More on “shelo asani isha”

A final word on the “shelo asani isha” brakha that appeared on daf 44a, and we discussed in an earlier post.  Both comments on that post argued for the importance of changing the brakha, rather than saying it in an undertone or the like, and they pointed to the fact that in the discussion in the Gemara around replacing “that God has not made me an ignoramus,” with “that God has not made me a slave,” it would seem that it would be acceptable to substitute one “status brakha” for another one.

The point that one could substitute another brakha for “shelo asani isha,” (perhaps with both men and women making “sha’asani bi’tzalmo” or with men making “she’asani ish” andwomen making “she’as’ani isha”) is actually made by Rav Henkin in his teshuva.  However, Rav Henkin introduces this possibility by saying that he is discussing the matter only in theory not in practice – להלכה ולא למעשה.    I have discussed elsewhere that this is a strategy that Rav Henkin uses quite frequently – laying out the halakhic basis for a psak in “women’s issues,” but pulling back at the last minute from actually ruling on these arguments.    Here, after laying out the argument, he moves to a safer space, and discusses changing the brakha of “that God has not made me a slave,” to one of more contemporary significance.  He seems to be signalling that he is comfortable with such changes, but is choosing not to say so directly regarding “shelo asani isha.”  It is also noteworthy that in his English translation (that he wrote), he adds a sentence not found in the original Hebrew responsum, to wit: ”I have expounded the minority view about the leeway permitted in wording these berachot only for use as a snif as the need arises.”   In this sentence he clearly states that one can use this ruling when necessary.

I present the relevant sections of the responsum, with English translation, below.

Those interested in other discussions  on this topic, should see:

And here is the selection from Rav Yehuda Herzl Henkin’s teshuva, which is available in full on our Resources page:


ואחרים מציעים לשנות את ברכת הגברים משלילה לחיוב וכגון שיברכו שעשני איש, אך צ”ע לברך כן בשם ומלכות כי אינו לפי המטבע שטבעו חז”ל בברכות אלה, ואפשר שהשינוי הוא גרוע יותר מהוספת הברכה שעשני כרצונו כי שם עכ”פ לא ביטלו ברכה קיימת. ואין ראיה מהברכה שעשני ישראל הנמצאת במקצת סדורים עתיקים ונשתרבבה גם בדברי הגמרא, כי ידוע שמקורה מפחד הצנזורה, ברם אם נשים רוצות לברך שעשני אשה או שלא עשני איש בלי שם ומלכות אין מעכב בעדן.

Others want to change the blessing from “who did not make me a woman” in the negative to “who made me a man” in the positive. I doubt that it is permitted to recite such a blessing with Shem and malchut, because it changes the format set by the Sages for these blessings. In this regard it is more problematic than the new blessing adopted by women,”who made me according to His will,’ which at least does not displace any previous blessing.  Nor can grounds for such a change be brought from the variant “who made me an Israelite” found in some old printed texts in place of “who did not make me a Gentile:’ for that change was forced by censorship. However, there is nothing to prevent women from reciting “Who made me a woman” or “Who did not make me a man” without Shem and malchut.

***

לכן אבאר בס”ד כמה צדדים להתיר להחליפה או לשנותה אבל להלכה ולא למעשה …
לכן יש לתמוה, היאך שינה ראב”י ממה שנהגו מכבר והלא ג’ הברכות נקבעו על ידי התנאים… וצ”ל שנוסח ברכות אלה לא נקבע סופית בברייתא אלא רק טיבן הכללי או מספרן… והוא שסיים רש”י בלשון השני זיל והוסיף ובירך שלא עשאני עבד כדי להשלים עכ”ל כלומר שרב אחא בר יעקב השמיט בור והכניס עבד תחתיו מפני שצריך להשלים למנין ג’, אבל ניתנה הרשות לשנות במטבע הברכות .

That notwithstanding, I will address the possibility of changing the blessing shelo asani ishah itself, although only in theory…

How was R. Acha b. Yaakov able to change a blessing that had been established by the tanaim? The answer is that the beraita did not fix the wording of the blessings, but only their number and general nature. This is what Rashi meant when he explained, “go and add the blessing ‘who did not make me a woman, in order to complete [the three blessings].” Although there was an obligation to recite three blessings concerning one’s personal status, their content could be changed.

ויש להביא ראיה ממנהג הנשים לברך שעשני כרצונו ומסתימת הראשונים משמע שמברכות בשם ומלכות וכן המנהג אע”פ שיש חולקים, וכיצד הותר להן לחדש ברכה אחרי התלמוד, אלא בברכות האלה אין קפידא לשנות מן המטבע כל שהענין נשמר.

Support for this can be brought from the custom of Ashkenazic women to recite “she’asani kirtzono, who made me according to His will” with Shem and malchut, which is a matter of controversy among the poskim. How could women introduce a blessing not found in the Talmud? Apparently, because we are less concerned with the exact wording of these blessings as long as their general nature is maintained.

***

והנה לפי התרוץ הראשון, היום שאין בינינו עבדים ואילו בורים מצויים בכל עבר ובכל פינה ראוי שתחזור הברכה לקדמותה ושאין לברך שלא עשני עבד ושיש לברך שלא עשני בור, וביותר יש לברך שלא עשני מתבולל שהוא הבור של היום ואף גרוע ממנו.

In our day the situation is just the opposite: there are no slaves, but boors and ignoramuses are everywhere.  Following this reasoning, the blessing should again be recited concerning a boor and not concerning a slave. It might even be proper to say “shelo asani mitbolel, who did not make me an assimilating Jew” or “shelo asani chiloni, who did not make me a secularist.”

I have expounded the minority view about the leeway permitted in wording these berachot only for use as a snif as the need arises.  [This sentence not present in original Hebrew responsum.]

About Rabbi Dov Linzer

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva and Dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, a groundbreaking Orthodox smicha program. Rabbi Linzer spearheaded the development of YCT to create an innovative four year smicha program which provides its students with rigorous talmud Torah and halakhic study and sophisticated professional training in the context of a religious atmosphere which cultivates openness and inclusiveness. Rabbi Linzer has published Halakha and machshava articles in Torah journals and lectures widely at synagogues and conferences on topics relating to Halakha, Orthodoxy, and modernity. He is most recently the awardee of the prestigious Avi Chai Fellowship.
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One Response to More on “shelo asani isha”

  1. jacques says:

    Kol ha kavod for your blog.

    Well, very interesting.

    But, perhaps, you should read Jacques Lacan to a deeper inderstanding of the beracha Chelo assani isha.

    Too long to sum up and I don’t write English well.

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