Monday, December 19, 2022


 It's deeply ironic that Chanukah, which ostensibly celebrates the victory of Jewish fundamentalists,

  • Started as a Hellenistic-style military victory commemoration holiday.
  • Incorporated pagan solstice light-kindling which was meant to bring back the sun through sympathetic magic.
  • Has dreidel as one of its iconic celebratory activities, which was adopted whole from the popular Christmastime game T-totum (the story of the Jews playing dreidel while hiding from the Yevanim first shows up in writing in 1898!).
  • Adopted gift-giving from the American version of Christmas in the '50s.

And most frum people think that all these things are authentically pure Torah-True traditions.

That said, I think Chanukah can be interpreted as a celebration of Jewish culture. It has it's origins in the last gasp of Jewish national independence (until the mid-20th century). It's thoroughly syncretistic, which Jewish culture has always been. And today, it's one of the things that differentiates Jews from everyone else, a small bulwark against the Christian hegemony that so thoroughly pervades Western culture that people think there is something inherently, qualitatively different about this time of year.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Hand in the car(riage) door

 Something interesting I just discovered.

"Why is a Victorian carriage door prominently displayed on a wall at Hughenden, the country home of Queen Victoria’s friend and Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli? The Prime Minister himself removed it from the carriage and preserved it as a tribute to his wife, Mary Anne. One evening the ambitious politician and his doting wife set off from his London house to Parliament, where he was to deliver a very important speech.  When the carriage door was closed, it slammed shut on Mary Anne’s thumb. What did she do? She suffered in silence, all the way to Westminster. She didn’t want to upset the man before his speech. A placard next to the carriage door explains that Mary Anne said not a word until Disraeli was safely out of the carriage and on his way into the corridors of power.  The placard remarks drily that her words when her thumb was released were not recorded."


Sounds familiar, no? I a quick Google search found two versions of a similar story starring R' Moshe Feinstein that's popular in the frum world.

"On another occasion a talmid of Reb Moshe took him home in his car. He opened the door of the passenger seat and Reb Moshe got out, whereupon the talmid slammed the door on his hand. The pain was unbearable, but Reb Moshe contained himself with superhuman control in order not to alert the talmid, who would surely be mortified by his mistake." [source]

"When Reb Moshe Feinstein ztl. was asked why he felt he had merited a long life he is reputed to have answered, “I tried never to hurt another person.” It may sound like a light and maybe even a trite matter, that is, until we factor in the following story which is recorded in his biography: The elder Reb Moshe was getting into a car in front of the Yeshiva surrounded by students. When he was seated, the car door was closed and the driver pulled away from the curb. After driving a few blocks away, Reb Moshe asked the driver if he would not mind pulling off to the side of the road. When the driver stopped the car Reb Moshe opened the door and removed his frail hand from where the door had just been slammed on his aged fingers. The driver was mortified and asked Reb Moshe why he did not say something way back there when the door was closed. Reb Moshe told the driver that he did not want to say anything immediately because it would have caused a terrible upset to the young man that closed the door. He would never have forgiven himself. So Reb Moshe remained silent till the car had traveled a safe distance away." [source]

Similar incidents can happen, of course. What's interesting is that the story about Mrs. Disraeli is specific about the people involved and where they were going, while the versions about R' Feinstein have the vague qualities of an urban legend, (and disagree with each other). The Disraeli's story is also earlier.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Ignorant Experts and “Shelo Asani Isha”


There’s an old joke about a rabbi who meets a maskil that ends with the rabbi saying, “You're not an apikores, you’re an am ha’aretz!” [You can find my take on that joke here.] We (by which I mean people who are no longer frum) hear this sort of thing a lot. If only we knew more, we’d recognize that frumkeit is the truth.

 A couple of weeks ago my daughter showed me a siddur she had gotten as a prize for coming on time to davening all year. It’s meant for teens, and has notes in the margins and appendices in the back that are supposed to answer questions that the author says he’s frequently heard from his students over his decades of teaching.

When I first read his siddur, I thought he was stam a rebbe who had a nice little project producing a siddur based on his experience. When I looked him up, I was surprised to find that he had a leading role at several different kiruv organizations, including serving as mashgiach ruchini at one. He really is someone the frum world looks to for expertise on answering "questions."

