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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Benedictions

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Blessings, or prayers of thanksgiving and praise, recited either during divine service or on special occasions. They were, according to rabbinical tradition (Ber. 33a), instituted and formulated by the founders of the synagogue, the "Anshe Keneset ha-Gedolah" (Men of the Great Synagogue), "the hundred and twenty elders" at the head of the commonwealth in the time of Ezra (Meg. 17a Yer. Ber. 2:4d compare Yad ha-Ḥ azaḳ ah, Tefillah u-Birkat Kohanim, 1:4 Ber. i 5). Thanks-givings in the form of "Baruk Yhwh " (Blessed be the Lord) were occasionally offered in the time of the Patriarchs, the Judges, and the Kings (see Genesis 24:27 Exodus 18:10 Ruth 4:14 1Samuel 25:32 2Samuel 18:28 1Kings 1:48 5:21 8:15,56 1Chronicles 16:36 2Chronicles 2:11 , 6:4 ) and by the Psalmists (Psalm 28:6 , 31:22 [A. 5:21], and elsewhere) and in the form of "Baruk Attah Yhwh " (Blessed be thou, O Lord 1Chronicles 29:10 Psalm 119:12 ) also in the prayer of Azariah (Song of the Three Holy Children, verse 3 Tobit 3:11 8:5,15 11:14).

In the time of Ezra public worship was begun with the call, "Bareku et Adonay" (Bless ye the Lord! Nehemiah 9:5 ), each thanksgiving being followed by the congregational response Amen ( Nehemiah 8:6 ) or a longer doxology, "Baruk . . . Amen" (Psalm 41:14 72:18,19 106:48 ). Thenceforth the designation "Berakah," or benediction, became the standing name for each individual thanksgiving in the service. Accordingly, the ancient Mishnah, R. H. 4:5, calls the service "Seder Berakot" (Order of Benedictions). Thus eight benedictions are mentioned in Yoma 7:1, which are recited by the high priest in the Temple service on the Day of Atonement, namely: (1) on the Law, (2) the ' Abodah, (3) the thanksgiving, (4) the forgiveness of sin, (5) the sanctuary, (6) Israel, (7) the priestly blessing, and (8) the closing prayers.


Title-Page of "Meah Berakot," Amsterdam, 1787.
The recitation of the Shema' every morning in the Temple was preceded by one benediction, and followed by three benedictions, which consisted of Emet we-Yaẓ ẓ ib , the ' Abodah , and the Priestly Blessing (closing with "Shalom" = peace Tamid 4:1). In the synagogue the Shema' is preceded by two benedictions, one for the light of day: "Yoẓ er-Or" (see Liturgy ), closing with "Blessed be He who created the lights!" and one for the Law: Ahabah Rabbah , ending with "Blessed be He who loveth His people Israel!" and followed by one benediction beginning with Emet we-Yaẓ ẓ ib and closing with "Ga' al Yisrael" (Blessed be He who hath redeemed Israel!), after which the eighteen (or seven) benedictions follow. The Shema' in the evening is preceded by the benedictions "Ma' arib ' Arabim," concluding with "Blessed be He who bringeth on the twilight!" and Ahabat ' Olam , closing with "Blessed be He who loveth His people Israel!" and followed by two benedictions, namely: "Ga' al Yisrael," as in the morning, and "Hashkibenu" ("Grant us peaceful rest in the night!"), ending with "Blessed be He who guardeth Israel!" or, on Sabbath and holy days, with "Blessed be He who spreadeth the tabernacle of His peace over Israel!" The prayer (Shemoneh ' Esreh ) in the daily ritual of the synagogue consists of eighteen benedictions (Ber. 28b) the corresponding festival prayer, of seven (Tos. R. H. 4:11) the one on fast-days, of twenty-four, six special benedictions being added to the eighteen of the daily prayer, each being followed by the response "Amen" (Ta' an. 2:2-5).

