Figuring out the Text of the “Creation Blessings” in the Babylonian Talmud [Talmud Tuesday]
With the recent publication of an issue of a journal solely dedicated to dealing with ברכת שלא עשני אשה, I thought it would be appropriate for me to take a look at the original sources in rabbinic literature. However, before getting to that just yet, there are quite a few versions of the original text in the Babylonian Talmud, found on Menahot 43b (תלמוד בבלי מסכת מנחות מג, עמוד שני).
For simplicity sake, here is the version in MS Vatican 118, which I think is the best textual witness:
תניא היה רבי יהודה אומר חייב אדם לברך שלש ברכות בכל יום
שלא עשאני גוי, שלא עשאני אשה, שלא עשאני בור
It was taught: Rabbi Yehudah says: “A person is obligated to bless three blessings every day:
That I was not created a gentile, That I was not created a woman, That I was not created an ignoramous.”
In some witnesses, the word תניא introduces this text (MS Vatican 118 and the printed versions), whereas others omit it (MS Munich 95, MS AIU H147A, MS Vatican 120), however, it was not here, it would seem to be a part of a series of other texts as part of a larger beraita all with Rabbi Meir as the tradent. However, it does not seem that he is the correct sage to have stated this daily blessing requirement.
Indeed, this manuscript, as well as MS Paris AIU H147A, has Rabbi Yehudah as the sage stating this requirement, whereas MS Munich 95, MS Vatican 120, and the printed versions show Rabbi Meir as the sage. Yet:
There is no question that the original authority was Rabbi Judah; many manuscripts and early sources quote the passage in the name of Rabbi Judah, and modern translations emend the text accordingly. The original scribal error is easy to understand. The Gemara has a sequence of baraitot about prayer matters, the first three of which are all in the name of Rabbi Meir. It is not surprising that a copyist or editor wrote “Rabbi Meir” a fourth time in place of “Rabbi Judah” in the next baraita: “A person must recite three blessings.”1
Also: “From a philological standpoint, R. Judah is probably the correct version. The talmudic text was probably corrupted to R. Meir as a statement about blessings attributed to R. Meir appears immediately before it.”2
Another variant is that only the printed versions have the words “אלו הן” (“these are they”) preceding the three blessings to say; these words are omitted in all of the manuscripts.
All of the manuscripts have “שלא עשני/עשאני גוי” (“That has not made me a gentile”), while only the Vilna version has “שעשאני ישראל” (“That has made me a Jew/Israelite”), clearly due to Christian censors.3
Some versions have “שלא עשני אשה” (“That has not made me a woman”) preceding “שלא עשני בור” (“That has not made me an ignoramous”) (MS Vatican 118, MS Paris AIU H147A, and the printed versions), while others reverse them (MS Munich 95 and MS Vatican 120).
1Yoel H. Kahn, The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship, and Identity in Jewish Liturgy (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 132.↩
2Joseph Tabory, “The Benedictions of Self-Identity and the Changing Status of Women and of Orthodoxy”, Keren 2 (2014), 79, n.8.↩
3See ibid., 80, n. 10:
According to Rabinovitz (R. N. N. Rabinovitz, Dikdukei Soferim [Munich 1881, photographic reprint in 1960], p. 108), this change was first introduced in the Basel edition of the Talmud, in which many changes were made under the supervision of Marco Marino Fabrix (R.N.N. Rabinovitz, Ma’amar ‘al Hadpasat ha-Talmud, Jerusalem 1952, pp. 74–79). However, tractate Menahot of this edition was printed in 1570 (Rabinovitz, op. cit, p. 74) and we find evidence of changes in the version of this blessing in prayer books that were printed earlier than this in Italy. In the copy of the Italian rite printed in Fano in 1504 found in the JNUL, the word goy has been replaced by yehudi, and the word she-lo has been replaced by the letter shin. In the copy of the fourth edition of this rite (Soncino 1521; see Y.Y. Cohen) found in the JNUL, we find that this blessing, together with some surrounding text, has been cut(!) out of the siddur. On a paste-in, in handwriting, has been added בא״ה אמ״ה כותי(!). Although these changes cannot be accurately dated, they show the activity of the Italian censorship, which flourished after the burning of the Talmud in 1559.