Sunday, April 10, 2005

Benjamin the Shepherd

Hey, virtual friends:

In a comment that I just made on DKP’s post “sheásani yisrael”, I promised that I would write a post on the theologico-social (or socio-theological) implication of the discussion of Benjamin the Shepherd’s bentshing.

First, a note that is probably boring to most of you. Who knows, one of you might find it interesting, so I am including it: the variant text quoted by בית יוסף in its note on אורח חיים קסז:י calls our protagonist מנימין רעיא, rather than בנימין רעיא. This is a common switch between the labials b and m, and I believe that the Talmudic name מניומי is related to the name מנימין / בנימין.

Now, I point out that our story deals with the liturgy of an untutored man. Presumably, Benjamin the Shepherd has composed this text himself. Right after we have quoted a line saying that we must say ברכות in exactly the מטבע that the Sages formulated, we find a statement quoted in which Rav says that Benjamin’s blessing is valid. (Of course, the Stam has to come along and ruin this beautiful pluralistic openness, and tell us that Benjamin hadn’t really fulfilled the obligation of the full ברכת המזון, but only the obligation of the first ברכה. What, should he then recite versions of the other three blessings, even though he has probably never heard of them? I have seen Sephardic prayerbooks that include a special abbreviated version of the four שלש ברכות, meant for women, in which the first ברכה is Benjamin’s blessing, in Aramaic, and the other three are abbreviated versions, in Hebrew, of the Sages’ blessings. What does this accomplish?)

This whole discussion raises interesting questions for us: How are we Talmudic Jews to view the untutored? Should we dumb down the Talmudic law, Artscrollize it into little books and pamphlets, and force it down the throats of the עמי ארצות (or amarotzim, in Yiddish)? Should we respect the personal prayers that they already say, and consider them to be valid alternatives to our prayers? Should we encourage them to say both their prayers and ours? In many communities, women said tkhines (תחינות), either out of their own heads or out of printed tkhines-books, in which they poured out their hearts and souls. Should we force them to give up their tkhines, and say the nineteen שמונה עשרה ברכות? Should we encourage them to continue saying only their tkhines? Should we encourage them to say both their tkhines AND our שמונה עשרה ברכות?

Certainly, we should not overburden such people with all sorts of unnecessary חוּמְרֵי (what you would call חוּמְרוֹת), which will be pointless and potentially harmful to them. Remember: nobody is obligated to say פסוקי דזמרא, or קדושתא דסדרא, or much else that is printed in our סִדּוּרִים. Half of the Jewish people (the women) are obligated to say only י"ח ברכות, and the other half (the men) is obligated to say three extra ברכות in the morning, and four extra ברכות in the evening. In addition, the men have an obligation to recite three scriptural passages (totalling no more than twenty פסוקים) in the morning and the evening.

On a personal note: today is the first day of ניסן, and therefore the first day to say the beautiful blessing on the first flowering of trees for the year. (I don't know whence Artscroll got its idea that they have to be fruit trees; this is found neither in the Bavli, nor in the Rambam, nor in the טור, nor in the שולחן ערוך. It is, however, in the Sepharadi Mahzor עוד יוסף חי for Pesah. Go figure.) This blessing is first quoted by Rav Yehuda on ברכות מ"ג, Tuesday's daf. At first, I thought: it would be cool to learn that daf in a park, and when arriving at the מימרא of Rav Yehuda, to go up to a tree and recite the מימרא, including the blessing, and to have כוונה to fulfill the blessing through the recitation of it in the learning. This would be like היה קורא בתורה והגיע זמן מקרא אם כוון לבו יצא. Then, I thought: Sure, that would be cool, but it would be making הלכה into a sort of a game. I love the beauty of the trees, and want to bless God, who created them, at the earliest possible moment. זריזין מקדימין למצוות. I called up DR (or, as DKP calls him, DLR), and we went out to Sakura Park, to say the ברכה together. Gevalt!


At Monday, 11 April, 2005, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

I would like to point out with regard to the בנימין / מנימין issue that the MS Oxford 366, a 13th century Spanish manuscript, reads מנימין in our passage, with the בית יוסף, but against all other manuscripts and printed editions of our passage.

However, the form מנימין is certainly attested in manuscripts of other סוּגְיֵי. A simple search for מנימין in the database of Talmudic manuscripts of the Saul Lieberman Institute came up with 49 examples of מנימין, of which twelve were in the Vilna edition.


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