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August 7, 2011

A Calmer and Fuller Articulation

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/a_calmer_and_fuller_articulation1/

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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