Volume 44 Number 05
                    Produced: Mon Aug  9 21:47:01 EDT 2004

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Brachot or Tefila with no Printed Text
         [Chana Luntz]
Cryptic Nature Of The Torah
         [Immanuel Burton]


From: Chana Luntz <chana@...>
Date: Sun, 8 Aug 2004 00:22:10 +0100
Subject: Brachot or Tefila with no Printed Text

David Curwin wrote:
 >Is anyone aware of halachic reference to what to do in a situation where
 >one needs to make a bracha or say a tefila but doesn't have the printed
 >text in front of him, and doesn't remember the exact wording? I know in
 >some cases one can wait until the text is available or ask someone else.
 >But what if that isn't an option? Is it better to try from memory, or
 >not to say the bracha or tefila at all?

I have been wondering about this one since you posted it but, so far,
have been unable to find anything directly on point.  However, I have
been ruminating on the general principles, and thought that perhaps you
might find that rumination interesting.

Of course, to get a better handle on it, one would need to subdivide the
general category and understand:

a) what are we talking about (a brocha may well have a different din
from tefila) and

b) how badly one doesn't remember the exact wording.

For an example for b), if what one cannot remember is whether one says
"l" or "al" in a given bracha, it would seem likely that one tries to
say from memory and hopes for the best, because bideved if one says "al"
where it should have been "l" one is yotzei [fulfils the requirement to
say the bracha].  Various other similar common mistakes are discussed in
the literature.  I can give references to some of the specific mistakes
if you want.

But if we are talking about something more fundamental, we probably need
to understand some of the fundamental principles underlying brocha
making (I am going to leave tefila aside, because it has other aspects
that would make this post even longer that it already is going to be).

So, starting from first principles.

Generally the obligation to make brochas is derabanan (although there
are a few, such as certain of birchat hamazon, which are d'orisa [a
torah obligation].  [This is summarised in many places, but see inter
alia, Perak 1 siman 15 of the Rambam's hilchos brochos]

This is despite statements in the gemora (such as those at the bottom of
Brochas 35a) which liken benefiting from this world without saying the
appropriate brocha to meila [using things dedicated to the beis
hamikdash for divrei chol] and like stealing from HKBH (which statements
would at first sight seem to suggest a torah obligation).  In any event
it is accepted halacha as that braisa states there, that it is forbidden
for a person to benefit from anything in this world without a bracha, ie
there is a halachic obligation to make a bracha in circumstances
mandated by the sages.

Now there is a machlokus [dispute] in the gemora (Brochas 40b) between
Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yose as to whether or not if somebody said "how
beautiful is this loaf of bread, blessed be Hamakom who created it" is
he yotzei [fulfils his obligation].  Rabbi Meir says yes.  Rabbi Yose
says no, because " whoever deviates from the form fixed by the chachamim
for brachot does not fulfil his obligation".

Now in case one might think that what this meant is that one can only
say brochas in Hebrew, but the gemora there on the same page (Brochas
40b) clarifies that even though the rabbis established the brochas in
loshen kodesh [Hebrew], they can be said in loshen chol.

Now while in general the principle is that between Rabbi Yose and Rabbi
Meir, we posken like Rabbi Yose, the Rambam in hilchos brochas perek 1
halacha 5 and 6, takes an interesting approach through this.  He says
(in 5) all who changes the form it is only a mistake.  He then goes on
to say, any brocha that doesn't have in it shem and malchut is not a
brocha (unless it is right next to its fellow).  And then in 6 he that
all brochas can be said in any language and this should be said in the
way it was instituted by the sages, but he goes on to say, that if he
says certain things (azchara, malchut, inyan bracha) even in loshen chol
he fulfils his obligation.  And the Hagahos Maimonios brings an opinion
that in this the Rambam is poskening like Rabbi Meir and that the
Yerushalmi holds likewise, but argues against this, on the grounds that
if the Rambam was really poskening like Rabbi Meir, then it would allow
for even wider forms than this.

And it would seem likely that any attempt at guessing will probably
manage the basic things required by the Rambam, and would seem therefore
the way to go.  But, and I think this is the really interesting question
- what happens if the person is not confident that they can even manage
these things (doesn't remember what they are and might well miss one of
them - but particularly one that means that we still might technically
have a brocha, just not one that does the job that it is supposed to do
of fulfilling his obligation).

One might say - what's the problem?  Even if we are following Rabbi Yose
if one makes the best guess one can and one gets it wrong, and one has
not actually managed to fulfil his obligation - still, if one tries to
say the brocha, one after all might get it right, so isn't it better to
try (and if one estimates that one is more likely to get it right by
saying the brocha in English, one should try that)?

