Rav Asher Lopatin over at Morethodoxy, in his ongoing efforts to blur the distinction between his brand of Modern Orthodoxy and right wing Conservatism, has come up with a new idea. I guess he's envious of those amazing Conservatives who don't think anything of messing with the siddur. It's well known that they've editted the traditional text to omit anything that doesn't fit with their secular liberal views on Judaism. One of the most famous changes they've made is to alter the three "who has not made me a" blessings in the morning into their positive forms. Why start the day with a "I'm so glad I'm not a..." when you can start it with a positive affirmation?
The problem with doing that is that it misses the point of why those blessings are in the negative in the first place. Starting with the original citation in Menachos 43b and down through the various levels of poskim multiple analyses look at exactly this quesiton and justify the current form.
But that's not good enough for someone whose Judaism is guided by his secular liberal sensitivities. What matters it that 2000 years of tradition have had it one way when it is out of step with today's realities? He doesn't like the form so he's going to change it! After bringing very selective sources and misquoting the Gras, he concludes:
Therefore, I suggest that we follow the b’racha according to the G’ra and the Rosh and our Talmud, and say, “She’asani Yisrael” instead of the negative, and that a woman says“She’asani Yisraelit” instead of the negative. Once the first b’racha is said in this way, the way it appears in the G’marra Menachot, then we have no choice, based on the p’sak of the Aruch HaShulchan (from the Bach) , to avoid saying the final two, negative b’rachot of “Shelo Asani Aved” (God did not make me a slave) and “Shelo Asani Isha”(God did not make me a woman), since they become unnecessary after such an all encompassing, powerful, and positive statement of Jewish identity of “She’asani Yisrael/Yisraelit”.
Now for some “hashkafa” – philosophical context:
She’asani Yisrael/Yisraelit” is a beautiful b’racha, thanking God for making me Jewish – proud to be Jewish, excited to begin the day as a Yisrael.
Rather than beginning the day with negative b’rachot, which accentuate the G’marra of “noach lo la’adam shelo nivra” – it would be truly better for a human being not to have been created at all – maybe it is now time to begin the day with a positive b’racha “k’mo sha’ar b’rachot shemevarchim al hatova” (Magen Avraham, 46, 9) – like all other b’rachot that we say blessing God for good things. How do you want to wake up in the morning: happy to be alive, or frustrated that you are still stuck in this world? Perhaps it depends on the day!
Rav Lopatin is a very educated man, both in secular and Jewish fields, but this is just piffle. So I submitted a reply in my usual inimitable (not that anyone seems to want to imitate it) style:
I'm sorry to interrupt this "let's do something wonderful" fest but...
First of all, I know you are very educated in both Jewish and secular fields, Rav Lopatin. I was not aware, however, that you have achieved the status of Posek haDor. Or is it your contention that any pulpit rabbi anywhere can much around with the siddur any time it bothers his sensibilities?
Secondly, the Vilna Goan does not say "it is the correct language to use in his Biur HaGra on the Shulchan Aruch". He says that that the Rif and the Rambam had the negative berachos in their siddurim while his local siddurim, like those of the Rosh and the Taz had the positive. This does not imply preference. Further, the problem with his statement is that in the Tur itself, chap. 46, he clearly lists the negative berachos without mention of any "sheasani Yisrael".
Thirdly, your reference to the Aruch HaShulchan is incomplete. In 46:10 he notes two reasons for the negatives. One is that the positive blessing implies disregard for those not included, that is: Thank God I'm a Jew because eveyrone else isn't worthy of being noticed. The negative, on the other hand, implies that while non-Jews, slaves and women have definite intrinsic worth, it's even better to not be them but more obligated to God. The second reason, which he brings from the Taz, is from Eiruvin 13 in which Chazal note that it was decided by Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai (and we recite this loudly every year on Yom Kippur) that it is better than man had never been created, but now that he has been, let him engage in Torah and mitzvos. If we see having been created as less than ideal, and by saying that it was decided by the greatest sages of the time then it has reached a level of emes, how can we bless God for creating us? Rather, the negative blessings acknowledge this discomfort and fulfill the recommendations of Chazal now that we're stuck here in This World.
