Friday, October 12, 2012

The place of brachot

In the Mishna, Masechet Brachot is placed in Zeraim. But in the Shulchan Aruch, it is grouped with Shabbat and the holidays in Orach Chaim.

This reflects a different perception as to the place of brachot in our life. Grouping brachot with the holidays indicates that saying a bracha is a discrete observance which must be performed on certain occasions. Periodically you must keep shabbat, but you also know that the rest of the week cannot be shabbat.

Meanwhile, grouping brachot with zeraim indicates that saying a bracha is part of our normal life. It is not that you interrupt your farming in order to perform a religious observance (as with shabbat), but that saying the bracha is part of the farming, and gives the farming a religious character.

As part of the inexorable shift of religious practices from "natural/moral" to "ritual" over time (as circumstances change and the original rationale is left behind), brachot have changed from a natural part of our self-expression (in the Mishna) to a technical procedure that must be executed on specific occasions (in the Tur and Shulchan Aruch).

May that change someday, somehow reverse itself.

(Source for the good parts of this)

5 comments:

Micha Berger said...

I don't see your "but" here. The Tur and SA, looking at halakhah for chu"l before mashiach comes, has little reason for the rest of zera'im. Just as the Talmud Bavli didn't. So, Orakh Chaim became Zera'im + Mo'ed. Just as Mes' Niddah was regrouped so that Yorah Dei'ah becomes Qodshim + Taharos.

BTW, what does "Orach Chaim" mean if not "part of 'normal life'"?

Beisrunner said...

I think you are right on about Orach Chaim, due to the name and content as you say (and it even contains a siman in the middle about your day job, sort of like Zeraim for non-farmers).

Your point might be weaker with Yoreh Deah. It contains a multitude of unrelated laws, some of which (trumot/maasrot, tzedaka, etc.) might logically fit elsewhere.

In any case, my distinction reflects the gap between what I sometimes see in my own life and the ideal well articulated by Chazal. That is really what motivated me to post this, and it is an important point to me whether or not it can actually be illustrated by the example I gave.

Micha Berger said...

I agree that a shift occurred, I was only talking about whether it was reflected in the Tur and SA. I am not even sure it had occurred yet when the SA came out.

In The Rhythms of Jewish Living, R' Marc Angel (of the Spanish & Portugese Synagogue, NYC) blames the Ashkenazim. (And despite obvious cause for partisan bias, I think he's right.) He describes it as a shift from the Judaism of the farmer (as you honed in on Seder Zera'im) who could truly relate to Chag haQatzir and Chag haAsif to the indoor Judaism of the Beis Keneses and Bes Medrash of today. RMA blames overexposure to Xianity, which fits his thesis that it didn't happen among Sepharadim until after they left Spain and the Arab countries to live among Ashkenazim.

Beisrunner said...

Chazal placed a very high value on the beit midrash. I'm not sure whether agriculture is necessarily spiritually better than other professions, whether Jews in Spain owned land and farmed, or whether a few pilgrimage holidays could ever give a tone to the entire year. I don't know too much about the rhythms of Sefardi life, but my impression is that most exiles went to Muslim not Christian countries. For all reasons, I'll have to read the book before I believe the thesis.

Micha Berger said...

It's not really the book's thesis. The thesis is a Jewish philosophy in which the point of the Torah is to bring sanctity to the natural cycles of life. Along the way, RMA notes that the agrarian life assumed by the division of nachalah and life before artificial lighting put man more in touch with the cycles of the year and the day than the "indoor Judaism" of today.