Women and Birkat Hamazon
Rabbi Lebhar, author Magen Avot
Redacted by Dr. Emile Amzallag
The Gemara (Berachot 20b) discusses whether women are obligated in Birkat Hamazon on a biblical level. On one hand, it is not a time-bound commandment, for which women are normally exempt, and thus perhaps women are obligated to recite it. On the other hand, the second blessing inBirkat Hamazon mentions the land of Israel, which is understood to have been given to the male leaders and male heads of household of the Jewish people and as such, it is possible that only males are obligated in the blessing. According to the Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 186:1), one practical ramification is that if a male ate a Kabetza of bread, and is therefore obligated in Birkat Hamazon on a Torah level, his obligation cannot be fulfilled by a woman who recites it on his behalf. If, however, he ate a Kazait, and is therefore obligated on a rabbinic level, she may recite Birkat Hamazon on his behalf. Furthermore, a man can always acquit a woman of her obligation in Birkat Hamazon.
Additionally, the Rama (Orah Haim 187:3) mentions that the words “Berit VeTorah” in the second blessing of Birkat Hamazon should be omitted by women, since women are exempt from the commandments of circumcision and of learning Torah. Interestingly, many of the authentic Moroccan Siddurim, which follow the Livorno rite, put the words “Berit VeTorah” as well as “Ve’al Beritecha Shehatamta Bivsarenu” (lit. “[we thank You] for the covenant that You engraved on our flesh”) and “Ve”al Toratecha Shelimadetanu” (lit. “and for the Torah that You taught us”) in parentheses to indicated that only males should recite them, in accordance with the Rama’s ruling. Although nowadays many communities, including Ashkenazi ones, do not omit these words, the original custom was for women to skip them.
Summary: Women are obligated in Birkat Hamazon. The original Moroccan custom was for women to skip the words dealing with Berit Milah and the Torah in the second blessing of Birkat Hamazon.