A Clamer 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.

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30 Responses to A Clamer and Fuller Articulation. R. Yosef Kanefsky

  1. Debrah D. says:

    Rabbi Kanefsky,

    Though you may have changed some of the language of your earlier post, I assume you still hold what you wrote earlier to be true.

    Ealier you wrote:

    ” . . . Simply for lack of male reproductive organs, otherwise qualified women are still barred from the rabbinate, and from many positions of communal leadership. She can be a judge, but not a dayan. A brain surgeon, but not a posek. And often she must content herself with davening in a cage in shul, from where her desire to say kaddish for a parent may or may not be tolerated. This is no way to run a religion that claims wisdom as its inheritance. But every morning in the daily blessings, we unthinkingly mouth the philosophical justification for these demeaning, arbitrary, discriminatory practices . . . ”

    So what are your thoughts?

    Do you plan on:

    A) Pushing for women to serve as rabbis

    B) Pushing for women to serve as Dayanim

    C) Pushing for women to serve as Posekot

    D) Doing away with Mechitzot

    Seems to me that you have some serious issues with Orthodox Judaism not being fully egalitarian.

    What are you proposing to do about that?

    Assuming you’re as passionate about egalitarianism as you write, will simply ommitting one blessing settle the score?

    I can’t take you seriously until I see more from you than just leaving out one morning blessing.

    If that’s all it will take for you to feel that the egalitarian issues inherent within Orthodoxy have been solved, you aren’t being true to what you have written.

  2. While unqualified to comment on the halachic soundness of his decision, I will applaud Rabbi Kanefsky for having the guts to make the case he has for doing what so many of our rabbis are afraid to, but ultimately must do – challenge halacha and play a role in the necessary evolution Jewish practice.

    I believe he’s right that the prayer, on its face, does not work anymore. At Shabbat lunch this week, a proud orthodox woman shared that the first time she read it, she was so shocked that it made her reconsider pursuing a more observant lifestyle. Meanwhile all the others at the table defended the prayer with a wide range of explanations rendering it anywhere from innocuous, to downright anti-male.

    These interpretations, however, can be seen mostly as testaments to our creativity and sensitivity to the issue! What modern man or woman was not relieved, when for the first time he or she heard these positive explanations (whether fabricated or sourced) removing the overt misogynistic tone from the prayer?

    While we should applaud anyone who engineers (or reverse engineers) the meaning of the prayer to be positive or at least harmless, we should certainly be open to the idea of changing something that even appears to be unjust – perhaps on the halachic grounds of avoiding the appearance of impropriety.

    Thanks Rabbi for your original post and your follow-up.

  3. Nachum says:

    “We know and understand, like no generation before us has known and understood, that women are men’s intellectual and spiritual equals.”

    Do “we” really “know” this? I am referring to your line about “spiritual equals.” How do *you* know that women and men are spiritual equals? Who’s to say that “equal” is even the right word here, considering the way the word “equality” is used these days? Perhaps if we used the word “equivalent” it would be more clear? And finally, who says that this is why the blessing exists? Maybe it’s based on a whole other metric, correct or not.

    In addition, you can cite sources all you want. But if you’re changing the blessing for external reasons, you’re going to be viewed with suspicion, and probably rightly so.

    “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.”

    Once again, as with “intellectual” above, you place an indisputable point (schools and study halls) in with one which is highly dubious. It’ll be pretty hard to construct equality in shuls without going across an obvious line.

    “It is not hard to imagine a halachik universe in which virtually all positions of leadership are available to all.”

    “Virtually”? If you’re going to stick at “virtually,” as you must without having everything fall apart, you’re always going to be left with unsatisfied people. At some point, we have to say, “Look, Judaism says X. And I’m very sorry, but Judaism is not just keeping mitzvot and eating chulent. You take it on, you’ve got to take it all on.”

  4. [...] A Calmer and Fuller Articulation. R. Yosef Kanefsky [...]

  5. Anonymous says:

    We knew someone who was studying to be convert but struggling with women’s role in Judaism. What I told her was that for Jewish women we explain about their special role and privileges, their greater spiritual connection etc.

    But, if you want to know the truth, the Torah (aside from any cultural biases that have developed over the years) does not give us equality, and if you can’t handle that, just don’t convert!

    (Unfortunately, she chose to go through the conversion with her doubts, but subsequent behavior made her real motivations rather clear).

    My point is, you can’t make things different by wishing or hoping. It is what it is- it’s the rotzon Hashem. Guess what! That’s why women say ‘sheasani kirtzono’! Most of us make peace with it, just as we make peace with not being a Kohen or a Levi. Or are you planning on equalizing those too?

