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Question 8.5:
Is it true that Orthodox men bless G-d every morning for not making them a woman? What do you mean, this isn't terrible?


First, note that in some Orthodox prayer rites, the blessings are phrased differently. For example, in the Italian Rite (nusach Italki):

However, in many common rites, Orthodox men do bless G-d for not making them a women. However, there is a reason for doing this, and the reason is consistant with the Orthodox attitude towards life. It might not fit with today's egalitarian notions, but Orthodoxy does not claim to be egalitarian.

First, recall (as was mentioned in Section 8.4) that Orthodox Jews think in terms of obligations and duties. In the Orthodox context, being obligated to do more duties (mitzvot) is "a good thing", for it provides one the opportunity to better fulfill G-d's desires.

With that in mind, consider the blessings said every morning by Orthodox Jewish men. Among these blessings are three that go "Blessed art You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has not made me a ...", where "..." is "gentile" (non-Jew),"slave","woman", in that order.

Go back to the original reference in the Talmud (Berachos 60b). The sequence of three "who has not made me a" blessings was originally proposed by one rabbi as gentile/idiot/woman. The other rabbis could not comprehend this. It made no sense. And then it was noticed that if "idiot" was replaced with "slave", the three blessings fit into a neat logical pattern, with the blessings carrying a progression of greater yoke of commandments (obligations, duties). It is for the chance to do more mitzvos than gentiles/slaves/women that Orthodox men bless G-d every morning.

Is this upsetting? Orthodox Jews have a very hard time comprehending why anyone would react. After all, men are men, women are women, and if the men happen to be glad that they are not women, what of it?

Is this derogatory? What makes you think any mention of differences between men and women is secret code for "men good, women bad"? It just isn't so, and 2000 years of language/culture/social change have given never-intended meanings to innumerable phrases. The above misreading of the blessing is one such. Note that if derogatory intent were meant, nothing would have prevented it from being expressed. And no one would have changed "idiot".

Basically, these blessings can be viewed as thanking G-d for obligating the observance of so many mitzvot.

Does Orthodox Judaism think men are superior because they have more obligations? Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik, one of Orthodox Judaism's foremost halachic authorities, addresses this question in his book Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind. His key points are:

  1. Whatever is superior was created later. In the human species, the female gender was created later, showing that women have innate spiritual advantages as compared with men. The question then becomes: what is the nature of those advantages?

  2. The gifts that G-d gave to humanity are two: "One blessing is the gift of conquest, of power and of grasping (in Hebrew: "kibbush"). The other is the gift of cultivation, of work and dedication and of reaching unto things and people through love, consideration, and guidance ("chazakah"). We can attain great heights through kibbush, but we can't succeed in establishing a Paradise on earth unless we couple it with chazakah.

    The gift of kibbush was bestowed upon men, and to be exercised by the males of the eleven tribes excluding Levi. The mandate of the woman is that of chazakah.

  3. He goes on to describe why women are exempted from obligatory mitzvos created by a time element, from Torah study, and the meaning of the morning blessing.

    G-d imposed more mitzvos upon men to limit their natural predisposition towards excessive and abusive kibbush. If not tempered, this abundance of male energy can be destructive.

    Women don't need such restrictions. As per the brachah (blessing) that they recite: "She'asani kirtzono -- Who has made me according to His will." Women's innate qualities as the last created creature (Rabbi Soloveichik words this as "the crown of Creation"), are already aimed at the fulfillment of G-d's ultimate desire for mankind. What is that desire? In the time of the Messiah, there will be no pursuit of kibbush, rather everyone will pursue the gift of chazakah. So women's Divine endowment and her mandate to be true to that endowment is consonant with humanity's spiritual and moral goals in the Messianic Era.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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