Archive for September 16th, 2009

Tractate Berachot, Chapter 6, Tosefta 23

September 16th, 2009 4 comments
Tractate Berachot, Chapter 6

Tosefta 231

Rebbi Yehudah says, “A person is obligated to say [the following] three Berachot (blessings) every day:2 Baruch [Ata Hashem Eloheinu Melech Haolam] Shelo Asani Goy,3 Baruch [Ata Hashem Eloheinu Melech Haolam] Shelo Asani Isha.4 Baruch [Ata Hashem Eloheinu Melech Haolam] Shelo Asani Bur,5 [The reason for saying a Beracha for not making him] a gentile is because it says ‘All nations are like nothing to Him. He considers them to be empty and void.’ (Yishayahu 40:17)6 [The reason for saying a Beracha for not making him] a woman is because women are not obligated in Mitzvot (commandments).”7 [The reason for saying a Beracha for not making him] a boor8 is because a boor is not afraid of sin.9 They have said a parable to what this is similar to. [It is similar] to a king of flesh and blood who said to his servant to cook him [some] food, but he (i.e. the servant) has never cooked food in his life. In the end he ruins the food and angers his master. [Or the king told the servant] to hem10 for him a robe, but he (i.e. the servant) has never hemmed a robe in his life. In the end he [causes] the robe to get dirty11 and angers his master.12

מסכת ברכות פרק ו

תוספתא כג

רבי יהודה אומר שלש ברכות חייב אדם לברך בכל יום: ברוך שלא עשני גוי, ברוך שלא עשאני בור, ברוך שלא עשאני אשה. גוי שנאמר (ישעיהו מ:יז) כל הגוים כאין נגדו מאפס ותהו נחשבו לו. בור שאין בור ירא חטא. אשה שאין הנשים חייבות במצות. משלו משל למה הדבר דומה. למלך בשר ודם שאמר לעבדו לבשל לו תבשיל, והוא לא בשל תבשיל מימיו. לסוף מקדיח הוא את התבשיל ומקניט את רבו. לחפות לו חלוק והוא לא חיפת חלוק מימיו. לסוף מלכלך את החלוק ומקניט את רבו.


