Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Birkat Ha-Minim Revisited /

Η Μπιρκάτ χα-Μινίμ Αναθεωρούμενη


למשומדים אל תהי תקוה
ומלכות זדון מהרה תעקר בימינו
והנצרים והמינים כרגע יאבדו
ימחו מספר החיים
ועם צדיקים אל יכתבו
ברוך אתה יי
מכניע זדים

For those doomed to destruction may there be no hope
and may the dominion of arrogance be quickly uprooted in our days
and may the Nazarenes and the heretics be destroyed in a moment
and may they be blotted out of the book of life
and may they not be inscribed with the righteous.
Blessed are you, O Lord,
who subdues the arrogant.

Για όσους έχουν καταδικαστεί σε καταστροφή ας μην υπάρξει καμιά ελπίδα
και ας ξεριζωθεί η κυριαρχία της αλαζονείας το ταχύτερο στις μέρες μας
και ας καταστραφούν ακαριαία οι Ναζωραίοι και οι αιρετικοί
και ας εξαλειφθούν από το βιβλίο της ζωής
και ας μην επιγραφούν μαζί με τους δίκαιους.
Ευλογημένος είσαι εσύ, Κύριε,
που υποτάσσεις τον αλαζόνα.
(The Twelfth Benediction, commonly known as Birkat Ha-Minim, a phrase that literally (and euphemistically) means ‘the benediction of the heretics’, from the Eighteen Benedictions or ‘Amidah (‘standing prayer’), discovered in the Cairo Genizah.
Η Δωδέκατη Ευλογία, ευρύτερα γνωστή ως Μπιρκάτ χα-Μινίμ, μια φράση που σημαίνει κυριολεκτικά (και κατ' ευφημισμόν) ‘η ευλογία των αιρετικών’, από τις Δεκαοχτώ Ευλογίες ή ‘Αμιντά (‘προσευχή σε όρθια στάση’), οι οποίες ανακαλύφθηκαν στην γκενίζα του Καΐρου.)

The Genealogy of Birkat Ha-Minim

«It is, moreover, likely that Birkat Ha-Minim can be traced back even earlier than the Tannaitic and Amoraic periods. Indeed, the very Talmudic passage that speaks of its composition at Yavneh, b. Ber. 28b–29a (see above, pp. 525–26), hints at this backdating when it says that at Rabban Gamaliel's request Simeon ha-Paquli organized the Eighteen Benedictions in order (הסדיר שמונה עשרה ברכות…על הסדר). This seems to refer to the reorganization of an existent prayer. A similar nuance may be present when the same passage says that Gamaliel sought someone לתקן ברכת המינים. The Soncino translation of Maurice Simon renders this as ‘[to] frame a benediction relating to the Minim’. But לתקן, which Simon renders here as ‘to frame’ and in the next sentence as ‘to compose’, is actually ambiguous, since it can mean either ‘to ordain’ or ‘to repair’—in the present case, either to invent or to revise a benediction. The English verb ‘to fix’ provides a perfect analogy, since it can mean either to fix something up or to ‘fix’ it for all time, i.e. to set it in stone.

In this particular case, most translations join the Soncino in opting for the nuance of ordaining or promulgating, but the implication of repairing or revising may be preferable, as is suggested by the important early passage t. Ber. 3.25. This text identifies Birkat Ha-Minim as one of several benedictions that were created by melding earlier prayer traditions:
.כולל של מינים בשל פרושין ושל גרים בשל זקנים ושל דוד בבונה ירושלם
One inserts [the benediction] of the heretics into [the benediction] of the separatists and [the benediction] of the proselytes into [the benediction] of the elders, and [the benediction] of David into [the benediction concluding], ‘Builder of Jerusalem’. (my translation)
This implies that Birkat Ha-Minim resulted from editorial activity that incorporated the cursing of the מינים into another imprecation. Lieberman, citing b. Ber. 28b, identifies the point of transition as the meeting at Yavneh.

The general point asserted by t. Ber. 3.25, that Birkat Ha-Minim is a composite benediction, is supported by internal evidence. As Philip Alexander puts it:
The motif of the arrogant kingdom actually forms the framework of the benediction: note how the concluding formula, which normally draws out the central point, refers to ‘humbling the arrogant’ and makes no mention of the minim. It is…likely that the Birkat ha-Minim is a restatement of an earlier benediction calling for the overthrow of Israel's oppressors.
An earlier form of the benediction, then, was probably directed against the pagan empire; indeed, even as late as the Amoraic period, the benediction could be called מכניע זדים (‘he who subdues the arrogant’) from its concluding eulogy. Various later versions of the saying quoted above from t. Ber. 3.25, moreover, speak of intercalating Birkat Ha-Minim not into the ‘benediction of the separatists’ but into ‘he who subdues the arrogant’. The original form of what we now call Birkat Ha-Minim, therefore, probably cursed neither the פרושין (‘separatists’) nor the מינים (‘heretics’), but rather the זדים (‘arrogant’), and was directed against the Romans. At a later stage (under Rabban Gamaliel, according to b. Ber. 28b), it was reformulated to include other targets, resulting in its present hybrid form.

Our confidence in the reliability of the Tosefta passage is increased by a look at the two other benedictions identified by t. Ber. 3.25 as having been intercalated, since these likewise reveal internal evidence of intercalation. The benediction that speaks about the building of Jerusalem is, in the recension that predominates in Jewish prayer books today, separate from the benediction that speaks about the Davidic Messiah (## 14 and 15). In Schechter's Genizah version, however, these two benedictions are melded into one, which ends with a conflated eulogy. The Thirteenth Benediction also seems to be conflated, since it concerns two different groups, pious Jews and converts to Judaism.

Our reconstruction of the tradition history of Birkat Ha-Minim is supported by the observation of Ehrlich and Langer that what they call Branch 6, the largest of the six families of Birkat Ha-Minim texts in the Genizah (24 out of 86 mss), omits entirely the segment against the minim. Ehrlich and Langer acknowledge that this shorter version of the benediction, which owes its popularity to the authority of Saadia Gaon, could be the result of Saadia's abbreviation of a longer form, but they also raise the possibility ‘that this version was itself a received early text that Rav Saadia Gaon chose to adopt for his prayer book. If so, this could be an extremely ancient text, perhaps the earliest preserved. It would then be a witness to the period before the addition of the explicit curse against the noṣerim and minim’.»


* Joel Marcus,
«Birkat Ha-Minim Revisited»
[Η Μπιρκάτ χα-Μινίμ Αναθεωρούμενη],
New Testament Studies, Cambridge University Press,
Volume/Τόμος 55, Issue/Τεύχος 04, October/Οκτώβριος 2009,
doi:10.1017/S0028688509990063,
pp./σσ. 523-551.

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