 There’s a lot I can say about it - his attitude towards people who have gone OTD is terrible, for one - but here I want to highlight one of the appendices. In it, his answer to an often-asked question shows that he has no idea of either the historical context in which the teffilos he discusses there developed or the time in which they were written. The answer also doesn’t address the serious problems with the explanations he offers, but to be fair, he does say that it’s only meant to be a brief placeholder for a much longer conversation.

 The appendix begins with the question it’s going to answer: “Is it so bad to be a woman that men thank Hashem that ‘You did not Create me a woman?’ And were men NOT created ‘according to Your will?’”

 After a disclaimer about how this is a complex subject that needs more discussion than he can provide in a couple of pages at the back of a siddur (It’s not. The answer is one word: misogyny.) he writes,

 “‘So why did you include the question?’ To show you that it is a good question! Chazal were careful how they worded things, so if they worded the two brachos the way they did, there was a reason or many reasons, and the topic deserves study.”

 This premise is foundational to the rest of his answers. Without the assumption that the brachos are the deliberate work of the greatest Jewish sages of the past, the theological answers he provides don’t work. If the explanations he provides weren’t the intention of those who instituted the brachos, then they’re just excuses dreamed up later to justify the inexcusable.

 We’ll see in the rest of this essay that:

  • Chazal did not originate either of the brachos.
  • The wording of the brachos was not fixed until relatively late (in contrast to the assumptions that Chazal carefully worded the brachos and it is their words that we have in our siddurim.
  • The brachashelo asani isha” is part of davening due to historical happenstance.
  • She’sheasani kirtzono” was a much later response to the men’s bracha, and became standard because of more historical happenstance.
  • The apologetics typically offered to explain how the brachos aren’t misogynistic despite obviously being so (apologetics which are repeated in the appendix we're discussing) are historically and/or logically incoherent.

 Shelo asani isha” is part of a trio of brachos thanking Hashem for not creating one a gentile, a slave, or a woman. These three brachos have identical wording: “Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the Universe, Who did not make me a [gentile/slave/woman].” While now part of the larger set of brachos that make up birchas hashachar, the trio were originally unrelated to it. They first appear in Jewish sources in the Tosefta.[1] The version that is in our siddurim is from a gemara in Menachos,[2] while the rest of birchas hashachar appears in Brachos[3] an entirely different mesechta. We first see the trio attached to birchas hashachar in Sefer Halakhot Gedolot, around two hundred years after the period of Chazal had ended.[4]

 The writing of the gemara is firmly within the period of Chazal, but the amoraim did not originate the “shelo asani” brachos. The trio of blessings was extant in the Greco-Roman culture most of the Jews of the time were immersed in.

 Diogenes Laertius,  a contemporary of the Taanaim, writes,


“The story … is told by some of Socrates, namely, that he used to say there were three blessings for which he was grateful to Fortune: "First, that I was born a human being and not one of the brutes; next, that I was born a man and not a woman; thirdly, a Greek and not a barbarian."[5]


Diogenes Laertius lived about three hundred years before the gemara that gives us the version that is now in our siddurim. His work is contemporary with the tosefta that is our first Jewish source for the trio, and his attribution puts it much earlier. While the attribution doesn't prove that it originated with Socrates, it does show that it was a part of the larger Greco-Roman culture Diogenes Laertius and the Taanaim shared in the first centuries CE, and not something specifically Jewish.

 Compare the quote from Diogenes Laertius to the gemara. After quoting several sayings of R’ Meir, the gemara says,


“It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Meir would say: A man is obligated to recite three blessings every day praising God for His kindnesses, and these blessings are: Who did not make me a gentile; Who did not make me a woman; and Who did not make me an ignoramus.”[6]


Two of the blessings are identical: not a woman and not an outsider (“barbarian” meant anyone who wasn’t Greek, and is functionally a synonym for how Jews use the word “gentile'' to mean anyone who isn’t Jewish). Perhaps it isn’t too much of a stretch to say that “brute” and “ignoramus” are also conveying the same message: thank you for making me someone who has understanding, and not an [animal/ignoramus].

 The first two brachos are familiar to us. The third of the brachos we’re familiar with comes from the next few lines of the gemara.


