Goodbye “Shelo Asani – God didn’t make me a …” Hello “She’asani Yisrael” – “God made me a Yisrael” Rabbi Asher Lopatin

First a Halachic Discourse -scroll down for a more “warm fuzzy” approach:

In our versions of Talmud Masechet Menachot, 43b, Rabbi Meir says that a person, “Adam”, has to say three blessings every day: She’asani Yisrael, Shelo Asani Isha and Shelo Asani Bur. On the next line Rav Acha Bar Ya’akov replaces “Shelo Asani Bur” (God didn’t make me an ignoramus) with “Shelo Asani Aved” (God didn’t make me a slave).

The G’marra questions why we need to say both Shelo Asani Aved and Shelo Asani Isha, and Rashi, in his second explanation of that answer, says that we need to say both in order to come up with the required daily allowance of 100 b’rachot. The Bach (O.C 46) argues that the main reason for saying all three is to increase the number of b’rachot we say to 100, and that is the main reason for saying three b’rachot in the negative (shelo asani): if you would say the positive “She’asani Yisrael” then you could not say “Shelo asani aved, isha”. The Aruch HaShulchan (46, yud) like the Bach that rules that  if you say She’asani Yisrael, you cannot say the other two negative b’rachot – you would be “stuck” having said just one, positive, B’racha.

The Rosh (Rabeinu Asher) in the back of Masechet B’rachot, upholds the version that we have in Menachot – “She’asani Yisrael”. The Gaon MiVilna affirms it is the correct language to use in his Biur HaGra on the Shulchan Aruch.

Even though the three negative blessings have prevailed in our traditions and siddurim, and She’asani Yisrael has not, the Magen Avraham of three centuries ago and the Mishna B’rura of one century ago mention that in their respective periods there were siddurim – perhaps many of them – that had the b’racha of she’asani Yehudi or Yisrael, but that that is a mistake of the printers.

In fact, many of the classic halachik commentators feel that the negativity of the traditional b’rachot is strange – and they work to come up with answers. Moreover, even according to the Shulchan Aruch, the positive b’racha of She’asani Yisraeli may have its place – with a convert – and even those who reject the positive version of “She’asani Yisrael/Yehudi/Ger” for a convert, do not reject it because it is not a legitimate formulation (matbe’a), but, rather, because it does work for a convert who has made himself a Jew, rather than being made so by God.

Therefore, I suggest that we follow the b’racha according to the G’ra and the Rosh and our Talmud, and say, “She’asani Yisrael” instead of the negative, and that a woman says“She’asani Yisraelit” instead of the negative. Once the first b’racha is said in this way, the way it appears in the G’marra Menachot, then we have no choice, based on the p’sak of the Aruch HaShulchan (from the Bach) , to avoid saying the final two, negative b’rachot of “Shelo Asani Aved” (God did not make me a slave) and “Shelo Asani Isha”(God did not make me a woman), since they become unnecessary after such an all encompassing, powerful, and positive statement of Jewish identity of “She’asani Yisrael/Yisraelit”.

Now for some “hashkafa” – philosophical context:

She’asani Yisrael/Yisraelit” is a beautiful b’racha, thanking God for making me Jewish – proud to be Jewish, excited to begin the day as a Yisrael.

Rather than beginning the day with negative b’rachot, which accentuate the G’marra of “noach lo la’adam shelo nivra” – it would be truly better for a human being not to have been created at all – maybe it is now time to begin the day with a positive b’racha “k’mo sha’ar b’rachot shemevarchim al hatova” (Magen Avraham, 46, 9) – like all other b’rachot that we say blessing God for good things. How do you want to wake up in the morning: happy to be alive, or frustrated that you are still stuck in this world? Perhaps it depends on the day!

But “She’asani Yisrael” matches very well with the story of the angel’s fighting with Jacob in Genesis 32, 26: “Vayomer, Shalchein ki alah hashacher”, as Rashi interprets: Send me away, Oh Ya’akov, for I have to say the morning blessings of the angels. These angels, presumably, are happy to have been created! Then two verses later, the angel gives Jacob his morning blessing: “Lo Ya’akov ye’ameir shimcha, ki im Yisrael”! Your name will not be the negative Ya’akov any more, but, rather, the positive, glorious Yisrael! Can’t you imagine Jacob there and then saying: Blessed are you God who has made me Israel!

There is no better way to bring Jacob’s early morning transformation to life than by us, too, saying every morning, with pride and optimism, the way our G’marra has it: “She’asani Yisrael” – proud to be a “Yisrael – and through that sweeping away – halachically – centuries of the three negative birchot Hashachar that perhaps were desperately waiting for the day when proud, committed Israelites, would feel blessed enough to push them aside for a brand new morning, just as Jacob’s name was changed so many years ago.

