Most of us know the Reform movement’s HaMotzi which begins “we give thanks to God for bread” and concludes with the traditional b’rachah in Hebrew and the word “amen.” I rarely sing the b’rachah itself and prefer to listen to it and then respond with an “amen.” In this way, others have said the blessing on my behalf and I can eat bread without repeating the blessing if I so choose or else I have confirmed their blessing and then can make my own, but without saying “amen.”
This is what I was taught growing up: one doesn’t say “amen” to one’s own b’rachah. Even more, saying amen to your own b’rachah is a sign of ignorance.
Also as a child, I had learned to recite the long form of the Ashkenazi Birkat haMazon / Grace after meals by heart before I could read, since we sang it every Friday evening and Shabbat lunch in my home. In the middle of the Birkat haMazon, I knew that the blessing for rebuilding Jerusalem concluded with: “Blessed is God who rebuilds Jerusalem; Amen.” Naturally, when I was old enough to be in school, I wanted to know why it was permissible to answer one’s own blessing with amen in this case. I was told that originally this was end of the Birkat haMazon and so, in this case, it was permissible.
If this is so, I thought, then shouldn’t there be an amen in other such locations, such as the end of p’sukei d’zimra or the amidah. But our Ashkenazi siddur doesn’t have an amen there for everyone to say other than as a response to the service leader. However, when I was looking through Reb Lori’s siddur that special Friday evening, I discovered that indeed the blessings concluding p’sukei d’zimra and the amidah had an amen after them in big letters and clearly inviting me to say that amen as the conclusion of my own blessing and for this part of the service. So the Sepharadim were showing me that the rationale I had been given in response to my question about the one blessing in the Birkat HaMazon was correct and in fact they applied that reason in all the places where one would intuit the amen should be said.
The next anomaly occurs at the end of the meditation that was added to the amidah and which we all say. Its last line is “Oseh shalom bi-m’romahv, hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu v’al kol yisra’el v’al kol yoshvei teiveil v’imru: amen / God who makes peace in the heavens, make peace for us, for all Israel, and all those who live on the planet, and let us say amen.” But why should we conclude in this way? This is a private meditation and not a call and response, so whom are we asking to say amen? It made sense for the last line of a kaddish, since that is a call and response and the leader is asking the rest of us to respond to and confirm this prayer for a peaceful world. Here, even my Sepharadi siddur followed the usual pattern. Then I consulted the Italian siddur and again discovered that I was clearly not the first to notice this inconsistency and there the line ends without the word “v’imru” and just has “amen.”
I finally decided to actually look up this practice and found the following summary in the Shulchan Aruch:
One does not answer amen after one’s own blessings except after a sequence of two or more where the last one is the end of the blessing sequence and so there is a custom to respond amen after the last paragraph of the Hallel and at the end of Yishtabach. The Rama adds: There are those who only answer amen after the blessing “Who builds Jerusalem” in the grace after meals and this is the general practice in these countries (Europe) and it should be observed. However, in places where the other custom is practiced, one should also answer amen at “Who eternally guards the people Israel” [in the evening service]. (Orech Chayyim: 215)
Lastly, an app for my iPad (called “U-v-lecht’cha Va-derech”] has the minchah service according the Yemeni nusach and it has a unique last sentence and closing which I offer to you here. In addition, I will be adding amen in Kol Koreh to those blessings where I’ve found it in nusach sefaradi.
[This note was a bit late due to the passing of Ya’akov Yisrael ben Tsirl Dobra v-Shmu’el David, father of Hanna and Sarajane, grandfather to Noah [and Zicra], Shefa, and Elisha and great grandfather (sabba rabba) to Eden and Avna. He crossed over to the next world during the night of 15-16 January, 5 Sh’vat 5773, peacefully and full of years. He taught me a great deal, was a wonderful friend, a good man. We all miss him.]