Responses To Rabbi Kanefsky On The Morning Blessings

I’ve been asking Orthodox rabbis about Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky’s two blog posts (here and here) announcing why he did not say the traditional morning blessing thanking God for not making him a woman.

A friend tells me: “Fact is, that blessing has been in dispute from the beginning, and many important poskim, and whole communities, say “sheasani yisrael” (for making me a Jew).

“Also, the gemora has another potential blessing, “shelo asani am haaretz” (for not making me ignorant) and that was unpopular and disappeared from the texts.”

One rabbi said to me: “The sad thing is the shul won’t fire him. What about the blessing thanking God for not making him a Gentile (she loasani goy) – how can the rabbi be racist?”

“He should really get rid of mussaf as well – the treatment of animals in biblical doctrine does not stand up to the “smell test” of modern sensibilities.

“In fact he should not allow the reading of Parshat Zachor for it is racist, or any place in the Torah which speaks of Israel’s choseness or specialness – these are primitive ancient perspectives. He should edit the Torah, teachings and ritual to confirm to modern sensibilities – of course none of this should be done in an orthodox shul – which is why he should be fired

“The proof he brought in his defense actually disproves his argument – for it shows that these blessings are really about acknowledgment of a man’s obligations toward the fulfillment of the commandments, and hence if the order was changed you do not go back and say the others – hence the blessings are not about sexism or racism – but about a man accepting his obligation of the commandments.”

Another rabbi said to me:

Rabbi Kanefsky is giving an emotional response to the modern problems that women face. Women have held almost all leadership rolls in Shuls (again each Shul can decide what positions women can hold and what they cannot hold). Women have become Toanot, Yoatzot Halachah and this list is slowly expanding by consensus of opinion. See what Rebbitzen Chana Henkin and her husband have done at Nishmat.

The Issue of Get (Jewish divorce) refusal is a complex one. During the time when the Jewish community was autonomous this was not an issue, the force of a Cherem (excommunication) was so strong that no one refused the Beit Din‘s order to give a get. Now we have issues also with women refusing to receive a get. Changing one blessing will not change any of this. See also the Tosefta in Brachot that explains that the series of Brachot is said based upon how many mitzvot a person must perform, the lowest number is by a non-jew, then a slave, then a woman then a man.

So we all say a brachah (blessing) that we are not gentiles that only have 7 mitzvot, then that we are not slaves that have some more mitzvot, then that we are not women that have to do almost all of the mitzvot. The Tosefta was written 1800 years ago, almost at the same time as these Brachot and hundreds of years before the Siddur as we know it. So unless Rabbi Kanefsky wishes to obligate women in מצות עשה שהזמן גרמה I do not see that there is any reason to change the Brachah.

It is interesting to note that at a Shalhevet, a very left wing Orthodox school, the girls fight for the right not to doven Minchah (pray the afternoon service). They are women and not obligated, so if a change is being contemplated, do the women in fact want the obligations that would go with a change in the Brachah?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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