Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Virginity Blessing

A guest post by Pen Tivokesh
Filed under:  The more Judaism changes, um, the less it resembles Judaism

The picture below is a snapshot of Halakhot Gedolot. As if anyone thought Judaism immutable and is in direct continuity of what was once, but a ceremony exists in literature of which we know nothing at all, with a blessing to fit, perhaps say some, written by the same writer of the blessing we still say at brisim.

The virginity blessing Asher Tzag

ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם אשר צג אגוז בגן עדן שושנת העמקים בל ימשול זר במעי חתום, על כן אילת אהבים זרע קודש שמרה בטהרה וחוק לא הפירה. ברוך אתה ה' הבוחר באברהם ובזרעו אחריו מקדש בני ישראל.

צג is in some texts צר
אגוז is in some texts זוג

-- DB Interpolates --

This translates as: Blessed... who placed (or created) a walnut in the Garden of Eden, the lily of the valley, so that no stranger shall have dominion over the sealed spring, in this way (for this reason) the loving doe protects the holy seed in purity, and didn't violate the law  Blessed... who chooses the descendants of Abraham and makes Israel holy.

(1) walnut, lilly, sealed srping... these are all allusions to Shir Hashirim

(2) The Virgin Mary is often described in similar terms. The lilly is a traditional symbol of the Virgin Mary, the "sealed spring" was taken as a reference to her womb (womb often being a euphemism for vagina)   This overlap suggests that one faith copied from the other, or that the verses in Song of Songs were independently interpreted the same way. I don't know what actually happened.

(3) "...the loving doe that protects the holy seed in purity" sounds to me like an especially gross reference to BY Yoma 29A which tells us:

Why was Esther compared to a doe? To tell you that just as a doe has a narrow womb and is desirable to her mate at all times as at the first time, so was Esther precious to King Ahasuerus at all times as at the first time

Its not hard to imagine a tight womb (and remember the euphemistic meaning) protecting holy seed though I can't begin to guess why the blessing's author thought to single this out.


A fifteenth century Cairo geniza siddur has a formal declaration to be uttered by the husband which reads in part.

מצאתי בתולי אשתי והיא כשרה טהורה ... ואלה בתולי אשתי....
I have found the evidence of my wife's virginity, and she is kosher and pure... and here is the evidence of her virginity - DB

after which someone other than the groom recites the blessing.

Maimonides is asked (Teshuvot Harambam, II:364-365, #207):

יורנו הדרתו גם כן עניין הברכה הנקראת ברכת בתולים, והיא אשר צג אגוז בגן עדן. וזה, שבעת שבא הקהל בבית החתן ביום השבת להתפלל או לברכו נוטל המברך בידו כוס ומברך על הגפן ו)על( הבשמים, ומברך זאת הברכה אשר צג, ופותח בה שם ובמלכות וחותם בשם כשאר הברכות. היש לזאת הברכה עיקר או היא מנהג? יורנו הדרתו

Teach us about the Virgin Blessing [containing the words] "Created a nut in Gan Eded"  [which was said] at the time when the congregation came to the groom's house on Shabbath to pray or to bkess him , the person making the blessing would take a cup in his hand and say the blessing over wine, or over spices... do we say it with God's name... is this an essential blessing or just a custom? 

His answer:
הברכה הנקראת ברכת בתולים, הרי היא ברכה לבטלה בלא ספק, נוסף להיותה מנהג מגונה מאוד, שיש בו מחוסר הצניעות ומזניחת קדושת הדת וטהרתה מה שאין למעלה ממנו, רוצה לומר אותה התקהלות מגונה שקוראים קידוש בתולים. ואסור למי שיש בו יראת שמים או צניעות לבוא אליו בשום פנים

This Virgin Blessing is without doubt a "worthless blessing" that shows a lack of modesty and an abandonment of sanctuty... anyone with a fear of God or a sense of modesty (or humility) will not participate [in the ceremony] under any circumstance.

Langer, Ruth. "The Birkat Betulim: A Study of the Jewish Celebration of Bridal Virginity." Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. Vol. 61. American Academy for Jewish Research, 1995.

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