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Berakhot (Talmud)

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Berakhot (Hebrew: ברכות, "Benedictions") is the first masekhet ("tractate") of Seder Zeraim ("Order of Seeds") of the Mishnah, the first major text of Jewish law. It primarily addresses the rules regarding the Shema, the Amidah, Birkat Hamazon ("Grace after Meals"), Kiddush ("Sanctification"), Havdalah ("Separation") and other blessings and prayers. It is the only tractate in Zeraim to have a Gemara ("Completion") from both the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud.

The Shema Yisrael

The first three chapters of the tractate address the subject of the Shema, the central prayer of Judaism which is to be said twice per day. Topics discussed include when to say it, how to say it and possible exemptions from the fulfillment of this mitzvah ("commandment").

Saying the Shema

The first two mishnayot of the tractate address the subject of precisely when one should say the Shema as the Torah states in (Deut. 6:7) "when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." As the passage indicates that it should be said twice a day, once in the evening and once in the morning, the first two mishnayot (sections) discuss when exactly those two times are. In the case of the evening Shema, the time can be any time after sunset but before dawn. (1:1) While dissenting opinions were given, reaching consensus was not difficult because it made the most sense as not all people go to sleep at the same time. However, the morning Shema was the subject of more controversy as people generally woke at different times and some were of the opinion that it should be said before sunrise. Nonetheless, halakha followed the view that it should be said when one wakes up, but no later than the fourth hour of the day. (1:2)

The third mishnah of the tractate discusses whether one should say the evening Shema standing up or lying down as the passage says "when thou liest down". The School of Shammai said it should be lying down as the passage indicates. The School of Hillel's view, however, was that one may say it in whatever position is comfortable and this was the view accepted as the halakha. (1:3) The rest of the first chapter discusses the blessings said along with the Shema and the differences between the blessings in the evening and the blessings in the morning. (1:4, 1:5)

The beginning of the second chapter discusses the protocol of exactly how one says the Shema itself. One may choose to read the Shema or say it aloud, so long as his heart is directed to God. If one approaches a person who is saying the Shema and greets him, he is allowed to stop and respond at the breaks between the Shema and its blessings. (2:1, 2:2) However, if an individual chooses to speak the Shema anyway, he or she must articulate the words properly or correct himself or herself if he or she misspeaks, as failing to do so would be being irreverent. (2:3) As saying the Shema is brief and bears no risk, workers may say it even while suspended in a tree or on a scaffold. However, as it would be unsafe, this does not apply to the Amidah. (2:4)

Exemption

The rest of the second chapter and the entire third chapter discusses exemptions from the Shema, as there are cases where an individual is not required to say it. The second chapter also contains a series of parables regarding Rabban Gamliel to help the reader understand why exemptions may be acceptable. A recently-married man is exempt from saying the Shema as he may be anxious about his wedding. (2:5) However, if he is able to properly dedicate himself to God in prayer, he should recite it regardless of the exemption. (2:8) A person who is currently mourning the death of a relative is exempt from saying the Shema and from wearing tefillin. (3:1) Funeral attendees who can see the mourner should not recite the Shema so that the mourner does not feel uncomfortable for not saying it. [1] Women, slaves and children are exempt from the recital of the Shema and from wearing tefillin, but are not exempt from the Amidah, affixing a mezuzah ("doorpost") and Birkat Hamazon. [2]

The Amidah

Chapters 4 and 5 of the tractate address the subject of the Amidah, another important prayer of Judaism which is central to Jewish prayer services.

Daily Prayers

Shacharit ("morning prayers") can be said until the end of the first third of the day. Mincha ("afternoon prayers") can be at any time from 30 minutes after noon until sunset. Ma'ariv ("evening prayers") can be at any time after sunset, but before dawn. Musaf ("additional prayers") can be at any time from dawn until the seventh hour of the day. (4:1) One should study Torah after prayer services in the synagogue, offering two short prayers when he enters and leaves the library. (4:2)