“Rav Aa bar Ya’akov heard his son reciting the blessing: Who did not make me an ignoramus. Rav Aa bar Ya’akov said to him: Is it in fact proper to go this far in reciting blessings? Rav Aa bar Ya’akov’s son said to him: Rather, what blessing should one recite? If you will say that one should recite: Who did not make me a slave, that is the same as a woman; why should one recite two blessings about the same matter? Rav Aa bar Ya’akov answered: Nevertheless, a slave is more lowly than a woman, and therefore it is appropriate to recite an additional blessing on not having been born a slave.”[7]


The “ignoramus” blessing was changed, likely after the original source of the brachos had been forgotten and new reasons developed for saying them. It’s interesting that the content of the brachos were in flux, but they had to be a trio. Rather than drop the “did not make me an ignoramus” bracha and leave the other two as a duo, the gemara substitutes “did not make me a slave” to complete the trio.

 While the formulation we use first appears in the above gemara, it wasn't the fixed standard until long after the time of Chazal. Evidence that the exact wording of the brachos were in flux comes from the Cairo Genizah. Fragments from the Tosefta, Talmuds (Bavli and Yerushalmi), and siddurim found in the Cairo Genizah have various formulations of the trio. It wasn’t until the invention of the printing press that the availability of cheap, identical printed siddurim established the printers’ chosen version as standard.[8]

 Tellingly, fragments from the Genizah also preserve elements of the Greek blessings quoted by Diogenes Laertius. For instance, some have the positive formulation (“I was born a man”) found in Socrates' version, as opposed to the gemara’s negative-only formulation (“did not make me a woman”). Some fragments also include Socrates' third blessing, “that I was born a human being and not one of the brutes,” and not either of the gemara’s substitutes, the “ignoramus” or “slave” brachos.[9] This supports the conclusion that the Taanaim borrowed the brachos from the Greek blessings, and not the other way around. It's likely they were neither created nor carefully worded by Chazal.

 At least the trio of “did not create me…” brachos entered Jewish prayer during the time of Chazal. The other bracha discussed in the appendix, “shesheasani kirtzono,” first appears in the 14th century Ba’al Haturim, seven hundred years after the period of Chazal had ended. Even then, the formulation “shesheasani kirtzono” was not universal. There are 14th century siddurim that have the women's bracha as “who made me a women and not a man,” “Who did not make me a man,” or “Who made me a woman.”[10]

 We've seen that the author of our sidder was mistaken when he said about shelo asani isha and asani kitzono, “Chazal were careful how they worded things, so if they worded the two brachos the way they did, there was a reason,” with the implied assumptions that Chazal originated the brachos and that the version of the brachos we have now is one that Chazal carefully worded. Now we’ll turn to the explanations he offers for why the brachos aren’t the misogynistic statements they appear to be.

 He writes that we are all Hashem's beloved children, but different children have different jobs to do. He says that men and women are different. Men do better with structure, and so are given mitzvos to do with specific objects at specific times. Women are more intuitive, more in touch with kedushah. Intuitively serving God is the ideal, but this is the more difficult path. It’s easier to have the way to properly serve God laid out for you. Women take this harder path, and aren’t obligated in the highly structured mitzvos because that would interfere with their free-flowing intuitive service of God.

 When men thank God that they weren't created women, they are thanking Him that they have the easier, structured path. The equivalent women’s bracha can't say that they were happy not to have been made men, because that would imply that they're happy to have fewer mitzvos. Instead, they say that they were made in accordance with God's will, able to intuitively serve Him.

 All of his points are debatable: that men do better with structure and that women are more intuitive, that intuitive service is more difficult, that women are more in touch with spirituality, that intuitive rather than structured service is God's ideal, and that the brachos accurately reflect any of these ideas.