  6. js says:

    Rabbi, it’s too late. You’ve already been “downgraded” to Conservative.

  7. Anonymous says:

    the three negative identity statements as brachot are sacred faith affirmations against an implacablee and uncompromising faith enemy. just read the verses from galatians 3.

    23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under t
    he law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,* heirs according to the promise.

  8. Dovid Shlomo says:

    Perhaps you could now post the halachic sources for publicly characterizing the words of someone like Rav Kook as a Chillul HaShem?

    Thanks!

    Also, I wonder if you would be so kind as to provide sources that unequivocally demonstrate that Rav Kook must certainly have been wrong as regards to the differences in spiritual potential between women and men, given that women today learn gemara, read ketubot under the chuppa, and are brain surgeons and Supreme Court justices.

    (In other words, that the latter demonstrates the impossibility of the former, even when voiced by perhaps the most profound, original, and complex thinker of the twentieth century — in addition to having been perhaps the greatest tzaddik of the twentieth century.)

    Thanks again!

    Looking forward!

  9. Anonymous says:

    This article (and even better, the original, which has been removed) give excellent examples of how those who purport to represent the left wing of Orthodox Judaism, are in fact really operating according to the rules of Conservative Judaism. This article shows no respect for the normative Halachic process or the Mesorah.

    The most disturbing part your article to me is the feeling you portray of being trapped in an evil world of cages and mysoginist values. There is no attempt to understand the world of the Torah as one of beauty and timeless values, rather it is just dismissed as outdated and inferior to current Western Values.

  10. dabookbinder says:

    Rabbi,

    I want to say how moved I am by this posting, Rabbi Lopatin’s posting and your original posting. Growing up Conservative and entering into the Modern Orthodox world I have always grappled with many issues regarding gender and equality. Until recently I have simply accepted what the establishment has told me and been content. But as I study more, and learn more, I become more convinced that the system has stalled and needs creative thinking to jumpstart the fire of the halakhic process.

    Thank you for being a strong and knowledgable voice.
    and much thanks to Rabbi Lopatin as well.

  11. As I commented with reference to your original post, your methodology and your conclusion are both outside the pale of Orthodoxy. Using a “smell test”, your feelings, your intuition or your aesthetic sense to determine that a halakhic practice should be changed is simply not acceptable and fails to demonstrate proper respect for the depth and sanctity of our mesorah. Halakhic determinations can only be made through consultation with the Talmud and classic sources together with the writings of gedolei haposqim, and such study must be undertaken with the utmost respect and not guided by our emotional predilections or gut feelings.

  12. My response:

    http://vesomsechel.blogspot.com/2011/08/when-more-is-less.html

    It is not about disagreeing with “one or more points”. It is about the methodology as a whole.

  13. Avi says:

    Rabbi Kanefsky:

    I saw this article (below) today and thought of your posts. Yes, we are seeing that women are our intellectual equals and this is probably a good thing. Still, I would like to imagine what the Jewish world would look like if, instead of reciting each day that Torah study is equal to all other mitzvot, Jewish men and women had been reciting for the past 2000 years that “creating a Jewish child is equal to them all.”

    Up to you whether you post this. Good Shabbos.

    Y.U.’s Revel school giving Talmud doctorate to woman for first time
    August 11, 2011

    NEW YORK (JTA) – Yeshiva University’s graduate school of Jewish studies will award a doctorate in Talmud to a woman, Shana Strauch Schick, for the first time.

    While Yeshiva has multiple programs in Talmud, Schick, 30, is the first woman to obtain a doctorate in the subject from the Bernard Revel Graduate School. A New Jersey native now living in suburban Detroit, Schick successfully defended her dissertation on Aug. 4 and will formally graduate in September.

    “Orthodoxy has long emphasized the value of the study of Talmud,” Schick told JTA in an interview. “But Talmud study, which in yeshivot is the central focus of the religious duty to learn Torah, is still rarely emphasized as a vital part of women’s education.”

    Schick holds a master’s degree in Bible from Revel and a bachelor’s degree in Judaic studies from YU’s Stern College for Women. She plans to spend the next academic year in Israel doing post-doctoral studies at Bar-Ilan University.

  14. barzilai says:

    Why do you think that editing the post would kasher the original’s underlying attitude? The mechitza characterized as keeping women in cages…. It’s certainly true that many have been driven away from Orthodox Judaism by gender discrimination. Abigail Pogrebin’s “Stars of David” gives voice to many famous Jews who trace their disenchantment to being excluded from a minyan and relegated to the other side of the mechitza. I personally believe that these cases were symptoms of an underlying disenchantment with Orthodoxy, but it doesn’t really matter. Orthodoxy will not change, and as always, it will drive away more than it retains. And oddly enough, this fossil will still be breathing while the endless and inevitable iterations of dissatisfaction come and go.

