Daily blessings–I have some questions

I’ve got a few questions. Any answers, half-answers, comments on a similar theme, etc are welcome in the comments.

1. When did morning blessings get moved into communal prayer?

I know that the bulk of Birchot Hashachar was once–some of it still is–said in the home as one performed a variety of daily actions. So at what point and with what motivation did it get moved into the service and out of the home?

2. Is there any support for saying “…al netilat yadayim” when washing one’s hands for sanitary, rather than ritual purposes?

Surely some have argued that a reason for ritual hand washing is rudimentary sanitation. I know it’s been said that the relative health of Jews during the Black Plague can be attributed to regular hand washing. I’m wondering if there’s any support for using the same brachah when washing one’s hand from a sink–meaning, without pouring water over your hands from a cup–with soap.

3. Is there anyone out there thinking about new blessings or new applications of extant blessings for elements of the modern daily routine?

I’m thinking about taking daily medications, showering, brushing teeth etc.

Thoughts, anyone? Answers? Tangents?

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13 responses to “Daily blessings–I have some questions

  1. 1. Not sure when, but I’ve heard that it was so that ameratzim who didn’t know how to say them properly at home could respond amen to them.

  2. For meds I tend to say רופא החולים.

  3. I used to start the meetings I led with sheh tzivanu la-asok b’divrei tzibur, Who has commanded us to occupy ourselves with the needs of the community.

    When the Synagogue-Federation Relations Commission was preparing a report to the community, I suggested my beracha as part of the frontispiece. The staff person I was working with loved it, but prudently checked it out with one of the Orthodox rabbis on the Commission — who vetoed it on the grounds that it was a chiddush, an innovation.

    As to extending existing berachot, I’ve been told that borei pri hagafen should only be said over wine, and that grape juice demands shehakol hayah bidvarav. (I continue to use borei pri hagafen over grape juice regardless.)

    I agree that practice should be be based on knowledge and understanding, and that we can adopt or reject that which we know and understand. But the commandment either is or is not a commandment, and if it is, it is forever. If it’s your personal feel-good, then you can stop, start, change, etc. at whim — not because the rule has changed, but because you have.

    As an example, my rule for Passover is that if can be kosher l’pesach, it is — so I don’t require a hechsher nor a list of ingredients. A somewhat observant friend of mine once scolded me at a party for drinking vodka during Pesach, which I justified because vodka can be made from potatoes, so I make that assumption about the vodka being served. We then went to the buffet table, where I ignored the, to me, very chometzdik tortillas, but he ate them because they were unleavened.

    But my behavior is not because I feel commanded, , only that it makes me feel good — even fasting on Yom Kippur. (This has somewhat morphed into or blended with my comment on another post — but if pressed, I could draw the chain of relevance.)

  4. 1. The Reconstructionist siddur Kol Haneshamah in the commentary introducing Birchot Hashachar says :

    “The transference of the blessings to the public worship service (ninth century) disengaged the blessing & particular act of awakening with which it was joined.” (p. 152)

    KH cites Steven Sager as its source. Hope that’s a good research starting point for you.

    2. Haven’t found any support for saying the brachah for saying the blessing during “ordinary” soap hand washing, but for the past few weeks I’ve been saying it whenever I wash my hands at the sink anyways. I’d be interested in anything you do find to support it, but I’ll keep doing it without any support either way.

    3. I’ve got a couple.

    I know people who say the Brachah for spices (from Havdalah) when imbibing in *ahem* herbal recreation, at least in a communal setting.

    When I take a long, hot bath after a long day at work/school, I say the blessings for mikveh immersion right before I submerge my head under the hot water for a few seconds.

    I say “. . .roka haaretz al hamayim”, (“…who establishes the dry land upon the waters”) before I take my first sip of strong coffee in the morning, as a metaphor for the return of waking consciousness (‘the land’) from sleep (‘the waters’). It’s a stretch, I know, but it works for me. I suppose it would work just as well with “. . .hama’avir shenah me’eynay utnumah me’afapay” (“sleep from the eyes, slumber from the eyelids”).

  5. Pingback: Asher Yatzar: more on the previous post | The Reform Shuckle

  6. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I am not a Rabbi.

    You are not allowed to say the “Al Netilat Yadayim” prayer, except at the prescribed times. I believe that the only prescribed times are upon waking up for the day, and before eating a meal with bread.

    You cannot say a blessing unless you do the corresponding mitzvah. Doing so would be taking Hashem’s name in vain. When you wash your hands for sanitary reasons, you are not fulfilling a specific mitzvah (though we are required to take good care of our body). Thus, no blessing is said. For instance, after using the bathroom, you wash your hands, but you do not say “Al Netilat Yadayim”. Even when you leave a cemetery and wash your hands spiritually, you do not say “Al Netilat Yadayim”. I think that the latter is still a mitzvah, but not all mitvot have blessings.

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