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Shabbat Parashat Pinchas 5773

Ask the Rabbi: Statute of Limitation on Hagomel After Birth

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: My wife gave birth this winter and has not yet recited Birkat Hagomel. Can she still do so?


Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:5) says regarding the timing of Birkat Hagomel: “If one delayed, he has as long as he wants, and it is correct not to delay three days.” Does the Shulchan Aruch really leave this totally open-ended? Considering that three days is not proper, maybe he did not extend it by months. The three day period comes from the opinions cited in the Beit Yosef (OC 219) that after three days, it is too late to make the beracha. Similarly, others give a five day deadline (the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 219:7) cites it as a minority opinion). It is clear from the Shita Mekubetzet and Ra’ah (Berachot 54b) that it can be recited more than a month after the obligation began, but how long?

For a long time, the prevalent minhag was that women did not recite Birkat Hagomel at all; nowadays it has become prevalent after birth, but it is rare for women to say Hagomel for other things, certainly not for a trip for which her husband recites it. The Magen Avraham (beginning of OC 219) explains the minhag based on the conjecture that it is generally an optional beracha. The Halachot Ketanot (II:161) says that according to the opinion that Hagomel cannot be done without ten men, it makes sense that women were excluded from the obligation due to tzniut issues. Har Tzvi (OC I:113) suggests an interesting reason for new mothers specifically not to say Hagomel, due to the language of “l’chayavim” – for the guilty. The danger a person was in could be a sign that he is guilty of something, whereas the danger of a woman giving birth stems simply from her participation in the most natural, wonderful mitzva.

Whatever the reason for exemption, why should a woman put herself in the position of a possibly improper beracha in which she is likely not obligated. Furthermore, there are “safer” alternatives. There was, for example, a minhag (see Torat Chayim, Sanhedrin 94a) that the husband would get an aliya the first time the woman returned to shul. When he blessed Hashem with “Borchu…” and she answered “Baruch Hashem …” they would have in mind to thereby thank Hashem. This avoids an extra, questionable beracha. She can also wait for a man who has to say Hagomel and have him make it for the two of them (see Living the Halachic Process II, B-7). However, while we are generally not opposed to finding ways to obviate questionable berachot, here we are confident that it is appropriate for your wife to recite Hagomel even months later, as we will explain.

The opinions about saying Hagomel within three or five days relate to Hagomel after a trip, as the Beit Yosef brings sources about how long is considered “after a trip.” There it makes sense that the next trip may be “around the corner.” In contrast, births (other than twins) are usually considerably more than a year apart. The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 219:7), going on the Shulchan Aruch’s language of “as long as he wants,” excludes cases where so long has passed that the matter is forgotten. Halachically, the prominent cutoff time for remembering is twelve months (see Bava Metzia 24b; Berachot 54b; Shut Chatam Sofer, Even Haezer I, 119). Furthermore, while a trip is often forgotten relatively quickly, memories of a birth linger on for much longer. While the memories usually focus on the happy parts of the birth and the beracha relates to the danger, the two are related and thoughts of labor also linger for a long time. Additionally, the time to start saying Hagomel and thus its general time frame  is not clear. A sick person says Hagomel when he is fully recuperated (Mishna Berura 219:2). When does a woman recuperate from birth? There are halachic cutoffs after seven days (probably the most common, but not unanimous, position regarding Hagomel) and thirty days (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 330:4). A lot depends on the specific case.

In summation, a woman within twelve months of birth can and should be encouraged (barring a personal reason to the contrary) to recite Hagomel.

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