 Knowing as we now do the origin of these brachos, we can see that these explanations are clearly post-hoc apologetics. Socrates (or Diogenes Laertius attributing the blessings to the famous Socrates) did not thank Fortune for being a man and not a woman because he preferred to do mitzvos aseh she’hazman grama. Shesheasani kirtzono was not instituted along with the men's blessing as a balance to it, and it wasn’t phrased that way because women had to avoid offensively saying that they were happy to have fewer mitzvos. A women's blessing to complement the men's didn't show up for around 900 years after the gemara from which we get our current trio of brachos, and 1,100 years after “shelo asani isha” first appears in the Tosefta. When a women’s bracha appeared in the 14th century, there were versions that said “Who did not make me a man,” the exact thing that the siddur’s author says women couldn't possibly say! The reason that shesheasani kirtzono became standard is historical happenstance. The Ba’al Haturim, where “shesheasani kirtzono” first appears, became the basis for the Shulchan Aruch, and the Shulchan Aruch became the arbiter of halacha. Had the Ba’al Haturim lived in a place where one of the other formulations of the women's bracha was standard, that other formulation would be in all of our siddurim.

 Let's ignore all of that for a moment though, and examine these explanations on their own merits. There are essentially three threads of apologetics typically offered (and repeated in the appendix we're examining) to explain what are on their face an incredibly misogynistic pair of brachos.

 1. Women are more in touch with kedusha (and therefore don’t need as many mitzvos).

2. The brachos are about mitzvos, not the relative worth of men and women.

3. Women are how Hashem ideally wanted people to be.

 Before we address each of these individually, I want to note that the source in which “shesheasani kirtzono” first appears has a very different explanation. The Ba’al Haturim writes,


“And the custom of the women is to recite “That You have made me according to Your will.” And it could be that this custom arouse because it is like someone who accepts upon themselves the righteousness of the evil judgment"[11]


In other words, it's not about having fewer mitzvos or about being the ideal form of humanity. Just the opposite! It is resigned acceptance of the unfortunate fact that they were created women and not men.


1. Women are more in touch with kedusha (and therefore don’t need as many mitzvos).

 This apologetic shows up often in discussions around women and frumkeit. It's used not only to explain and justify shelo asani isha / she’sheasani kirtzono and why women are exempt from mitzvos aseh shehazman grama, but also to explain in general that, despite being excluded from any influence in the public life of the community, from participating in shul, from serious Torah learning, from being poskim, and so on, it isn't true that women are second-class citizens in Judaism! You see, in fact women are better than men! They’re holier than men! And that's why women don't need to be involved in all these things that are men's domain (and just happen to be all of the positions of participation, influence, and authority).

 The truth is it's just a platitude, a meaningless statement that costs authorities in frum communities nothing to repeat and which does women no practical good.

 Let's take it to its logical conclusion. What would it really mean if people believed that women are more in touch with kedusha than men? What are the implications, and what would it look like if people acted on the belief?

 For one, we would expect poskim and community leaders to consult women when making decisions in order to take advantage of their intuitive grasp of avodas Hashem. Instead, we see that it has been a struggle to even get authorities in frum communities to allow specially trained women to decide questions about niddah, and even that is only allowed because many women feel more comfortable taking these questions to another woman. For other questions of halacha and community policy, women are often excluded completely. They certainly aren't sought out for their unique intuition into what God wants of us.

 For another, what would this say about men? How could we allow men to be decisors of halacha when they lack an intuitive grasp of the ratzon Hashem? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have women shape halacha? Don't we want halachos that will best help us be in touch with kedusha? And yet, all poskim since forever that are recognized by the frum world have been men. The reason is, as Saul Berman, then Chairman of the Department of Judaic Studies of Stern College, wrote fifty years ago, this only works if “it were understood, as it indeed is, that the suggestion is not really to be taken seriously but is intended solely to placate women.”[12]

 Let's consider the argument by which we arrive at the conclusion that women are more in touch with kedusha. It can be formally written as follows.


Premise 1: The purpose of mitzvos are to help those who need the guidance to connect with kedusha.

Premise 1a: If group A are obligated in fewer mitzvos than group B, it's because group A is more in touch with kedusha than group B.

Premise 2: Women are obligated in fewer mitzvos than men.

Conclusion: Women are more in touch with kedusha than men.


The conclusion follows from the premises, but those who use this logic to placate women may not like what it implies. Let's plug different groups into premise two, and see what happens. We can try it with non-Jews.


Premise 2: Non-Jews have fewer mitzvos then Jews - 7 to our 613.

Conclusion: Non-Jews are more in touch with kedusha than Jews.


Or with an animal.