Upon Reading from Scripture.
A special benediction was also offered by Ezra before the reading from the Book of the Law, the assembly responding with "Amen! Amen!" (Nehemiah 8:6 .) Hence it became the regular practise in both the temple and the synagogue to recite a benediction before reading the Law, with the introductory "Bareku" (Bless ye the Lord), and after the reading with the closing formula, "Blessed be He who gave the Law," followed by the response "Amen" (Yoma 7:1, p. 69b "Masseket Soferim," 13:8, ed. Mü uller, p. 178). The benedictions recited at the reading from the Prophets, the Hafṭ arah , one before and three or four benedictions after the reading on Sabbath and holy days, have the same character. They are thanksgivings for the words of comfort and of Messianic hope offered by the prophetic writings as interpreted by the Haggadah. Originally these also were accompanied by congregational responses ("Masseket Soferim," 13:9-14, ed. Mü ller, pp, 181-185). Similarly the reading of the Hallel Psalms on the New Moon and holy days is preceded and followed by a benediction the latter known in Mishnaic time as "Birkat haShir" (Benediction of the Psalm, Pes. 10:7). To the same category belong the benediction Baruk she-Amar , which precedes, and the Yishtabbaḥ (with or without the Nishmat ), which follows, the reading of Psalms in the early morning service the benediction in each case closing with "Blessed be Thou, O Lord, who art extolled by praises!" (Compare Psalm 22:4 [3] and Exodus 15:11 .) The corresponding evening benediction "Baruk le-' Olam" appears originally to have been also a benediction on the Psalms (see S. Baer, "' Abodat Yisrael," p. 109 and Kohler, "The Psalms and Their Place in the Liturgy," Graetz College Publications, 1897,1:31.

The benedictions recited over the meals are of very ancient origin. As early as the Book of Samuel people would not eat before the blessing had been offered over the sacrifice (1Samuel 9:13 ). Accordingly, the words in Deuteronomy 8:10 , "When thou hast eaten and art full, thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which He hath given thee," are referred by the Rabbis to the benediction over the meal, to both the grace before the meal and the threefold benediction after it (Ber. 21a, 48b Tos. Ber. 7:1 compare Sibyllines, 4:25 Josephus, "B. J." 2:8, § 5 Letter of Aristeas, § 184 Matthew 14:19 , 15:36 , 26:26 Acts 27:35 ). "Seeing thee eat without washing the hands and without saying the benediction, I took thee to be a heathen," said an innkeeper to his brother Jew (Num. R. 20: eats or drinks or enjoys some pleasure of the senses without offering a benediction commits a sacrilegious theft against God" (Ber. 35a, b).

Before and After Meals.
Especially solemn, because accompanied with responses in accordance with the number of the participants, is the Grace at Meals , consisting of three benedictions, later increased to four. According to Ber. 48b, the first "Ha-zan et ha-kol" (Blessed be He who giveth food to all!) was instituted by Moses the second, "Nodeh leka" (closing with Blessed be Thou for the land and for the food!"), by Joshua, who led Israel into the land and the third, "Raḥ em na" (closing with "Blessed be He who rebuildeth [buildeth] Jerusalem"), by King Solomon while the fourth, "Ha-ṭ ob we-ha-Meṭ ib" (Blessed be He who is good and doeth good!)— recited as a rule whenever new wine is served to cheer the guests— is ascribed to the rabbis of Jamnia in Bar Kokba's time. All meals having had a distinctly social rather than a mere domestic character in olden times, the benedictions recited at the table were accordingly, like those in the synagogue, introduced by an exhortatory call, "Zimmun," and accompanied by responses (Ber. 7:1,2 Geiger, "Urschrift," p. 123 Kohler, l.c. pp. 34,35).

Gladdening wine as a social element served on such occasions gave rise to benedictions connected with the Sabbath and the festival meals, the Ḳ iddush (the sanctification of the day, Mek., Yitro, vii. Pes. 106a) and Habdalah ("the leave-taking from the holy day"), which formed originally the conclusion of the Sabbath meal (Ber. 8:1 Geiger, "Zeitschr." 6:116) the Passover Seder (Pes. 10:6) also to a benediction now no longer in use at the new-moon meal ("Mas. Soferim," 19:9) to the seven benedictions recited at marriage festivities (Ket. 7b compare Tobit 8:6-17 ), which lasted a full week or two the benedictions at circumcision (Shab. 137b Tosef., Ber. 7:12,13) and the benedictions at the mourners' meal, which were still in use in Europe in the eleventh century ("Mas. Soferim," 19:11, ed. Mü ller, p. 276 Ber. 46b Semaḥ ot xii., xiv. "Siddur Rab Amram," 1:55 Maḥ zor Vitry, No. 248). Every new enjoyment offered at the festal table, such as various kinds of fruits, or perfumes, gave rise to another benediction (Ber. vi. viii. Tos. Ber. vi.). "To God belongs the earth and all its produce, according to Psalm 24:1 but when consecrated by a benediction it becomes man's privilege to enjoy it, according to Psalm 115:16 ," says R. Levi (Ber. 36a).

