A birchon also birkon (plural: birchonim or birkonim) is a booklet of prayers based around a particular event such as the Jewish sabbath. The most common form is Birkat Hamazon often titled סדר ברכת המזון - Seder Birkat Hamazon (Order of Grace after Meals) in Hebrew. Some editions actually have the Birkat Hamazon prayer in the back, appearing almost as an afterthought. Birchonim are commonly known as bentchers in Yiddish in the Ashkenazi community, and in places heavily influenced by Ashkenazi Jews.
Birchonim are used widely in the various religious and traditional communities of Jews, such as Orthodox, Sephardic, Conservative, Mizrahi, Chassidic, Orthodox Feminist, as well as other communities.
Birchonim are often decorated with scrollwork, illuminations, pictorial backgrounds on each page, photo pages and by other means. This is in the tradition of hiddur mitzvah, or beautification of the mitzvah.
Birchonim, particularly those of the common Birkat Hamazon variety often share in common prayers which are said on a daily, weekly, annual, or intermittent basis, such as
- Hadlakat Nerot of Shabbath - Sabbath eve candle lighting
- Hadlakat Nerot of Yom Tov - Holiday eve candle lighting
- Shalom Aleihem
- Eisheth Hayil - Proverbs 31
- Birkath Habanim - Blessing the Children
- Sabbath Eve Kiddush
- Sabbath Morning Kiddush
- Kiddush for various occasions
- Zemiroth for Sabbath Eve
- Zemiroth (Songs) for Sabbath Day
- Zemiroth (Songs) for Seudah Shelishith (The Third Meal)
- Zemiroth (Songs) for Melaveh Malkah
- Habdala - Ending the Shabbath or Yom Tob
- Birkath Hamazon (Grace) at the banquet of Circumcision
- Birkath Hamazon (Grace) at the Wedding Banquet
- Sheba Berakhoth - The Seven (Nuptial) Blessings
- Blessings before all foods
- Blessings after foods without bread
Birchonim come in a very wide variety of styles, and types, all of which are based on the nusach and minhag of the community. Birchonim are generally printed in Hebrew only, Hebrew plus vernacular translation, or Hebrew plus vernacular translation and Hebrew transliteration for participation by those unfamiliar Hebrew.
A common birchon may contain the Birkat Hamazon prayer, as well as the kiddush for Ereb Shabbath (Sabbath Eve - Friday night), Sabbath morning, various prayers after foods and drinks, and Sabbath table songs.
Sefer HaKidush is a special birchon, which is often hard cover and may be leather bound, and especially decorated. This birchon contains all of the kiddush prayers for the eves and mornings of Shabbath, and the hagim or yomim tobim, the Jewish holidays, and is most used by the head of the household (usually the father) or a rabbi. It is frequently given as a wedding gift to the groom.
Sheba Berahoth / Sheva Brachot
A sefer Sheba Berahoth is a birchon which is especially printed for the occasionn of a wedding and/or the week after a wedding. This birchon contains the seven blessings recited by family and friends of the bride and groom under the huppah at a Jewish wedding, and after birkat hamazon at the end of special meals in the week following the wedding. The sefer Sheva Brachot may contain special commentary on the meaning of the blessings.
Shiron or Zemirot
A shiron is a birchon with an emphasis on songs. A shiron may typically have extra selections of Sabbath table songs, as well as songs for the Holidays and weddings. A special section, perhaps at the end of the shiron may contain a table of contents introducing extra songs, such as is found in widely popular benchers in the Orthodox and Conservative movements.
The Card Variety
Some birchonim are made to be portable, or are made primarily for use in cafeterias and restaurants. These birchonim are printed on laminated cards that either fold in half, in thirds, or do not fold at all.
Birchonim are often printed as souvenirs of special occasions, such as a Bar Mitzvah or wedding. A common practice in North America is to create a specially designed Jewish monogram which is composed of an artistic rendition of the celebrants' names in Hebrew in the shape of something recognizable such as a flame, the trick being to try to make out the actual letters. Some times the names are written in micography.
In North America, special "bencher pens" have a pull tab which reveals a scrolled paper containing the text of the Birkat Hamazon prayer.
- See Artscroll Illustrated Birchon - English Translation, Artscroll, 1996
- See זְמִירוֺת שַׁבָּת (Zemirot Shabbat) by Feldheim Publishers, 1984, Israel, p. נו (last page).
- Frum Satire blog entry about difficulty finding Birkath Hamazon.
- See Shaarei Simcha, Adena Berkowitz and Rivka Haut, Ktav Publishing.
- See The NCSY Bencher: A Book of Prayer and Song, 1982, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America / OU/NCSY Publications.
- See B'kol Echad USY Songster, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 2001
- A Google image search shows various Jewish Monograms, which are used on birchonim.