Jul 18, 2010

Top Secret Rules?

After eating a meal with bread (or any meal really) there are a series of prayers that we say, a type of Grace After Meals, that Jews call bensching. You go to b'nai mitzvah, you go to weddings, you go to any kind of simcha and you walk away with a little book full of prayers and blessings and the Birkat Ha'Mazon.

Every Shabbos, or even when I'm out with friends, I've noticed something: I take lightyears longer than every other Jew on the planet to bensch. Now, I read my Hebrew really quick, but I read it all. I've noticed people flipping pages faster than Forrest Gump running cross-country.

Am I missing something? Am I not privy to the top secret rule that there really are parts you don't need to read? Am I wasting my time going through the entire series of prayers? What am I missing? Is there a set of rules on what is "required" and what isn't?


(Note: I also wonder this about prayers in synagogue, too, as sometimes I find myself ahead of people in the Shemonai Esrei and then suddenly they're done and I'm like "wah!?")

(Second Note: I've always wondered where the word bensch comes from, and I always assumed it was Yiddish. Turns out it is Yiddish, but it derives from Latin, not German or Hebrew. How bizarre! It means to bless or make a bracha, but generally it's used when referring to saying the Birkat HaMazon, or blessing after meals.)


Risa Tzohar said...

Half a century of bentching and davening and I still am a slowpoke. I believe it was meant to be this way. However, I do know folks who really do say all the words and say them fast. I think it has something to do with the way they breath but I have not been able to figure it completely. Anyway, I'm only responsible for me. Personally, I like bentching out loud with kids so that the words don't get swallowed.

Mark said...

Because after saying it hundreds of times a year for close to 40 years (and often singing it for 8 or 9 of those years), we know it by heart. So much by heart that we say it fast and by rote and the words flow from one to another to almost not be separate words at all.

But I'm often still the slowest at the table depending on which bencher I use and how "interesting" it might be.

Just an additional note, many (some?) people stop benching after the final bracha at "... al yechasrenu" and don't do all the harachamans and the rest.

Mottel said...

The difference between you and others in bentching (and really to your personal praise)is that while you read each word - even at relatively fast pace - they mumble the whole thing from memory. That means that words are only half pronounced and slurred into each other.

That being said, there are things that are skipped - the inserts for chanukah, Purim, shabbos and yom tov when not applicable - the lists of corrections found to say if said inserts are skipped (in the 'standard' layout for a lubavitcher bentcher - one page only has a line on top, and a line on the bottom to say . . . the rest is only a list of things to say if the insets for the holidays are forgotten).

In regards to the Romance words in yiddish - you'd be surprised by their presence. Remember that the Jews in the Rhine valley where Yiddish - or Judeo-German - originated, originally came from France and Italy - they brought with them their Jewish French (as seen in Rashi's glosses on the Torah and Talmud. Just like in later years Jews from Germany would speak their 'Teitsch' (Deutsch) or Yiddish in Slavic countries, these Jews used their French as a Jewish language among Germans. Even after they had adopted German as their daily tongue, words in Judeo-French that could not be translated properly in German were kept in their original form. Hence bentch, Orn (the Western German word for davening), leinen (to read [from the torah]), even cholent and davening - as well as many names (especially of women) - may have Romance origins.

It should be noted that there is a heavy Slavic influence on Yiddish - especially it's phonology and grammar.

I have a few blog posts on the mater - they're linked to in this blog post.

Mottel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HSaboMilner said...

Chaviva - i am also the last left bensching. but in my house we have a rule. no one talks or leaves the table until every single person has finished bensching. my boys bensch very fast - i often suspect that they skip a paragraph or 7....

Anonymous said...

MokumAlef says:
You're not missing anything! It's not the speed that counts, but the kavanah!

Leah Sarah said...

I have been told by those who have been saying it for decades "just have it memorized." Well, I still kinda get the feeling that sometimes words aren't really said, but just 'thought' if that makes sense. At some tables I am the slowest, but at some I am quite average. I always have the song running through my head which probably slows me down tremendously!

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Man. I'm really glad to know that this cheese does not stand alone. It's also good to know that some don't go on beyond the "... al yechasrenu."

Kavanah, ho!

SusQHB said...

When I was just frumifying, I was at a friend for Shabbos and it took me FOREVER to get through bentching. Afterward, his Mom leaned over and said to me "my trick, I just move my lips and count to 30. On Shabbos or yontiff, I count to 40". Meaning, she didn't bentch, she just went through the motions. Like anything, once it becomes rote it goes much faster. That said, I am always the last person in shul to finish amidah because I take my time and usually don't finish before kedushah, and need to wait until the chazzan finishes before I can finish. That's one instance when taking your time and adding kavannah can be frustrating. My biggest pet peeve? Aleinu. The chazzan is DEFINITELY not saying all those words. Its like he's coasting towards the finish of davening. I'm usually still in the first paragraph.

le7 said...

When I first started benching I took forever. In sem I was eating at someone's house with a few other girls from my seminary and since I couldn't go as fast as them they literally left me there and walked home with out me.

That said, after a certain point it becomes so rote it's almost impossible to slow down because the words just automatically flow into each other and if you slow down you need to reassess where you are. I used to wonder if people actually said all the words but once you get to that point yourself it's pretty hard to turn back.

Karen Zampa Katz said...

Thank you all for your honest comments…this was so helpful…I am still trying to learn Hebrew (year 3) and although it is getting better it at times can feel so deflating to always be the last to finish…..and regarding the Amidah, oh my….I have been in our Cantor’s reading class for the past year…we have started to go through every daily prayer…he is even going to make us a cd of them spoken so we can check our pronunciation…this has been the best help ever…the also what to read when, what to skip has finally sunk in!...but to hear all of your comments, and I am assuming ( I could be wrong) that y’all are mostly Orthodox and you know how to read Hebrew makes this even better for me....I try and not pay too much attention to it... being slow and just focus on the intent, but wow it can be hard!.

David said...

If you find yourself needing to say Birkat Hamazon and you don't have a bencher around and it's not a Yom Tov, yet you happen to have an iPhone, iPod Touch or an iPשd, then you can get a best bencher app - iBirkat and recite Birkat Hamazon in a nussach of your choice.

Oh, and here is the link: http://www.appstudio.co.il/portfolio/apps/ibirkat/

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