Thanks-giving for Personal Benefits.
Besides these three forms of benediction, a fourth, bearing a more personal character, came into use in ancient times— a thanksgiving for the manifestation of divine goodness experienced in one's life. The one hundred and seventh Psalm has been correctly understood by rabbinical tradition to refer to four different kinds of thanksgiving for benefits received from God: (1) for escaping the dangers of a journey through the desert (verses 4-9) or (2) being rescued from prison (10-16) or (3) recovering from a grave illness (17-22) or (4) having gone safely through the perils of a sea voyage. All who have undergone any of these experiences are bidden to offer loud thanksgiving to the Lord in the midst of worshiping assemblies. Out of this developed the "Birkat ha-Gomel" (Blessed be the Lord, who bestoweth benefits upon the undeserving), the benediction recited by men who are called up to the Law the first time they appear in the synagogue after deliverance from danger the congregation responding: "May He who hath bestowed all good upon thee, further bestow good unto thee! Amen," As a matter of course, each miraculous escape or other joyous experience gave rise to another benediction. In fact, many Psalms are the outpouring of such thanksgiving (Psalm 22:26 [A. 5:25], xl. 11 [A. 5:10], 103:1-5). Yet not only experiences of joy, but also severe trials, prompted the saints to offer thanksgiving, as in the case of Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away blessed be the name of the Lord" ( Job 1:21 ).

Development of Benedictions.
Every manifestation of divine protection and help became an opportunity for the pious Israelite to offer up thanksgiving in the usual form of a benediction thus, after the victory over Nicanor the people exclaimed: "Blessed be He who hath kept His holy place undefiled" (2Maccabees 15:34 ). A similar benediction is given: "Blessed be Thou, the truthful Judge who disclosest the things hidden" (ib. 12:41). Not only did the experience of miraculous help from Providence give an opportunity for thanksgiving, as when Jethro exclaimed, "Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptian" ( Exodus 18:10 Ber. 54a), but the very season or place which recalled the wondrous event to the memory of the people or of the individual gave rise to a benediction: "Blessed be Thou who wroughtest a miracle unto me," or "unto our fathers of old." There is an instructive passage in the Book of Enoch: "Each time Enoch beheld some of the wonders of nature, he blessed the Lord of Glory, who had made great and glorious wonders to show the greatness of His work to the angels and the souls of men, that they might praise His work and all His creation . . . and bless Him for ever." Obviously, at the time Enoch was written, the Ḥ asidim had already made it a custom to say a benediction at the sight of every great phenomenon of nature, "' Oseh ma' aseh Bereshit" (Blessed be the Worker of Creation) (Ber. 54a compare Ben Sira [Ecclus.] 43:11, "Look upon the rainbow and praise Him that made it").

In the course of time all these benedictions assumed a stereotyped form and the rule is given by Rab that, to be regarded as a regular benediction (Ber. 40b), every benediction must contain the name of God, and by R. Johanan that it must contain the attribute of God's kingship. It was always the Name that called forth the response, since the verse Deuteronomy 32:3 (Hebr.), "When I call upon the name of the Lord, ascribe ye greatness unto our God," was interpreted in this sense by the Rabbis (see Sifre, Deuteronomy 306 ). In view of this response in the synagogue, "Amen" in the Temple, "Baruk Adonay" (Blessed be the Lord the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting), particular stress was always laid upon the closing formula ("ḥ otem berakot") (Mishnah Ber. 9:5 Ta' anit 2:3 Tosef., Ber. 7:21,22 Tosef., Ta' anit 1:10-13) whereas full freedom as to the form of the main benediction was granted to the individual who offered the prayer or praise. It has been suggested that Psalms, such as cxxxvi., cxlvii., cxlviii., or other Biblical verses, originally formed the basis of each benediction (see Isidore Loeb, "Literature des Pauvres," p. 158 Mü ller, "Masseket Soferim," p. 228 Kohler, l.c. pp. 32-34). A specimen in the Apocryphon to an old benediction with choral response is given in the Song of the Three Children (verses 29-34,39-67). Out of the recitative benedictions spoken in assemblies, as seen in the prevalent use of the plural, developed at a much later stage the solitary prayer without the element of responses (Ber. 8:8), which had previously been essential.

