Joel Cohen
Joel Cohen

‘Blessed art Thou… for not creating me a woman’

Some weeks ago, I attended an outdoor (COVID-induced) Shabbat musaf service in Central Park, organized by (get this) an “egalitarian” Orthodox congregation. An oxymoron, right?

A man to whom I had just been introduced went out of his way to express an oddity to several people gathered after services. That is, during the prior week, in the process of saying kaddish, he had attended a more typical Orthodox congregation for the first time in a while.  There, he implied to us, he uttered the traditional – and in woke times, arguably misogynistic — refrain that blesses God “for not creating me a woman.”

Apparently it was a blessing he hadn’t uttered since he “evolved” (my word) — his prayer ritual venturing toward egalitarianism. More recently, then, he has presumably instead blessed God “for creating me according to His will.”  The latter formulation is, of course, generally employed by women, although they hardly go full tilt. They don’t bless God “for creating me a woman.” Odd to me that he began his conversation with this. Maybe he feared that he had been found out uttering the retrogressive — anti-feminist — utterance, and wanted to distance himself from it.

When, in the distant past, I uttered that daily compendium of morning blessings of God, I did so, sad to say, in rote fashion. One after another, as do many. I myself would utter the blessing “for not creating me a woman” just like the other brief benedictions – blessing God “for not having made me a gentile,” and “for not having made me a slave.” I was all in.

Those blessings were indeed rote. Although, make no mistake, I’m quite happy and willing to praise God that I’m a man, and not a gentile or slave. Interesting, though, that no women seem up for blessing God “for not making me a man.” Actually, maybe some women (although probably quietly) do make such a blessing. I’m not sitting close enough to hear them (you  know).  Are there men who would be displeased if women blessed God for not making them men, rather than blessing God for simply “creating them according to His will”?  Probably.

My words here seem whimsical, I suppose. Still, the conversation I began with did get me to thinking. What exactly was the reason to bless (or thank) God for not making men woman? Surely, the blessing wasn’t authored by God. It was the thinking of non-liberated, male, rabbis of yesteryear.

So I asked a Chabad rabbi friend for sourcing. Knowledgeable. and never without the capacity to find source authority, he responded almost immediately with an apt reference in the Talmud: Menachot 43(b).

Hold onto your hat, though. The Talmud says that Rabbi Meir (who himself later had serious “woman trouble,” i.e., his too-smart-for-him wife – Bruriah), said that a man is obliged to thank God for his kindness by blessing Him for not making him a gentile, a woman, or an ignoramus.  But when Rav Aha bar Yaacov heard his son saying the “ignoramus” blessing – can’t say I’ve ever heard that one — he asked his son if he needed to go that far. In response, the son asked if there was an alternate prayer to be recited in its place. He suggested, hypothetically, that he should recite “Who did not make me a slave” – which, for Rav Aha’s son, was the same as making him a woman. So wondered Rav Aha’s son, “why should one recite two blessings about the same matter?” Rav Aha disagreed: “A slave is more lowly than a woman, and therefore it is appropriate to recite an additional blessing for not having been born a slave.”  So there you go!  Makes total sense — maybe the origin of the Aha Phenomenon!

So I told my Chabad friend: “You’ve got to give me something better than this.  This looks really bad.” He then sent me an essay published at written by a contemporary author, Tzvi Freeman.  Freeman’s seemingly modern answer as to why men still say the blessing thanking God for not creating them as woman was, as published: “Along with you, I yearn for a time when this blessing will no longer be said.”  He added that “the history of humankind can be seen this way: A transition from male to female values; from authority to dialogue; from dominance to persuasion; from control to nurture.”  Sounds pretty enlightened, right?

Nonetheless, he says, “We’re not there yet.  And the best evidence is that we do not have the power, according to halachah, to change this blessing.”  Inasmuch as the blessing basically thanking God for man being created as man, and specifically not woman, was accepted by the Sanhedrin, Freeman says, “it’s not ours today to change.”  So, maybe not so enlightened after all.

We should be grateful indeed that Freeman recognizes the advances of women in contemporary society which he extols in his essay, along with his willingness to note that women do often get “the short end of the stick” (his phrase).

Freeman, though, is part of “the System” — a system that willingly awaits the  Sanhedrin’s return which, he argues, may eliminate the prayer altogether, or maybe author a more open-minded substitute.  Those, though, who aspire to modernity and are unwilling to consign women to the short end of the stick – i.e., those who accept women as equal to men  – shouldn’t really be willing to await the Sanhedrin’s return in order to appropriately give blessing to God.

All this said, may I suggest: “Blessed Are You God, King of the Universe, For Creating Man and Woman in Your Image — As Equals Before You.” Even better than “Creating [Women] According to Your Will.” True?

About the Author
Joel Cohen is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer at Stroock in New York and previously a prosecutor. He speaks and writes on law, ethics and policy (NY Law Journal, The Hill and Law & Crime). He teaches a course on "How Judges Decide" at Fordham Law School and Cardozo Law School. He has published “Truth Be Veiled,” “Blindfolds Off: Judges on How They Decide” and his latest book, "I Swear: The Meaning of an Oath," as well as works of Biblical fiction including “Moses: A Memoir.” Dale J. Degenshein assists in preparing the articles on this blog.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Stroock firm or its lawyers.