Premise 2: Cats are obligated in fewer mitzvos than humans. In fact, they are obligated in no mitzvos at all!

Conclusion: Cats are more in touch with kedusha than humans.


Bolstering the contention that “women are more in touch with kedusha” is just a platitude that no one takes seriously and is meant only to placate modern-minded women is that it first appears in the 19th century. Earlier commentators say the exact opposite.

 The Magen Avraham (17th century) writes,


“Women should not wear white on Yom Kippur because they can't be like angels. As it states in Misheli (21:22), ‘A wise man scales the city of the mighty men.’ [This refers to Moshe going to heaven to be with the angels] It refers to the Heaven as the ‘city of the mighty men.’ Thus, only men are capable of being like angels.”[13]


So much for women being more in touch with kedusha than men.

 Why then are women not mechuyiv in mitzvos aseh she’hazman grama? If it's not that they intuitively grasp the ratzon Hashem and therefore need less guidance from mitzvos, why do they have fewer mitzvos? The Sefer Abudarham (14th century) gives us a traditional Jewish answer.


“Woman is exempt from Positive Precepts dependent upon a set time because she is bound to her husband, to attend to his needs. Were a woman obliged to perform such mitzvos, her husband might bid her to do something at the precise moment that she is fulfilling one of these mitzvoth. Should she fulfill the bidding of her Creator and neglect her husband’s demands, she faces her husband’s wrath. On the other hand, should she fulfill her husband’s demands and neglect the bidding of her Creator, she faces the wrath of her Creator. Consequently, the Creator exempted her from these obligations in order to promote harmony between husband and wife.”[14]


According to this explanation, not only is women’s exemption from mitzvos aseh she’hazman grama not because of their superior spiritual status, it’s because of their inferior social status. They are servants to their husbands, and God has magnanimously ceded some of His claims on them to their masters.

 These sources show us that traditionally, Judaism held that women are inferior to men, both spiritually and socially. So where did the idea that women are more in touch with kedusha come from?

 It developed in the 19th century in reaction to modernity. Women were no longer content to be second-class citizens, and the haskalah saw the traditional position of women in frum society as backwards. Orthodoxy would not change its practice, but it was okay with inventing apologetics to make traditional practices palatable. The world was (slowly) moving away from rampant misogyny and was replacing it with romantic notions of femininity, and Orthodoxy adjusted its hashkafa accordingly.

 The Romantic movement swept across Europe in the early 19th century, and the Romantic novel became a popular new literary form. Haskalah writers borrowed the form for Yiddish novels, and with it came the genre’s heroine archetype. This character was pure, intuitive, and in touch with nature and emotion. She was weaker than the men around her, and required their protection. In return, she supplied emotional strength. The men left the home to earn a living, and she provided domesticity and an emotional center for them to return to.[15] Translated into a religious idiom, the Romantic heroine became an eishes chayil, pure, intuitive, and in touch with kedusha. The men around her took care of public worship and positions of authority, and ceded to her spiritual strength and building a bayis ne'eman b’yisroel. It is ironic that Orthodoxy employed an archetype invented in modernity and popularized in Jewish circles by maskilim to placate and keep within the fold those women who, influenced by modernity and the haskalah, were bothered by their secondary role in their religion and community.

 The explanation that women are holier and therefore don't need time-bound mitzvos as men do was first articulated by R’ Samson Rafael Hirsch. R’ Hirsch writes in his Commentary on the Torah,


“Clearly, women's exemption from positive, time-bound [mitzvot] is not a consequence of their diminished worth; nor is because the Torah found them unfit, as it were, to fulfill these mitzvot. Rather, it seems to me, it is because the Torah understood that women are not in need of these mitzvot. The Torah affirms that our women are imbued with a great love and a holy enthusiasm for their role in divine worship, exceeding that of man. The trials men undergo in their professional activities jeopardize their fidelity to Torah, and therefore they require from time to time reminders and warnings in the form of time-bound mitzvot. Women, whose lifestyle does not subject them to comparable trials and hazards, have no need for such periodic reminders.”[16]


Notice that R’ Hirsch’s description of women parallels that of the Romantic archetype from European and Maskilic literature. “Women are imbued with a great love and a holy enthusiasm,” a trait of the Romantic heroine who is a font of emotional strength. And it is “trials men undergo in their professional activities [that] jeopardize their fidelity to Torah.” Just as in the Romantic novel, the men take on the difficult role to protect women, they leave the house to earn a living, and come home to women who are pure, “whose lifestyle does not subject them to comparable trials and hazards.”