One Hundred Benedictions Daily.
Great importance was laid, however, on the exact traditional form of the various benedictions. Only a recognized scholar ("Talmid ḥ akam") was presumed to know them to a reliable degree whereas those who compiled them for common use were, in Mishnaic time, regarded with suspicion. "Those who write down the benedictions are equal in mischief-doing to such as burn the Law"— ostensibly because they infringed the rights of those authorized to offer the benediction (see Tosef., Ber. 1:8 Shab. xiii. [xix.] 4 Ber. 38a, 50a Shab. 115b). Nevertheless it was from such written collections of benedictions that compilations like those enumerated in Mishnah Berakot ix., Ta' anit ii., Tosef., Ber. vii., and elsewhere were made. At any rate, by the second century they were already fixed as to form and number, since R. Meï r declares it to be the duty of every one to say one hundred benedictions daily (Men. 43b) and R. Yose says: "He who alters the form of benedictions fixed by the wise has failed to fulfil his obligations" (Ber. 40b Yer. Ber. 6:2,10b). According to Num. R. 18: Tan., Korah, ed. Vienna, 1853), it was King David who instituted the one hundred daily benedictions. These hundred benedictions required daily by R. Meï r are shown by Abudrahim in gate iii. ("Birkat ha-Miẓ wah") of his commentary to correspond with the benedictions given in the daily prayers.

Maimonides (Yad ha-Ḥ azaḳ ah, Berakot, 1:4) divides the benedictions into three classes: (1) for enjoyments (2) for the privilege of the performance of a religious duty and (3) forms of liturgical thanks-giving and praise. Abudrahim, in Hilkot Berakot, divides them into four classes: (1) such as are comprised in the daily prayer (2) such as precede the performance of religious duties (3) such as are offered for enjoyments and (4) such as are offered on special occasions of thanksgiving and praise.

The following is a list of benedictions prescribed in the Talmud and adopted in the liturgy each of them beginning with the formula "Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe!"

  1. Before retiring to rest at night: ". . . who makes the bands of sleep fall upon mine eyes and slumber upon mine eyelids. May it be Thy will, O Lord, to make me lie down in peace and rise up again in peace. Let not my thoughts nor evil dreams nor evil imaginations trouble me, but let my bed be spotless before Thee, and give light again to mine eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death" (Psalm 13:4 [A. 5:3]) "for it is Thou who givest light to the apple of the eye" ( Psalm 17:8 ). "Blessed art Thou who givest light to the whole world with Thy glory" (Ber. 60b).

  2. In the morning, before reciting any benediction, one has to wash the hands and say: ". . . who hast sanctified us by Thy commandments and enjoined us to wash the hands" ("Neṭ ilat Yadayim," "lifting up the bands") compare Targ. to Psalm 134:2 (Ber. 53b).

  3. After the performance of the functions of the body: . . . who has formed man in wisdom and created many oriflces and vessels, upon the opening or closing of which life depends." ". . . (who healest all flesh and) who hast made man wondrously" (after Psalm 139:14 ).

Thanksgiving for Enjoyments.

  1. Blessing over the bread: " . . . who hast brought forth bread from the earth" (Ber. 6:1,38a, after Psalm 104:14 ).

  2. Over the wine: " . . . who hast created the fruit of the vine" (Ber. 6:1).

  3. Over food other than bread prepared of flour: " . . . who hast created various kinds of food" (Ber. 36b).

  4. On eating fruit which grows on trees: " . . . who hast created the fruit of the tree" (Ber. 6:1).

  5. On eating fruit which grows on the ground: " . . . who hast created the fruit of the ground" (Ber. 6:1).

  6. After having finished the meal, see Grace After Meal .

  7. A benediction containing in abridged form three of the usual graces after meals, after having eaten such fruits as the Holy Land is especially blessed with, such as grapes, dates, figs, and pomegranates, or after having taken wine or partaken of other food than bread.

  8. On eating food that does not grow on the ground, or drinking water, or other liquor: " . . . by whose word all things have been made to exist" (Ber. 6:3).

