas Hamazon, even in Lashon Hakodesh, as some say he does not fulfill his obligation even initially. Accordingly, one is certainly to be “very careful” to make time to learn the words of Birchas Hamazon when saying in Lashon Hakodesh.  See Admur 101:5!

[11] Admur 185:1 and 2; Ketzos Hashulchan 44:4

[12] As the entire dispute in Admur 185:1 is only regarding Lashon Hakodesh; P”M 193 A”A 2 that so applies even according to M”A ibid; See however conclusion of Admur 185:2 and Tehila Ledavid 193:1 from which one can learn differently, however simply speaking Admur 185:2 is referring to Lashon Hakodesh; See also Kaf Hachaim 193:4

[13] Admur 185/2 in parentheses

[14] The reason: As these words are not considered a blessing to which one can claim that if one does not understand the meaning he is not considered to be blessing Hashem. [Admur ibid]

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