Asher Lopatin

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36 Responses to Goodbye “Shelo Asani – God didn’t make me a …” Hello “She’asani Yisrael” – “God made me a Yisrael” Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  1. Dov says:

    Is this a pilpul, or are you paskening lemaaseh? Is this how it is/will be done in your shul?

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      Yes, halacha l’ma’aseh. I say every morning She’asani Yisrael. I spoke about this to the shul, but our minhag at shul is to say all of Birchot Hashachar to ourselves, as private b’rachot, and begin the shul’s communal davening with L’olam.

      Asher Lopatin

  2. Anonymous says:

    Rabbi Lopatin,
    You gave a good halachic analysis, and then proceeded to choose a side in the machlokes not on the basis of halachic criteria, but on the basis of philosphy. How does this go along with your statement last week that, “I agree that halachic questions need to be decided by halachic criteria, not philosophical or vision methods.”?

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      This is the third of three great comments. I’ll answer more at length when I get to my computer – I’m in the road having eaten all day at the kosher restaurant at Dutch Wonderland – but just a few bullet points.

      Firstly, while I’m suggesting it as Halacha lema’aseh, I’m putting it out there for comment and discussion: it’s still in Beta phase.

      Secondly, I probably would be more reticent to challenge the general minhag, but I know for a fact that this is the practice of Rav Benny Lau in Yerushalayim, and I’ve heard that Rav H. Schachter’s son (?) does not say Shelo Asani Isha as well.

      Thirdly, yes, I’m a lowly pulpit rabbi, not a posek. However, in an era where poskim themselves say that poskim are much too timid, “bemakom she’ein ish…” Someone has to stand up, as we on Morethodoxy are trying to do, and put these things out there.

      Many of the sources mentioned are in a manuscript I’ve written, which I will attach to the blog.

      Finally, for now, I think it is clear that the Gra paskins to say, Sheasani Yisrael, and we frequently paskin like the Gra – even against most Rishonim. Especially in Eretz Yisrael. Add to that Rav Ahron Solov.’s psak on women saying Kaddish, where he rejects the prevailing psak and allows women to say Kaddish specifically out of concern for them being alienated from Orthodoxy. Shelo Asani Isha, etc, is a similar issue.

      Yes, we are Orthodox, but Orthodox who are not afraid to discuss: Hafoch ba vahafoch ba- shake it up and see how Hashem guides us.

      Asher Lopatin

      Shalom and best wishes,

      Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  3. I’m sorry to interrupt this “let’s do something wonderful” fest but…

    First of all, I know you are very educated in both Jewish and secular fields, Rav Lopatin. I was not aware, however, that you have achieved the status of Posek haDor. Or is it your contention that any pulpit rabbi anywhere can much around with the siddur any time it bothers his sensibilities?

    Secondly, the Vilna Goan does not say “it is the correct language to use in his Biur HaGra on the Shulchan Aruch”. He says that that the Rif and the Rambam had the negative berachos in their siddurim while his local siddurim, like those of the Rosh and the Taz had the positive. This does not imply preference. Further, the problem with his statement is that in the Tur itself, chap. 46, he clearly lists the negative berachos without mention of any “sheasani Yisrael”.

    Thirdly, your reference to the Aruch HaShulchan is incomplete. In 46:10 he notes two reasons for the negatives. One is that the positive blessing implies disregard for those not included, that is: Thank God I’m a Jew because eveyrone else isn’t worthy of being noticed. The negative, on the other hand, implies that while non-Jews, slaves and women have definite intrinsic worth, it’s even better to not be them but more obligated to God. The second reason, which he brings from the Taz, is from Eiruvin 13 in which Chazal note that it was decided by Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai (and we recite this loudly every year on Yom Kippur) that it is better than man had never been created, but now that he has been, let him engage in Torah and mitzvos. If we see having been created as less than ideal, and by saying that it was decided by the greatest sages of the time then it has reached a level of emes, how can we bless God for creating us? Rather, the negative blessings acknowledge this discomfort and fulfill the recommendations of Chazal now that we’re stuck here in This World.

    The Taz goes further and notes that in theory Sheasani Yisrael makes sense. After all, there is a rule not to multiple berachos needlessly and there are lots of other ways to hit the magic 100 for the day so why not say Sheasani Yisrael and reduce the number of morning blessings by two? He again notes that this would imply that women and slaves are deficient products of creation and we cannot do this because it’s not true.

    Further, the Beis Yosef on Tur OC 46 brings an additional reason – by saying all three blessings you add chesed to chesed, increasing your praise of God.

    The Chayei Adam 8:2 also notes that if you say Sheasani Yisrael you cannot say the other two berachos, even in the positive sense. Your conclusion from Sheasani Yisraelit is completely incorect. A Yisraelit does not have the same mitzvah obligations as a Yisrael. Therefore the two blessings are NOT equivalent. The only way aorund that is the change the order of the blessings and make Sheasani Israel third but who are we to change the order of the blessings set down by Chazal?