  9. After partaking of any of these, or of fruit: " . . . who hast created beings and what they need. For all that Thou hast created to sustain therewith the life of each living being, blessed be He who livest forever" (Ber. 6:8 Tos. 4:16 according to R. Ṭ arfon, before the eating, Yer. Ber. 10b). In Yer. Ber. l.c. , and Tosef. Ber. 4:4 other benedictions over special kinds of food are given but these were not adopted by the casuists.

  10. On smelling: "Blessed art Thou who hast created fragrant woods," "fragrant spices," and "fragrant oils," "odorous plants," and "odorous fruits" (Ber. 43b).

Upon Seeing Natural Phenomena.

  1. On seeing lightning, falling stars, lofty mountains, great deserts (also the sun at the beginning of a new cycle of twenty-eight years), or the sky in all its beauty: " . . . who hast made Creation" (Ber. 9:2 Tosef., Ber. 7:6 Ber. 59b).

  2. On hearing thunder, or witnessing an earthquake or hurricane: " . . . whose might and power fill the world" (Ber. 9:2).

  3. At the sight of the sea: " . . . who hast made the great sea" (ib. ).

  4. On seeing blossoms budding for the first time in the spring: " . . . who hast made Thy world lacking in naught, but hast produced goodly creatures and goodly trees wherewith to give delight to the children of men" (Ber. 43b R. H. 11a).

  5. On seeing beautiful persons, trees, or animals: " . . . who hast such as these in the world" (Ber. 58b Tosef., Ber. 7:4).

  6. On seeing strangely formed beings such as giants and dwarfs, or elephants and apes: " . . . who variest the forms of Thy creatures" (Ber. l.c. Tos. 7:5).

  7. On seeing persons stricken with blindness, lameness, or loathsome diseases, or holy places in a state of desolation, or on hearing evil tidings: " . . . the true Judge" (Ber. 9:2 and l.c. ).

  8. On hearing good tidings or witnessing joy: " . . . who art good and dispensest good" (Ber. l.c. ).

  9. On seeing the rainbow: " . . . who rememberest the covenant, art faithful to Thy covenant, and keepest Thy promise" (Tosef., Ber. 7:5 a composite prayer, see Ber. 59b).

  10. On seeing holy places restored after long desolation: " . . . who reestablishest the border of the widow" (Ber. 58b, after Proverbs 15:25 ).

  11. On seeing a friend after a year's separation: " . . . who revivest the dead" (Ber. 58b compare Pirḳ e R. El. xxxi.). When restored from a dangerous sickness: " . . . Blessed be the Merciful who gave Thee back to us and not to the earth" (Ber. 54b).

On Seeing Remarkable Persons.

  1. On seeing a scholar or sage of distinction: " . . . who hast imparted of Thy wisdom to flesh and blood" (ib. ).

  2. On seeing a king or ruler of a country: " . . . who hast imparted of Thy glory to flesh and blood" (ib. ).

  3. On seeing the myriads of Israel gathered together: "Blessed be He who knowest the secret thoughts of all these" (Ber. l.c. ).

  4. After having escaped perils, see Gomel Benshen .

  5. On entering a burial-ground: "Blessed be the Lord who hath formed you in judgment, and nourished and sustained you in judgment, and hath brought death on you in judgment. He knoweth the number of you in judgment and will hereafter restore you to life in judgment, . . . who revivest the dead" (Ber. 58b).

  6. On seeing a place where a miracle happened to Israel of old: " . . . who hast performed miracles for our fathers at this place" (Ber. 9:1).

  7. On seeing a place from which idolatrous practises have been removed: " . . . who hast removed idolatry from this place" (ib. ). On seeing a place where idolatry is practised: " . . . who showest long-suffering to those who transgress Thy will" (Ber. 57b).

  8. On the appearance of the new moon, see New Moon .

Bibliography : Sefer Abudrahim Maimonides, Yad ha-Ḥ azaḳ ah, Berakot Baer, ' Abodat Yisrael S. Singer, Daily Prayer-Book , pp. 287-292 Landshuth, Hegyon Leb M. Bloch, Institutionen des Judenthums , 1884 I. H. Weiss, in Kobak's Jeschurun , 1864, ii. part 1, pp. 37-44.A. K.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Benedictions'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tje/b/benedictions.html. 1901.

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Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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