The beracha of Ga’al Yisrael, which commemorates our Exodus from Egypt, is one of the blessings whose laws are discussed in this article, and therefore this topic is very appropriate for parshas Bo.
“Why do Ashkenazim recite “amen” after the beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim, but not after any other beracha that we recite?”
“Why do Sephardim follow a different practice? And, why do they appear to be inconsistent?”
“Someone once told me that some authorities rule that one may recite “amen” after reciting the beracha of Ga’al Yisrael right before Shemoneh Esrei, and that this does not constitute an interruption. Can this possibly be true?”
The Gemara (Berachos 45b) quotes two apparently contradictory statements whether one should recite “amen” after one’s own beracha; one Beraisa stating that it is meritorious to do so, and the other frowning on the practice. To quote the Gemara:
“It was taught in one source, ‘Someone who responds “Amen” after his own blessings is praiseworthy,’ whereas another source states it is shameful to do this.” The Gemara explains that the two statements do not conflict, but refer to two different situations. The Beraisa that declares that it is praiseworthy to recite amen after one’s own blessing is referring to reciting amen after reciting the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim in bensching, whereas the Beraisa that asserts that reciting amen after one’s own beracha is shameful refers to someone reciting amen after any other beracha. The halacha concludes that one who completes a beracha at the same time as the chazzan or anyone else may not recite amen to the other person’s beracha, since, in doing so, he recites amen to his own beracha. For example, when reciting Baruch She’amar, if one completes the beracha at the same moment as the chazzan, one may not recite amen (Elyah Rabbah 51:2).
Why Bonei Yerushalayim?
What is unique about the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim that one may recite “amen” after one’s own beracha?
The Rishonim note that it is not the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim that makes its law special; rather, it is its location, as the last of the three main berachos of birchas hamazon. (Although there is still another beracha afterwards, this last beracha is not part of the series, since it was added later. The fourth beracha of birchas hamazon, which Chazal call Hatov vehameitiv, was added hundreds of years after the Anshei Kenesses Hagedolah wrote the rest of the birchas hamazon as a commemorative to the burial of those who had fallen in the destruction of Beitar. This is a topic that I will leave for a different time.
Because it is not part of the series, it begins with a full beracha “Baruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech HaOlam,” whereas berachos that are part of a series do not begin with these words [Pesachim 104b].) Reciting amen after Bonei Yerushalayim demonstrates the completion of a series of berachos (Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 1:17, 18). On the other hand, reciting amen after one’s own beracha any other time implies that one has completed a unit, which is not true (Rabbeinu Yonah). We find a similar idea that upon completing the pesukei dezimra where we repeat the last pasuk (both at the end of Chapter 150 and at the end of Az Yashir) to demonstrate that this section has now been concluded (see Tur, Orach Chayim Chapter 51).
Is Bonei Yerushalayim unique or simply an example of the last beracha of a sequence? If the latter is true, are there other instances when it is praiseworthy to recite amen to your own beracha at the closing of a sequence?
Rashi, in his comments to the above Gemara, indeed mentions that one concludes “amen” after reciting the last beracha of the birchos kerias shema, those berachos that surround the daily kerias shema that we recite every morning and evening. These two “concluding” berachos — Ga’al Yisrael in the morning, Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad in the evening — would then both be followed by the word “amen” to indicate the end of the series. (The beracha that begins with the words Baruch Hashem Le’olam, recited after Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad on weekdays by Nusach Ashkenaz outside Eretz Yisrael, is a later addition added in the times of the Geonim, and technically not part of the birchos kerias shema.) Many other Rishonim advise reciting amen at the end of any sequence of berachos, adding to Rashi’s list also Yishtabach, considered to be the end of a “sequence” of two berachos that begins with Baruch She’amar; and the closing beracha of Hallel, considered the sequel to the beracha beginning Hallel (quoted by the Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 66). Rabbeinu Hai Gaon goes even further, advising the recital of amen after every “after blessing,” considering it the end of a series begun with the beracha recited before (cited by Rabbeinu Yonah).
Ashkenazim all realize that there is something more to the story. Whereas Ashkenazim always complete the beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim with amen, we do not follow this procedure for any of the other berachos mentioned. This specific practice is very old and is already mentioned by Tosafos.
