Monday, May 30, 2005

Gender? I Hardly Know 'Er!

Some people seem to think that i need to write a blog.

Some people are very pushy.

Some people are about to get what they asked for.


A few years ago in Upstate New York, i discovered a strange siddur lying around the shul. I picked it up and flipped through it, and came across the beginning of the Shemoneh ‘Esreih prayer (known for short to its friends as the ‘Amida). There was the usual introductory verse from Psalms. The first blessing, mentioning the Patriarchs.

And then, the following directions...
(drumroll, please)
in the winter, say:
mashiv haruahh umorid hageshem
([God] makes the wind blow and brings down rain)
in the summer, say:
mashiv haruahh umorid hatal

([God] makes the wind blow and brings down dew)

The following thoughts went through my head:
1. What the hell?
2. Hey, that's my family's custom!
a brief explanatory note: why is this weird? well, there are two common customs when it comes to the beginning of the second blessing of the ‘Amida. the general Ashkenazic custom is to only say the winter text (during the winter, of course); there is no equivalent text for the summer. the general Sefardic custom is to say the same winter text, but a shorter summer text: morid hatal. no one, as far as i had ever heard, aside from my family and possibly some small sect of hhasidim somewhere, say the same exact text during both the rainy and dry seasons, with just switching the type of precipitation mentioned between 'rain' and 'dew'.

And so i was introduced to Sidur Eizor Eiliyahu — a prayerbook of the Eastern Ashkenazic tradition, according to the style of Rabbi Eiliyahu the Ga’on of Vilna. When i came to Israel, and the friendly sforimmonger stopped by my yeshiva, I bought a copy of my own.

Rising Action:

According to the editors of Sidur Eizor Eiliyahu, what they were trying to do was to get as close as possible to the text that the GR"A used to daven. They did this both by studying his known customs and opinions on the matter of individual prayers or textual variants, and by reconstructing the basic text of the prayerbook as it was during his time. Usually, whenever they, therefore, deviate from the commonly accepted text of today, they put a footnote explaining why. Sometimes they kept the contemporary text, but described in footnotes the older formulations that they had found in their research.

Some of the things they found:
1. The ‘Aleinu prayer used to end with Hashem yimlokh le‘olam va‘ed — the additional line we have today, Vene’emar..., was added at earliest in 5457, based on the AR"Y, the Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhhaq Luria of Safed.
2. The psalm Ledavid Mizmor said when returning the Torah to the ark is not found in old sidurim.
3. The ending blessing of Pesuqey Dezimra, Yishtabahh, ends ...melekh eil hhai (rhymes with "sky") ha‘olamim in all old siddurs, but was changed to ...hhey... under influence of the AR"Y.
4. Footnote for the morning blessing "[thank you God] for not making me a goy (nation/gentile)" — "So it is in the Ketav Yad siddur [a qabbalistic siddur commentary attributed to the GR"A], and so it is in many old siddurim... but according to Bei’ur HaGR"A it seems that it was [the GR"A]'s opinion to say "[thank you God] for having made me a yisra’eil (israelite/jew)" as is found in many other old siddurim; and Yitzhhaq Satanov decided to change it to "...for not having made me a nokhri (stranger/foreigner/gentile)" and [other siddur-writing rabbis] followed in his footsteps (and not because of the Censors).

Interesting, no?
Well, at least i think so...
If that didn't impress/shock you, how about this?


A person should always fear heaven in secret, and admit the truth, and speak truth in his heart, and wake up early and say:
Master of all worlds, it is not upon our righteousness that we cast our pleas before you, but on your abundant mercy. What are we, our lives, our lovingkindness, our justice, our salvation, our power, our might? What can we say before you, God our God and God of our ancestors — since all the heroes are nothing before you, and the men of great reputation as if never having been, and the wise as without knowledge, and the understanding as without intelligence; for the majority of their works are emptiness, and the days of their lives are vapor before you, and the advantage of human over animal is nothing, for all is vapor.
But we are your nation, your contract-mates, the children of Avraham who loved you...

The Footnote Says:
Ohavkha ״אוֹהַבְךָ״ (who loved you) — The beit with a sheva’ and the kaf with a qamatz ״בְךָ״ , in the masculine gender, according to Rabbi Shabtai Sofeir's vowel-marking, but in all of the old siddurim it was marked ohavakh ״אוהבָךְ״ ... And so it is in many other places, and it is according to the Aramaic pattern in which the distinction between masculine and feminine is neutralized... But Maharshal [Rabbi Shelomoh Luria] and Rashas [the aforementioned Rabbi Shabtai Sofeir], and all the siddurim after them, have already agreed to amend [the text] and write in every place in [exclusively] masculine terminology, for one should not address the Holy One Blessèd Is He in terms which are equally masculine and feminine (i.e. 'epicene' as the linguists call it)...


I saw this mentioned in the Mail.Jewish listserv archives, and sent an email to the mentioner. A talmid hhakham named Lipman, who was also nice enough to explain my Yiddish tagline to Godol Hador, scanned in a few pages from the newly-printed edition of Rashas's siddur, including the part the editors of Siddur Eizor Eiliyahu quoted, and sent them to me.

