Thursday, August 09, 2012

Sheh-asani . . .

Attempting to take the sexism, etc., out of the Birkot HaShachar/Morning Blessings results in some interesting questions and choices.  For openers, many of us egalitarians invert the traditional order of the b'rachot/blessings.  And that's just the beginning of the fun.

So we start with the man's b'rachah/blessing, "Baruch . . .  sheh-lo asani ishah (Blessed [is the One who] who did not make me a woman," or the woman's b'rachah, "Baruch . . .  sheh-asani ki-r'tzono, (Blessed [is the One who] made me in accordance with His will)."  As far as I know, these are the generally-accepted substitutes:
  1. Baruch . . . sheh-asani b'tzalmo (Blessed . . . Who made me in His image
  2. Baruch . . . sheh-asani ish/ishah (Blessed . . . Who made me a man/woman)
Number 1 is used in the Conservative siddur/prayer book, and is what I say when leading Birkot HaShachar.  But I say Baruch . . . sheh-asani ishah (Blessed . . . Who made me a woman) when davvening bi-y'chidut/praying alone.

Next up is a troublemaker, "Baruch . . . sheh-lo asani aved (Blessed . . . Who has not made me a slave)."  (I've heard somwhere that some siddurim/prayer books use "sheh-lo asani shifchah" for females, but, interestingly enough, neither my good old Birnbaum Siddur nor my almost-new Koren-Sacks Siddur makes a distinction between men and women reciting this b'rachah.)  The problem?  There's no neuter in Hebrew.  If you're going to change that b'rachah, you have to say either "Baruch . . . sheh-asani ben chorin" or "Baruch . . . sheh-asani bat chorin."  You're either the son of a free person or the daughter of a free person.  Why one can't just say "chorin," I honestly don't know.  What I do know is that, when I'm leading and I say "Baruch . . . sheh-asani bat chorin," half the guys don't answer "Amen."  :(  That may be because there's an interesting question regarding whether I can fulfill a man's obligation to express gratitude for being free when I'm forced by Hebrew grammar to pray in the feminine.  Do the guy's have to say "Baruch . . . sheh-asani ben chorin" under their breaths when a woman is leading?

Final, there's another troublemaker, "Baruch . . . sheh-lo asani goy (Blessed . . . who has not made me a non-Jew)."  This time, the problem is not only Hebrew grammar, but also modern history.  It's easy for a guy, who can say "Baruch . . . sheh-asani Yisrael (Blessed . . . who has made me Israel/an Israelite/a Jew)."  But if a woman says "Baruch . . . sheh-asani Yisraelit," she's expressing gratitude not only only for being a Jewess, but also for being a female Israeli!  (In Hebrew, the masculine version of "Israeli" is "Yisraeli," not "Yisrael", so, in the masculine, there's a clear grammatical distinction between an Israeli and an "Israelite.") Well, I'm not Yisraelit, I'm Americait.  For lack of an alternative, I'm sticking with "sheh-asani Yisrael," which may be masculine but is also generic, which is what happens in a language that has no neuter.


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