There is a special blessing that is recited when one sees a king or queen. Does this blessing also apply to an evil tyrant? What about today’s monarchs, whose power is often symbolic? And would the blessing be said upon seeing a democratically elected president or prime minister?


In addition to the blessings said before eating and drinking, etc., the Talmud lists blessings to be said upon witnessing various phenomena or events. One such blessing is made upon seeing a king:1

Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, Who has given from His glory to flesh and blood.2

Unlike the blessings over food, this blessing isn’t about the satisfaction or benefit we may experience from seeing the king and his entourage; it’s an opportunity to extoll G‑d’s glory and praise. Thus, according to many, even a blind person recites the blessing if he is aware of the king’s presence.3

Neither is this blessing a form of paying homage to the king. Thus, one would recite this blessing even if the king were an evil tyrant.4

The Limits of Royalty

Now, what exactly constitutes a “king”?

Rabbi Dovid ibn Zimra, the Radbaz (1479-1589), explains that in this context, it is one who has the power to sentence people to death (or pardon them) without needing the approval from anyone else.5

Others, however, - pointing to the text of the blessing, “Who has given from His glory . . . ,” - are of the opinion that the key factor is the great honor and deference shown to the ruler.6

Presidents vs. Monarchs

Presidents of the United States do not have the power to execute at whim, and can technically be removed from office,7 leading some to conclude that one should not recite the blessing upon seeing them.8

Most authorities, however, point out that they do have the power to declare war (and on the rare occasion even order assassinations). More importantly, they have the broad power to pardon or grant clemency for capital punishments. They therefore rule that the blessing should be said upon seeing the president.9

Conversely, those who maintain that the key factor is the honor accorded the monarch are of the opinion that one would recite the blessing upon seeing, for example, the Queen of England (who still technically needs to sign laws that are passed by the government), but perhaps not a president, whose entourage is more for the sake of security10 than respect.11

Some authorities assert that although no great pomp and ceremony is required, nevertheless, the ruler still needs to be wearing special garments that indicate his or her status. As such, one would make a blessing for a monarch, but still not make one for a president who wears ordinary clothing.12

Others counter that even if there isn’t “great pomp and ceremony,” it is enough if one can recognize the president’s greatness from his entourage and all the people coming to greet him.13

Furthermore, Rabbi Shmuel Wosner points out that the question posed to Rabbi Dovid ibn Zimra (quoted above as the main source for the explanation that the ruler needs to have the power of life and death) was about a ruler who was technically appointed under a king. So if the ruler is so powerful that he determines life or death without needing the king’s permission, a blessing could be made upon seeing him as well. However, seeing someone like the president or king, who holds the highest office of the land and is shown the most honor, requires/warrants a blessing regardless of the other factors.14

Practically speaking, if you know that you will be seeing a ruler, there are differences of opinion as to whether you can recite the blessing, so you should consult your rabbi. As a rule of thumb, when in doubt, recite the blessing but leave out G‑d’s name.15

Seeing the Ruler

Aside from the opportunity to say a special blessing and praise G‑d, the Talmud states that one should strive to see a king because when the Messianic era arrives, one will appreciate how much more respect and honor will be accorded to the King Moshiach and all those who follow the Torah and mitzvahs.16

May it be speedily in our days!