Sunday, April 10, 2005

Sheásani Yisrael

In yesterday's daf, 40b, we find a shepherd making up his own berakhah in Aramaic instead of the traditional birkat hamazon. The Stam (the anonymous layer of the Talmud) defends the use of the benediction as a fulfillment of the first berakhah of birkat hamazon. The Stam tells us that the story of the shepherd comes to teach us that he fulfilled his duty even though he recited the blessing to God in another language. The Stam then questions the novelty of this innovation, since we have already learned this principle from the Mishnah Sotah which teaches us that, among other things, prayer and birkat hamazon can be recited in any language. The Stam concludes that, nonetheless, we might have thought that prayer, birkat hamazon, etc. must be recited as exact translations of the original Hebrew, without allowing for innovation. Therefore, the story of the shepherd comes to teach us that the he fulfilled his obligation through any formulation a berakhah because he used God's name and an expression of God's kingship. Notice as well that the use of the statement "kol hameshaneh mimatbeá she'tavu hakhamim bevrakhot lo yatsa yedei hovato" appears nowhere in this sugeya, suggesting that the Stam only meant this rule might only apply to berakhot on foods.
This leads us to the following halakhic conclusion: according to the Stam of this sugeya, we might be able to change some of the content of berakhot in the context of prayer as long as we use God's name, His/Her attribute of kingship, and the word Barukh. Therefore, forgetting about the apologetics defending the "shelo asani..." format of our morning berakhot, it still stands to reason that the formulation "sheásani yisrael" or "sheásani ben chorin" expresses these apologia in a more positive and less offensive manner than "shelo asani..." Although many might still want to still retain the traditional wording of these berakhot, those who do should not claim that those who say "sheásani yisrael" are not fullfilling their obligation.


At Sunday, 10 April, 2005, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

DKP has created an interesting Tosafistic-type resolution between the two adjacent סוגיות (the one about saying שהכל over bread and wine vs. the one about the shepherd Benjamin, who used to say בריך [רחמנא] מריה דהאי פיתא).

I wish to point out that Maimonides does not agree with your narrowing of the word "ברכות" to refer only to blessings recited before eating food. Of course, I would not have expected Maimonides to agree with a reconciliatory, Tosafistic-like reading of a סוגיא.

The pertinent passage in Maimonides's משנה תורה is the following (Laws of Blessings 1:4-5):

נמצאו כל הברכות כולן שלשה מינים: ברכת הנייה וברכת מצות וברכת הודאה שהן שבח והודיה ובקשה כדי לזכור את הבורא תמיד וליראה ממנו. ונוסח כל הברכות עזרא ובית דינו תקנום, ואין ראוי לשנותם ולא להוסיף על אחת מהם ולא לגרוע ממנה. וכל המשנה ממטבע שטבעו חכמים בברכות אינו אלא טועה

(The distinction between לא יצא and אינו אלא טועה, which is not directly relevant to our issue, is discussed by R. Yosef Caro in the כסף משנה.)

Maimonides lists the three types of ברכות, and then says that the texts of ALL ברכות were instituted by `Ezra and his בית דין. (This statement is historically inaccurate in the extreme, and can be proven wrong by the fact that Tannaim and Amoraim constantly argue about the correct texts of blessings.)

It would be interesting to see whether any Tosafistic works make the same narrowing that DKP makes. Certainly, Tosofos on the page do not do so.

A happy ראש ראשי חדשים to all,
Mar Gavriel

PS: I thought it was cute that you (DKP) combined your Tosafistic reading of the סוגיא with a reference to the Stam. You never tried to argue that R. Yosé himself was referring only to blessings recited before eating food; rather, you argued that the Stam of the first סוגיא understood R. Yosé to mean this. Thereby, you Tosafistically resolved the contradiction between the two adjacent סוגיות (actually, in proper Aramaic, the plural would be סֻגְיֵי), without impinging on the independence of the original Tannaitic statements. שקוייעך!

At Sunday, 10 April, 2005, Blogger DKP said...

