Monday, 25 February 2013

Question! About being grateful for what one is not . . .

T-shirt sold here.
I'm sure this has been discussed abundantly online, but I'm interested in the bottom line. Why are Orthodox men meant to thank God everyday for not being made a woman, and why don't Orthodox women find this sentiment offensive?

Are the justifications for blessings expressing gratitude for not being a gentile or slave similar?


  1. Because Orthodox women suffer from Stockholm Syndrome?

  2. That blessing is part of the trio. 1) That you didn't make me a slave 2) That you didn't make me a gentile 3) Didn't make me a woman. So, I think it's because for the last (fill in years________________) that blessing - along with the other two- have been reinterpreted. Instead of an "I am superior to you" tone, that trio has been reinterpreted to speak of the three classes of people that are exempt from mitzvot (which is true, they are) and that you are happy to "burdened" with keeping the mitzvot as opposed to a slave, gentile or woman.

    Take it with a grain of salt, but I think that may be the reason.

    But I know plenty of woman that don't like it. I wouldn't say they are offended by it because that would entail them actually caring a great deal over a blessing. They roll their eyes and move on. I think many of the men just roll their eyes on move on as well.

  3. Thanks HH and P. . .

    > that you are happy to "burdened" with keeping the mitzvot

    The official party line is that mitzvot - though an obligation - are an honour/privilege, though, right?

    and that you are happy to "burdened" with keeping the mitzvot as opposed to a slave, gentile or woman.

    Wouldn't it be easier to just say that . . . "thank you for giving me my mitzvot" or something like that.

    1. Hi CL - First off, it's not just the party line. The idea of these brachot being connected to greater vs. lesser level of mitzvah obligation goes back to the Jerusalem Talmud, so it's possible that in fact they were devised with this idea in mind.

      There are halachic commentators who ask precisely your question - why not just word it in the positive? They give a number of explanations, all fine and reasonable, but at the end of the day I think we still have to face the simple fact that the "plain meaning" sounds offensive. And that should matter to any conscientious frum Jew who strives for sensitivity, shalom and kiddush Hashem.

      It's easy for me (who sees Judaism as a CHOICE) - I say after 2000 years we can just let this one go. There's plenty else to say that's not the least bit offensive. But for people who are concerned about violating Chazal, we should endeavor to find alternative creative solutions!

      Best, AJ

    2. Exactly.

      Changing traditional practice is extremely difficult, but we do see some situations where changing facts/circumstances lead to a change in practice. We know, for example, that certain religious texts were censored in the past during times of Church persecution.

      It may be possible to make the case that in the past, the longer, not-so-offensive explanation for this prayer would have been known by most Jews and it would have been commonly understood that it was not intended as a put-down. Today, however, between the rise of feminism, the rise of assimilation and the rise of the internet, it's quite likely that a Jewish woman's first awareness of this prayer could come from an online post saying "did you know that Orthodox Jews are so sexist that the men are required to thank G-d every day that they are not women?", that the initial reaction to that information is going to be really negative, and that many women are not going to stick around for a longer explanation.

      In addition, we have a concept of "marat ayin" in Judaism, which means that we avoid even the appearance of sinning. If using the washroom at McDonald's can be problematic, I think we can say that even if this prayer isn't truly evidence of sexism, it comes across as sexist and is likely to give the impression to others that there is an intent to disrespect woman.

    3. Thanks guys! Always enjoy reading your perspectives.


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