Alternative Berakhot for Women’s Torah Reading – by Rabbi Zev Farber

Many Orthodox synagogues have women’s prayer groups, with one of the main features being the reading of the Torah. The halakhic issues with regard to this practice have been discussed and debated at length and I do not wish to rehash them here.[1] However, since Simḥat Torah is coming up, I wanted to offer a suggested solution to one sticky point that remains.

Since a group of ten or more women is generally not considered a minyan (halakhically recognized prayer quorum) in Orthodox communities, what is to be done with the blessings over the Torah reading? These blessings are considered devarim she-be-qedushah, prayers that are only to be recited in a minyan.[2] Although some have suggested that the women skip their own recitation of the blessing over the Torah in the morning, and recite it when called up to the Torah, I am not personally comfortable with that solution. There is a hint of something almost misleading about affecting to do one thing (recite the public Torah blessing) while actually doing something else (reciting the personal Torah blessing).[3]

Years ago, when my oldest daughter was being bat-mitzvahed, and we decided to do a minḥah bat mitzvah with Torah reading at our home, we were faced with this problem. Although a number of women’s prayer groups simply skip the berakhah entirely, we did not want to do this. Instead, I wrote an alternative set of blessings. (Others, like Rachel Levmore, have done this as well.) These were designed to approximate the form of the berakhot as they appear in the standard Torah reading service, but without actually being technical berakhot in the narrow halakhic sense.

None of the words in the berakhot are mine; they were all taken from biblical verses. I tried to find verses that were relevant to the theme of blessing God or thanking God for the Torah. Furthermore, I made use of some verses that were recited by women in the biblical texts, in this case Deborah and Hannah. The main part of the opening berakhah was taken from an alternative form of birkat ha-Torah found in a genizah fragment and no longer in use.

Finally, the “ḥatimot” (endings) of each blessing make use of the two verses in Tanakh which begin with barukh atta a-donai, which allows for the form of the berakhah to approximate standard berakhot, but without bringing up any halakhic problems of berakha she-einu tzerikha (unnecessary blessings) or berakhah le-vatala (blessings recited in vain).[4]

Over the years, people have written me on occasion asking for a copy, so I decided that this year I would post them and make them publicly available. They are posted below with a translation and some annotation.

Ḥag Sameaḥ to all,

Rabbi Zev Farber

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Opening Berakhah over the Torah

Leader:

לִבִּי לְחוֹקְקֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַמִּתְנַדְּבִים בָּעָם בָּרְכוּ יְ-הֹוָה.[5]

My heart is with the leaders of Israel, with the dedicated of the people – Bless the Lord!

Congregation responds:

בָּרוּךְ יְ-הֹוָה לְעוֹלָם אָמֵן וְאָמֵן.[6]

Barukh A-donai le-olam amen ve-amen.
Blessed be the Lord eternally, amen and amen!

Leader continues:

גֶּפֶן מִמִּצְרַיִם הֶעֱלָה אֶ-לֹהֵינוּ, וַיִטָּעֶיהַ.[7] מַיִם מִסִּינָי הִשְׁקָה אוֹתָה, וְנוֹזְלִים מֵחוֹרֵב.[8] בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אֳ-דֹנָי, לַמְּדֵנִי חֻקֶּיךָ.[9]

Our God brought a vine up from Egypt, and planted it. He nourished it with water from Sinai and liquids from Horeb. Blessed are you Lord, teach me your laws.

Closing Berakhah

Leader:

אֵין קָדוֹשׁ כַּי-הֹוָה כִּי אֵין בִּלְתֶּךָ, וְאֵין צוּר כֵּֽא-לֹהֵינוּ.[10] בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ-הֹוָה אֱ-לֹהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָבִינוּ מֵעוֹלָם וְעַד עוֹלָם.[11]

There is no one holy like the Lord, for there is none like You, and there is no rock like our God. Blessed are you Lord, God of our father Israel, from eternity to eternity.

