QUESTION: In a week of coalition agreements and political wrangling, the following question has been posed. We know that a special Bracha was instituted by our Sages in the event that one sees either a Jewish or Gentile King. What however is the Din concerning a democratically elected leader – does he have the status of a King in this regard? In other words: Would one recite a Bracha upon seeing today Sharon, Bush or Blair? And would the Halacha be different for Saddam Hussein?
ANSWER: The Sefer haEshkol states categorically that any leader who has the authority to make decisions takes on the mantle of King in our regard and a Bracha needs to be recited. The Radbaz takes this idea one step further and entertains the possibility that one would even need to make the Bracha on a government minister who also has certain powers in his domain. He concludes, however, that this Bracha should be said without uttering the names of G-d.
One might conclude that figure heads like the Queen of Great Britain or the President of the State of Israel would not fit into the above category as their active powers are highly limited. However, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef suggests that the President has the authority to pardon a person who is meant to be killed and therefore can be considered to have far reaching powers that warrant a Blessing.
The Hatam Sofer agrees and adds that a leader who only has a specific term in office can still be considered worthy for this Blessing as he has full authority during his term. He stresses that this applies even when the leader is on a state visit to another country.
However, there is a further issue as to whether one is required to make this Blessing when the President is wearing regular civilian clothing. The wording of the Bracha is that “Hashem gave of his honor to man”. Many Poskim conclude therefore that the Bracha was only instituted when the King himself is wearing his regal suit where his “honor” is felt to his subjects. This issue is contentious and therefore the bottom line opinion of the Poskim is in fact to make a blessing without uttering the names of G-d.
However, it seems clear that the leader must have the support of his subjects and therefore a tyrant would not be under this category, which disqualifies Saddam of being eligible for a Bracha (Thank G-d).