Sunday, 28 August 2011

The "Shelo Asani Ishah" Issue

The presentations on the Morethodoxy blog,, by Rabbis Kanefsky and Lopatin on the bracha of shelo asani ishah and, what we may term, related issues has initiated much discussion within the Orthodox world on what exactly are the parameters of this world. It is my hope, in the near future, to present on the Nishma website a more thorough discussion of this issue. In the meantime, though, there is one item that has been bothering me and, surprisingly, in reviewing much that has been written on the subject, I have not found stated. This is an inherent weakness in the original halachic argument for heter -- which, additionally, truly highlights the whole issue.

In attempting to argue that one could skip the bracha of shelo asani ishah, the argument is made that the bracha of she'asani Yisraeli could be made instead which would thereby exempt one from all 3 shelo asani brachot. To substantiate this argument, it is first offered that there are clearly major authorities who accept a girsah of she'asani Yisraeli. A halachic conclusion, in the name of the Bach, is then presented that if one already made the bracha of she'asani Yisrael, one should not recite any of the 3 shelo asani brachot as they are included in that bracha. As such-- although recognizing there are the challenges due to tradition, the needed use of a minority opinion and the use of a bidi'eved view l'chatchila -- the conclusion can be reached that due to the needs of out times, we should follow the girsa of she'asani Yisrael, apply the Bach's logic that this bracha exempts shelo asani ishah, and instruct people to just say the she'asani bracha thereby circumventing the saying of shelo asani ishah. In response, strong disagreements have been voiced against this conclusion precisely because of the challenges noted above.

My problem, though, is in the very statement, and subsequent analysis, of the gemara. Any shittai emerges from an attempt to understand the language and flow of the text. Positions do not stand on their own and once existent, have a life of their own. They emerge from an understanding of the text and must be seen within this context. As such, the bottom line of all psak is the way that one is understanding the gemara. In that regard, there are indeed possible times that one can rely on a da'as yachid, i.e. a singular way of understanding a gemara text at odds with all the other ways of reading the text. The point here, though, is that the final conclusion reached in this halachic presentation has no connection to the original statement of the gemara in any way. The conclusion simply does not flow from the gemara.

There is indeed girsa'ot that read one of the brachot as she'asani Yisraeli in distinction to shelo asani goy -- but so what? That in itself means nothing in regard to the bracha of shelo asani ishah. The very point of the gemara is that there are 3 brachot with the result that if you actually believe the correct language of the gemara is she'asani Yisraeli, you would have to maintain that one must still recite shelo asani ishah and shelo asani eved even if one recites she'asani Yisraeli. In fact, the Bach's very argument is that the girsah of the gemara must be shelo asani goy for if it was she'asani Yisraeli, the other two brachot would be superfluous. That is the context in which he presents the idea that, if recited bedi'eved, she'asani Yisraeli would exempt the need to recite the other brachot. The bottom line, though, is that the real point of the Bach is that this cannot be the correct girsa for the gemara calls upon the individual male Jew to make 3 brachot including shelo asani ishah.

The bottom line is that there really is no halachic argument from anyway of reading the gemara that can result in forgoing shelo asani ishah. If you hold directly that the girsah is she'asani ishah, it must be that for some reason, againsit the Bach's reasoning, you must still say shelo asani ishah and shelo asani eved. The gemara simply calls for 3 brachot. The argument of the Bach that states that she'asani Yisraeli can bidi'eved exempt one from saying shelo asani ishah actually flows from a contention that this language cannot be the proper girsah in the gemara. The gemara still calls for 3 brachot and they are the 3 shelo asani ones.

Psak has to go back to the language of the gemara. In this case, there is no way of understanding this gemara as stating in any way that one can forego saying shelo asani ishah. The issue of whether the other bracha is she'asani Yisraeli is irrelevant. If that is the girsah of the gemara, the gemara still calls for 3 brachot. If it is not, the gemara still calls for 3 brachot. Any other analysis is just mental gymnastics in a vacuum. The gemara's language is a challenge to that vacuum.

