Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Word of the Day: Bentchophobia

Let's be honest. For the new-to-Hebrew person, bentching takes a really long time, even in English or transliterated Hebrew. It feels like everyone else at the table is finished in 45 seconds flat (and yes, some of them did do it that fast, but it's debatable whether it was words or one big slurred sound). The result of this is that many people will do whatever it takes to avoid eating bread or anything that could lead to bentching. And that is what we "affectionately" call bentchophobia.

Unfortunately or not, there is no escaping bentching on Shabbat. You've gotta eat challah! Do your best to locate a bentcher with English or transliteration. Just about every host should have at least a couple bentchers with English, but you can also ask for a siddur with English. Bentching will be listed in the table of contents under "Blessings" or something similar. However, it's possible you might end up in a house with both Hebrew-only bentchers and siddurim (it happened to me once, and boy was that awkward). In that case, do the best you can. In the future, you can bring a siddur or bentcher with you (assuming there's an eruv) or drop it off before Shabbat. If you carry around your own siddur, no one is going to think you're strange. They might just think you're fresh off the boat from seminary or yeshiva in Israel.

The irony is that frequent bentching is the key to faster bentching, and thus, losing your bentchophobia.


  1. I totally have this phobia - everyone thinks I am just low-carb.

  2. I used to have a tape of the benching--that'll give you an idea how long ago it was. You can learn it more easily if you learn to sing it, just like the kids do.--Curmudgeonly Israeli Giyoret

  3. You may find this interesting. Although the link characterizes the "mezonos roll" primarily as an attempt to avoid netilas yadaim, I bet bentchophobia also had something to do with its popularity.

  4. Yep, it takes me a REALLY long time to finish benching! Fortunately, our hosts have always had a transliterated copy. Since it's always been on Shabbat I haven't had the option of skipping the bread.

  5. Curmudgeonly is right. We sing birkat hamazon almost every time we have guests. As long as even one may need a little help - we sing. Many of us learned birkat hamazon at camp or youth movement activities as youngsters by singing it. Those from not-tradtional homes often only encountered birkat hamazon at such activities.

    My wife to this day has a favorite birkon ('bentcher') which she always uses at home. The Livnot U'lehibanot birkon has nice transliteration that she used to like. She often offers it to a guest who seems like they would like the help. We also have a set of 10 or 12 NCSY birkonim which allows everyone to be on the same page, and we use it to sing z'mirot at the table as well.

    By the way - 'bentch' is Yiddish for blessing. So, although the topic here is the birkat hamazon/grace after a meal; the word is used anywhere a Yiddish speaker refers to a blessing. Another common usage is 'licht bentching', or 'blessing the lights/candles'. As in 'what time is licht bentching?'

  6. Funny, I swore I linked to the post that explains the term bentch. I blame the cold medicine...because I KNOW I actually opened the post to link to it. I've added it above.

    As for singing, if no one else is singing, the singing slows you down tremendously (and ending so long after everyone else is the main cause of bentchophobia). I usually sing the first couple of paragraphs just because I get sucked into it mentally, and it's much slower than my saying the bentching. (Cross-reference, Aleinu.) If everyone is singing, then people who don't know it a) may feel left out being reminded that they will never go to camp, etc, and b) may feel silly sitting there silent while everyone else sings. Personally, I can't bentch individually if others are singing because I can't have that much background noise and read at the same time. So until I knew the song (and still for the last half), I have to wait until everyone else finishes before I can continue my bentching. It's annoying and embarrassing, if I'm in a new social situation. If I'm with people I know and who know my background, I don't mind. So that's a long way of saying that I don't think singing is a cure-all solution.

    That said, anyone know an online recording of it?

    1. Check, under "miscellaneous & shabbat home prayers. The audio clips are free. Gavriella.

  7. You can get siddur audio from iTunes also. If you search for 'Cantor' you can find almost any prayer you need to learn by some famous cantor - also the weekly Torah portions if you like to hear them pre-shabbos. I like to listen to them in the week ahead so I feel more connected in shul.

    I really don't think I could be doing the BT thing without my iPhone...

  8. This post explains why I insisted on having English *and* transliteration in our wedding benchers. There are people in every community -- and that includes people who were born Jewish -- who are not comfortable with Hebrew or with Birkat Hamazon. I want our guests to have access, not to feel awkward. To me, this is part of being a good host.

  9. I've suffered from "bentchophobia" (which is a GREAT word for it, btw) and am only just beginning to recover.

    You're having a nice meal with people you just met at their lovely home on Shabbos. You feel like you fit right in and the food is tasty and the conversation lively. Then, you can almost hear the Jaws theme begin as the host announces that it's time to bentch. Will there be a translation or translitterated bentcher? Will they go so fast that you can't even keep up if there was? Your palms begin to sweat as you realize that now, for certain, everyone there will know the limits of your Hebrew knowledge, singing ability, and lack of a Jewish upbringing...all at once!

    I find bentching at someone else's home to be a good way to remember humility. If there is an NCSY bentcher, I'm not afraid to wrestle to get it out of the stack of ancient all-Hebrew ones if necessary. I do my best and, if I can't keep up, I go at my own pace and just remind myself that when I one day host people for Shabbos that I will try to make them feel comfortable regardless of their bentching skill as a way of repaying those who have done the same for me.

    At home...since we don't always remember the tunes to the songs for bentching...we often make our own up. We have even had Star Wars bentching, which is quite the experience, but I do think singing makes it easier to make it through and more fun. "I Dream of Genie" bentching, though...was a bit much. ;)

  10. I really think people just need to learn birkat hamazon, and accept the fact that it will take a while. But in the interest of showing there is more than one answer to a question, I'll pass along this link from (not to be confused with and another from Collel Bnai Neviim Both of these are Sephardic sites. Finally Machon Shilo, which says it is creating a modern Nusach Israel for those who live in Eretz Yisrael (combining Ashkenazic and Sephardic minhagim and giving the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) precedance over the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) published this

    All of these approaches will cause eyebrows to be raised in many communities, if anyone realizes what you are davening.

  11. When I was new at Hebrew and slower, I bentched in English. I still do this for some of the infrequent additions to bentching. The rest of it I have memorized like any other Jew, and while it still takes me a teeny bit longer than most to bentch, it's not a considerable amount longer.

    I still avoid bread at times when I don't have much time, like at work on fast-paced days.

  12. I really learned how to bentch by singing it after Shabbos dinner at Chabad in college almost every Shabbos. The first month or two, it was hard to know what the heck was going on, but now I know pretty much the whole thing and can sing along or say it to myself with relative ease. I haven't totally memorized it, but a bentcher that's either in Hebrew or transliterated is usually enough to get me through. I don't think I'll ever be one of the two-minute bentchers, but I'm not entirely sure that I want to be. Taking care of it in under, say, seven minutes is enough for me.

    I don't remember the last time I went to a Shabbos dinner and we didn't sing at least part of bentching.

  13. B"H
    There''s a cool transliterated Siddur that includes bentching - with optional audio for the siddur and bentching here:
    B"H thousands of beginners of all ages have benefited from the transliterated Siddur and audio - and - a standalone bentcher is in the making - and G-d willing should be available within about 2 weeks.