BET MIDRASH VIRTUALI
of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel
HALAKHAH STUDY GROUP
It is a positive mitzvah from the Torah to recite a benediction after food, for it says [Deuteronomy 8:10] "You shall eat, be satisfied and praise God..." By Torah law [therefore] one is only obligated [to recite grace] if one has eaten one's fill (for it says "You shall eat, be satisfied and praise"); but by force of rabbinic legislation even if one has only eaten an olive's-bulk [of bread] one is obligated to recite [grace] afterwards.
The second berakah of birkhat ha-mazon is called in our classical sources birkhat ha-aretz, the "Land Benediction". After eating our fill the Torah requires us to praise God "for the good land that He has given you" [Deuteronomy 8:10]. Moderns, reading the phrase in translation may be tempted to understand the requirement to thank God for the "good land" as referring to the soil from which sprouted the produce that we have eaten. But this is not the case: the "land" in question is the Land of Israel. We first notice this at the very beginning of the benediction:
We are grateful to You, God, that You gave our ancestors as a legacy a pleasant, good and wide land...
As the late Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv, Rabbi Ĥayyim David Halevi, wrote in his compendious work on halakhah, Mekor Ĥayyim:
It is certain that the text that has reached us has been changed from the original, for with the exile the later sages changed the wording. The original wording must surely have been exactly as the command of the Torah says: "We are grateful to You, God, that You have given us as a legacy a pleasant, good and wide land". The major and obvious change here is the substitution of "ancestors" for "us". It is my opinion that in our generation we should revert to the original wording once again.
This is the reading that was adopted in the Masorti Siddur Va'ani Tefillati.
(There must have been a tendency after the exile for people to deliberately change the wording of the benediction so as to make it refer to any land; the sages received this with scorn. In the Gemara [Berakhot 49a] they say that
Anyone who concludes with "[Praised be God,] Who gives countries as a legacy" is an ignoramus.)
There are other elements in this benediction which the sages regarded as "required". It was only in a very few and rare cases that the sages actually dictated the text of blessings and prayers, word for word. Usually they only fixed the overall framework [matbé'a shel berakhah]: that the general content of a benediction should be on a certain topic. They fixed the wording of the conclusion of the blessing, but apart from that it was up to the worshipper to supply the appropriate wording. Thus the second benediction of Grace must conclude with the words "Praised be God for the land and for the food", but the worshipper is at liberty to phrase his or her own text for what precedes the conclusion provided that its general tenor is thanking God for giving us the Land of Israel.
It is against this background that we must understand the statements of certain sages in the Gemara [Berakhot 49a] that the worshipper must include in his or her text reference to certain other boons which Israel has received.
Rabbi Eli'ezer says that anyone who does not say "a pleasant, good and wide land" in birkhat ha-aretz has not fulfilled his duty. Old Naĥum says that he must [also] mention the covenant [of circumcision]. Rabbi Yosé says that he must [also] mention [the giving to us of the] Torah.
In his Siddur Rav Sa'adya Ga'on [892-942 CE] suggests a very concise text for this benediction:
We are grateful to You, God, that You gave our ancestors as a legacy a pleasant, good and wide land, the Covenant and the Torah, life and food. For all these we are grateful to You and ever praise Your name. Praised be God for the land and for the food.
This very succinct text can be found in the Siddur Va'ani Tefillati on page 239.
To be continued.
In the previous shiur we looked at zimmun. Dan Werlin writes:
In discussing the language of the zimmun you imply, it seems to me, that "Rabbotai" has been changed to "Haverim", in Conservative circles, so to include both men and women in the invitation. However, it is only in English that "friends" is gender-neutral and "gentlemen" is masculine. In Hebrew, both are masculine. Perhaps the switch is aimed more at the perceived excessive formality of the invitation. I’ve frequently heard the zimmun take the form of [and forgive the mis-transliterations] "rabbotai u’gvirotai" or "chaveirei u’chavertai"; making clear that invitation is being issued to both the male and female diners.
Dan is wrong when he says that "it is only in English that friends is gender-neutral and gentlemen is masculine". It is a commonplace of the Hebrew language that masculine forms can also be understood as referring to both genders. A few decades ago the Hebrew Language Academy in Jerusalem even decided that it was acceptable to say something like yavo'u ha-nashim - "Let the women come" - instead of tavona ha-nashim. Thus, when addressed to a mixed company Ĥaverai or Ĥaverim refers to everyone present, both males and females. (For a similar reason I have always refrained in my prayers from saying something like avoteynu ve-imoteynu because the term avoteynu refers to both ancestors and ancestresses anyway.)
To the ear of a Hebrew-speaking Israeli the use of a phrase like rabbotai u’gvirotai jars dreadfully when used in the context of prayer and worship. But, even more to the point, is the fact that if one deliberately wants to include the females separately - in addition to the males - in Hebrew usage they must come first. Thus the phrase should be gvirotai ve-rabbotai. This applies no less to the other alternative which Dan has suggested: if one specifically wants to include female friends in addition to male friends the phrase should be Ĥaverotai ve-Ĥaverai. But, as I have said, under normal circumstances, this is just tautology.
With apologies for being a pedant.
VERY IMPORTANT NOTICE:
This series is coming towards its end. So far in the Halakhah Study Group we have covered the Reading of the Torah and Shabbat Eve in the home. The time approaches when we must choose another topic. As always, please send me your suggestions and requests regarding the next topic. Also, as always, I shall present some of your suggestions to be voted on, so that it is you, the participants, who collectively decide what we shall study next. Please send your suggestions to me. I look forward to reading them.