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The Scholar who Changed the Morning Blessing

The morning blessing recited by a man "who has not made me a woman," and the blessing recited by a woman "who has made me at his will," took root in the siddur (Hebrew prayer book) centuries ago, but two fifteenth-century manuscripts reveal a groundbreaking thinker who chose a somewhat more progressive wording for this controversial blessing.


Meet Abraham Farissol, who changed the familiar wording of the blessing to "who made me woman and not man" in two prayer books he dedicated to two anonymous women.

 

 

Farissol's revised version in the 1471 Siddur now in the United States

 

Befitting a Jewish thinker of the highest order, Abraham Farissol's reputation did not remain behind closed doors. Recognized for his erudition in his lifetime, Farissol's many pursuits included cantor, scribe, and teacher. Deeply interested in the "age of discoveries" sweeping Europe, he composed the first essay in Hebrew to deal with the discovery of America. 


Along with being a pioneering thinker, he was also an exceptional man of faith.  In 1471 and 1480 he hand-wrote two prayer books for women which contain a fascinating feminist innovation. In the prayer book as we know it today, the man reciting the morning blessings thanks God for life that is renewed each morning, for not making him a Gentile, for not making him a slave, and in the words of the prayer that has provoked countless debates, he blesses the Almighty "for not making me a woman" or in another version "who has made me man and not woman." The woman, for her part, thanks God for "making me according to His will." In fact, the text of the accepted blessing for women – "making me according to His will" – is not found in the Talmud, but is mentioned in the early–fourteenth-century halakhic work Arba'ah Turim (lit. "Four Rows," an important work of Jewish law by Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, known as Ba'al Ha-Turim).


And so, 150 years after the Ba'al Ha-Turim, when Europe was moving out of the Middle Ages, Abraham Farissol wrote two Hebrew prayer books which changed the accepted wording of this morning prayer. In the age of the Renaissance, Farissol abandoned the medieval wording "made me according to His will" in favor of a more interesting, progressive verse – "who has made me as a woman and not a man."

 

Farissol's revised version in the 1480 Siddur now in the NLI

 

We do not know the identities of the two women who daily recited the morning blessing “who has made me as a woman and not a man,” as their names were erased from both prayer books. It is possible that Farissol wrote additional prayer books with this blessing which have not yet (or may never) come to light. It is not clear how widespread the change Farissol introduced was or whether it remained the exclusive province of the thinker. What is certain is that in those long ago days at least one woman walked with her head held high, feeling proud that the Creator had chosen to make her as woman, and not man.

 

The morning blessing in the Siddur now in the United States

 

The morning blessing in the Siddur now in the NLI