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Shabbat Parashat Balak| 5767
Ask The Rabbi
Question: I left my meal (including bread) to daven Ma’ariv. It turned out that there was a long sicha before Ma’ariv. By the time I was able to return to eat an hour and a half had passed. Could I still bentch (recite Birkat Hamazone)at that time?
Answer: The mishna (Berachot 51b) says that one must bentch before the food is digested. The gemara (ibid. 53b) brings two opinions as to the signs of this cut off point. R. Yochanan says that it is until one becomes hungry. Reish Lakish says that it is as long as he is still thirsty from the eating or for 72 minutes, depending on how much he ate. We rule like R. Yochanan and assume that it refers to beginning to be hungry as the food is digesting (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 184:5). However, most poskim assume that R. Yochanan accepts a 72 minute minimum time limit, just that if one has not yet begun to become hungry, he can still bentch after that point (see Biur Halacha, ad loc.). However, the problem is that this feeling is hard to quantify or determine with certainty (Magen Avraham 184:9). Therefore, one should be careful to bentch no later than 72 minutes after finishing eating. You did not succeed in doing so this time and probably entered the realm of safek (doubt).
Ostensibly, your desired preference was the halachic preference as well. That is to continue your meal and bentch afterward; just be sure that the continuation of your meal includes at least a k’zayit of bread (Mishna Berura 184:20). Thereby, Birkat Hamazone is in any case appropriate, and there is a reasonable hope that it is in time to cover the original eating also.
This, though, raises a new question. After taking a break possibly long enough for digestion to begin, making it too late for a beracha acharona, does one require a new beracha rishona? The Magen Avraham (ibid.) assumes that one requires a new beracha because the previous eating is a matter of the past. However, the Even Ha’ozer (Orach Chayim 179) argues that there is no source to indicate that digestion breaks the continuity regarding a beracha rishona. To the contrary, the Rambam (Berachot 4:7) says that a beracha one makes when he begins eating can cover other foods “even if he breaks all day long” as long as he has not decided to stop eating. Although there are attempts to deflect the proof (see Tzitz Eliezer XII, 1) and some poskim agree with the Magen Avraham, the Even Ha’ozer’s opinion is the more accepted one (see Mishna Berura 184:17; Yechave Da’at VI, 11). Furthermore, in a case like yours where there is doubt whether digestion occurred, even the Magen Avraham (ibid.) suggests eating more without a new beracha to get out of the doubt regarding Birkat Hamazone. Apparently, it is better to enter a situation where one might need to say Hamotzi and refrain from it because of doubt than to miss out on Birkat Hamazone which he might still be able to make (see Levushei S’rad, ad loc.).
The only reservation we must address applies if you made a significant change of location (the parameters of which are beyond our present scope) between your first and second sittings. We rule like the Rama (Orach Chayim 178:2) that one does not need a new beracha after moving locations in the midst of a meal that includes bread. As we discussed, we also rule like the Even Ha’ozer that even a long break does not require a new beracha as long as one intends to continue eating. However, the Tzitz Eliezer (ibid) tries to prove that when one both changes locations and waits a long time, then we would accept the Magen Avraham’s opinion that one requires a new beracha. However, in our humble opinion, the case he presented is not convincing (beyond our scope). We accept that which is apparently the majority opinion that even with the combination of the passing of time and moving of location you can eat more bread without a new beracha. Doing so would have been the best way to salvage bentching in the case of doubt that arose.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.
Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z"l.
May their memory be a blessing!