  1. The Tosefta states a new law regarding Berachot. It is not related to any Mishna.
  2. Meaning any time during the day and not before some particular action. The prupose of these Berachot is to give thanks to God. The custom has developed to say them first thing in the morning after a person wakes up.
  3. ברוך אתה ה’ אלוהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני גוי – Blessed You Hashem, our God, King of the world, for not making me a gentile. A gentile in this case means a Non-Jew.
  4. ברוך אתה ה’ אלוהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני אשה – Blessed You Hashem, our God, King of the world, for not making me a woman.
  5. ברוך אתה ה’ אלוהינו מלך העולם שלא עשני בור – Blessed You Hashem, our God, King of the world, for not making me a boor.
  6. Rebbi Yehudah took this verse in Yishayahu out of context, which is very common in Talmudic literature, in order to make his point. The section in Yishayahu where this verse appears discusses the greatness of God and compares it to other things in this world that are perceived to be great by people, although they are like nothing relative to God. The prophet lists a long list of various things that people concider great including all of the nations of this world and says that in comparison to God they are completely nothing. The implication is that the nation of Israel is included in this reference as well. However, Rebbi Yehudah expounds that this verse is a derogatory statement about all of the other nations excluding Israel who are the only ones that God considers to be worth something. Rebbi Yehudah could have easily stated the same reason for the Beracha for not making him a gentile as for not making him a woman, because gentiles are not obligated in all of the commandments that Jews are obligated in. It is clear that Rebbi Yehudah’s main point is to emphasize the superiority of Jews to other nations. It has been pointed out by various scholars that Rebbi Yehudah’s law regarding these Berachot may be a direct response to similar blessings made by Greek philosophers. Plutarch, the famous Roman historian, writes (Plutarch, “Lives, Volume IX, Demetrius and Antony. Pyrrhus and Gaius Marius”, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, p. 595.) “Plato, at the point of his death, congratulated himself, in the first place, that he had been born a man, next that he had the happiness of being a Greek, not a brute or barbarian, and last the he was a contemporary of Socrates.” Plutarch (46 – 120 CE) was a contemporary of Rebbi Akiva, Rebbi Yehudah’s teacher, so it is very possible that Rebbi Yehudah’s statement is adapted for Jews based on what he heard as a common Greek story as quoted by Plutarch. For a discussion on this issue see Joseph Tabory, “The Benedictions of Self-Identity and the Changing Status of Women and of Orthodoxy”, Kenishta: Studies of the Synagogue World, Bar Ilan University Press, 1, 2001, p. 107-138.
  7. This is specifically referring to positive commandments which are dependent on time like putting on Tefillin, sitting in the Sukkah during the holiday of Sukkot, or blowing the Shofar on the holiday of Rosh Hashana from which women are exempt. The Rabbis felt that positive commandments that are dependent on time specifically emphasize the person’s ability and desire to serve God. See Talmud Bavli (Bava Kama 38a) where Rebbi Chanina says that a person who is commanded to do something and then does it is greater than a person who does the same thing, but who was not commanded to do it. Tosafot provide two possible explanations for Rebbi Chanina’s statement. Tosafot in Avodah Zara (3a, Gadol) explain that when a person is commanded to do something he has a greater evil inclination that tries to prevent him from doing it, where as a person who does it out of his own free will does not have such a strong impulse not to fulfil the commandment. Tosafot in Kiddushin (31a, Gadol) explain that a person who is commanded to do something feels compelled to finish the act and will go out of his way to complete it, where as a person who is not commanded to do something always feels that it is optional and therefore he can drop it at any time.I would like to point out that it is clear from this Tosefta that the Beracha of Shelo Asani Isha was clearly not established to put down women in anyway, like many people believe, but rather to emphasize the person’s ability to perform Mitzvot to their fullest potential.
  8. The English word “boor” seems to come directly from the Hebrew word Bur, which means an uncultured person; one who lacks in education, knowledge, refinement and social graces. The etymology of the Hebrew word Bur is unclear. It is possible that the Hebrew word comes from the Greek term βάρβαρος (Barbaros) – barbarian, which was a reference to all uncivilized nations who were not a part of the Greko-Roman world. However it is also possible that it is an original Hebrew word and comes from the word Bor (בור) which means a hole or a pit, referring to something that is empty, in this case an empty person. See the commentary of the Rambam on the Mishna (Avot 5:6).
  9. In the eyes of the Rabbis, an uncultured person – a Bur, was someone who was not educated in Torah and did not behave himself ethically and properly as a decent human being, as opposed to an Am Haretz (עם הארץ) who was uneducated in Torah, but still was an ethical person with decent bahavior. See the commentary of the Rambam on the Mishna (Avot 5:6). Since a Bur does not conduct himself properly as a decent human being he is essentially someone who is not afraid to sin, not because he is not afraid of God, but because he does not have basic human decency that controls his behavior.
  10. The Hebrew word Lachpot (לחפות) is a specific sewing term which means to hem – fold up a cut edge twice and sew it down so that the cut edge of the cloth would not ravel. The procedure of hemming seemed to be a specific test among tailors in Talmudic times by which a tailor was judged to be an expert tailor or an amateur. See Talmud Bavli (Moed Katan 10a). In this Tosefta it is referring to a particular case of hemming a long garment in order to make it shorter so it does not drag on the ground and becomes dirty.
  11. Because the robe remained too long and dragged on the ground when the master wore it.
  12. It seems that this parable is only referring to the case of the boor, and not to the case of the gentile and the woman, since neither of them seem to fit the parable. However, the boor is not educated in Torah and has no ethical character therefore even if he tries to do something good it is very possible that he would end up in commiting a sin instead therefore angering God. It should be pointed out that in the Vienna manuscript the order of these three Berachot is a little different. The boor and the woman are reversed, the boor being the middle of the three Berachot. This does not fit so well with the parable stated at the end of the Tosefta, because if it is referring to the boor then it should have been stated right after the Bearcha of the boor. Therefore I have chosen the order of the Berachot as it appears in the Erfurt manuscript, namely the Beracha of the boor mentioned last.