- Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:
Allow me to take issue with the assertion of David A. Kunin in his article “May the Words of our Mouths Be Acceptable” that “the tradition regarding the author and origin of Birkat Ha-minim, however, is unambiguous: the Talmud states that this blessing was composed by Samuel the Younger at the request of Rabban Gamliel” and that “it was understood to be an additional prayer (i.e., a nineteenth benediction) … which was added to a preexisting eighteen-blessing Amidah.” On the contrary, it is more likely that there were eighteen blessings in the original Amidah since the two blessings now making up fourteen and fifteen, Jerusalem and the House of David, were originally one blessing, as we see in various texts of the Eretz Yisrael version found in the Geniza. Only later in Babylon were they divided, thus creating nineteen blessings. As for Birkat Ha-minim, what was done by Samuel the Younger may have simply been a revision of an earlier form rather than the creation of a completely new blessing.
The original Birkat Ha-minim was an integral part of the Amidah’s structure which outlines the steps leading to redemption, i.e., the restoration of the pre-destruction status, culminating with the return of God’s presence to Zion. Birkat Ha-minim describes those who will have no part in that redemption, namely the apostates and sectarians, including specifically the early Jewish-Christians, who have left Judaism, while the following blessing speaks of those who will have a part, namely the proselytes who have joined the covenant. Again, this is seen clearly in the original wording as found in the Geniza texts which speak not of “slanderers” but of apostates” (m’shummadim). Whereas that original text would indeed be offensive and indefensible today, the current text, formulated in Babylonia, is completely different and speaks only of “slanderers”, “wickedness” and the “arrogant.” [End Page 100]