Tuesday, August 30, 2011

UPDATED: Word of the Day: Bentch

Bentch is a very commonly-used term, but it can be hard for people to understand since it sounds exactly like the English word "bench." So today, we're gonna bentch licht, bentch gomel, and bentch after dinner!

Bentch (pronounced like and sometimes written as "bench") is the Yiddish word for "pray." It's a verb. "Bentching" is the noun. "Davening" is the Yiddish word normally used for praying, but bentching is still used for very particular kinds of davening. You can "daven" anything, but you only "bentch" a few particular things. It doesn't make any sense to a native English speaker, so just memorize its uses.

Let's discuss these phrases in turn:
  • Bentching: The grace after meals, birkat hamazon. You bentch from a bentcher, those little books on the table that are probably in a napkin holder. If "bentch" is used by itself, the person is talking about this bentching.
  • Bentch gomel: A prayer said during a Torah service when someone survives a life-threatening event. See Phrase of the Day: Bentching Gomel.
  • Bentch licht: Lighting Shabbat candles. This is the least-used of the phrases.
UPDATE: The commenters have added a couple of uses and clarified that bentch generally means "bless," so it is used when making brachot (blessings). These are the additions:
  • Bentch the kids. This is when parents bless their children on Friday nights soon after Shabbat starts.
  • Bentch lulav. This is the blessing over the lulav during Sukkot. We'll return to this in greater detail in just a few short weeks. The lulav is perhaps the craziest-appearing thing that Jews do.
  • I also suggest that you read the Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret's use of bentch in the first comment below. It's hilarious.
Used in context:
  • It's time to bentch.
  • Should married women bentch gomel or should their husband bentch it for them? (An actual halachic maklokes)
  • Have you bentched yet?
  • Give her a second, she's bentching.
  • It's almost time to bentch licht.


  1. The
    Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret says:

    At the end of a meal, sometimes people get antsy waiting to leave the table, so there's pressure to say Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) already. We refer to this as the "bentch Press".

  2. Also, Bentch Lulav. Was very confusing when I first noticed this word being used.

  3. The word "bentch" actually means "bless." (Although its usage as a verb is more like the English construct "make a blessing.") The three types of bentching you've listed are all types of brachos. That's the difference between "daven" and "bentch" - when you bentch, you're making a bracha.

  4. I also bentch my kids every Friday night. :-)
    I read somewhere long ago that the word "bentch" probably comes (indirectly) from the latin "benedict" - a blessing, as the previous commenter mentioned.

  5. If you tell someone who doesn't know any better that you're bentching your kids, they could get the completely wrong idea. Heh.

    Also, I love the "bentch press."

  6. The yiddish word bentch comes from the French benir meaning to bless.

  7. I think, given that Yiddish is a language in its own right, we should probably mainly look at German as the likely root for this word, since Yiddish is a combo of both German and Hebrew. As far as the letter B being involved in french benir and latin benedict, then perhaps there's a similarity.