    Thus far the actual sources.

    This post seems to reveal the major problem with left wing Modern Orthodox psak. It seems the model is “let’s find an authority we agree with and run with him”. Hence the approving reference to the Vilna Gaon based on the Rosh. Never mind that the Rambam, the Rif, the Tur, the Beis Yosef, the Magen Avraham, the Taz, the Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch HaShulchan disagree. Never mind that if the Vilna Gaon were to come back to life and discover that 99.9% of proper siddurim nowadays have the negative blessings in them he’d probably agree that the obligation is to say them as is. We have a vaguely word Gra. Let’s change the siddur!

    It reminds me of someone I knew who used to rely on a heter he’d heard about in the Igros Moshe. When a rabbi friend of mine began listing chumros from the same work and asked him if he held by those as well, he shook his head. Talk about rabbi shopping. It may not be intellectually dishonest but it is halachically dishonest.

    After all, there are plenty of places where the Gra is stricter than the Shulchan Aruch. Tell me, do you follow his customs on strict gender separation at all your functions? Do you follow all his other customs when it comes to tefillah?

    Really, this is not how halacha works. It’s how Conservatism works – let’s decide what we want first and then find some authority, well-known or obscure, who supports us, or let’s misapply some well-known halachic phrase like pikuach nefesh or tikun olam and use it in ways no one who knows what the words mean would ever approve of. The only remaining difference between Conservatism and Morethodoxy seems to be the red line. If the Conservatives don’t find their heter, they hold a vote at their so-called Rabbinical Assembly and create one. I would assume Morethodoxy doesn’t do that… yet.

    Finally, the reasoning: “Rather than beginning the day with negative b’rachot, which accentuate the G’marra of “noach lo la’adam shelo nivra”…How do you want to wake up in the morning: happy to be alive, or frustrated that you are still stuck in this world? Perhaps it depends on the day!” is completely irrelevant! Who cares if you wake up happy? Suddenly Chazal are wrong and it was worth it for you to be created? The gemara does not qualify their statement: It wasn’t worth being created… on days you wake up feeling lousy, otherwise great! It is a statement of emes. Wake up, smell the coffee, hear the birds, feel the warmth of the sun on your face, and it is wasn’t worth being created because of the high level of responsiblity we have to submit to every day. The negative berachos affirm this truth. Your positive one turns it into a suggestion. Do you have the authority to do that to an explicit Chazal?

    “For from the hills I behold him; lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” (Bemidbar 23:9) I am worried about a form of Orthodoxy that seems to work in opposition to this verse, that wants to take all that makes Torah Judaism distinct and to blur it so that we don’t seem that much different than the nations around us. Morethodoxy seems to be about avoiding the conflict between amoral secular liberal values and Torah values by minimizing and adjusting the latter so that said conflict is avoided. That’s not real Orthodoxy.

    • Benjamin Fleischer says:

      There is a fundamental difference, as I understand it, between Conservative and Orthodox approaches to Halakha. Both movements accept it as binding, but the Conservative movement takes a positive-historical approach of “tradition and change”. Rather than simply accepting the customs of our ancestors as statutes, it understands the history of halakhic development and seeks to derive from there what is truly fundamental and what can change. (Though, the movement as it has existed for the last 100 years covers a wide swathe of halakhic opinion and practice from the very liberal reconstructionist to the more conservative break off, R’ David Weiss haLivni’s Union for Traditional Judaism). However, I think that a careful reading of the way Rabbis poskened up until the Enlightenment showed a much more agile ability to radically change halakha.

      Orthodoxy, for the most part today, does not posken based on historical scholarship and is less willing to make radical changes. R’ Lopatin has strong textual basis within the tradition for the change he proposes if one accepts that a halakhic need can be justified by a halakhic precedent.

      “Minority opinions have been
      preserved in the talmudic sources besides those of the majority so that if a rabbinical
      court, at a later time, should for some reason of its own agree with the minority, it would
      have the right to invalidate a previous ruling according to the majority. It would have the
      authority to do that even if the first ruling was given by a rabbinical court greater in
      learning as well as in numbers than itself.” (M Eduy. 1:4-6).

      [Berkovits, E Not in Heaven (Ktav 1983) p.7-8, cf. p122 n.21 where he explains that though a “fellow
      court” cannot annul the majority opinion, a later court may.]

      • Benjamin Fleischer says:

        R’ David Golinkin (Masorti, Israel) has written a booklet Halakha leYameinu which this seems to be a summary of in case you are curious. You can also review Masorti responsa online at responsafortoday.com

        You may be interested in his teshuvot on kitniyot (allows it) and driving on shabbat (forbids it).

