Menachot 44a – Women and the Blessing of Shelo Asani Isha

As discussed in the previous post, the sugya that ends the discussion of tzitzit, leaves women out of the conversation.  Not only are women exempt from the mitzvah (although this is debated), but they also do not have the other markers of identity – tefilin and, as the story about King David drives home, the very mark of identity on their flesh – brit milah.  Thus, when the Gemara finally gets to the statement of R. Meir that a person, i.e., a man, makes three blessings every day, one of which being “… that God has not made me a woman,” this is less of a surprise than a concrete articulation of the theme that has been present throughout – women have less obligations than man, and also have fewer, if any, markers of identity.   This point is made in an even harsher way by the Tosefta, which states that one thanks God for not being a woman because “women are not obligated in mitzvot.”  While this clearly means that they are not obligated in all mitzvot, the point remains – they play a much less visible role in the world of mitzvot of action.

I do not have a satisfying way – short of apologetics, which is never satisfying – to resolve this Gemara with contemporary sensibilities.     To address the practical issue of saying the blessing “… that God has not made me a woman,” and possible alternatives (saying it in the positive:”God has made me a man,” saying it in an undertone, etc.), I have posted R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin’s teshuva on this from Bnei Banim 4:1, under Resources – Primary Sources.   Appended to the Hebrew teshuva is the English translation that was published by Rav Henkin in a separate volume on women’s topics.

That being said, the practical “solutions” do not address the deeper issues, and I would be very interested in hearing from any of you your thoughts regarding this Gemara and the challenges that it represents.  Please respond with your thoughts and comments by posting a comment to this post.

A good Yom Tov to all.  Chag Samayach.

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About Rabbi Dov Linzer

Rabbi Dov Linzer is the Rosh HaYeshiva and Dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School, a groundbreaking Orthodox smicha program. Rabbi Linzer spearheaded the development of YCT to create an innovative four year smicha program which provides its students with rigorous talmud Torah and halakhic study and sophisticated professional training in the context of a religious atmosphere which cultivates openness and inclusiveness. Rabbi Linzer has published Halakha and machshava articles in Torah journals and lectures widely at synagogues and conferences on topics relating to Halakha, Orthodoxy, and modernity. He is most recently the awardee of the prestigious Avi Chai Fellowship.
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One Response to Menachot 44a – Women and the Blessing of Shelo Asani Isha

  1. rivka haut says:

    Regarding the view that permits “shelo asani isha” to be recited quietly, with all due respect, I fail to see how this option serves to repair the damage caused by this beracha.
    So long as it remains in the siddur, it remains offensive. The remark of Rav Henkin that women come to shul so late therefore it isn’t so humiliating to them only compounds the insult.
    Little girls, and little boys, are taught this beracha when they are very young, around six. They assimilate its meaning and its message. Any explanation that a six year old girl or boy cannot understand is useless. Children don’t understand philosophy, they understand the literal meaning of the words. And the meaning is insulting and demeans women and girls. The beracha sends a message to girls that they are valued less than boys, a message that halakhah adds to in many other ways as girls become women.
    Pretending that the message won’t get thru if the beracaha isn’t recited out loud is silly. So long as it remains on the page, it is insulting.
    If we cannot even eliminate this offensive, man made blessing from our liturgy, what hope is there to accomplish any meaningful change, such as implementing a remedy for agunot?
    Chag sameach everyone, may the coming year bring true libertaion to all of us.
    Rivka Haut

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