To Bless or Not To Bless? - Berakhot 21
In the end, this double reason is rejected – not for redundancy or self-reference, but because one act feeds the body for life in this world, and the other the soul for eternal life in the next one. Of course, for the Talmudic Rabbis rejecting the Scriptural basis does not mean one is free to reject the practice! One is still supposed to recite both blessings for both practices – but the reason for it must be found elsewhere. For some today, however, if the reason is not there, then neither will be the performance. Thus the lengthy arguments one may read about claimed health benefits to a kosher lifestyle that try to convince the non-kosher to start, when traditionally following laws of kashrut were one more example of submitting to the “yoke” of the commandments regardless of reasons.
This Talmud page not only speaks about the individual context of blessings, exploring the case of the Baal Keri, or the man who has had a “nocturnal emission” and thus become ritually impure – may he recite certain prayers, and under what circumstances. It also examines a communal setting – we see here a justification of the tradition of having ten (men) to constitute a minyan (prayer quorum) for reciting certain prayers, and also the ruling that one who had already prayed alone could only do so again in a group. Once, after the Holocaust, the Yiddish writer Chaim Grade was approached on the street and asked to join a minyan; he refused, saying “ikh hob shoyn gedavent (I have already prayed).” His companion, knowing Grade to be a strict secularist, asked him, “When?” Grade’s answer: “1937.” Knowing Jewish tradition as he did, Grade was able to refuse the request in a way that the praying Jew would understand and respect. And in a way that also gave him a private chuckle.
Rabbi Adam Chalom
For Further Reading:
Chaim Grade, “My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner” in The Seven Little Lanes (1972). There is also a movie adaptation called The Quarrel (1991).