To explain this practice, we will first see what other Rishonim have to say about it. For example, although accepting the premise that we may recite amen following the last beracha of a series, the Rambam appears to dispute what we have quoted above as to what is considered a succession. He appears to hold that if anything interrupts in the middle, the berachos are no longer considered a series – thus, Yishtabach, the latter beracha of Hallel and the beracha of Ga’al Yisrael are not considered the ends of series, although the berachos immediately before kerias shema are (see Hilchos Berachos 1:17, 18, as explained by Beis Yosef). The pesukim recited in the middle break up the succession, and therefore one should not recite amen. Those who dispute with the Rambam contend that both Yishtabach and the ending beracha of Hallel are considered the end of a series, since they connect back to the original beracha.
How do we rule?
The Shulchan Aruch, reflecting Sefardic halachic practice, rules a compromise position; contending that after Yishtabach one may add amen after his own beracha, but one is not required to do so (Orach Chayim 51:3). It is curious to note that in another place (Orach Chayim 215:1), the Shulchan Aruch mentions that Sefardic custom is to recite amen after Yishtabach and the last beracha of Hallel, and the Rama there notes that, according to the Shulchah Aruch’s conclusion, one should also recite amen after concluding the beracha Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad, the last beracha of the evening kerias shema series.
Although Ashkenazim agree that one may recite amen after these berachos, we usually do not do so. However, if one hears the closing of someone else’s beracha when completing one of these berachos, one answers amen to the other person’s beracha (Elyah Rabbah 51:2). Thus, we see that there is a qualitative difference between berachos that complete a sequence and those that do not. After the first group, one may recite amen after his own beracha, whereas after the second group, one may not.
However, we have still not answered the original question: Why single out the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim? If, indeed, one may recite amen after the last beracha of any series to signify that the series is completed, why does the Gemara mention this halacha only regarding the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim? And, furthermore, why is the prevalent Ashkenazic custom to recite amen, almost as if it is part of the beracha, only after the beracha Bonei Yerushalayim, but not after other closing berachos?
Both of these questions can be answered by studying a different passage of Gemara (Berachos 45b), which cites a dispute between Abayei and Rav Ashi as to whether the word amen recited following Bonei Yerushalayim should be said aloud. Abayei used to recite this amen aloud, in order to let everyone know that he had completed the first three berachos of birchas hamazon. He did so in order to remind workers employed by other people that it was time for them to return diligently to work. That is, although Chazal had instituted a fourth beracha to birchas hamazon, they specifically exempted those working for others from reciting this beracha, thereby emphasizing the responsibility of an employee to his employer to observe a full day of work. (In today’s environment, where it is assumed that workers take off for coffee and rest breaks during the workday, an employee is required to recite the fourth beracha of birchas hamazon.) Abayei recited “amen” aloud at the end of the third beracha so that everyone would realize that the fourth beracha is not part of the series and is treated differently.
Rav Ashi, on the other hand, deliberately recited amen softly, so that people would not treat the fourth beracha with disrespect. It appears that the practice of reciting amen after the third beracha of Bonei Yerushalayim is a carryover of Abayei’s practice – that is, we choose to emphasize that the fourth beracha is not min haTorah.
At this point, we understand the laws applicable to whether one recites amen after Bonei Yerushalayim, Yishtabach, Shomer Amo Yisrael La’ad, and the end of Hallel. Sefardim recite amen after all these berachos. Ashkenazim hold that this is permitted, but do so only when reciting amen to someone else’s beracha at the same time.
However, the Beis Yosef and other early Sefardic authorities note what appears to be an inconsistency in Sefardic practice: whereas they recite amen after the above-mentioned list of berachos, they do not do so after other series of berachos, such as the morning berachos, or sheva berachos. The answer is that a series for our purposes means a group of berachos connected into a unit in a way that it is forbidden to interrupt between them. Thus, although morning berachos, and the berachos of sheva berachos are recited as a group, they are technically not a unit. The designation of a group of berachos as a unit is limited to cases where one may not interrupt between the berachos, such as in Hallel, pesukei dezimra, birchos kerias shema and birchos hamazon.