        I only add this to challenge the idea that the Conservative/Masorti movement cares not for Halakha. There are rabbis that may overreach and certainly the average member does not adhere to the standards of the law committee, but it does still have standards :)

        I doubt that morethodoxy wants the discussion to go that direction, though, so just consider this fyi.

      • The real fundamental difference between Conservative and Orthodox decision making is that the Conservatives decide on the answer first and, if the halacha does not agree with it, they simply ignore the halacha. When they decided to ordain women, for example, the JTS Talmud faculty researched the subject and reported back to Ismar Schorsch that it couldn’t be done. So he went and held an open vote at the school including the lay faculty and guess what? The majority ruled. That’s halachic decision making? How about their recent approval of gay marriage which abrogates not just the Oral Law (which they don’t accept as binding anyway) but the Written Law (which until now they had)? It’s one thing to dredge up an unused minority opinion, quite another to invent one. Bottom line: a system in which the answer to ever question is always “yes” isn’t a real system.

      • Benjamin Fleischer says:

        Michael/Garnel, I tried emailing you privately at yahoo but it bounced back. Please email me at originaljewish.com as oj, or you may move the discussion to my site as it is off-topic here.

        Shivim panim laTorah, right?

    • David J says:

      Garnel, Your rejoinders might be more effective if you left out the ad-hominem attacks which serve only to demean your position. Argue the points, man, leave out the invective. If you mean it to be intimidating, you have failed.

  4. Benjamin Fleischer says:

    You may find this related discussion here interesting as well at original jewish

    Rene Teague asked: What does everyone think? … Can I legally say “she asani
    Yisraelit”?

    This question is very similar to a question that was asked of Rambam
    [Maimonides]. I think it might be helpful to post both the question and the
    (abridged) response.
    ….
    [You can find the original in Freimann, Maimonides' Responsa, Mekizei Nirdamim,
    Jerusalem, 1934 - SR].

  5. evanstonjew says:

    I take it the goal is to bring about real changes in Jewish life, not just take positions. I applaud your views on a one state solution, which even if utopian for the moment, have world historical implications.If you now take on every liberal progressive cause within Orthodoxy are you not thereby diluting your effect? Liberal Orthodox Jews who don’t want to be marginalized and continue to want some acceptance from those on their right, can’t afford to put it bluntly to be meikel across the board. And in my opinion ought to be especially weary of taking on largely symbolic issues such as the nusach of the berachot.

    I would appreciate hearing your strategic ideas how to turn Orthodoxy around?

  6. Asher Lopatin says:

    When I talked about She’asani Yisrael to my community, the person who like it most was my Right wing stalwart: He loved the idea of Jews not just being schlepps who can only thank God in relation to the other, but, rather, that we are proud of being Jews, especially proud of being called Yisrael, the great fighter! So even though saying She’asani Yisrael eliminates some of those b’rachot that – rightly or wrongly – are offensive to women and gentiles, it cannot be categorized as being part of a liberal agenda: it is just as comfortable being part of an agenda to get us out of a schleppy Galut mentality and turn us into fighters for Hashem – even fighters against Hashem when we feel Hashem is violating God’s own Torah (ki sarita im elolkim). Likewise, some of my enthusiasm for the One State solution rises from a “right wing” desire for Jews to be able to live in Hevron and all over Judea and Samaria and not to have to have Jerusalem split. I think what Morethodoxy has to achieve is making friends on both the right and the left – a passionate Judaism that cannot be categorized easily.

    Asher Lopatin

    • Anonymous says:

      Rabbi Lopatin,
      The issue is not which agenda brings you to your conclusion. The issue is why philosophical, rather than halachic, criteria brought you there.

      Additionally, how can you now try to portray your elimination of brachos which some happen to find offensive as coincidental, when you mentioned that as your concern in an earlier response? Speaking of which, you mentioned that in your shul all of the brachos are said individually; how is anyone going to feel alienated by what you do in private?

  7. evanstonjew says:

    Rabbi Lopatin, I think it is very important you have the opporunity to develop your ideas for their own sake…one never knows how these things play out. I fear you program will have the same result as Meimad or Edah…everyone felt good about themselves while it lasted but it went nowhere politically.

    The fact that a right leaning member of your shul was ok with your proposal is all well and good , but even with a drasha redescribing your proposal is not of itself sufficient to make it any less radical or any less feminist. You can’t darshan your way through this…you need actual supporters, and lots of them , and that means being political in picking your battles, forming alliances with groups who have slightly different hashkafos and so on.

    If these topics don’t interest you that’s fine, but I then conclude you are satisfied with dreaming of utopias far from our world, utopias that will influence few. In offering solutions that will never be implemented and allowing liberals to feel more comfortable within the confines of Orthodoxy I feel you de facto strengthen the stastus quo.

