She-lo Asani Isha – Gemara and Rishonim

January 11, 2011

This is an introduction to Rav Wolbe’s commentary on the berach of she-lo asani isha.  This beracha has caused a great deal of discomfort among both women and men.  In this shiur we analyzed the text as it appears in the Tosefta, Bavli, Yerushalmi and Otzar ha-Midrashim.  In its original context the beracha seems to be about the elevated obligation of men in mitzvot as opposed to women. However, once we move to the Tur the language becomes difficult;

טור אורח חיים סימן מו

ויש עוד ג’ ברכות שצריך לברך בא”י אמ”ה שלא עשאני עו”ג שצריך ליתן שבח והודאה למקום שבחר בנו מכל העו”ג וקרבנו לעבודתו בא”י אמ”ה שלא עשאני עבד אע”פ שמברך שלא עשאני אשה שגם היא אינה חייבת במצות עשה שהזמן גרמא צריך לברך שלא עשאני עבד שהוא גרוע טפי בא”י אמ”ה שלא עשאני אשה שאינה חייבת במצות עשה שהזמן גרמא ונהגו הנשים לברך שעשאני כרצונו ואפשר שנוהגים כן שהוא כמי שמצדיק עליו הדין על הרעה

Tur, Orach Chayyim 46

And there are three more blessings that must be recited:  1. Blessed…that you have made me an idolater, for you have to give thanks and praise to the omnipresent one that He chose us from among all the nations, and brought us close to His worship.  2. Blessed…that you have not made me a slave.  Even though he will bless for not being made a woman and she is also not obligated in positive time bound commandments, a slave is more lowly.  3. Blessed…that you have not made me a woman, for she is not obligated in positive time bound commandments.  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.

This comment of the Tur sets a tone within the halakhik literature whereby this beracha can be used to reflect poorly on the rabbinic view of women.  While I do believe that this stream is problematic, I am not convinced that the original intention of Hazal was to make a negative statement about women.  In fact, I think that there might be something entirely different going on behind the beracha.

In the time period immediately preceding hazal and then in the Christian Bible you find the following texts;

Diogenes Laeriut, “Thales,” I,33

I was grateful to fortune:

1. That I was born a person and not a beast;

2. I was born a man and not a woman;

3. A Greek and not a barbarian.

Galatians Chapter 3

23 Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to JC that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.  26 You are all sons of God through faith in JC, 27 for all of you who were baptized into JC have clothed yourselves with JC. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in JC. 29 If you belong to JC, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

In fact a similar set of berachot was found in the geniza:

Geniza Fragments, Taylor-Schechter NS 121:5 (see HUCA 2 & Sinai 85)

Praised are you…who made me:

1. A person and not a beast;

2. a man and not a woman;

3. an Israelite and not a gentile.

It may be the case that Hazal were responding to the Pauline Christian notion of the removal of boundaries through belief in Jesus. What the rabbis could be saying is that in fact these distinctions are important and significant.  The way that I think about these berachot is that these distinctions remain important in our day.  Who is a Jew and who is a non-Jew is not simple.  Who is free and who is enslaved is, sadly, not so obvious.  Even questions of gender and sexuality have become matters of debate.  These berachot, for me, represent a reminder to be careful about matters that are not simple.

I believe that if the language of the beracha were totally positive (she-asani ish) that it would limit the possibility of bastardizing the beracha and using it as a club.  However, I do not think that the Halakha permits changing the “matbea – coined language” of tefila in this instance.  It is significant to note that we have found witnesses to many different alternatives within the history of the printed siddur.  None the less, I do not believe that is enough to set a precedent for changing the text.

You can see all the mekorot at this link.

She lo Asani Isha – Orginal Context with Geniza (here is the audio)

Dash – Sechita on Fruits, Vegetables

January 11, 2011

The second significant toldah of Dash is sechita.  Its application to fruits and vegetables occupies an extensive sugya in the beginning of the twenty second chapter, from 143b until the next mishna, 145b.  Here is the sugya itself (link).  Our first challenge was to distinguish grapes and olives from all other food products.  Rashi talks about the squeezing of all other fruits as simply not a normal process, while the Ran makes a formal distinction between the status of olive oil and grape juice from all other absorbed liquids.  This debate leads to a very important debate as to whether something can enter into the category of “grapes and olives” because it become normal to squeeze then or if the formal rules limit the category to “halakhik liquids.”   Here are the mekorot for this part of the shiur (link).  We also addressed the famous position of the Hazon Ish (O”H 33:5) regarding the beracha on fruit juices.

