A Clamer and Fuller Articulation. R. Yosef Kanefsky

August 8, 2011

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.


Halachic and Philosophical Support for Saying “God made me an Israelite” instead of “God didn’t make me a woman.”, Rabbi Asher Lopatin

August 5, 2011

This is an encore presentation, but I though it was important to back up Rav Yosef’s passionate and truthful blog.

Why I say Say “She’asani Yisrael” – “God … Who has Made Me and Israelite!”- every morning, instead of the three traditional “Shelo Asani”s, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

 

First a Halachic Discourse:

 

In our versions of Masechet Menachot, 43b (Bavli), 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 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”.  While some question this version of the Rosh himself, the Gaon MiVilna affirms it is the girsa of the Rosh  in his Biur HaGra on the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 46:4.

Even though the three negatives 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 not 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, Shalcheini 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. Yet, as always, remaining loyal to our tradition and its Talmudic foundation.

Asher Lopatin