 Note also that R’ Hirsch writes “it seems to me…” This is his chiddush. From the time the brachashelo asani isha” appears in the Tosefta until R’ Hirsch presented his chiddush that women are more in touch with kedusha was 1,600 years. To suggest that this was the intent of those who adapted the blessing into davening would suggest for 1,600 years, nobody thought to mention it, and when it was finally mentioned in the 19th century, the talmid chacham who wrote it down thought it was a chiddush. This is absurd.


2. Women are how Hashem ideally wanted people to be

 This too is an explanation that fits poorly with traditional Jewish sources. Abarbanel (15th century) addresses directly the question of how Hashem ideally wanted people to be and expresses the traditional view well, so I'll just let him explain it.


“Even though Man was created as male and female, they were not both equally perfected. And even though they were the same species they were not equally in the image of God. That is why the verse states, “In the image of God He created him (singular), male and female He created them.” In other words, only Man was created in the image of God, because he was the reason and purpose for Creation. It was only for the necessity of procreation that Man was created as male and female.


… The Torah doesn't say “man according to his species,” but it does say that Adam was created male and female ... That is because man is different than other animals in which the female is on the same level as the male and is fully equal to him in nature. … That is why it says about them “according to his species” without giving the male any superiority to the female. However, it is different concerning man because the male is the reason for creation of humans and he alone was created in the image of God. Thus, the Torah states in the singular grammatical form, in the image of God He created him.


…The male is the one who comprehends mysteries of wisdom and not the female, about whom our Sages (Yoma 66b) said, “There is no wisdom in a woman except for the spindle.” That is because the creation of the female was only an afterthought to provide the man with a helper and for the purpose of procreation, as the Torah states later. So, in summary we see that man was originally created alone in perfection while she was made afterwards in order to serve him…


However, that understanding seems to be inconsistent with the view (Eiruvin 17a) that male and female were in fact created at the same time as two entities joined together back to back. [See my discussion of that gemara here.] However, in fact, our assertion that woman lacks the image of God and is inferior to the male is also consistent with the view that Adam was created as a hermaphrodite. In other words, man was created with an additional form from which woman was made…Adam was in fact a male in reality while the female aspect was only subordinate and an appendage to the male entity in order to make a woman from it later.


Thus we can explain that when it says Adam was created male and female, it means that since the dominant concern was to create an intelligent being whose purpose was intellectual, for that purpose there was no need for the female and thus it was not proper to create the female with him . … this verse of “male and female He created them” teaches that … God wanted that man would be created not only with the intellect but also with a non-intellectual material aspect … So even … according to this second view … the two aspects were not equal in perfection but rather it was the male aspect – the primary one - which was created with the image of God. Man was created as male and intellectual and only secondarily as female to enable the making of a second subordinate entity to serve the male.”[17]


According to Abarbanel, the truth is the exact opposite of the apologetic claim that “women are how Hashem ideally wanted people to be.” He says “man was originally created alone in perfection, while she was made afterwards in order to serve him.” Women were not how Hashem ideally wanted people to be! They were an afterthought. They were created only because they were necessary for procreation. They aren’t even created b’tzelem Elohim, let alone as the ideal form of humanity. “The male is the reason for creation of humans, and he alone was created in the image of God.” Abarbanel also refutes the first of our three apologetics, the idea that women are more in touch with kedusha. He says, “The male is the one who comprehends mysteries of wisdom and not the female.” Women exist only as a “subordinate entity to serve the male.”

 Abarbanel is not the last word on the relative worth of men and women in Judaism, but traditional Jewish sources align with his views far more closely than they do with those of R’ Hirsch. And it is striking how very different modern apologetics like those in the siddur’s appendix are from the views of rishonim like Abarbanel.


3. The brachos are about mitzvos, not the relative worth of men and women.

 This is the only one of the three lines of apologetics that has support in the traditional sources. The tosefta where the trio of brachos first appears has explanations for why each is said, and includes the explanation that shelo asani isha is about mitzvos.