Well, the first problem is summed up in a gemora (Brochas 33a) "Rabbi
Yochanan and Reish Lakish both said Anyone who says a brocha sheano
tzricha [that is not necessary] is over on the prohibition "lo tisa"
"[not to take Hashem's name in vain, as found in Shemot 20:7]

Now there is a basic machlokus rishonim as to whether this is in fact a
d'orisa prohibition (as it would seem to be on the face of it) or
whether in fact it is a d'rabbanan prohibition and the reference to the
pasuk in Shmos is just an asmuchta [support that the rabbis used to
enact the prohibition]

The Rambam quotes it pretty straight (see hilchos brochas perek 1
halacha 15 and hilchos shavuos perek 12 halacha 9).  However Tosphos in
Rosh Hashona daf 33a s'v "ha" (in the middle, ie the discussion of this
particular point really begins with the wide lines) hold that in fact it
is merely a rabbinic prohibition ( and see also the Rosh in the first
perek of Kiddushin who also holds this way).  [Note that the description
here of the machlokus is based on the view of the Magen Avraham in Orech
Chaim, siman 215, si'if katan 6 - there are a number of achronim who
attempt to argue that in fact the Rambam also held that it was
d'rabbanan, see the discussion in the Sde Chemed (Mareches beis ois

So the first risk is that one might be over on a torah prohibition in
one's attempt to get it right, and maybe it is better to say nothing,
because maybe one will be saying a brocha sheano tzricha.  And maybe
what one will say might be deemed not to be a brocha at all, but if
still using HaShem's name, it would seem clearly to fit within the
prohibition (see Tosphos there in Rosh Hashona and their comment on
Temura 3b/4a).

Now the second risk (that it is not a brocha at all) seems unlikely.
Firstly the person is trying to fulfil their obligation of saying a
brocha, and we do have the opinion of Rabbi Meir that one may do it with
any form of language, not just that set out by chazal.  Even if we do
not posken that this is enough to fulfil the obligation, it would seem
logical that at the very least it is enough to take it out of the
category of using Hashem's name in vain.  And the forms allowed for by
the Rambam would not seem to leave a lot of option for a non brocha form
which includes misuse of HaShem's name.

And if you hold like Tosphos and the Ashkenazi poskim, I would not have
thought the risk of a lo tisa violation was considered significant.  As
the Magen Avraham (referred to above) comments, according to Tosphos if
one makes a brocha out of a safek, one is not over on lo tisa.  And you
do have the safek here that maybe in fact if you guess you will get it

Now even if you hold like the Sephardi poskim who understand the
reference as being to a torah violation, there may be a couple of
reasons why there is no problem of lo tisa here.

The first is based on the reasoning of the Chachmat Shlomo (Orech Chaim
on siman 215).  He brings that he once was briefly shown the sefer Chai
Adam in which it was written that the Nishmat Adam doesn't understand
why it should be an issur in the torah for somebody to make a bracha
that was not being made in a mocking way and it shouldn't be an issur
even if somebody were to say a thousand times "blessed is he who created
the fruit of the vine".  And the Chachmat Shlomo answers the Chai Adam
by saying that it is like if a person praises a rich man for all the
gifts he has given him, when the rich man knows he hasn't given him any
gifts, he will rightly get angry at him, because it will be like a form
of mocking, and of sheker [falsehood].  Based on this on can say that in
our case, it just does not apply, because the gift has indeed been
given, it is just that the person who know has the obligation can't find
at the appropriate time the right words to fulfil the obligation.

Another way we may be able to argue there is no lo tisa problem here, is
based on a safek sfeka.  Firstly, the person guessing might get it
right, and even if he doesn't maybe the halacha is like Rabbi Meir and
not Rabbi Yose (even if we don't posken that way, we sometimes can use
non accepted opinions in this way - (eg see the levush (siman 17) who
argues that a tumtum or an androgenous should be able to put on tzitzit
with a brocha even according to the sephardi position, because firstly
there is a safek that a tumtum/androgenous is a male, and even if not,
there is a safek whether or not women are chayav in the mizvah of
tzitzit).  And even if you hold one should not make the brocha, at the
very least on safek should, if you follow the Rambam (against the
Rashba, which we are assuming we are doing here, since we are arguing
within the shita of the Rambam) that safek d'orisa l'chumra is
d'rabbanan, you have at least taken it down to a drabbanan.

By the way, a number of people seemed to be suggesting on this list that
the solution was to say the brocha in English.  However, you should know
that it was suggested to Rabbi Akiva Eiger that this was the solution to
a safek bracha - say the bracha in la'az [languages other than Hebrew],
and therefore there will be no lo tisa problem - and he responded by
holding (in siman 25, Chiddushei Rabbi Akiva Eiger) that there is just
as much a problem of lo tisa in la'az - so if there is a lo tisa
problem, that would not seem to help you.

