New York – Halachic Analysis: The ‘Birchas Hailanos’ Controversy

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    File photo by Michal ZiporyNew York – There is a great debate that has gone on in Torah circles for almost three centuries now. The debate centers upon the following question: What texts we should be following? Do we follow the Shulchan Aruch and Talmud or do we follow the Siddur? This debate centers around one particular bracha – one that occurs in Nissan.

    The Talmud (Brachos 43b) tells us that during the month of Nissan, when one goes out and sees trees blossoming recites the blessing, “Who has not left lacking in His world etc.”

    The wording is either “shelo chiser beolamo klum” or “shelo chiser beolamo davar.” The Talmud uses the word “Klum” which means nothing. The version in the current editions of the Siddur have the word “Davar” meaning “something.”

    The Shulchan Aruch (OC 226) and all the Rishonim use the word “Klum.” The Rambam in his Mishna Torah (and all manuscripts of the Rambam Oxford and Teiman) also utilize the term Klum. The Dikdukei Sofrim which has numerous alternative Talmudic texts from manusceipts has no mention of the term “Davar.” Dayan Weiss in his response work (Minchas Yitzchok Volume X #16) writes that the wording “Davar” is incorrect and should be stopped.
    The question is: where did the word “Davar” originate from? Who started it and what was the motivation?

    Let us take a little history trip in order to discover the origin.

    Apparently, sometime in the late 1600’s or early 1700’s a very erudite and learned gentile converted in the city of Amsterdam and took on the name Israel Ben Abraham. He immigrated to Germany and worked as a setter in various printing houses there. In 1716, he purchased the printing equipment of Moses Benjamin Wulff and launched his own printing house in Koethen, Germany.

    Wulff used to print in Dessau but permission to print there was rescinded. The equipment had been transferred to another Ger Tzedek who printed in Halle. Printing in Halle soon came to an end as well and the equipment went back to Moses Benjamin Wulff who transferred it to Israel Ben Abraham.

    In Koethen, Israel Ben Abraham ran into some problems because it was city that did not allow for the residence of Jews. It also did not permit books to be published in Hebrew only. For a book to be published it needed to also be in the vernacular. There he printed the Rosh Yoseph, Derech HaChaim, Derech HaKodesh, and the Orchos Tzaddikim. These were printed in 1717 and 1718. He had the assistance of Rabbi Yishayahu Ben Isaac and Rabbi Chaim Ben Abraham Gomprecht.

    Israel Ben Abraham needed to relocate, however, in order to further develop his printing house. He moved his operations to Jessnitz, also in the Anhalt district which is now the state of Saxony in Germany. He brought his workers from Koethen and also obtained the assistance and backing of a number of wealthy court Jews. One of them was Issachar HaLevi Bermann Behren Lehman of Halberstadt. There he printed the Shaarei Durah, the Alshich’s work, the Damesek Eliezer and, most significant to our story, in 1724 -Reb Zalman Henna’s “Beis Tefillah.” A number of tractates of the Talmud were printed there as well. A good overview of the history of the printing house in Jessnitz can be found in Marvin Heller’s “Printing the Talmud.”

    Reb Zalman Henna, also known as Reb Shlomo Zalman Ben Reb Yehudah Leib from Henna, was a noted grammarian who authored several works on Hebrew grammar. Sefer Zohar HaTeiva is one such book that can be found on Hebrewbooks.org. His grammatical explanations are interesting, but at times diverge from Talmudic sources. It may also be noted that the word “Klum” does not appear in TaNaCh. The general trend of Hebrew grammarians at the time (and even later) was purism. Henna may have theorized that since Klum did not exist in TaNaCH – the original version must have been “Davar.”

    Regardless, this was the first time the term “Davar” in regard to the blessing on trees was printed in a Siddur. The Siddur of Rabbi Yaakov Emden, “Bais Yaakov” disagrees with the Jessnitz Siddur, but does not attack him on it.

    Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum’s Siddur, “Derech HaChaim” is the next to appear with the word Davar – but this was done by the printers.

    It seems to this author that the author of the work Maaseh Chemed, Rabbi Eliyahu Cohen, who attributes this version to the Raavad in his Sefer HaEshkol is incorrect and that the wording was a later addition not found in the original manuscripts or prints of that work.

    Dayan Weiss in his Minchas Yitzchok Volume X #16 writes that he has not seen it earlier than the work Schios Chemda printed in Vienna, however. We have shown, however, an earlier printing of it. Regardless of the first source, Dayan Weiss has strongly discouraged the use of “Davar” in the blessing.

