Survey: Morning Blessings (birkat ha-shachar)

Traditional Jews believe that they are obligated to pray three times a day – morning, afternoon and evening.  The morning blessings are recited (some privately upon awakening, and some publicly in the Shacharit service) to express our gratitude to G-d for enabling us to start a new day, refreshed and reinvigorated. 

Originally recited by individuals in their home as they awoke, washed, and dressed for the day, these blessings, such as thanking God for giving sight to the blind (once recited before one opened his or her eyes in the morning), raising the downtrodden (recited before standing up from bed), and clothing the naked (recited before getting dressed), were transferred to the synagogue and included in the siddur. This section also included blessings after using the bathroom, a prayer thanking God for the creation of our souls, and selections of biblical and rabbinic texts to fulfill the daily mandatory requirement to study Torah every day. (myjewishlearning)

People disagree about the original, hence the correct, order of the 18 blessings, called birkat ha-shachar and which, with time, have become part of the communal morning service. 

In addition, Orthodox and Conservative Jews disagree on 3 of these blessings.

This is what Orthodox Jews say:

– Praised are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who has not made me a heathen.

– Praised are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who has not made me a slave.

Then men say:

– Praised are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who has not made me a woman.

Whereas women say:

– Praised are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who has made me according to his will. 

(Translation found in The Authorized Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregation of the Commonwealth)

Now here is what Conservative Jews say:

– Praised are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who made me in his image.

– Praised are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who made a Jew.

Then both men and women say: 

– Praised are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who made free. 

(Sim Shalom translation)

Apparently the original text was not fixed for some time and the Rabbinical Assembly gives the following interpretation for their wording.

The blessing “who created me a Jew” is the original version, it appears in the Babylonian Talmud (Menahot 43b). There R. Meir states that a Jew must say 3 blessings: “who created me a Jew”, “who did not create me a woman” and “who did not create me an ignorant”, R. Aha bar Yaakov replaced “ignorant” with “slave”. The blessing “who created me a Jew” was transformed into the negative form that we know: “who did not create me a goy” and the three negative blessings entered most sidurim. The positive “who created me a Jew” was maintained through the present time in the Italian rite and has existed in some Ashkenazi customs from the Middle Ages. The Vilna Gaon in the 18th century also supported the positive version. In the 20th century, the Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement proposed to change the two other blessing in “who created me a free person” and “who created me in His image”. 

The reason usually put forward for a male’s thanking G-d for not having been created a woman is that he is glad he has more mitzvot to fulfil than he would had he been created a woman. An explanation which frustrates me somewhat.

However in one of his novels, The Unorthodox Murder of Rabbi Wahl, Rabbi Telushkin has his main character, himself a rabbi too, provide the reader with another explanation and a personal innovation:

“I don’t make that blessing … It was written at a time when a high percentage of women died giving birth … Today very few women die in childbirth, and without that association all we’re left with is a blessing that makes men feel superior and women feel bad.” 

First I prefer this explanation; I believe I find it less condescending. Besides I admire the rabbi’s stance and also Telushkin for putting it in his novel, all the more so as Rabbi Winter often seems to be Telushkin’s spokesman. This is what the rabbi adds:

“… there are very old Jewish sources containing alternate versions of the blessing we will say. Fifteen hundred years ago already there were rabbis who were troubled by the negative phrasing of that blessing. So they reformulated it in a positive form, thanking G-d that we are free-born Jews.”

Now the survey:

– if you are a woman, what do you say?

– if you are a man, what do you think women ought to say?