I have noticed that most people say Shir Hamaalos before bentching at their Shabbos and Yom Tov seudos. However, I have noticed very few people say Al Naharos Bavel before bentching on a weekday. As far as I understand, the starting point is really to say Al Naharos, but as we cannot mourn on certain days, we substitute with Shir Hama'alos.

Is there any source for saying Shir Hama'alos independent of saying Al Naharos? If not, is there a reason that people seem to have adopted one and not the other (short of that one fits very nicely to lots of catchy tunes and the other doesn't)?

I am aware that many people do say Al Naharos, and I myself say it. However, I am also sure that many people do not say it, both through observation and through discussions with people.

  • 1
    If I can find which rav said the following, b'li neder I might write it up as an answer. A friend of mine asked a major rav "why don't people say al naharos before bentsching anymore?" His completely serious response was "they don't?"
    – Jake
    Aug 27, 2014 at 9:16
  • I would venture to guess that it has a lot to do with Jewish elementary schools teaching children bentching starting with "Baruch", and kids being exposed at home to bentching on Shabbath starting with "Shir". That is, if your observations are correct. When you observe people bentching, are they bentching out loud? If not, do you generally sit close enough to them to hear them? If you do, does that creep them out?
    – Seth J
    Aug 27, 2014 at 14:06
  • @close-voters: This question is clearly very different than that one. That one asks about saying Al Naharos at all. This one is about saying Shir Hamaalos if you don't say Al Naharos. I don't see how the question there, or the answers, overlap. Aug 27, 2014 at 18:02
  • @SethJ It's easy enough - they bentch loud enough to hear them start from "baruch" and they don't do any inaudible mumbling beforehand. So unless they hold that you say it in your head, they aren't saying it. Aug 27, 2014 at 18:04
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    @YEZ It answers by saying everyone is wrong.
    – Double AA
    Aug 27, 2014 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


The poskim write that before bentching one needs to remind himself of the churban. During the week we do so with "Al Naharos Bavel" [ANB]- which has more of a mourining theme and on Shabbos we do so with "Shiur Hamaalos" [SHM] which is more of a simcha theme.

So first of all as long as someone is saying one of them they are fulfilling the spirit of the law i.e. remembering the Beis Hamikdash and doing no wrong per se.

ANB is not said on days where we don't say tachnun, on the eve of days where we don't say tachnun and any other joyous occasion. So days where ANB could actually be said are somewhat limited.

The Piskei Tshuvos brings down in the name of the Rebbe of Liska and The Munkatcher Rav the SHM is always said. Unfortunatly he does not bring their reasons.

IMHO I have the feeling that in the first few generations after the Baal Shem Tov there was an intense focus on simcha and to keep away from any form of atzvos.

Even though we no longer have those spiritual levels as those chassidim had the minhag stuck. Again a personal opinion and I am trying to track down a source.

NOW as I understand -

ANB or SHM needs to be said ! it can't be skipped in favor of finishing 30 secs earlier

If one follows all chassidic customs than one should continue saying SHM during the weekdays.

If one does not have such customs than ANB should be said on the appropriate days before bentching and if they have said SHM until now then chalk it up to one of those things they learnt later in life and they should change.

We only need to look at the Dembiciner Rav ZT"L who changed from SHM to ANB in his later years and encouraged everyone to do the same.


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