  8. Asher Lopatin says:

    A few responses on recent comments: Orthodox Jewry responds to outside influences just as Conservative Jewry does – and that goes for Chareidi or Modern. The Netziv says as much in Parshat Tetzaveh. The question is, when some outside influence gets us to reflect on the way we are doing things – the minhag – such as which b’rachot we say, do we use the halachic tools we have, with the proper approach of yir’at shamayim, fear of heaven, and respect for the divine tradition God has given us, or not. That is where you may see some differences between movements. But certainly, external philosophies, or observations of how even other religions do things, will make us question – and should make us question – how we are doing things. Then we look up the halacha in an honest way. Thus, for whatever reason I don’t like the tenor of “Shelo Asani Goy” or “Shelo Asani Isha” – but I use that discomfort to push me to look up the halacha. And I try to be as honest and objective as I can be. Sometimes you see in the halacha that that’s the way it is, like it or not. Other times you see that halacha is really not the way things are practiced or what people thought. That is a chidush, but the Netziv says in his intro to Emek HaNeztiv that if those chidushim are examined and investigated and if they then hold up, they become Halacha Lemoshe Misinai. The same may be true of the practice of saying Shelo Asani, and I look forward to the day when people will understand that the real halacha is to say it as the Talmud has it: She’asani Yisrael.

    I think that all the Taz’s and others that have been quoted are a desperate way to justify three b’rachot that are odd and not even fully Talmudic. Halachically we always try to minimize the b’rachot we are saying – avoiding saying any b’rachot that are not necessary. Thus arguments that the three b’rachot are there to add b’rachot are weak. Yes, we are supposed to get to 100 b’rachot a day, but not by saying unnecessary and improper b’rachot. Frequently, minhag docheh halacha – but in this case the minhag is not desirable – as I said, it is time for us to start being proud of who we are, not who we are not.

    I suggest people say She’asani Yisrael. But, in my shul, as I said, we don’t say them out loud anyway – so people should feel free to say the b’racha they like.

    Finally, one of the key points of this blog is for us not to be afraid: Let’s talk about our dreams and our ideas. If they are good ideas, and if they are well thought out, people will take to them. Let’s not worry about whether people will think we are just dreamers. When they start hearing us say “She’asani Yisrael” they will know we are serious. When they start seeing the first 1000 Jews returning to their homes in the Old City of Jerusalem where they were kicked out in 1948, and 1000 Arabs living safely in Baqa and Katamon, then they will know it is not just a dream.

    Shabbat shalom,

    Asher Lopatin

  9. BZL says:

    Add to that Rav Ahron Solov.’s psak on women saying Kaddish, where he rejects the prevailing psak and allows women to say Kaddish specifically out of concern for them being alienated from Orthodoxy. Shelo Asani Isha, etc, is a similar issue.

    Asher,
    You are comparing apples (bracha) and oranges (kaddish). To say the wrong bracha in a manner not proscribed by chazal is a violation of bracha levatala, or possibly bracha she’eina tzricha. Kaddish is not a bracha. The source for kaddish is a medrash “the son says kaddish for his father…” It doesn’t say that a daughter does or doesn’t; it implies that a daughter doesn’t, but then again, it also implies that we wouldn’t say kaddish for other relatives besides a father, which we do; but there is little reason to prohibit women from doing so. You cannot transfer rules of kaddish to rules of brachot. For a woman or a man to change the text of a bracha involves saying G-d’s name in vain, a violation of one of the ten commandments. My Rebbe Rav Ahron zt”l would never have made the comparison you made because it is plain wrong.

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      Regarding She’asani Yisrael being considered a ‘bracha l’vatala’. This seems strange: Our g’marra codifies it as the legitimate b’racha, confirmed by the Rosh and the G’ra. We’ve come pretty far when we reject the G’marra as a legitimate source for b’rachot!

      RAL

      • BZL says:

        The Gemara does NOT codify it (see Rif & Rambam). The Shulchan Aruch does not codify it. The Gr”a does not deny that the Rif, Rambam, Tosefta and Yerushalmi have “shelo asani” either; he just is pointing out that the Rosh & Tur (the Rosh’s son) had a different text, and apparently the Gra’s siddurim had that text. I have never seen a siddur with that text, so I follow the Shulchan Aruch and the majority of poskim. Maybe you, in your studies of Islam, have come across a siddur with a different text, but certainly at Yeshivas Brisk of Chicago, where Rav Ahron Soloveichik was Rosh Hayeshiva, all our siddurim did NOT have the text of the Rosh & Tur. The Chazzan there every morning would say “shelo asani…”

        Thus when you reject the practice of your rebbe & the psak of the Shulchan Aruch under the guise of fidelity to the Gemara (and misconstruing a different, unrelated psak of your rebbe), you are saying a bracha l’vatala (at the very least).