In addition, there is the important question of establishing minhagim based on the practice of your community.  This issues has been obliterated in our contemporary reality in which nearly every fuit is squeezed for its juice.  The advent of juicing bars makes shifts nearly every fruit into the category of something that is regularly squeezed.  Here are the mekorot (link).  The practice of Menashe ben Menachem was to squeeze pomegranates so that impacted all of Klal Yisrael.  There are several important pieces in the Tosafot regarding the establishment of communal minhagim.

I will add the audio shiurim tonight or tomorrow.


Dash – Choleiv

January 2, 2011

One of the most practical toldot of Dash of choleiv (milking) – at least according to most rishonim.  Defining the exact parameters of the prohibition of milking is not simple.  We begin with a machloket tannaim as to whether or not this is a Torah prohibition at all.  According to the majority position of the chachamim milking is only a rabbinic prohibition.  R. Eliezer disagrees. (Shabbat 95a)

החולב והמחבץ והמגבן כגרוגרת, המכבד, והמרבץ, והרודה חלות דבש

.שגג בשבת – חייב חטאת, הזיד ביום טוב – לוקה ארבעים, דברי רבי אליעזר

.וחכמים אומרים: אחד זה ואחד זה אינו אלא משום שבות

It is an attempt to understand this berayta and to synthesize it with the limitation of dash to things that grown from the ground that generates the complexity of the sugya of choleiv.

After a complicated analysis we come to following positions:

Rashi, Tosafot and Rambam all hold that choleiv is a Torah prohibition.  Rashi and Rambam as a tolda of dash, Rabbeinu Tam as a Toldah of memachek.

Ramban, Rashba, Ritva, Ran, Nimukei Yosef all hold that it is only a rabbinic prohibition.  See here for the mekorot as well as material dealing with gidulei karka.

The mechaber appears to side with the Rambam that it is a Torah prohibtion but the Magen Avraham paskens like the Ramban.  There are a few achronim (see the Divrei Malkiel here) that want to at least use this shita as a leniency and the Emden assumes that choleiv is d’rabanan (see his teshuva here).

The Tzitz Eliezer in a brilliant essay outlines all the various shitot.  You can find his piece here with my emphases added (link).  In this masterful teshuva / article he lays out all of the issues at length and with great clarity.

In addition we addressed the question of choleiv when there is great pain or discomfort.  Here are the basic gemarot, and here you will see the key tosafot from around shas.

These issues are extremely important for religious kibbutzim and nursing mothers.  It is important to note an important language distinction that Hazal make.  Choleiv refers to the removal of milk from a cow and yonek refers to the removal of milk from a woman.  It is taken for granted that the same set of halakhot that apply to one will apply to the other.  I recognize the problematics of that fact.

The question that is often asked by nursing mothers who are expressing is how to do this on Shabbat.  This is not a simple issue as it may be a d’orayta issue.  If we take the mechaber as agreeing with the Rambam then there is no way to save the milk that is expressed.  Only by accepting the minority read of the Emden, Magen Avraham and Ramban can we permit a women to save the milk that is expressed on Shabbat.

This is only in a case where the baby no longer needs that milk.  That is to say that she is expressing to relieve her own discomfort but the baby has no real need for the milk.  If the baby needed the milk then it would be possible to even permit the d’orayta for the sake of the baby.

Here are the four shiurim that I gave on this topics:

Choleiv – setting out gemarot and rishonim

Choleiv b’makom tzaar

Choleiv l’maaseh – Yaavetz Divrei Malkiel – Process of Psak

Tzitz Eliezer on Choleiv



Dash – Introduction

January 1, 2011

In this shiur we dealt with some of the basic definitional questions as to what the melacha of Dash actually means.  We began with an analysis of the opening berayta on the topic as it appears on Shabbat 73b:

תנא: הדש והמנפץ והמנפט – כולן מלאכה אחת הן

We dealt with a basic machloket between Rashi and Tosafot on how to read this line.  The Eglei Tal in his opening  piece on milechet dash analyzes this debate.

