Friday, September 11, 2015

An Update on Bentchophobia

Several years ago, I wrote about my bentchophobia and how it strikes many of us when we enter the frum world.

I can't say I've improved much over the years. I still frequently avoid eating bread, solely because I'm still a slow Hebrew reader and bentcher. Sure, I have bentching memorized by now, but it takes only the slightest distraction and I slip into similar words from another memorized prayer or lose my place altogether. I'm also still very slow compared to others at the table, and I hate making people wait on me (curse you, Southern politeness!). Worse, I'm silly and insist on pronouncing all the words and taking breaths. At this point, I think I'm doomed to be a slow bentcher for life. For what it's worth, I think it's important to not slur together sounds that may or may not be actual words (you know who you are). 

But then...pregnancy. Your whole relationship to food changes, and it changes multiple times. Bentchophobia or not, bread has been one of the few foods I consistently can and want to eat. And this means I'm bentching 3 or more times a day. It's kind of awful, but I'm just glad to finally stop losing weight! (I lost a good amount of weight first trimester - but not HG.)

Bonuses: My memorization of the bracha is getting stronger, even when distracted. I'm eating real food and enjoying it. I feel like a big girl who isn't afraid of bentching anymore. 

Cons: I must spend half an hour a day bentching. I guess there's nothing wrong with that, but if I'm going to spend that much time doing something religious, I wish it were something more spiritual or intellectually stimulating (or at least a little variation!). 

Funny how things can change yet stay the same. Of all the Jewish things, why do I have such a complicated relationship with bentching?? 


  1. Hmm, bentsching is arguably the only Torah-mandated prayer (the Shema isn't exactly a prayer), so I don't think spending time on it is such a bad thing. I think it is spiritual - you are thanking G-d for giving you the most basic necessity for life! (I need to remember that myself...)

    There are people in my family who like us to bentsch aloud, otherwise they feel they take too long. And I've known how to bentsch by heart for years, but I try to bentsch from a bentscher or siddur if possible, because I find it's better for my kavannah and, yes, I can easily lose my place or drift into something else without it. You are not alone!

  2. This is a vicious cycle for me - bentching is difficult for me, so I often avoid eating bread so I don't have to take so long betching! However, by avoiding bread and not bentching often, I'm not getting better at it!

  3. After a few years as a Baal Teshuvah, I was reciting the entire Birkat HaMazone from memory without making mistakes.

    But that was because I recited it EVERY day, even weekdays.

    And I still do not know the additional paragraphs for Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh from memory.

    PS: During my first ten years a Baal Teshuvah, I often thought of myself as a gair whose parents and grandparents were all born Jewish. I know that is a logical contradiction, but that was the way I felt at that time.

  4. Ah, yes, the ole bentching avoidance obsessive compulsive oh my.gosh disorder. Just.kidding, but I do understand. I especially understand the bentching while pregnant thing.
    Here's the weird thing with that: when I was pregnant my gag reflex, as you know, is on high. Bentching.was nearly.impossible. I would have to bentch with breaks in between. Take a breath and continue. Ask.shiloh about bentching and continue...
    Understand completely.:)

  5. If all the prayers weren't so long that it's hard to function at work or school or in normal life in general, bentch-ophobia wouldn't even be a thing. They have been purposely elongated over the years. No matter how long he has done it my husband has never been able to get throug any of the daily prayers in less than 15-20 minutes, which means that as a blue collar worker he skips them more days than not by sheer necessity. It's obvious these were written by and for scholars and rabbis, who then try to impose their strictures onto everyday lay people who sometimes aren't capable of living to that standard even if they really try. A worker who gets a 15 minute break after waking up at 4am and leaving the house without time to eat, much less pray, will have to choose daily between food and prayer... Then of course people of privilege will insist he just "get another job" to be more observant. If there was a real, functional siddur with prayers designed for lay people the general reaction to bentching and prayer in general would be very different.