      • Asher Lopatin says:

        Rav Ahron Soloveichik zt”l believed in everyone thinking for themselves. He spoke at length of his gradual break from Rav Hutner zt”l because Rav Hutner was too controlling. I never felt Rav Ahron to be that way, and, frankly, that is one of the things that attracted me to Yeshivas Brisk – it was made up of free thinkers – even those who went to Bnai Akiva when the Yeshiva was against it!

        RAL

        Shalom and best wishes,

        Rabbi Asher Lopatin

      • BZL says:

        Your example of Rav Ahron’s break with Rav Hutner proves you wrong. He broke because of HASHKAFIC reasons (outlook in life), not over Halachik differences. What you, Rabbi Lopatin, are doing, is using that example to depart from the HALACHA. There is no prohibition to attend Bnei Akiva, but there are many better ways to spend your time. Now, the talmid doesn’t have to agree with the Rebbe on every Halacha, when the talmid uses the tools his Rebbe taught him to come to the truth of psak. When politics or other things enter into the fray, it is no longer a Halachik matter.

      • Asher Lopatin says:

        Rav Ahron had halachic disagreements with Rav Hutner and with Bnai Akiva. In any case, let’s just agree to disagree and in 120 years we’ll take it up with Rav Ahron in shamayim!

        Shalom and best wishes,

        Rabbi Asher Lopatin

      • BZL says:

        You have not made any substantial comments to any of my points. If there is error in my logic, please inform me. I’d rather not “agree to disagree” when a proper discussion of the issues has not taken place.

      • Asher Lopatin says:

        Dear Sir – I’m not sure of your name – who is still harping on She’asani Yisrael being a b’racha l’vatala:

        First of all, anyone who wants can go to tractate Menachot 43b, and they will see that the version we have in our G’marra is “She’asani Yisrael”. End of discussion. Yes, many rishonim – if not most – have a different version, but our G’marras that we live with still have this version, not in brackets or anything, right there for all to see. Secondly, Rav Benny Lau is an important Jewish thinker, a well-respected Rav, and he does the same thing – in fact, he is partially and inspiration for this. He is not the type to make b’rachot l’vatala. So both from a technical point of view (the text of the G’marra, continued through the Rosh and the G’ra) and from a Shelshelet Hakabbala point of view (as evidenced by Rav Lau, a respected part of that halachik system) I have every halachik right to say She’asani Yisrael. Beyond that, I would much rather argue about a One State Solution for Israel, or the cause of the Chareidi riots in Israel or synagogues and homosexuals or women rabbis or something!! Besides just obsessing on one b’racha! Don’t say it if you don’t want to!

        With the love of Torah and ahavat chinam,

        Asher Lopatin

  10. Aaron says:

    If find your statement that “a convert who has made himself a Jew, rather than being made so by God” odd. Could you clarify what you mean or what sources you’re pulling from to make such a distinction?

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      Good question regarding what it means that “a convert makes himself Jewish”. I think the acharon who says it means more that the Jewishness of a convert comes from the active involvement of the convert – he or she discovers the Jew within and therefore is considered an equal partner with God in creating his Jewish identity.

      Asher Lopatin

  11. Moish says:

    The Yid Hakodesh from Pshischa (Rebbe Noson also might say this as well) explains that we say shelo asani goy because everyday when we wake up, we should see our selves as Jews for the first time. Yesterday I was not Jewish and today I am! Today is the first time in my life I have ever put on teffilin etc.

  12. shneer says:

    “Bottom line: a system in which the answer to ever question is always “yes” isn’t a real system.”

    I laughed when I read this. Coming originally from a Conservative shul environement in the Upper Midwest, Conservatives’ ‘take’ on Halacha makes perfect sense.

    Many of the ‘leaders’ of that Movement are the same affluent,somewhat bratty and spoiled adolescents with whom I passed through Hebrew school and attended Camp Ramah. They were never told ‘NO’ by their parents, their teachers, anyone without their parents rushing to defend their little darlings and castigate the authorities of whatever class, camp or program were ‘afflicting’ their precious kids.

    So, it is no surprise at all that these same privileged legends-in-their-own-minds would not have the backbone, will and honesty to create and stand by Halachic laws, but rather, as stated above in a reply, simply ‘take a vote’ and nullify the observance of that Halacha for their congregants.

    Which is one big reason, among others, I left the Conservative Movement. If I’m going to pick and choose on a whim, I can do that on my own, I don’t need their Rabbinical Assembly to do it for me. And, as a current TraditionalDox Jew, if I don’t observe a Halacha, at least I do that privately, rather than seeking to institutionalize it with some bogus ‘hescher’ from the Conservative Movement.

