Halacha for Sunday 1 Kislev 5778 November 19 2017

If a Woman is Unsure Whether or not She Recited Birkat Hamazon

In previous Halachot we have discussed the general rule of “When in doubt regarding a blessing, do not bless.” This means that whenever one is uncertain whether or not one has recited a blessing on what one is eating, one should not recite the blessing again, for we have a great rule that “When in doubt regarding a rabbinic law, we rule leniently”; since the obligation to recite blessings is only rabbinic in nature, one should not recite the blessing again in a case of uncertainty. One may not act stringently and recite the blessing over again since doing so would cause one to enter the realm of possibly reciting an unnecessary blessing, which is a severe prohibition as it entails mentioning Hashem’s name in vain.

We have also explained that all this applies only to blessings which one is obligated to recite as a result of a rabbinic enactment; however, regarding Birkat Hamazon which is a Torah obligation, if one is uncertain whether or not one has recited it, one must recite Birkat Hamazon over again as we have discussed. We have also discussed several details of this law.

The Discussion Regarding Women and Their Obligation to Recite Birkat Hamazon
Let us now discuss a situation where a woman eats bread and is satisfied as a result of what she has eaten and is now unsure whether or not she has recited Birkat Hamazon. Must she recite Birkat Hamazon again, similar to the law regarding a man or does she not repeat Birkat Hamazon? This matter is contingent upon the extent of a woman’s obligation to recite Birkat Hamazon. If we say that a woman’s obligation to recite Birkat Hamazon is based on a Torah law, she would then certainly be obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon over again. However, if a woman is not obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon by Torah law, rather, only as a result of a rabbinic enactment, Birkat Hamazon for her will be equal in its law to all other blessings and she will not recite it over again.

The Reason to Claim that Women Are Not Obligated to Recite Birkat Hamazon on a Torah Level
The Mishnah in Masechet Berachot (20b) states that women are obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon. The Gemara is uncertain as to whether this obligation is a Torah obligation or is only of rabbinic origin. The root of this doubt is based on the verse, “And you shall eat and you shall be satisfied and you shall bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land ‘which He has given you.’” Based on this, there is room to say that women are not obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon on a Torah level since the Land of Israel was not given to women by Hashem at the time it was being divided. At that time, women did not get their own portion of land, for the division of the land was based on the order of the Tribes of Israel. If so, women should seemingly be exempt from reciting Birkat Hamazon on a Torah level.

We must point out, however, that the daughters of Tzelofchad did indeed receive a portion in Eretz Yisrael; if so, it would seem that women are indeed a part of the division of the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, this is not accurate, as the portion of land that the daughters of Tzelofchad received in the Land of Israel was under their father’s name who was one of those who left Egypt; however, they themselves would not have received any portion in Israel, for the division of the land was based specifically on the order of the Tribes which was determined by one’s father. Thus, there is still room to maintain that women are exempt from reciting Birkat Hamazon on a Torah level. (Rashi)

The Rishonim disagree regarding the explanation of this discourse in the Gemara whether the bottom line is that women are obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon or does the matter remain unresolved whether women are obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon by Torah law or only by means of a rabbinic enactment. Halachically speaking, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 186) rules that the issue of whether or not women are obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon by Torah law remains unresolved as a result of doubt.

Thus, halachically speaking, due to concerns of blessings in vain, Maran zt”l has written an astounding response about this matter in his Responsa Yechave Da’at, Volume 6, and concludes that since it is still doubtful whether or not women are obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon on a Torah level, thus, if a woman is unsure whether or not she has recited Birkat Hamazon, she should not recite it over again. Nevertheless, since this matter is subject to doubt, it is preferable that, if at all possible, she should listen to Birkat Hamazon being recited by a man or another woman who (have eaten bread and) have not yet recited it while having in mind to fulfill her own obligation. The other person should likewise have in mind to exempt the woman listening through his/her recitation. In this way, she will have avoided all doubt and she shall surely be blessed from above.

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