  15. Dovid Shlomo says:

    I look forward to hearing R’ Kanefsky’s responses ti the questions and criticisms offered in the comments section here.

    In particular, I look forward to his providing some source material as to how one could disparage someone as great as Rav Kook as perpetrator of Chillul Hashem, even as one distorts Rav Kook’s complex thought process, which is deeply rooted in Jewish mystical tradition and barely known to the readership of this blog.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’m thrilled to welcome Rav Kanefsky (and much of the rest of “open Orthodoxy”) into an alliance with the rest of the traditional-egalitarian Jewish world. He (and his fellow travelers) have much more in common with the Rabbinical Assembly (of Conservative Judaism) than with most rabbis who call themselves Orthodox.

  17. Aryeh Frimer says:

    I would like to make it clear that there is no doubt as to the authenticity of the text of the benediction she-lo asani isha─since it appears thrice in Rabbinic literature: in the Tosefta, the Talmud Bavli and the Yerushalmi. (B.T. Menahot 43b; J.T. Berakhot 9:1; and Tosefta Berakhot 6:18) Both the Tosefta and the Yerushalmi make it clear that the benediction is related strictly to men’s greater obligation in commandments. As is well known, women are generally freed from mitsvot asei she-ha-zeman gramman (time-determined positive commandments), which include, inter alia: sukka, lulav, shofar, tefillin and tsitsit. (See: Mishna Kiddushin 1:7; Tosefta Kiddushin 1:10; Talmud Kiddushin 29a, and Kiddushin 33b and ff) Reams have been written to explain the import of these benedictions and why they are in the negative. (“Birkot haShahar,” Encyclopedia Talmudit, IV, p. 371ff; Joseph Tabory, “The Benediction of Self-Identity and The Changing Status of Women and of Orthodoxy,” Kenishta, 1 (2001), pp. 107-138). I would like, however, to cite the comments of R. Reuven Margaliyyot (Nitsotsei Or, Menahot 43b, s.v. Rabbi Meir Omer), which I personally find very satisfying.
    …A woman is not punished if she does not fulfill time-determined positive commandments, and her share in the World to Come is like that of a man. Hence, there might well be room for a male Jew to think that it might have been better had he been born a woman, for then he would have been freed from the yoke of these commandments. Hence, [the Rabbis] established that each male should make a daily declaration that these mitsvot are not a burden.
    A similar approach appears in the writings of the 18th Century Talmudist R. Samuel Eidels (Maharsha Hiddushei Aggadot, Menahot 43b. See also Chabakuk Elisha, “Shelo Asani Isha,” A Simple Jew Blog, September 12, 2008, available online at: http://tinyurl.com/343e2g5) who writes:
    …[A male makes this benediction because the role] of a man and a woman are each lenient on the one hand and stringent on the other. For if they are righteous, the reward of the male is greater, because he is commanded in more mitsvot than a woman. However, if they are not righteous, the man’s punishment is greater than a woman’s.
    These scholars note that one who has greater obligation has greater potential for reward, but also for greater possible punishment should he or she not do as required. Thus, a man who doesn’t put on tefillin or sit in the Sukka is punished for bittul aseh─for not fulfilling the positive commandment he was bidden to obey. Hence, the Rabbis ordained that each day, each of us acknowledge that, mutatis mutandis, the Creator could have made us a non-Jew, or a slave, or a woman with fewer obligations, but also fewer risks. Yet, the Almighty chose not to. By reciting the daily identity berakhot “sheLo asani goy; sheLo asani aved; sheLo asani isha” each of us accepts upon ourselves the spiritual/religious role that we have been given. The “she-lo” is to be understood as “Who has not,” a sober acknowledgement and acceptance of a spiritual role, not a celebrative “because He has not.”
    R. Nissim Alpert suggests a insightful rationale as to why these berakhot are formulated in the negative. Hazal wanted to communicate to us that the Creator only gives us the opportunity – He defines who we are not; it is up to us to define who we are and maximize our positive potential. (R. Joel Rich, personal communication (January 2011); see also comments to http://tinyurl.com/6l3ojup) Interestingly, the same idea appears in the writings of 19th century R. Zadok haKohen (R. Zaddok haKohen Rabinowitz of Lublin, Pri Tsaddik, vaYikra, Parashat Emor, sec. 7, s.v. “veAhar kakh.”).
    And the reason one should not recite “who has made me an Israelite” is that man functions with freedom of choice, and one can be called an Israelite only if he chooses properly. And who can be sure that he/she will chose correctly? Hence, we can only recite the benedictions “who has not made me a non-Jew or a slave.” But, nevertheless, one has the choice to chose [whether to do these mitsvot] because he is not a non-Jew or a slave. The same is true for “who has not made me a woman” – it is in his choice to fulfill or not fulfill those mitsvot that stem from men’s greater mitsva obligation.
    Many have waved this all off as “apologetics”. I guess one man’s apologetics is another’s honest explanation. The only authoritative guideline is the one given us by the Tosefta and the Yerushalmi─namely, that this bendiction relates to the fewer number of specific mitsvot in which women are obligated. Rabbi Kanefsky has chosen to interpret the berakha in a way which creates a problem and casts aspersions on Hazal. To my mind, it is far better to understand it so no problem begins!
    The Berakhot are not Triumphal thanks – more like the acknowledgement of Barukh Dayan haEmet!