  13. DFK says:

    Dear Rabbi Lopatin,
    With all the appreciation of your motives, I’m quite disappointed about the lack of scholarly rigor of your analysis. If you are looking at what “our versions” of the Talmud have, as a basis for textual emendation, then the scholarly approach would be to look at what existed in the manuscripts (available on the web) and those editions before the Vilna Shas, because, I hope this is not a surprise – the Vilna edition is not from Sinai. The reason that the Rambam and other rishonim had the negative version – shelo asani goy – is because that is the pre-censored version in the Talmud. The Steinsaltz edition, though not a critical edition of the Talmud, chose to revert to texts that were not censored, and has shelo asani goy. Unless one takes the view of the Hazon Ish (as he did with the Meiri’s work being hidden by God on purpose for several centuries) that the censorship was the hand of God, it would be much more intellectually rigorous to deal with the original text. The censorship might have been self-imposed or externally imposed, but the differing texts have a historical basis, and the original text of these blessings is quite apparent.

    On the other hand, it is quite clear that the text of these blessings (and our siddur, in general) has had many variations.

    Your proposal was made a century or more ago by Rabbi Abraham Berliner, but he was well aware that the positive form is a result of censorship. He thought it was a good idea, anyway, and he knew that there were siddurim that had this form. He also felt it would obviate the need for the other two blessings.

    A very compelling reason to omit these blessings altogether is that they were influenced by the ancient Greeks, who had similar blessings. And, of course, Jews should not be influenced by Western values (I say with tongue in cheek). Hukat ha-goyim and all.

    I strongly recommend that all those who participated in the discussion here read the excellent article by Joseph Tabory, “The Benedictions of Self-identity and the Changing Status of Women and of Orthodoxy,” Kenishta, Bar Ilan University Press, 1, 2001, 107-138.
    It is posted with the Press’s permission on the JOFA website at http://www.jofa.org/pdf/uploaded/517-DJMB5131.pdf.

    I was also surprised that no one noted that the Conservative siddurim have the triad of blessings in the positive form, and reverse order so as to go from the general to the specific (as they do in the negative form), resulting in she’asani b’tzalmo, she’asani ben/bat horin, she’asani Yisrael.

    DFK (a woman, a feminist)
    Jerusalem

    • Asher Lopatin says:

      My rebbe, Rav Ahron Soliveichik was never bothered that we currently might use a censored version of things such as not saying in Aleinu “shehem mishtachavim”. Just because something was censored doesn’t mean that the only reason it was taken out was fear. In fact there are many more parts that speak against Gentiles “vegam bimnuchato lo yoshkenu areilim” but there our tradition chose not to take them out. Many censor theoreticians also suggest that the Meiri’s revolutionary interpretations were also forced by the Gentiles. Maybe, but Rav Ahron accepted them as Halacha.

      But thx for the comments and challenges. I’m sure we haven’t heard the end of this.

      Shalom and best wishes,

      Rabbi Asher Lopatin

  14. Michael Stein says:

    I very much support Rabbi Lopatin’s attempt to address the disturbing implications of “sh’lo asani…” with creative thinking that is solidly rooted in various sources, even if those sources are not a majority opinion.

    I understand why others find this approach sort of scary. After all, the Conservative movement tried to be more creative with halacha, and has failed at inspiring large numbers of people to become Jewishly literate and shomer mitzvot.

    But I do not believe the failure of the Conservative movement should lead us to stop trying to address real issues. And the negative impact of the “sh’lo asani” brachot is very real, as is their deep contradiction with important, legitimate concerns that modernity has alerted us to, but have timeless relevance and value (e.g. women’s issues, issues of racial superiority, etc.).

    Many of those who defend the traditional Orthodox approach perhaps don’t appreciate the magnitude of the disaster we are experiencing today, with the vast majority of Jews assimilating, and Orthodoxy looking more and more like an insular cult, unable to make a true contribution to world culture any more, unless we ascribe to some esoteric, metaphysical view of the value we are adding to the world even though nobody can prove it and most don’t see it. (That’s pretty much how the chareidi world in Israel justifies not going to the army — saying that the secular world doesn’t understand the contribution made by Torah study — and all the while creating an absolutely massive hillul Hashem by letting non-chareidi kids die and saving their own skin with self-serving metaphysics.)

    We are supposed to be a light unto the nations — for all to see and recognize. Even if one believes that the “shelo asani” brachot are not misogynistic or smacking of racial superiority, it is undeniable that they give the appearance or impression of that to many Jews and non-Jews alike. We need to be concerned about that. So I applaud Rabbi Lopatin’s attempt to address the issue.

  15. shneer says:

    Michael Stein wrote “…and Orthodoxy looking more and more like an insular cult, unable to make a true contribution to world culture any more, unless we ascribe to some esoteric, metaphysical view of the value we are adding to the world even though nobody can prove it and most don’t see it.”