As I mentioned, I do hope to write more on this. The argument is that there may be a place for chiddush and, indeed, as Rabbi Lopatin wrote, Rav Moshe was an excellent example of this -- but there was always the parameter of the language of the gemara. This, to me, is the bottom line of Orthodoxy -- more on this though later.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Garnel Ironheart said...

Actually I put up a couple of posts on this.
From a good read of Rabbis Kanefsky and Lopatin it is very clear their halachic methodology is based on "I want this answer, therefore I will pick and choose those halachic positions I need to prove it even if i have to deliberately misunderstand them."
Indeed Lopatin's most recent post claims the Rav himself is on his side when it comes to saying She'asani Yisrael and his proof is a letter written to him by a nephew of the Rav who spends the entire letter attacking his faulty methodology!
People will see and hear what they want to.
Here's a question of the day for you though: How is this different than Chareidim who say that the literal understanding of the first chapter of Bereshis is the ONLY legitimate understanding in our mesorah and that anyone who says otherwise is a kofer?

Nishma said...

I also read this assertion that the Rav said she'asani Yisraeli but in regard to this issue of shelo asani ishah, so what? If the Rav did actuallly say the bracha this way -- perhaps because he felt that the Gra held that way and it seems it was common for the Rav to follow minhagei haGra -- that does not mean that he did not also say shelo asani ishah. As I mentioned, the Bach, who argues that she'asani Yisraeli paturs someone form shelo asani ishah, also maintains that the correct girsah in the gemara is shelo asani goy. If the Gra held one should say she'asani Yisraeli, that would be because he believed that to be the correct girsah and clearly pursuant to that girsah, she'asani Yisraeli was said with shelo asani ishah. Mentioning of the practice of the Rav is a total red herring.

As to your question comparing this to the actions of the charedim, they really are two different problems. In this case, Rabbis Kanefsky and Lopatin are putting together a hodge podge which cannot fit into the language of the gemara. They are putting together differing concepts that emerge from different readings of the gemara. The result is an inherent stira in logic. The problem with the charedim is that their presentation is actually consistent with readings of the gemara as understood through the words of miforshim. What they are then doing is asserting that no other understanding of these statements of Chazal is acceptable -- even as we see miforshim present them. That is a different avla.

It is interesting to note that the right wing attacks on Rabbis Kanefsky and Lopatin actually apply their own weakness in the challenge. Rather than showing the problem in the logical halachic argument of Rabbis Kanefsky and Lopatin, their argument is basically that it wasn't said before, even by the Rav. The argument is not that it is not logical, but simply that it is not pshat because it is not pshat. They do not recognize that if a presentation is a logical way of understanding a gemara, while it may still not be halacha l'ma'aseh, it may be a heftza shel Torah that needs to be taken seriously.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Nishma said...

There is something I wish to clarify. Rabbi Kanefsky's objective is not simply to remove shelo asani ishah from the daily liturgy. His objecitve is to do so while still maintaining that on some level he is till fulfilling the directives of Chazal. His whole argument is that there is a halachic way to do so -- i.e. some way of understanding the language of and underlying the Halacha that enables one to do so while still arguing that one is followin its directives. He thus contends that if one reads the gemara's girsa as she'asani Yisraeli and one further argues that this bracha furthermore exempts one from shelo asani ishah, you can circumvent saying it within the parameters of the law. The problem is that it is only if you maintain that the girsa is shelo asani ishah that you can argue that she'asani Yisraeli exempts you from the bracha. If you hold that the girsa is she'asani Yisraeli then you have to read the gemara as stating that in addition to this bracha you still have to say shelo asani ishah. It is simply not logically possible, within the parameters of halachic reasoning, to put these two elements together to create Rabbi Kanefsky's method that one can still fulfill some understanding of Chazal's directive without saying shelo asani ishah.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

Curiouser said...

How about reading the gemara the way R. Chaim Hirschensohn does in Malki baKodesh 4:34?

Curiouser said...

"The bottom line is that there really is no halachic argument from anyway of reading the gemara that can result in forgoing shelo asani ishah"

I do hope you will concede that R. Chaim Hirschensohn has a reading of the gemara that results in forgoing shelo asani ishah (even if he doesn't actually pasken according to it). You can discuss that in your fuller treatment.