    So where did it come from? Some Poskim have suggested that it was a correction to the Talmudic formulation of the word because the word Davar is found in the book of Dvarim (2:7), where it states, “Hashem Elokecha imach lo chasarta davar.” Still, though, it is rather difficult to make an emendation in the Talmudic text with no other extant version that would have that text.

    This author would like to suggest that Reb Zalman Henna, as brilliant as he was, may have held himself to be a superior grammarian to the earlier authorities, including the Rishonim and Gaonim. Perhaps he felt that it was not conceivable that the sages would have enacted a blessing with a formulation of their own that lies in contrast to a similar Biblical formulation. That combined with the lack of the term “Klum” in TaNaCH may have clinched his decision. He, therefore made the change, perhaps in conjunction with Israel Ben Abraham as well, who also had innovative tendencies. Other prayer books followed suit by dint of the fact that Reb Zalman Henna was by a grammarian of distinction. There may have been an intimidation factor here.

    The halachic works, however, held fast and did not change. Gradually, most of the Siddurim, with some notable exceptions (such as that of the first Lubavitch Rabbi) adopted the work of Reb Zalman Henna – not only in terms of the formulation of this blessing, but in other issues of grammar too. They did not necessarily openly admit to it, perhaps because they felt that grammar was not their area of expertise. In a similar vein, it could very well be that the Bnei Torah who punctuate texts in our times that have vowelization incorporated inside the work also may take a lead from the vowelization developed by someone else.

    Regardless, as to how and why the change evolved, it is the view of our leading Poskim that we revert back to the formulation found in the Gemorah and in the Shulchan Aruch. So, ArtScroll, if you’re out there listening, you may want to revisit the issue.

    The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com

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    30 COMMENTS

    1. It is also important to know that the Brocha is only said on a fruit tree, not just a flowering tree.
      Of note, Poskim printed in the Shulchan Aruch note that the Brocha not be said while the fruit tree is in its first 3 years of fruiting (Orlah) and not said at all if it never bears fruit. To sum it up, one must verify that fruit have been growing on that particular tree for at least 3 years.

      • This is what Judaism is all about. Always something new to learn. Its refreshing. Unlike in some congregation the rabbi announces: please turn to page …. And you follow like a herd to his shepard.

        • Since we are on the issue of correct spelling and pronunciation, I would like to alert you to the fact that the last word in your post is spelled incorrectly. “Shepherd” is the correct way to spell. Instead of “Shepard”. hmmmm.
          What say you?!

      • That is precisely the point! Not always is the Siddur “old tradition” Anyway, you can always try using the Emden Siddur (or Sephardi), if that is your issue….

    2. One very common mistake made by many (including some siddurim) is in the words ‘briyos tovos, v’ ilonos TOVIM!!’ (not TOVOS). The word ilon is masculine, not feminine (in spite of its feminine-looking plural form.) So the correct words in the berochoh are “ilonos TOVIM”.

      • Although tovim is grammatically correct, it ain’t always right. In Hebrew, the flow is sometimes more important than the gender, so sometimes the gender will be changed! Also, this word tovim only appears AFTER Rabbi Henna’s siddur. Even he didn’t touch this word. I am doing research on this now and the first siddur i have found so far that has tovim in this bracha is siddur hegyon lev (also known as Landshuth’s prayer-book) by Hirsch Edelmann, published in 1845 (pg. 213 in hebrewbooks 21688). This predates the kitzur shulchan aruch by 18 years. You can find it in the kitzur shulchan aruch in part 1, chapter 60:1. So probably sometime between 1725 and 1845 the word tovos was changed to tovim for the first time. i can send an update if and when i find an earler siddur. cheers, eric

      • So that proves the author’s (Rabbi Yair Hoffman) point that a certain Reb Zalman in Germany (Ashkenaz) who was never disabused of the notion that he knows everything better than everyone else, and he did not believe in the evolution of the Hebrew language (Like we have had some people close to our generation) inserted the incorrect word in the Siddur.
        Likewise. R. Hoffman made a point about admonishing Art-Scroll (Who I have great admiration for.) to pay attention and insert the correct definition in their Siddur. However, they dropped the ball on another issue. The attempt to decipher and translate the French words that Rash”i inserted in “Tanach”. They (Artscroll) are off on the wrong track. Apparently, they didn’t consult any linguistic experts (Or the wrong ones). Because, when the “Blaa’z” words are read and understood correctly, the comprehension of Rashi’s commentary is increased ten-fold.

      • The very fact that we do not find so in any of the Sephardic Sedurim, absolutely proves Dayan Weis, R Y Emden as correct! As it all stems from the 1700’s Ashkenazi Jewry, initiated by Zalman Henna.