This is all linked to the general principle of safek bracha l'hakel.
Everybody pretty much seems to hold that, if we are talking about a
bracha which is a rabbinic obligation, and you are in doubt as to
whether you said it or not, you don't say it, but if it is a bracha
which is fundamentally a torah obligation (eg birchat hamazon) you do
say it, based on the general principle, safek d'orisa l'chumra, safek
d'rabbanan l'kula (which as I mentioned is the subject of a machlokus
between the Rambam and the Rashba as to whether this principle about
going l'chumra is something the rabbis themselves decreed or whether it
is inherent in the Torah).  But pretty much all of the discussion about
brachot is about a safek as to whether or not there is a rabbinic
obligation.  In our case, it is assumed that there is indeed a rabbinic
obligation, the question is should you be attempting to do something
where you may not get it right, ie it is a safek you will get it right.
It could be argued here of course that since what you are trying to do
is follow the commandments of the sages, that again is a d'orisa to
listen to the sages, so it is not really a drabbanan the safek is in
(although this is a bit far fetched).  And while the majority opinion
(as brought by Rav Ovadya Yosef in YeChavei Daat vol 5, siman 21 with
regard to safek sfaka in brochas, is that there is no safek sfeka
l'chumra in brochas, despite the levush, he does not so clearly hold
such where the obligation is already chal, and does bring more
considerable support for a safek safeka l'chumra in brochas where the
obligation is already chal).

Anyway, for what it is worth, these are my initial thoughts.  I guess,
like most people on this list, my instinct is that one is better to
guess (especially if one follows the Ashkenazi poskim) - and if one's
guess is likely to be better in English, to use that.  But it is not so
easy to sort through the halachic issues to be sure that is the right
conclusion. Obviously if it is a real rather than an academic question,
consult your LOR.

Chana Luntz


From: Immanuel Burton <IBURTON@...>
Date: Mon, 9 Aug 2004 12:07:04 +0100
Subject: RE: Cryptic Nature Of The Torah

In Mail.Jewish v43n91, Jay Shachter wrote:

> In v43n48, Immanuel Burton inquires about the cryptic nature of the
> Torah, using as example Leviticus 22:28 (which prohibits slaughtering
> a bull and its young on the same day, but which our tradition tells us
> [also] prohibits slaughtering a cow and its young on the same day).

The PRIMARY prohibition in this verse (which is phrased in the
masculine) is against slaughtering a cow and its offspring on the same,
and NOT a bull and its offspring on the same day.  If the prohibtion was
against bulls but also included cows, then that wouldn't be a problem,
as when talking in Hebrew about a mixed group the masculine is used.  In
fact, if one knows for certain that a bull and a calf are father and son
one should not slaughter them on the same day as there is a doubt as to
whether the prohibition applies to bulls and their calves, despite the
verse being phrased in the masculine!  Someone who does slaughter a bull
and its calf on the same day is exempt from punishment on account of the
doubt as to whether the prohibition applies.

> Compared to the immortal works of Shakespear? Shakespear
> wrote four hundred years ago and already his immortal soliloquies are
> more cryptic than the Torah.  Just what is a "bare bodkin", anyway?
> And what the heck are "fardels"?

I agree that the words of Shakespeare may be cryptic, but not to someone
who studies it in depth.  I would suggest that the text of the Torah is
the same.  How many secular people with no grounding in Judaism would be
able to tell you what "totofos" are?  Or what the word "gappo" in
relation to the release of slaves means?

> Now imagine that the English language changes over time, as languages
> do, such that, in some future generation, the word "duck" loses its
> general meaning and retains only its specific meaning -- or, not even
> necessarily that, but only that the specific meaning rises in
> prominence compared to the general meaning, such that when people hear
> the word "duck", they now think primarily of an adult female, and only
> secondarily of the class as a whole.

The problem with this argument is that it presupposes a radical change
in the meaning of the word "oso", which we now understand as being
masculine.  For the explanation of Leviticus 22:28 to fit in with this
argument we would have to accept that "oso" was a feminine part of
speech at some point, and that it was only a feminine part of speech in
that one place in the Torah, which doesn't seem very likely.  (As I
wrote in my original posting, the Targum on this verse is phrased in the

> It does not mean that the Torah is cryptic.

I still maintain that the meaning of the Torah is not obvious from a
plain reading of the text, and so is, therefore, cryptic.  Eli Turkel's
examples in Mail.Jewish v43n96 of cooking a kid in its mother's milk,
the order of events in the Yom Kippur service and "an eye for an eye"
reinforce this statement.  It is not difficult nowadays to find out what
the Halachah actually is by referring to, for example, the Shulchan
Aruch, but the process by which the meaning of the words is established
is very long and convoluted.  So, as I asked before, why, if the Torah
instructs us how to lead our lives, are these instructions not plainly
obvious from the words?

Immanuel Burton.

P.S.  For those who want to know, a bodkin is a type of needle for
drawing tape through a hem, and a fardel is a load or package.


End of Volume 44 Issue 5