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My son recently reached the age of Bar Mitzvah.

I had some qualms about saying the blessing "Shepatarani" “Blessed be ...who has exempted me of responsibility of this child)” - since I am not sure exactly when a father becomes free of responsibility for his son.

I noticed when the Rabbi instructed me to say the relevant blessing in Synagogue after his call-up and reading from the Torah that it is said b’li shem u’malchut (without the words "HaShem our God, King of the Universe") – so that it is not really a “berachah” – so I felt fairly OK to conform to convention and say it and I assume from this wording that the Rabbis had similar doubts about the blessing.

I found online this goes back to Moshe Isserles (the Gra) who is the Ashkenasi commentator on the Shulchan Aruch:
“There is, of course, a fairly simple way out of the objection against the violation involved in beracha l'vatala (wasted blessing). This is illustrated by the decision of Moses Isserles (the Rama) to Orah Hayyim 225:2 (in the Shulchan Aruch), where there is some doubt as to the validity of the blessing to be recited by the father at the son's Bar Mitzvah. Here, there is danger of a beracha l'vatala if, after all, the blessing is really not required. Therefore Isserles solves the problem by having the blessing recited, leaving out the words, "O Lord, our God, King of the universe." This is the method that the rabbis often follow when they are uncertain as to whether the blessing is required or not. They have the blessing recited without using the Name of God, or as they say, "b'li Shem u-malchus, " because the real objection to the "wasted" blessing is using the name of God in vain. When you leave out the name of God, the objection to reciting the blessing virtually vanishes.”

I read some more interesting further discussion on Judaism.stackexchange where it emerges that the use of “b’li shem u’malchut” for a blessing said in a case of a doubtful commandment or action or change of status is only used in certain restricted cases where it is not possible to say Amen to someone who is definitely obligated. The preferred solution to a case of doubt is for the person to say "Amen" to another who has a more definite obligation:
gives some examples:
“@joshwaxman I know of only 5 such instances in Shulchan Aruch: birkot hashachar if you didn't do that action, hagomel (the blessing said on surviving a danger), miracle location (blessing on a place where a miracle occurred), chalitza (the levirate marriage ceremony), and shepterani (blessing by a father on his child reaching Bar/Bat Mitzvah. (Orach Chayim 46:8 218:9 219:3 225:2 Even HaEzer Chalitza 57). “
In each case the person is in a situation where there is doubt about whether the blessing is required and they cannot say Amen to someone who is definitely obligated (which would be the preference).

There are other cases where people say blessings “without Name of Kingship” – there is the “Baruch dayan emet” one says on hearing of a death, and there is “Baruch HaMavdil” that people say before switching on the lights on Shabbat evening when they have not made Havdallah.

IN the case of “Baruch dayan emet” I imagine the doubt is about how sincere we are able to be when we say this. The saying "Blessed is the true Judge" on hearing of a person's death is a theological statement which rides in the face of our emotional response - there may be a recognition in say the blessing in short form that we are actually a bit conflicted when we say it.

As for Baruch HaMavdil - I do not understand this practice.

There is an interesting case discussed in Talmud Berachot of Benjamin the Shepherd and his Aramaic blessing after bread.

Benjamin's blessing is recorded as being (in Aramaic) "Brich malka d’alma marei d’hai pita. . The Rabbis ask "Was this a valid blessing?"

See my friend Alexander's blog and also Talmud, Berachot 40b.

I think the issue in Berachot 40b is that blessing after bread is considered to be a positive mitzvah d’orayta (from the Torah). The question the Talmud is discussing is whether Benjamin with his wording in Aramaic fulfilled his Torah commandment to bless after eating bread. (“And thou shalt eat and be satisfied, and bless the LORD thy God for the good land which He hath given thee. Deut 8:10).

They conclude that without the Name of God in the wording (and according to one opinion without the Name and Kingship of God) mentioned, he had not.

Blessing on bread is an unusual case, since most blessings are d’rabannan (ie instituted by the Rabbis) – though I am not sure that this makes much difference to the halacha, except in cases where there is a doubt about whether one should say the blessing. Perhaps also it makes any doubt about whether one had said the blessing “properly” more significant.

A shepherd might also be an interesting case because he would be someone who would be eating alone with his sheep, perhaps, so could not say Amen to the blessing of someone more educated with whom he was eating.

I like that Rav validates the blessing of this ignorant but pious 3rd century Jewish shepherd.

The Talmudic passage also establishes the idea that one can fulfill a blessing in translation in the vernacular – which when I come to think about it makes it possibly slightly problematic saying a blessing in both Hebrew and in English translation, as the second of these would be a wasted blessing.

On the other hand many things may be done for "chinuch" (for the sake of education of children).


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February 2017

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