Birkat ha-Mazon – “Grace” After Meals - Berakhot 45
Today’s page provides another demonstration of that reality in its discussion of who is obligated to invite or be invited to say the birkat ha-mazon, or “grace after meals” (literally, “blessing of the meal”). After the conclusion of a meal, if there are three men present, a ritual invitation to say the birkat is recited which begins “rabotai n’varekh – Gentlemen, let us bless.” In the Mishnah text that begins this discussion, it is clearly stated that gentiles, women, children and slaves are not so invited. Fortunately, liberal Jewish practice today encourages women and children to participate, and modern life has outlawed slavery in most (but tragically not all) corners of the world.
The Talmudic discussion goes on to clarify (improving on the Mishnah) that women are able to invite each other by themselves, or slaves by themselves, but not together. The Talmud asks why, if 100 women are not better than 2 men, the former can be “invited” but not the latter. The answer: they have independent minds and thus if there are three of them, the invitation may take place. However, this is not full equality but rather “separate but equal” – such a female invitation can only take place when it is a group of women alone, not even with slaves for fear of “immorality.” This world of gender segregation has been challenged in some form in Jewish life since the first Reform congregations in the early 19th century instituted gender-mixed seating in the synagogue.
Other innovations, emblematic of modern life, are the roles of the respondent to and translator of traditional texts. In some synagogues today, the audience knows when to say “Amen” but doesn’t know and certainly doesn’t understand the prayers and texts being read. Thus response and translation, often a loose and sanitized version of the original, is the true source of meaning for the ritual. The Talmud here assumes that the “Amen” and the translator should not raise their voice over the reader of the original. In our version of this lesson, don’t let simple participation and creative translations that soften controversies replace directly engaging the original text, as we are here every day in the Daf Yomi (daily page). In this area, DON’T do as the people do – look deeper.
Rabbi Adam Chalom