Sunday, June 11, 2017

Yeridos hadoros

It occurred to me that one reason great scholars of the past appear far smarter than they were is because generations of subsequent scholars have ironed out their work and added layers of supposed depth. A large part of this is the assumption that when a scholar contradicts himself, the solution is never that he changed his mind, or forgot what he had said possibly decades earlier, and certainly not that he made a mistake. Instead, the "apparent" contradiction is reconciled. So a taana's words accrete the clever insights of amoraim  and geonim who lived hundreds of years later, rishonim who lived a thousand years later, and continues to have depth added by current achronim. These centuries of accreted cleverness contribute to the perceived greatness of the taana, who is assumed to have meant all the things that later scholars attribute to him. All of these insights are seen to reflect the scholarship and intellect of the taana, and he appears far more brilliant than he may have been.

So too with amoraim, geonim, etc., but each epoch of scholars has a couple of centuries less worth of clever commentary than the one before it. The older a source is, the more commentary and clever reconciliations is has accreted. So the older the source, the greater it seems, and we have a seeming confirmation of yeridos hadoros.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Shelo asani isha

The bracha "Shelo asani isha" is often defended by Orthodox apologists as being about mitzvos. It's not about men thanking Hashem for not making them someone of lower status, but about thanking Him for not making them someone who had fewer mitzvos. Non-Jew, slaves, and women have fewer mitzvos than men, and so men thank Hashem for not being in a category of people with fewer mitzvos to perform.

I don't think this explanation works.

1. If it is something to thank God for not being, then that means it is undesirable. At the least, the bracha implies that being a woman is less desirable than being a man.

2. It is part of a group of brachos thanking Hashem for not being afflicted. We bless him for opening the eyes of the blind, releasing the bound, straightening the bowed, clothing the naked, etc., giving the Jewish people might and glory, and not making us non-Jews, slaves, or women.

3. If it's about mitzvos, why do women say the bracha thanking God for not making them slaves? Women and slaves are obligated in the same number of mitzvos.*

4. In the same vein, why is there no bracha for kohanim, "Shelo asani Yisrael?"

*Does anyone happen to know offhand where the gemara says this? I found a reference to gitten, but it was four blatt, and I'm not in the mood to comb through it.