What is the Birkat Ha'Gomel Blessing in Judaism?

Survived a Dangerous Situation? There's a Blessing for That.

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In Judaism, there are blessings for everything, including when one has survived a dangerous journey or situation and come out largely unscathed. This is the birkat ha'gomel blessing. 

Meaning and Origins

Birkat ha’gomel translates from the Hebrew as a “blessing of thanksgiving” and originates with the Temple offering known as the korban todah, or thanksgiving offering. 

This offering was an expression of gratitude to God for surviving a potentially life-threatening situation (like a dangerous journey).

After the fall of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the act of offerings ended and blessings, or brachot, have taken their place. 

The blessing itself as we know it today comes from Gemara Brachot 54b. According to this gemara, traditionally, anyone who has survived the following is obligated to recite this blessing:

  • one who has completed a sea voyage
  • one who has traveled through the desert
  • one who has been sick and healed
  • one who was imprisoned and freed

In modern times, these categories have evolved and changed as the concept of dangerous situations has also changed. Regardless, anyone who has survived any kind of mortal danger should make this blessing. If you've experienced multiple types of danger (e.g. you took a risky car trip through dangerous territory and then flew to a different location), you only recite the blessing once. 

Many will say birkat ha'gomel after a lengthy plane trip, although there are some who say that because airplane travel is considered safe, the blessing is not necessary.

 

When traveling from city to city, by car for example, there are differing opinions on whether to recite the blessing. Some say that if there’s great danger on the journey, say birkat ha’gomel. Sephardic Jews hold that you recite this blessing even when you travel on a safe car journey, as long as the trip was at least 72 minutes (Ramban on Berachot 54b)

How To

Although there are some who argue that this blessing is obligatory, the general opinion is that it is optional. If you’re not sure that your situation necessities the recitation of this blessing, ask a rabbi you know just to be sure. 

The blessing is recited while standing, typically at morning prayer services, or shacharit. The individual is called up to the Torah to make the blessings over the reading of the Torah. The individual makes the blessing for Torah reading, the Torah portion is read, and afterward he recites the birkat ha'gomel

ברוך אתה יי אלוהינו מלך העולם, הגומל לחיבים טובות, שגמלני כל טוב.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam, ha’gomel l’chayavim tovot, sh’g’malni tov. 

Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who bestows kindness on those who are committed, and who has granted to me all kindness.

After the blessing, those who hear the blessing say,

שגמלך טוב הוא יגמלך סלה

Shegemalcha tov, hu yigmalcha, selah.

May the One who has granted you all kindness always grant kindness to you, selah.

Women 

The tradition of Ashkenazic Jews, or those of Eastern European descent, is that a woman doesn't say birkat ha'gomel, although there is an opinion that if a woman who has given birth happens to be in the presence of a mini, she can say the blessing.

Sephardic women, or those of Spanish, Mediterranean, or Middle Eastern descent, do recite birkat ha'gomel

When reciting the blessing after giving birth, it's common to wait seven days after giving birth (Kaf Hachaim 219:7), and many women tend to say the blessing at the brit milah, or ritual circumcision, if the child is a boy, or at the naming ceremony for a girl. 

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Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "What is the Birkat Ha'Gomel Blessing in Judaism?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2015, thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-p3-2077019. Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. (2015, August 28). What is the Birkat Ha'Gomel Blessing in Judaism? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-p3-2077019 Gordon-Bennett, Chaviva. "What is the Birkat Ha'Gomel Blessing in Judaism?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-aishes-chayil-p3-2077019 (accessed November 20, 2017).