So wrote Rabbi Shabtai Sofeir...
...And since this form is epicene, it isn't proper to speak so to God, to compare him to the feminine, as if to say [as the saying goes] "his strength is sapped like a female" God forbid! And especially, this [epicene form] is not found in the entire Scripture in relation to God, possibly for this reason, except for [a number of exceptions he goes on to explain]...


My Rationalist Yekke/Litvak Modern-Orthodox upbringing says:
God is neither male nor female!

The Ever-So-Popular Cabbalists say:
God is both masculine(ish) and feminine(ish)!

So... what's up with this stuff?

Who supports me in my quest to Bring Back The Pseudo-Epicene -Akh, which, after all, was the standard masculine ending in Mishnaic Hebrew, the dialect in which our prayers were composed?
Who thinks i'm a heretic for prefering the earlier authorities to the later ones?
Who wants to enter the anthropomorpheminist (get it?) minefield of attributing sex/gender characteristics to God?

The comments are open and ready for business...

(here ends the first true blog post of the goblin king)


Anonymous Litvak said...

The Eizor is gevaldiger siddur. Which one do you have - edition 1, 2, or 3 (large red, smaller dark blue, or smaller brown) ? There is an article by Professor Tabori on siddurei HaGR"A in the GR"A conference volume put out by BIU press, in which he discusses the Eizor a bit.

Lot of interesting stuff in there - enjoy.

Bichlal there are alot of interesting new siddurim these days - boruch Hashem.

5/31/2005 6:53 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Thanks for the article reference!

My copy is a small blue 5760/2000 "corrected edition".

5/31/2005 8:58 AM  
Blogger thanbo said...

I had a blue one, couldn't find it, and got a brown one. Terrific siddur.

I'm somewhat in favor of ur-texte for tefillot. It's often hard to figure out what was original or not, and what depended on comuunity - should we all go back to the German Roedelheim even though they use different piutim than we do? do we want to reintroduce krovot and yotzrot, in an age when many have hefsek on the brain, and complain of too-long davening?

What is chey haolamim anyway? Chay makes much more sense.

As for the epicene suffixes - Yedid Nefesh uses them, in the original version printed in the Rinat Yisrael, so it can't be that kabbalah forces us away from them.

5/31/2005 10:46 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I didn't bring up Qabala as a force that would be anti-epicene; i thought it should be a pro-epicene force, since Kabbalists identify various emanations of God as 'masculine' and 'feminine', so i'd think that it would make sense to them to speak to God in pseudo-ambiguously-gendered word forms.

6/01/2005 12:10 PM  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Your noncompellingosity has been removed.

Now if only I could figger out wtf you're talking about...

6/03/2005 10:05 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

i worked as a librarian under winograd (compiler of said siddur)and we discussed this issue of always saying mashiv ha ruach umorid,it seems that many chassidim have this minhag as well(Trisker) i being one of them.
also i found that shlo asani goy,has a issue in that israel is a goy too!and so some said Aku"m but that is not a word,Rav Soloveichick said Nochri.

6/03/2005 11:04 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


There's a problem with using the word ‘aku"m since it isn't a real word, but an acronym instead? I'd expect then there would also be a problem with those mishebeirakh for sick people texts that include the phrase RM"Hh eivarav u-ShS"H gidav - not only are the acronyms there not words, but they're not really numbers either...

6/03/2005 11:40 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


i just can't win, can i? :-/ :-P

6/03/2005 11:40 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

mishebeirakh is not part of mot'bay'ah sh'tikon,so any and all things lo a'son'ee is a bracha and needs certain criteria BTW there are mistakes even in Winograds newer edition.

6/03/2005 1:50 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Could you tell me what some of the mistakes are? They're not switching the vowel under the tet in mashiv haruahh umorid hatal again, are they?

6/04/2005 1:50 PM  
Blogger Mirty said...

I must be a litvak at heart. I go with the neither male nor female view of G-d.

I am also on the search for a siddur, but my requirements are simply these: It must be nusach Ashkenaz, but include "Yedid Nefesh" in the Kabbalat Shabbat service. (I know it exists but is hard to find.)

6/05/2005 2:00 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


The Israeli Rinat Yisra’el siddur fits those characteristics!

6/06/2005 3:03 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

BTW check out the back section of winograd,for really intresting nooschos for shabbus zemeros

6/06/2005 11:14 AM  
Blogger Mirty said...

The Israeli Rinat Yisra’el siddur fits those characteristics!

Thanks Steg - I'll look for it when I'm in Israel later this summer... Or do you know a place I can order it online? (There aren't any good Jewish book stores where I am.)

6/06/2005 10:38 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Nope, sorry... I don't know much about online sefarim stores.

6/07/2005 1:18 AM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

for a Rinat Yisrael siddur call tuvias they rock and they ship(845) 426-0824

6/07/2005 2:16 PM  
Blogger tmeishar said...

I responded to occured to me that you might miss it on my blog so I put it here.

7/08/2005 6:31 PM  

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