Even if you take a somewhat more expansive view of "kol berakhah..." please tell me how you read the sugeya such that it would still apply to prayer. Or do you read the two sugeyot (sagye for you) as contradictory?

At Sunday, 10 April, 2005, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Hi, DKP.

I don't exactly understand why you keep implying that ברכת המזון is prayer. I also want to point out that according to both the טור and the שולחן ערוך, the shepherd's blessing is equally valid for before eating bread (when we would ordinarily say המוציא) and for after eating bread (when we would normally say the four שלש ברכות). See אורח חיים קסז:י and קפז:א.

I suppose that I would read the two סוּגְיֵי in one of the following two ways:

1) I would read the two סוּגְיֵי as contradictory, in which case I would probably pasken like the first סוגיא, following the precedent of Maimonides (that's the רמב"ם).

2) I would read the first סוּגְיָא as the general rule, and the second one as a special exception for ברכת המזון. Why an exception for ברכת המזון? Perhaps because it is such an important ברכה that we must allow everyone the opportunity to say it, even the untutored. See the socio-theological (or theologico-social) post that I am going to put on the blog in a moment.

Interestingly, Alfasi (that's the רי"ף) quotes neither the statement of R. Yosé (כל המשנה ממטבע שטבעו חכמים בברכות לא יצא ידי חובתו) nor that of Rav (that the blessing of Benjamin the Shepherd was valid). He does quote the initial debate between R. Yohanan and Rav Huna about whether or not one can say שהכל over bread and wine, and says והלכתא כרבי יוחנן. However, this does not imply anything about R. Yosé's statement, because (a) the Stam makes both Rav Huna and R. Yohanan work both with R. Meir and R. Yosé, and (b) Alfasi does not quote R. Yosé's statment. See 28b in the רי"ף pages.

Perhaps over the upcoming מועד, I shall have time to do some research on how other ראשונים read these סוּגְיֵי. I'll try to remember to ask רב דוד חיוָרא גאונא about this issue, as well.

At Sunday, 10 April, 2005, Blogger DKP said...

I'll try to provide a more legnthy response later. But first: I link prayer and birkat hamazon as per the Stam's citation of them in the Mishnah Sotah of things that could be said in any language, even when one differs from the formula of Hazal. My point in mentioning them is that the birkhot ha-shahar don't necessarily have to follow the exact traditional forumula to fulfill one's obligation.
Additionally, according to your second interpretation of the Gemara, why isn't there an ethical need to allow us the possibility to express our berakhot in positive, rather than negative, language?

At Sunday, 10 April, 2005, Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

You have an interesting point about the linkage between Prayer (תפילה) and Grace After Meals (ברכת המזון) in the mishna from סוטה, which is quoted by the Stam in our סוגיא.

You wrote:

Additionally, according to your second interpretation of the Gemara, why isn't there an ethical need to allow us the possibility to express our berakhot in positive, rather than negative, language?

I grant you that there may be such an "ethical need". Thus, I could argue, based on my SECOND interpretation of the גמרא, that one should be allowed to say שעשני בן חורין or שעשני ישראל. However, I could also argue that even according to my second interpretation, the allowance for variation was only for בקכת המזון, because our Sages, in their quite finite wisdom, did not think of the ethical need to allow us to express our ברכות in positive language. It would depend on how rigidly or loosely I wanted to read the סוגיא.

Of course, if we accept my FIRST interpretation of the סוגיא, none of this ethical reasoning applies, because one wouldn't even be יוצא for ברכת המזון.

Now, if only I could find a ראשון (or, better yet, a גאון) who would say that the two סוּגְיֵי contradict each other, yet would pasken like the SECOND סוגיא, and would understand the second סוגיא as broadly as you (DKP) do, then I could argue that in fact, we don't hold by R. Yosé's statement at all, and we can always make up our own texts of ברכות. How far should we take this? Can we make up our own texts of קבלת עול מלכות שמים, as well, if we find קריאת שמע to be spiritually or ethically unfulfilling?


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