How to say the Amidah

One must say the Amidah every day, but may abbreviate it. (4:3) One who makes his praying a mechanical task is not praying. When one enters a dangerous situation, he or she should say a short prayer for safety. (4:4) If one is riding a donkey, he must dismount to say the Amidah. If he cannot dismount, he must turn his head towards Jerusalem. If he cannot do that, he must turn his heart to God. This also applies to one travelling on a ship or in a wagon. (4:5, 4:6) Musaf must always be said on the days it is required regardless of whether or not there is a minyan ("quorum") present. (4:7) One should not say the Amidah if he or she is not serious about what he or she is doing. (5:1) The Musaf of Pesach ("Passover") must include a prayer for rain. (5:2)

Leading prayer

If one makes an error while leading a congregation in saying the Amidah, a substitute must pick up where the person left off. (5:3) The prayer leader should not respond "amen" to the prayers he is leading. (5:4) When one who prays (either for oneself or as a prayer leader) makes a mistake, it is a bad omen for him. If he is a prayer leader, it is also a bad omen for those who appointed him. (5:5)

Blessings for food

Chapter 6 is concerned with the various blessings used before consuming different kinds of food.

Blessings for different types of food

There are special blessings for fruits, vegetables, bread and wine. (6:1) There is also an all-inclusive blessing that can be used if one is unsure of what blessings to say. [3] The all-inclusive blessing should be used for all things which do not directly come from the earth, such as milk, fish and eggs. [4] If one has many different kinds of food to say blessings for, he or she may choose as many to say the blessings for as he or she wishes and the blessings said will suffice for all of the rest. [5]

How to make a blessing over food

One blessing over a particular food is sufficient for the entire meal and does not need to be repeated. [6] A communal meal only needs one set of blessings for the entire group, but individuals dining together (albeit not as a group) must say the blessings individually. [7] The food of primary importance is the one which a blessing is said for. For example, if one is eating a sandwich, the blessing for the sandwich's contents would be said rather than the blessing for the bread. [8] One who drinks water should make a blessing over the water with the all-inclusive blessing. [9]

Birkat Hamazon

Chapter 7 is concerned with Birkat HaMazon, the prayer said by Jews after a meal is completed.

Figs, grapes or pomegranates do not require the full Birkat Hamazon, but rather an abbreviated form. [9] If a group of three or more people eat together, they must say Birkat Hamazon. [10] Women, slaves and minors must not be included when counting for the requirement of three mentioned in the previous mishnah. An olive's quantity of food is sufficient to require saying the prayer. [11] The number of people present does not change the blessing that begins Birkat Hamazon. [12] If three are dining together, they should not separate until they are finished with Birkat Hamazon. If a person is dining alone, he should join another group so that they may say Birkat Hamazon together. [13]

Kiddush and Havdalah

Chapter 8 is concerned with Kiddush, the sanctification of Shabbat and Jewish holidays and Havdalah, the concluding ceremony of Shabbat.

Kiddush

When saying Kiddush, the blessing over the wine (or over the bread) precedes the blessing over the day. [14] One does not need to wash his hands before saying Kiddush but he should wash them after. [15] The towel used to wash one's hands should not be placed on the tabel, lest it and anything that comes into contact with it be rendered ritually unclean. [16] Following the meal, all the crumbs in the dining room should be thoroughly swept up, then those involved should wash their hands. [16]

Havdalah

If one dines just before the end of Shabbat, one should wait until after having said the blessing for fire (part of the Havdalah ceremony) before saying the Birkat Hamazon. [17] One should not say the Havdalah blessing until the flame is large enough that the person can see reasonably well by its light. [18]

Special Blessings

The ninth and final chapter of the Masechta discusses various special blessings that can be made, such as upon coming across a place where a miracle was performed, or upon seeing thunder or lightning.

See also

References

  1. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 45–46. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  2. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. p. 46. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  3. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 56–57. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  4. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 57–58. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  5. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. p. 58. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  6. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 58–59. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  7. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. p. 59. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  8. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 59–60. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  10. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 61–62. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  11. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. p. 62. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  12. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 62–63. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  13. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. p. 64. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  14. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. p. 65. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  15. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. p. 66. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  17. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. p. 67. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 
  18. Blackman, Philip (2000). Mishnayoth Zeraim. The Judaica Press, Ltd.. pp. 67–68. ISBN 0-910818-00-2. 

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