1) The Gemara (Brachos 58a) tells us that one should make an effort to see kings “and not only Jewish kings, but even gentile kings, because if he will merit, he will be able to distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish kings”. Rashi explains that this refers to those who will see the coming ofMoshiach. They will appreciate how much greater the honor given to theMelechHa’Moshiach is than the honor given by the various nations to their leaders in this world. The Gemara adds that additionally there is an obligation to recite a special bracha when seeing a king. As was codified by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 224:8), when one sees a Jewish king, he should say “Baruch…she’cholok mikvodo li’yireiav” and if he sees a non-Jewish king he should recite the blessing “Baruch…she’noson mikvodo l’basar v’dam”.
2) Rav Chaim Palag’i zt”l (cited by the Sefer Shearim Metzuyanim B’Halacha vol. 1. 60:6) rules that one is required to recite the bracha upon seeing a king even if he is known to be an evil tyrant. He explains that this blessing is not meant as a symbol of honor or respect towards the king. Rather, the rationale for this blessing is in order to appreciate how much honor is shown to kings now, so that we will be able to appreciate how much more honor will be given to the Melech Ha’moshiach.
3) The term “king” employed by the gemara is somewhat vague. In fact, nowhere in the gemara or in its major commentaries are we told what kind of authority one must have in order to warrant a bracha. The Radvaz (cited by Magen Avraham and Mishna Berurah) explains that the bracha need not be said over a king exclusively, but rather, any official or leader who is able to execute and exercise capital punishment is deemed to have requisite power to warrant a bracha. This ruling of the Radvaz is particularly essential when evaluating whether a blessing should be said over the President of the United States, as is discussed at length by the modern day Poskim. There are primarily two views on this subject:
4) Bracha Is Recited– Rav Wosner zt”l (Shevet Halevi 1:35) reasons that the ruling of the Radvaz is only necessary regarding a governor or officer who are not the most honored and revered in their land (as they don’t hold the highest position). A person like this needs the ability to execute criminals to have the power to require a blessing. The President or king, however, who are shown the most honor require a blessing regardless of their abilities and duties.[This author was told from reliable sources that Rav Zelig Epstein Zt”l indeed recited a bracha upon meeting President Clinton.]
5) Bracha Without The Name of Hashem– Since the President is unable to execute prisoners at will, he should not warrant a blessing. This is the opinion of Rav Moshe Stern zt”l. In his Sefer Beer Moshe 2:9, he advises that one recite the blessing while omitting the name of Hashem.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef zt”l cites a number of authorities who rule that one does not recite a beracha when he sees a king wearing normal clothing, and without the accompaniment of an entourage. These authorities reason that the blessing is recited on the “honor” granted the king. If the king is not currently displaying that honor there is no need for a beracha. Rabbi Yosef himself is unsure whether or not these authorities should be relied upon and therefore rules to recite the beracha without uttering the name of God. Therefore, since presidents do not wear “the garb of kings” one does not recite the name of Hashem.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch Shlit”a (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 2:139) explains that since the criteria for this blessing is that they must be shown the honor reserved for royalty, one would not make a bracha on a president because, although he holds the highest position in the land, he only holds it for four years. He may be impeached at any time, and his approval is not necessary for all laws to be passed. For this very reason, Rav Shternbuch rules that a bracha should be recited upon seeing the monarch in modern day England.
6) The poskim rule that one does not make a bracha upon seeing a king or president on the television; see Shut B’tzel Hachochmo 2:19, Beer Moshe 2:9, Yechava Daas 2:28.
7) Rabbi Moshe Stern zt”l and his brother Rav Bezalel Stern zt”l (Be’er Moshe 2:9:4 and B’tzel Hachochmo 2:19) both explain that one need not actually see the king himself in order to make the beracha. It is sufficient to see the entourage parading the monarch through the streets.