    beKhavod Rav
    Aryeh Frimer

  18. [...] he subsequently posted two essays defending his liturgical decision. In the first additional essay (link), he argued that there is a minority opinion supporting a more inclusive blessing (“she-asani [...]

  19. Anonymous says:

    js –> two thumbs up!

  20. Anonymous says:

    It would be nice to sit down and have a discussion on the formulation of the morning blessings, the appropriate construction a a mechitza, or women’s roles in traditional Judaism. However, that is not the real point here:

    “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. ”

    Now, whose goal is this? Is there a goal of society at large which Judaism must be changed to meet? Where is there a requirement for Judaism to meet popular ethical goals just because they are popular or decided upon by some other definition of “society”? Does such a definition of “society” as a whole trump halacha?

    If you define the term “mitzvah” as a commandment, then we can discuss the finer details of how to perform those commandments. If the definition of “mitzvah” is a good deed, then you have a goal to transform things that do not look good to society at the time.

    If you believe in the promise of all of Israel at Mt. Sinai of “Na’asse V’nishma” – that we will do and [then] we will hear [understand], then it is perfectly appropriate to discuss these points without changing your practice. To enact a change in traditional practice based on simply not understanding or disagreeing with it personally, or based on a stated goal of modern society, that is a direct violation of “Na’asse V’nishma.”

  21. [...] for the deletion of the blessing said by men who praise God “Who has not made me a woman.” (http://morethodoxy.org/2011/08/08/a-clamer-and-fuller-articulation-r-yosef-kanefsky/) In our current social reality, the blessing is really a curse, and can seen as reflecting male [...]

  22. Aryeh Frimer says:

    From Dikdukei Soferim (or Shinui Girsa’ot in Shteizalts)on Menahot 43b it is clear that all the Kitvei Yad and early printed editions have She-lo asani goy. It is only the later printed editions that have she-asani Yisrael [FOLLOWED BY she-lo asani Aved, Shelo asani Isha].

    It follows therefore that those, like Rabbis Lopatin and Kanefsky, who argue that we should le-khathila say she-asani Yisrael based on the censored editions – MUST follow this berakha with she-lo asani Aved and Shelo asani Isha. Because that is what the censored editions say!!!
    It’s only if you hold that the true proper reading is she-lo asani Goy, she-lo asani Aved, Shelo asani Isha – then be-di-avad, if you mistakenly said she-asani Yisrael there are poskim who hold that you are freed from the other berakhot.

    But you can’t simultaneously hold both contradictory positions: Say she-asani Yisrael le-khathilla AND Claim that it frees you from say SAA and SAI. It’s simply a tartei de-satrei (self-contradictory)!

  23. [...] who is, or more precisely who is not, "Orthodox." Consider a few recent examples. This past summer Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky wrote a blog post (since removed) discussing his aversion to reciting the daily blessing shelo [...]

  24. [...] who is, or more precisely who is not, "Orthodox." Consider a few recent examples. This past summer Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky wrote a blog post (since removed) discussing his aversion to reciting the daily blessing shelo [...]

  25. [...] who leads a big orthodox traditional Jewish community in Los Angeles, suggested making the “unusual halachik [legal] maneuver” of affirmatively thanking god for being Jewish, and then omitting the remaining [...]

  26. [...] more precisely who is not, “Orthodox.” Consider a few recent examples. This past summer Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky wrote a blog post (since removed) discussing his aversion to reciting the daily blessing shelo [...]

  27. […] and here,and here; to suggesting significantly modifying parts of the morning berachos here and here; to promoting the celebration of homosexual lifecycle events hereand here; to advocating […]

  28. […] and here,and here; to suggesting significantly modifying parts of the morning berachos here and here; to promoting the celebration of homosexual lifecycle events hereand here; to advocating […]

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