Tuesday, September 13, 2011

An Orthodox Woman who no longer says She Asani Kirtzono

Written by MFB, and taken from the comment thread on "Sometimes its ok to change the liturgy; sometimes it isn't"

I'm an orthodox woman who stopped saying the bracha of sheasani kirtzono about 15 years ago. Strangely enough, the fact that my husband and other men in my life say shelo asani isha every day doesn't bother me nearly as much as the idea of shelo asani isha as a "consolation prize" bracha. I guess I learned the explanation that shelo asani isha has to do with the number of mitzvot one is obligated to do when I was very young and just never really questioned it. (I thought that explanation is in the gemara, why do you say it was created long after?

[DB: I mis-communicated earlier.The Jerusalem Talmud and Tosefta say the the reason for the blessing is that women are not obligated in Mitzvot. The suggestion, I think, is that this makes men superior to women, just as free Jewish men are superior to non-Jews and slaves. Other sources rely on the reason given by the Tosefta and the Jerusalem Talmud though some also introduce social explanations, or suggest this is just a way of reaching 100 blessings. The business about women being on a higher spiritual level, came much later I think.]

Although now that I think about it, it does seem strange to say that the absolute number of mitzvoth is what matters rather than the amount of time one spends doing mitzvoth. (There are some mitzvoth that are performed very infrequently or take very little time to perform while others are done often and take up a good chunk of one's time)

The bracha of sheasani kirtzono always bothered me much more. It seems that the woman is acknowledging that it is somehow "better" to be a man, but is accepting her lower status as being G-d's will similar to how we accept other evils in the world that we don't understand as being somehow part of G-d's master plan. I never felt comfortable saying a bracha that implied that I wish I were a man. I am sure that being a man has some advantages that as a woman I could never understand (whether spiritual, practical or otherwise) but I do not think that being obligated to wear tzitzit, sit in a sukka and count sefirat haomer could possible make up for the spiritually uplifting experiences of pregnancy, childbirth and nursing a baby. But then again, what do I know, I'm just a woman.

I get that maybe 2000 years ago women might have actually felt that they had somewhat of a lesser status and therefore the bracha was appropriate, but what annoys me most is the modern apologetic spin given to it today. Women, we are told, have fewer mitzvot because they are on a higher spiritual level to begin with. So the bracha of sheasani kirtzono is thanking God for making us according to His will as higher spiritual beings. Huh?? By that logic are non-Jews on a higher spiritual level than Jews? Has any slave being offered freedom ever said, "thanks, but no thanks. I'd rather stay a slave with fewer mitzvot because it keeps me on a higher spriritual level?" And, as I said before, is spirituality measured by the actual number of mitzvot one does or by the kavana and amount of time spent absorbed in mitzvot?

When I got married 18 years ago I was under the mistaken impression that I should start davening in my husband's (Sephardi – edot mizrach) nusach (even though he didn't really care what nusach I daven in.) I noticed that in those siddurim women say the bracha of shelo asani isha without God's name (since it is a bracha that does not appear in the gemara.) I remember learning that these brachot are mentioned in the gamara in the context of trying to say 100 brachot a day and it seemed silly to me to say a bracha that I don't agree with and without God's name so it doesn't even help me reach the 100 brachot. Better to just have a piece of chocolate after I finish davening and make a bracha on that, so I just stopped saying the bracha altogether.

Truth is, the bracha I really want to say (but don’t because of halachic issues of changing the nusach of the tefilla) is one I saw years ago in a Conservative siddur. It had both men and women saying "sheasani b'tzalmo". Now, wouldn't it be wonderful to wake up every morning and thank God for creating you in His image?

Sorry for the long post. Just needed to vent a little.

No comments: