There is a special bracha one says when he sees a king. Is the status of a president in today’s day and age similar to that of a king that we should make a bracha?
With the special bracha one recites upon seeing a king, some hold that it can be recited even on a king or queen who does not have the power to kill. What about reciting a bracha on the President of the United States?
The Be’er Moshe writes that, if a ruler of the country himself does not need the power to kill, one can recite a bracha. However, he writes that he later found that the Chasam Sofer ruled that the definition of a king depends on his ability to kill or keep alive. After discovering this ruling of the Chasam Sofer, he changed his ruling, and asserted that no bracha is recited on the president.
There is another point to consider in regards to a president: the fact that his tenure is only short-term. Since the longest one can be president is 4 or 8 years, perhaps it is not worthy of a bracha. The Be’er Moshe asserts that this is not a factor, and one can even recite a bracha on someone who rules temporarily. Rav Shternbuch, however, rules that this is also a reason not to recite a bracha on a president.
One more important point is to clarify the words of the Chasam Sofer, that it must be that he has the ability to kill or keep alive. Are both pointers needed or is one enough? For example, the Minchas Elazar was asked about reciting the bracha on a president, and he ruled that if the president has the right to pardon someone from a death sentence, one can recite the bracha.
The Shu”t Afraksa D’Anya (a great Rav in Romania) also concurred with this ruling. He adds that one can see this notion from the text of the bracha: “she’chalak m’kvodo – He gave from His Honor,” which means that a king has been given some honor similar to Hashem, Who decides life and death. As long as the ruler is vested with some of that power, it is sufficient to recite the bracha. Based on this understanding, he ruled that since a president has the right to pardon, one can recite the bracha.
However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ruled that if a ruler does not have the power to kill, even if he can pardon someone from the death penalty, it is not sufficient to recite the bracha. He therefore ruled that one does not recite the bracha on a president. On the other hand, Rav Dovid Feinstein and Rav Dovid Cohen both ruled that the bracha can be recited.
So, we have a machlokes between the contemporary poskim if one should recite the bracha on a president or not. This will depend if he needs to have the power to kill to make the bracha. Others opine that the fact that he can pardon someone or the mere fact that he is the highest ranking member of the country is sufficient to recite the bracha.
There is a machlokes if one should recite the bracha on the president or not, depending if one needs to have the power to kill to make the bracha, or the mere fact that he can pardon or that he is the highest ranking member of the country is also sufficient to recite the bracha.