We then moved on to the approach of R. Chananel and the Sefer ha-Ittim and what they add to the definition of the melacha.  They both seem to assume that dash is somehow preparatory for borer.  In addition the Sefer ha-Ittim adds that the item has receive the title “food” upon completion.

We then embarked on a brief analysis of the:

זומר וצריך לעצים

And its importance for the creation of the category of melachot which when done for some unusual purpose it is simply no longer the melacha.  Tosafot there adds dash to the list:

תוספות מסכת שבת דף עג עמוד ב, “וצריך לעצים”

נראה דאפילו לר’ יהודה דמחייב מלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה בעינן צריך לעצים

.דלא מיקרי בעצים קוצר אלא בענין זה

.מידי דהוה אקורע על מנת לתפור ומוחק על מנת לכתוב

(וכדאמר רבי יוחנן לקמן בפ’ חבית. (דף קמה

אחד כבשים ואחד שלקות שסחטן לגופן מותר למימיהן חייב חטאת

?ואמאי שרי לגופן ליהוי כמלאכה שאינה צריכה לגופה

.אלא טעמא לפי שאין דרך דישה בכך

This Tosafot plays an important role for many melachot.

We then went on to discuss the definition of the term מפרק and how that impacts the melacha of dash.  We saw a basic debate between Rashi and the Ran as to what the actual case of throwing the clods of dirt was and how that impacted our understanding of the melacha.

Here are the mekorot that we studied (link).

Here is the audio file of the shiur:

Dash – Introduction and Definition

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch. 2 va’adim 1 & 2

January 1, 2011

In the first va’ad Rav Wolbe sets up the importance of a moment of silence before prayer.  Simply sitting still and focusing on your thoughts for about a minute can truly transform your experience of tefilfa.  I know from my own experience how powerful this can be as a tool of meditation.

What Rav Wolbe points out is that in order to get to shul five minutes early you need to wake up a little earlier.  In order to wake up earlier you have to go sleep earlier.  So – you preparation for shacharit begins at bedtime of the night before.

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 va’ad 1 – Preparations begin at bedtime

In the second va’ad he begins to work through Birkot ha-Shachar.  He starts with an analysis of the word “barch.”  This is a word that has always puzzled me and I have often struggled with the correct translation.  In addition he deals with the word “sechvi.”  It is interesting to note that in this beracha we are thanking God for the natural instincts of the rooster.

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 va’ad 2 – Baruch

He then moves on to the first two berachot of self identity.  Here we see some of his prejudices against non-Jews.  While his language is painful to read I think that he raises an important question of how much we allow the outside world to impact on who we are (assuming that we can make a distinction between “outside” and “inside”).

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 va’ad 2 – goy and eved

Next time he will deal with she-lo asani isha.  I will also attempt to place that beracha in a broader  context and give my own approach as to what it means to me.

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 – Tefila

January 1, 2011

In this chapter Rav Wolbe sets up a core paradox regarding prayer.  What does it mean to ask for something from God?  Doesn’t hashem already know what I need?  Rav Wolbe expands this into a broader issue from the world of Mussar.  He opens up the issue of causality as a fundamental contradiction to the notion of divine providence.

This issue features prominently in the works of Rav Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the Mussar movement, as well as Rav Simcha Zissel (the Saba) of Kelm.  Rav Wolbe in other places represents this same apparent contradiction as Athens vs. Jerusalem.  Likely drawing on the work of Moses Hess and perhaps Leo Strauss.  This conflict represents a core debate between religion and science that flows through out many religious thinkers.

These four shiurim cover the opening piece of the chapter

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch. 2 – Tefila – Job

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch. 2 – Tefila for Shleimut

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 – Tefila as the spring of nature

Alei Shur v.2 Sha’ar 3 ch.2 – Tefila causality