[1] For more on the topic, see: Avraham Weiss, Women at Prayer: A Halakhic Analysis of Women’s Prayer Groups (revised edition; Ktav, 2001).

[2] This is not the place to discuss Rav Shlomo Goren’s responsum, which claims that women can make their own quorum, nor is this the place to discuss the possibility that a quorum for Torah reading may be something different than a quorum for other prayers—both worthy topics but beyond the scope of this short post.

[3] Some have gone so far as to call this “ziyuf ha-Torah” (falsifying the Torah) but I think that is going too far.

[4] In fact, the Rabbis suggest that if one has begun a blessing and realizes that it will be in vain, he or she should switch the blessing into a recitation of one of these verses to avoid inadvertently sinning.

[5] From the Song of Deborah; Judges 5:9

[6] Psalms 89:53

[7] Adapted from Psalms 80:9

[8] This was originally an alternative version of the Ahava Rabbah/Ahavat Olam prayer mentioned in a genizah fragment. It ended with the standard “Ohev (amo) Yisrael”.

[9] Psalms 119:12

[10] From the song of Channah; 1 Samuel 2:2

[11] 1 Chronicles 29:10

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15 Responses to Alternative Berakhot for Women’s Torah Reading – by Rabbi Zev Farber

  1. Lisa says:

    That’s incredibly flowery, and I know I’d feel weird as hell saying anything of the sort.

    At our women’s tefillah group, before reading, the woman called up says “Torah tzivah lanu Moshe, morasha kehillat Yaakov. Baruch ata Hashem, lamdeini chukecha”, and afterwards, she says “Torat Hashem temimah meshivat nafesh, eidut Hashem ne’emana machkimat peti. Baruch ata Hashem, lamdeini chukecha.”

    Simple pesukim, no flourishes or invented nusach.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s amazing that you call reciting a personal birchat HaTorah as a substitute …misleading …and say that some consider it ..ziyuf..but not think reciting a pasuk instead of a Bracha is a problem. It is an absolute Sheker to do so and think it is a ‘bracha’
      Either say the Bracha or admit its a problem…

      • Lisa says:

        I’m having a little problem parsing that. If English isn’t your first language, my apologies. If it is, I’m sure you can do better.

      • Excuse me? The brachot themselves are generally based on scriptural language. How is this any more “sheker” than the bracha for bread? Baruch atah Hashem, we know is from a verse. Don’t know about Elokeinu melech ha’olam. Hamotzi lechem min haaretz is from Ps. 104: לְהֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ

        You know what’s fake to me? Saying one’s personal Torah brachot over the Torah reading, when they are probably brachot levatalah (vain blessings, invoking God’s name in vain). Why? Because, if you miss the morning Torah brachot, you’re covered bedieved by the bracha just before Shma, which expresses much the same idea.

        This seems to me a much better solution: saying verses that emulate the form and content of the brachot, without saying vain brachot. I don’t think the prohibition of saying “brachot not ordained by Chazal” is an issue here, since we’re generally not prohibited from changing the wording of brachot – look at how the words of Shmoneh Esreh have varied over the past 1400 years.

  2. tk says:

    As one who has never attended a women’s tefillah group, I am interested to know whether (bat) kohen, levi and yisroel are followed?

    • Lisa says:

      No. Why would it be? A bat kohen is not a kohen. And we aren’t doing “kriyat haTorah”. Technically it’s “limmud”. And we call women up for each of the 7 limmudim plus maftir.

