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How long do I have after a bread meal to bensch (say grace)? Does it matter if I am distracted by other things? For example, I eat at 1 pm, then I work for 5 hours, go to the store for half an hour, and realize I forgot to bentch. When is too late?

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HALACHIPEDIA has part of its entry on Birkat HaMazon that deals with the question.

The numbers refer to the references – please see the original especially ref 21. It's not the distraction that matters so much as the time and how hungry you are - see below.

How long does one have to say Birkat HaMazon?

  1. If one ate bread and is full, preferably one should make Birkat HaMazon within 72 minutes and after the fact, one may make it as long as one is full from what one ate. However, after 72 minutes, if one is a little hungry, one can no longer make the Birkat HaMazon. [21]
  2. If it’s past 72 minutes and one is in doubt whether one is still full one can make Birkat HaMazon, yet, it’s preferable to eat another Kezayit before making Birkat Hamazon. [22]
  3. However, if one just had a Kezayit and was not full, one should try to make the Birkat HaMazon right away and if one didn't one may only make Birkat HaMazon up to 72 minutes after one ate. [23] Some add that if one waited more than a half hour it's preferable to have another Kezayit of bread before making Birkat HaMazon. [24]
  4. If one has a very long meal and continues to have appetizers or drinks, one may make the Birkat HaMazon as long as the meal continues even 4 or 5 hours. [25] One should have something to eat or drink every 72 minutes, however, if one didn't then one may still say Birkat HaMazon. [26]
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Aruch HaShulchan Orach Chaim 184:7 & 8 says that we don't know how to determine if one is still full, therefore one should say Birchas HaMazon within 72 minutes of completing the meal. If it is beyond 72 minutes then one should eat another Kezayis and then say Birchas HaMazon.

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Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim Chaim 184:5 says one has until the food digests, which is determined by a hunger caused from that eating. Therefore, as soon as one is hungry again (even though digestion has not yet completed), he may no longer bentch.

Mishna Berurah 20, and more clearly in the Biur Halacha, says this is at least 72 minutes.

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All of this reposted from http://www.berachot.org/halacha/12_shiurberacha.html

Time Lapse (max) - From when you are done eating, how long do you have to say the bracha achrona? There is a difference between Bread and all other items in this regard:

Bread: Ideally, one should bentch within 72 minutes from when he stopped eating, since within this time period, your body is still digesting the food. If it is past 72 minutes, then one can still bentch provided that he is not hungry from the food he ate. If he became hungry during this time, even if not starving, just somewhat hungry - then he would not be able to bentch.

If one is unsure whether he is hungry, he is allowed to bentch as long as he originally ate until satiation. (The logic is that if he ate until satiation - then he has a torah obligation to bentch while if he just ate a kazayit - then he has only a rabbinic obligation. Therefore in this doubtful circumstance - if he has a torah obligation, it would supercede over the doubt.) (This law might be different for women since there is a dispute whether their obligation is derived from the torah or rabbinic and in case of doubt - ask your local orthodox rabbi.)

A great advice: If you are unsure, eat another kazayit without a bracha rishona and then bentch without any doubt. Alternatively, you can listen to someone else making the bracha.

All other Foods: Ideally, you should say it right away, becuase you won't be digesting a snack for so long. From 30 minutes until 72 minutes, one would be in a doubtful situation and beyond 72 minutes, you have completely missed your oppurtunity.

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