The Taz goes further and notes that in theory Sheasani Yisrael makes sense. After all, there is a rule not to multiple berachos needlessly and there are lots of other ways to hit the magic 100 for the day so why not say Sheasani Yisrael and reduce the number of morning blessings by two? He again notes that this would imply that women and slaves are deficient products of creation and we cannot do this because it's not true.
Further, the Beis Yosef on Tur OC 46 brings an additional reason - by saying all three blessings you add chesed to chesed, increasing your praise of God.
The Chayei Adam 8:2 also notes that if you say Sheasani Yisrael you cannot say the other two berachos, even in the positive sense. Your conclusion from Sheasani Yisraelit is completely incorect. A Yisraelit does not have the same mitzvah obligations as a Yisrael. Therefore the two blessings are NOT equivalent. The only way aorund that is the change the order of the blessings and make Sheasani Israel third but who are we to change the order of the blessings set down by Chazal?
Thus far the actual sources.
This post seems to reveal the major problem with left wing Modern Orthodox psak. It seems the model is "let's find an authority we agree with and run with him". Hence the approving reference to the Vilna Gaon based on the Rosh. Never mind that the Rambam, the Rif, the Tur, the Beis Yosef, the Magen Avraham, the Taz, the Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch HaShulchan disagree. Never mind that if the Vilna Gaon were to come back to life and discover that 99.9% of proper siddurim nowadays have the negative blessings in them he'd probably agree that the obligation is to say them as is. We have a vaguely word Gra. Let's change the siddur!
It reminds me of someone I knew who used to rely on a heter he'd heard about in the Igros Moshe. When a rabbi friend of mine began listing chumros from the same work and asked him if he held by those as well, he shook his head. Talk about rabbi shopping. It may not be intellectually dishonest but it is halachically dishonest.
After all, there are plenty of places where the Gra is stricter than the Shulchan Aruch. Tell me, do you follow his customs on strict gender separation at all your functions? Do you follow all his other customs when it comes to tefillah?
Really, this is not how halacha works. It's how Conservatism works - let's decide what we want first and then find some authority, well-known or obscure, who supports us, or let's misapply some well-known halachic phrase like pikuach nefesh or tikun olam and use it in ways no one who knows what the words mean would ever approve of. The only remaining difference between Conservatism and Morethodoxy seems to be the red line. If the Conservatives don't find their heter, they hold a vote at their so-called Rabbinical Assembly and create one. I would assume Morethodoxy doesn't do that... yet.
Finally, the reasoning: "Rather than beginning the day with negative b’rachot, which accentuate the G’marra of “noach lo la’adam shelo nivra”...How do you want to wake up in the morning: happy to be alive, or frustrated that you are still stuck in this world? Perhaps it depends on the day!" is completely irrelevant! Who cares if you wake up happy? Suddenly Chazal are wrong and it was worth it for you to be created? The gemara does not qualify their statement: It wasn't worth being created... on days you wake up feeling lousy, otherwise great! It is a statement of emes. Wake up, smell the coffee, hear the birds, feel the warmth of the sun on your face, and it is wasn't worth being created because of the high level of responsiblity we have to submit to every day. The negative berachos affirm this truth. Your positive one turns it into a suggestion. Do you have the authority to do that to an explicit Chazal?
"For from the hills I behold him; lo, it is a people that shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations." (Bemidbar 23:9) I am worried about a form of Orthodoxy that seems to work in opposition to this verse, that wants to take all that makes Torah Judaism distinct and to blur it so that we don't seem that much different than the nations around us. Morethodoxy seems to be about avoiding the conflict between amoral secular liberal values and Torah values by minimizing and adjusting the latter so that said conflict is avoided. That's not real Orthodoxy.