    3. The alter rebbeh did not use zalmen hennah
      and in fact in the birchas hanenim which is part of the siddur the bracha is klum and not davar
      the tehilas hashem siddur which was printed about a hundred years ago a lot of zalmen henah stuff got in which continues to be a debate among ‘scholars”
      but harav mundshain says of zalmen heneh dikduk he does not even refer to him by name he just says and things from other places fell in into the tehilas hashem siddur

    4. No, Klum does not mean “nothing”. It means “anything”. Modern Hebrew misunderstood the term, and I’ve seen Yeshiva guys thereby make the mistake. There is no gramattical error here, just a question of whether to follow lshon mikra or lshon mishna,

    5. About time someone brought up that subject. And what’s more, changes are being made to the traditional spellings in Israeli suddurim at present. One example is the use of the demonstrative ‘zu’ which secular Israeli grammarians (Hebrew Academy) have decided should be pronounced ‘zo’. The new computer-typset sidduring have all got ‘zo’ in them – that’s how new it is. The argument goes back quite a long way: R. Jonah ibn Janach first made the distinction, but the R’daq cites him and disagrees. All siddurim of all countries and communities have followed R’daq – until the Israelis decided differently. So please, baalei tefillah and hazanim, when you recite the prayer for Tal in a few weeks, remember that (Ashkenazi) Jews everywhere have always said בדעתו אביעה חידות. בעם זו בזו בטל להחדות
      b’am zu b’zu b’tal l’hahdos.

      • This comment is humorous. The Ashkenazim mispronounce everything. Don’t distinguish between chaf and het (line over the h), the vav is an English vee instead of w, the ayin is not a consonant, and sometimes it gets ridiculous like the oh becoming oy. And you are worried about zo/zu! And what will you say? Minhag avoSAYnu beyadenu. Say what? Whoops, I mean “Thay what”.

        • The Ashkenazi tradition has evolved over more than a thousand years, just like the Sefardi tradition. Both are correct for their respective communities. Your comment is, though, is scoffing – much worse.

        • Yours is sad, other than the “oh/oy” part. The Ashkenazim are the ones who differentiate between taf and saf, unlike Israelis who use only taf for both. Saf is much closer to thaf than is the Israeli Taf.

          Israelis also inexplicably drop the initial hay in the word and use an aleph instead. Israelis also eradicated the kamatz and replaced it with a patach. They then mispronounce the “oh” as a psedo-kamatz

          Sorry; Ashkenaz is far more authentic.

          • The discussion was not initially about Israeli pronunication, but since you mention it, Israeli ‘Hebrew’ is based on a curious version of Palestinian pseudo-Sefardi Hebrew, tinged with German French and a little Russian input. There was never any attempt to rediscover the original Biblical pronunciation, just an ideological incentive to get as far away from the traditional Ashkenazi one as possible. It appears that ‘Greener’ is more comfortable with that worldview.

    6. 1. #12 is absolutely correct here, “klum” means “anything”, and not “nothing”.
      2. Zalman Henna was a total maskil, misunderstood lashon Chazal, and unfortunately is responsible for numerous mistakes in our siddurim that exist till today.

    7. It may also be noted that the word “Klum” does not appear in TaNaCh. The general trend of Hebrew grammarians at the time (and even later) was purism. Henna may have theorized that since Klum did not exist in TaNaCH – the original version must have been “Davar.”
      Why does the writer assume that Tanach Hebrew should be the basis of Chazal establishing a Nusach for a Bracha?
      The most common Barcha of Erusin where the terminology is Al Y’day Chupa V’kidushin . Whereas Chazal directly point Kiddushin is Lashon Chachamim and Kinyan ( Niknet) is Lashon Torah. Following the logic, the Bracha should have been Al Yday ( Chupa V’) kinyan.( Ha’isha Niknet, not Haish Mikadesh),
      Mifarshay Tanach constantly used the word KLUM. ( See Yonatan ben Uziel on Yosef arguing with Potifar’s wife)

    8. Another question on the same topic. What if a person lives in a warmer climate and the fruit trees blossom/flower before Rosh Chodesh Nissan? Do we make the brocho and if so when?

      • I believe if you live….let’s say in Austrailia, you just recite the bracha at beginning of its blossom, which will be in the month of Tishrei…

        any input from Australians would be helpful.

    9. Interesting historical background for this case. One can study the Selah Hamachloqes by David Yitzchaqi for thousands of other such instances. However, this particular instance is of no import since Blessings can be made in all languages. See BeZeil HaChochmah (Bezalel Stern) Volume 5 Siman 124 for a detailed discussion. He cites the Rashba (for one) that such an instance is of no import.

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