  3. David Mescheloff says:

    I think you may have missed a significant point, Rabbi Farber. You write, phrasing it as moderately as you can, “There is a hint of something almost misleading about affecting to do one thing, while actually doing something else.” You apply that to the type of blessing being recited. But I believe one can – and should – apply that even more to the very act that imitates a public Torah reading as part of a Jewish prayer service, when it is in fact not that. Indeed, I believe there is more than just “a hint” of “something almost misleading about” such an imitation. I humbly suggest that instead of trying to develop sophisticated imitations, we go about teaching women the simple undisputed fact that Jewish law requires them to pray daily, at the very least by saying the standing ‘amidah prayer, the “shemoneh esreh”. The Mishnah Berurah – a final, very widely accepted halakhic authority for Ashkenazim – states that women must say the “shemoneh esreh” of both shacharit and mincha. Properly studied and understood, the shemoneh esreh is a deeply meaningful multi-dimensional means of intimately engaging our Creator and Sustainer, with intellect, emotion and faith, in awe, in daily need and dependence, and in gratitude. The overwhelming majority of religious Jewish men fulfill this halakhic duty daily in private. Women are completely men’s equal in this, and if they were to pray similarly, they would be deeply enriched spiritually without any need for artificial imitations. How about developing a campaign to teach and encourage women to pray daily as all halakhic authorities agree they should? I assure you that the challenge is great; it will not be encouraged by any popular contemporary trends. But I believe that the Jewish reward will be immense.

    • Lisa says:

      I think there’s a bit of misunderstanding as to what a women’s tefillah group is. What it’s for. Actually, I think most women who participate in them are mostly unaware of this, too.

      Women’s tefillah groups are primarily for women who were raised outside of the frum community. BTs or giyorot. Many of us learned synagogue skills and enjoy using them, but understand that we can’t use them the way we originally did. Still, because of our backgrounds, we get a lot out of it. It helps us connect to Hashem.

      Is it the ideal? No, of course not. The ideal would be if we were all raised frum. But there’s no reason to cut us off from a path of connection to Hashem just because it’s not the ideal. It hurts no one, and it violates nothing.

      As a point of fact, most women’s tefillah groups don’t tend to continue into the next generation. Unless their mothers are ardent über-feminists, most girls who go to these groups stop going around high school. Certainly by the time they graduate. There are exceptions, of course, but most of these girls, having been raised frum, see no reason to participate in these groups.

      Think of them as halfway houses. There’s nothing artificial about them. They’re something that does some good for some people.

      • Mordechai Y. Scher says:

        My impression from other writings and his colleagues is that Rabbi Farber has a more ideal view of women’s prayer groups than you do, Lisa. Your aspirations or agendas may not be the same.

      • Lisa says:

        Well, yeah, sure. He’s first and foremost an egalitarian. Halakha, for him, has to conform to that. So women’s tefillah groups shouldn’t even be on his radar. He’s got “partnership minyanim”, after all. Still, I figured that so long as there’s still a pretense of Orthodoxy here, I’d put my 2¢ in.

      • Noam Stadlan says:

        I suggest that you not make generalizations and check your information, because what you write is not accurate. I cannot speak for the WTG movement as a whole. However, if you look at the history, it was not started as a Baal teshuva halfway house. The vast majority of WTG attendees that I know are FFB. And finally, my wife has taught many young ladies who had bat mitzvahs at the WTG and continue to attend. There is some data that WTG attendance doesn’t translate across generations, but not enough for any certainty. The movement is alive and well.

  4. Joebug says:

    Lisa – Orthodox forum or not, your comments on anonymous’ parsing are pretty close to an ad hominen attack. You can do better.

  5. […] serves in his leadership roles at the Open Orthodox organizations) just created and issued some “alternative berakhot” for women to recite when they are called to the Torah. The desire to create a new set of rituals that are not found in any classic halachic source and […]

  6. I find this entire issue fascinating.
    Firstly, the idea that women are exempt from public prayer is an amazing statement about their spiritual superiority. If I want my prayers to be heard well I must daven with a minyan and from a specific set of pre-authorized texts. A woman can stand individually before God, open up her heart and achieve the same thing. Yet we have a movement that somehow has turned this on its head and now desires to lower women to the level of men?

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