    Dear Michael…that statement displays so much ignorance. What Orthodoxy are you looking at? The one I see wears a kippa, keeps shabbat, practices Law or Accounting or Engineering, has Gentile and Jewish clients, keeps Kashrut, Family Purity and goes to the Cubs games. What is so ‘insular’ and ‘cult-like’ about that?

    An Orthodox Israeli whos name escapes me won the Nobel Prize for physics within the last couple of years or so, big media picture of him with the Nobel royalty… if that is not a ‘true contribution to world culture’, what is?

    Finally, any belief in an active Supreme Creator forces one to ‘ascribe to some esoteric, metaphysical view.’ What your statement really tells me is that the Conservative and Reform branches have effectively abandoned ANY belief in a Supreme Creator who gave the Torah at MT. Sinai as merely childish fantasy, (because, as you say,’nobody can prove it and most don’t see it,) and you have replaced it with a Secular Liberalism disguised as Judaism.

    And THAT, my friend, is why the Conservative and Reform movements are losing adherents in droves. You offer them nothing they can’t get at their local Lakeview community meeting or food pantry. No demands, no sacrifice, just slogans and community service. That’s nice, but it isn’t Judaism by itself.

    • Michael Stein says:

      Hello Shneer:

      I believe the religious face of Judaism to the world, and the fastest growing and intellectually dominant (though not necessarily correct) stream of Judaism, is much more chareidi than modern Orthodox, and conveys the cult like aspects I’ve noted.

      But even modern orthodoxy is not what I’d call intellectually cutting edge. Rav Soloveitchik was a powerful thinker, but who is there today that commands such broad influence and respect? An orthodox scientist who wins a nobel prize is something to be proud of, but that doesn’t mean Judaism itself is continuing to contribute to the intellectual and spiritual development of the broader world. Judaism is supposed to be an Or LaGoyim, and is supposed to convey wisdom and spiritual power to the entire world, not merely produce an occasional Nobel Prize winner. The nations are supposed to see Judaism as an inspirational power, and I don’t see that happening, as modern orthodoxy defers to chareidi views all too often, and veers into a philosophical fundamentalism of its own, dressed in more modern clothing. I see glimmers of hope in the Morthodoxy postings here, and on some other venues, but it’s an uphill struggle.

      Conservative and Reform Judaism have failed far more decisively, in my opinion, though I think you are mistaken about trends in Reform — the movement is growing, not shrinking. But I comment from inside the Orthodox world, not outside.

      As for metaphysics, it seems to me that Isaiah exhorts us to social justice goals, not metaphysical contemplation. True, metaphysics is powerful and important, but it can all too easily morph into self contemplation.

      • shneer says:

        Social Justice is indeed an important, integral part of Judaism as I understand it, but surely Teshuva itself requires a degree of self-contemplation. I do not see that as a negative.

        You may be correct about Reform increasing numbers, I don’t know for sure. But, to me, it hardly matters, since the degree of traditional basic observance in that community is virtually nil. I”m speaking from personal experience family-wise… ANYTHING goes.

        You are also correct that MO is bowing to a Chareidi face… that is a shame. To choose between being a Reform Jew and a black hatted penguin isn’t much of a choice for me. I dont’ think it has to be that way.

        Finally (your first point) I don’t see much intellectual ‘cutting edge’ ANYWHERE in Judaism, so I don’t think its fair to target MO as being weak on that. Our generation has its gurus, but overall does not have the Yichus and drive for intellectual truth that my parents generation had. Just My Opinion.

  16. Incredibly interesting read! Really!

  17. Aryeh says:

    B’chavod HaRav,
    I would strongly suggest looking into the deeper meanings and truths that are represented our accepted nusach of Birchot HaShachar which includes “shelo asani goy”, “shelo asani aved”, “shelo asani isha” and “sh’asani kirtzono”. Truthfully, I know very little but I have learned that what you call the negative brachot are not at all in poor taste, racism or sexism (many ignorant people try to make this into a case of discrimination. unfortunately, we have lost the deep connection with our own tradition and are more affected by the ever-changing trends in society around us, worrying whether our Minhag Yisroel is politically correct in the eyes of a society that only sees superficial meaning.) These brachot reflect the mystical nature of our being, what we know of our relationship with Hashem, our level of free choice, our level of clarity of Hashem, our potential for greater levels of clarity of Hashem, etc. I really am not able to give this over but I can tell you that this explanation of Birchot HaShachar greatly changed my understanding and relationship with HAshem and His world. Jews must struggle to look deeper and deeper into our own traditions, halachot, heritage etc. in order to connect to the fresh revelation of Hashem’s timeless truth. We must be careful that our “changes” do not come from a place of negative feelings, boredom, confusion or superficiality, rather from a place of deep thought and desire for connection with Hashem in a way we are yet to experience. In the merit of our ocnstant struggles to find how to live the Will of Hashem, we should see the geula shlema very soon in our days!!

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