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Thought for the Day: When a Woman Bentches Gomel

All us male Jews are accustomed to seeing returnees/travelers from Eretz Yisrael lining up after the Torah reading on Mondays and Thursdays to "bentch gomel".  Why on Mondays and Thursdays?  Why isn't there a corresponding line of women on the other side of the m'chitza?  Should women bentch gomel, and if so, when and how?  Enquiring minds want to know, inquiring minds will actually put some effort into discovering the answer.  First, of course, we need some background (the enquirers will likely check out now).

The Shulchan Aruch (O.Ch. 219) mandates that who emerges alive from four dangerous situations -- חבוש/imprisonment for a death/life sentence, יסורים/life-threatening illness, ים/crossing the ocean/sea, מדבר/crossing a dangerous wilderness -- is obligated to formally thank HaShem for his miraculous salvation.  (Flying over water falls into the perilous journey category.)  You can remember them by the acronym חיים/life, of course.  The bracha follows the usual template and ends with הגומל לחייבים טובות שגמלניהגומל לחייבים טובות שגמלני כל טוב טוב/who bestows good stuffs to those who are culpable (ie, guilty of crimes to Heaven and deserving of punishment) for He has bestowed upon me nothing but goodness. (219:2)  Furthermore, being saved from a life threatening situation is such a momentous event in one's life that the formal declaration should be done publicly as soon as possible -- certainly within three day -- of one's salvation.

That last bit explains why the line up occurs during/after the Torah reading -- you are assured a public in front of which to make the declaration of thanks.  It also explains the line up on on Mondays and Thursdays -- most travelers arrive from overseas during the week and not on Friday, so Mondays/Thursdays will be their first opportunity.  Finally, we can answer why there is no corresponding line on the other side of the m'chitzah.  It most communities it was never customary behaviour for women to make public announcements in front of men.  (I know there are different customs and, in particular, there are differences between Ashkanzi and Sephardi communities.)

Of course, it is certainly a nice thing to do and different approaches have developed to enable women to express their thanks publicly in a manner that does not compromise their modesty.  One approach is based on the fact that if I am close to another Jew, I can also make that bracha -- whether or not he is there, in fact.  We don't usually do that, and the Biur Halacha goes to some effort to prove that one should only bentch gomel (when bentching for another) for his father or his rebbi.  None the less, in some communities the husband will bentch gomel for his wife after childbirth.  The Mishna Brura (sk 17) brings the formula for the bracha both when she is and is not present.

That all said, the Mishna Brura's recommended (נכון) approach is to gather nine women and one man and for the woman to bentch gomel publically before that group (sk 3).  If someone's wife were in a car accident and the airbags deployed, for example, his rabbi might very well make that recommendation -- even though she is completely unscathed, Baruch HaShem.  If other rabbis were consulted, they might also make that recommendation.

I am so confident that would be the p'sak, in fact, that -- except for that fact that gambling is forbidden -- I would put money on it.


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