On The Three Morning Blessings (You Know Which Ones)

The following post is from the Morethodoxy blog. It’s an excellent articulation of an alternate halachic perspective on the three disturbing and controversial blessings which occur in all modern orthodox siddurs (they did not exist in many pre-modern orthodox siddurs, ironically).  

A Calmer and Fuller Articulation. R. Yosef Kanefsky

Friends have correctly pointed out to me over the last few days that my post of last Thursday was too strident in tone, and too light in halachik discussion and sourcing. I am again reminded why our Sages advised us to acquire friends, and why God blesses us with them.

For the stridency of the tone, I sincerely apologize. I can and should do better.

With regard to the substance, I share two points. The first concerns the proper halachik execution for the omission of the blessing “for You have not made me a woman”.  Rabbi Lopatin articulated it well, and I will here summarize his argument for it is indispensible to this change in practice.

(1)  We are familiar from our siddur with the blessing “For You have not made me a non-Jew”.  In our printed versions of the Talmud however, (see Menachot  43b) the blessing appears not in the negative formulation, rather in the positive language “for You have made me an Israelite” (שעשאני ישראל). While the majority of Talmudic commentaries and Codes nonetheless maintained that the correct version is the one we have in our siddur, two prominent Sages demurred. Both Rosh (Brachot 9:24) and the Vilna Gaon prescribe the recitation of “for You have made me an Israelite” , in accordance with our version of the Talmud.

(2) Bach (O.C 46) , while aligning himself with the majority position, rules that if in error you said “for You have made me an Israelite”, then you should OMIT THE TWO BLESSING THAT FOLLOW, including “for You have not made me a woman”. (Mishnah Brurah 46:15 cites this position as well.) This is because the expression of gratitude for being a (male) Jew already includes the sentiments of the subsequent blessings within it.

(3) The argument now proceeds with the assertion that we ought to DELIBERATELY recite “for you have made me an Israelite” (for women, the feminine version שעשאני ישראלית) IN ORDER TO CREATE THE GROUNDS FOR OMITTING  “for You have not made me a woman”.

This is an unusual halachik maneuver to be sure, one which requires justification. And this brings me to my second point. We don’t re-explore our halachik options with an eye toward change, absent a compelling reason to do so. By the same token though, to resist re-examination when such is needed, is to abdicate our responsibility to ensure that we’re always practicing halacha at its very best.

As I wrote in my original post, I believe fervently that Orthodoxy has yet to grapple fully or satisfactorily with the dignity of womankind. We know and understand, like no generation before us has known and understood, that women are men’s intellectual and spiritual equals. Our society has accordingly decided to treat both genders with equal dignity, and has opened all professional, political and communal endeavors to both genders equally. I believe that our community however, falls short of this goal in many ways. We are, of course, committed to operating within the framework and rules of halacha. But it is not hard to construct a halachik universe in which women’s physical space in shul and intellectual space in day schools and Study Halls are not lesser, but equal. It is not hard to imagine a halachik universe in which virtually all positions of leadership are available to all. And we must create a halachik universe in which the extortion of women by their ex-husbands as the Bet Din stands helplessly by, is simply unfathomable.  It’s not halacha’s fault that we are lagging. It’s our fault.

I know of course, that “You have not made me a woman” can be understood in many different ways. But by its plain meaning, and by the simple smell test, it has the effect today of justifying our lack of progress, and of affirming for us that women do not possess the spiritual dignity than men do. In OUR specific time, given OUR specific challenges, the blessing hurts us. We thus find ourselves today in an halachik  “sha’at hadchak”, an “urgent circumstance”. The sort of circumstance that justifies utilizing an ingenious halachik stratagem to effectively drop this blessing from our liturgy.

I know there are many who will disagree with me on one or all of the points I’ve made. I am hopeful that stripped of their stridency, they will be easier to consider on their merits. May our disagreements be for the sake of Heaven.


Original source: http://morethodoxy.org/2011/08/08/a-clamer-and-fuller-articulation-r-yosef-kanefsky/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+morethodoxy%2FJQTd+%28Morethodoxy%3A+Exploring+the+Breadth%2C+Depth+and+Passion+of+Orthodox+Judaism%29

Author: Matthew Zachary Gindin

Freelance journalist and teacher. I write regularly for the Forward, All That In Interesting, and the Jewish Independent, and have been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Elephant Journal, and elsewhere.

3 thoughts on “On The Three Morning Blessings (You Know Which Ones)”

  1. Aside from the broader ethical and societal issues, these three brochos are about the esteem we should have for being obligated in all of the mitzvos. I don’t think “dignity” is relevant here.

    If this is true, perhaps we could speculate that the negative formulation was preferred to the positive one because in fact Jewish men are not born with these greater obligations (“she-asani”), but only acquire them at bar mitzvah.

    What do you think, Talis?

    (I haven’t read the previous essay from Rabbi Kanefsky, though.)

    1. Hi Eiver

      Sorry, my previous reply to this failed to post for some reason. Rabbi Sperber’s book, “On Changes to Jewish Liturgy”, does a better job of responding to your thoughts than I could and if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. For the record I believe that the negative phraseology has a historical rather than pedagogical cause: the brachot were modelled after a Roman prayer contemporaneous to these blessings being formulated. It went ” Thank (Zeus?) I was not born a barbarian, a slave or a woman.” I think the Rabbi’s formulation “Thank God I’m not a non-Jew, a slave, or a woman” was a subversive bit of “culture jamming”. I think that that some of the bad taste of the prayer it was subverting clings to it, however, and I agree with those who believe it should now be reformulated. Thank you again for your thoughts!

      L’ shalom and Chag Sameach!


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