”[The reason for saying a bracha for not making him] a gentile is because it says ‘All nations are like nothing to Him. He considers them to be empty and void.’ (Isaiah 40:17) [The reason for saying a bracha for not making him] a woman is because women are not obligated in mitzvot [aseh shehazman grama].” [The reason for saying a bracha for not making him] a boor is because a boor is not afraid of sin.”[18]


In contrast, the gemara implies that it is about the relative worth of men and women. As we saw above, the gemara relates that Rav Acha Bar Yaakov told his son to say a bracha for not being created a slave instead of not being created an ignoramus. The son points out that “a slave … is the same as a woman,” so saying a bracha about not being made a slave seems redundant. When read through the lens of the apologetic, it seems that the son is saying that slaves and women have the same number of mitzvos. But Rashi explains that the son's question is about status, because “a woman is to her husband as a slave is to his master.” Rav Acha Bar Yaakov’s answer is also about status, not mitzvos. He tells his son that slaves are “lesser” than women.

 We might say that the third apologetic is half true. It is true that in the earliest Jewish source we have for these brachos, the reason given for saying “shelo asani isha” is about mitzvos. But in subsequent sources, it is also about status and the relative worth of men and women.

 So we see that the apologetics the siddur’s author gives to justify what are on their face blatantly misogynistic brachos are, with the exception of one early mention of it being about mitzvos, recent inventions that are contradicted by earlier sources and/or don't hold up logically. And we see that he is apparently unaware of the provenance or history of “shelo asani isha” and “sheasani kirtzono.”

 The author is a professional kiruv rabbi with an illustrious career, someone who is held up as an expert in providing questioning teens with answers to help them stay on the derech. Is it really so hard to believe that someone who believed the expert and built his or her emunah on his answers might leave frumkeit when they find out he doesn't know what he’s talking about? How many such experts must one consult - and be disappointed by - before they can be deemed an apikores and not an am ha’aretz?




I’m starting a new venture. It’s been three years since I finished my book on the Kuzari Argument, “Reasonable Doubts: Breaking the Kuzari.” Since then I’ve been working on other planned books in the series, and for the last year and a half I’ve been focused on a book I’ve tentatively titled “Reasonable Doubts: Orthodox Myths.” It goes through the central claims that frumkeit makes about itself and deconstructs them one by one. It’s slow going, and I think it will be a long time before it’s finished. In the interest of making it available sooner (and motivating myself to devote more time to working on it), I’m starting a weekly newsletter where I will regularly post excerpts. The first post is the first few pages of the book, the next will be the next few pages, and so on. If you’d like to read the book as I write it, check it out here:

[1] Tosefta, Berachot 6:23

[2] BT Menachos 43b

[3] BT Brachos 60b

[4] Rainbow Tallit Baby. (June 17, 2015). It’s not about the extra mitzvot: Mansplaining the Morning Blessings [Blog post]. Retrieved from

[5] Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers 1:33

[6] BT Menachos 43b. Translation from

[7] BT Menachos 43b Translation from

[8] Jacobowitz, T. Book review of: Kahn, Y. (2011). The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship, and Identity in Jewish Liturgy. Oxford University Press.

[9] Jacobowitz, T. Book review of: Kahn, Y. (2011). The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship, and Identity in Jewish Liturgy. Oxford University Press.

[10] Rainbow Tallit Baby. (June 17, 2015). It’s not about the extra mitzvot: Mansplaining the Morning Blessings [Blog post]. Retrieved from

[11] Tur, Orach Chayyim 46. Translation from

[12] Berman, S.J. (1973). The Status Of Women In Halakhic Judaism. Tradition 14(2). Retrieved from

[13] Mogen Avraham, Orech Chaim (610:5)

[14] Sefer Abudarham, Third Gate; Blessings on Commandments 28. Translation from

[15] Seidman, N. (2016). The Marriage Plot Or, How Jews Fell in Love with Love, and with Literature, Stanford University Press. P 178

[16] Samson Rafael Hirsch, Hirsch Commentary on the Torah (Brooklyn: Judaica Press, 1989), Lev. 23:43

[17] Abarbanel (Bereishis 1:27)

[18] Tosefta, Berachos 6:23, Translation from