The Three Blessings

Boundaries, Censorship, and Identity in Jewish Liturgy

by

Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780195373295
  • 9780199706433
In the traditional Jewish liturgy, a man thanks God daily for not having been made a gentile, a woman, or a slave. Yoel Kahn traces the history of this prayer from its extra-Jewish origins to the present, demonstrating how different generations and communities understood the significance of these words.Marginalized and persecuted groups used this prayer to mark the boundary between "us" and "them," affirming their own identity and sense of purpose. After the medieval Church seized and burned books it considered offensive, new, coded formulations of the three blessings emerged as forms of spiritual resistance. Book owners voluntarily expurgated the passage to save the books from being destroyed, creating new language and meaning while seeking to preserve the structure and message of the received tradition. During the Renaissance, Jewish women defied their rabbis and declared their gratitude at being "made a woman and not a man." And, as Jewish emancipation began in the nineteenth century, Jews again had to balance fealty to historical practice with their place in the world. Seeking to be recognized as modern and European, early modern Jews rewrote the liturgy to suit modern sensibilities and identified themselves with the Christian West against the historical pagan and the uncivilized infidel.The Three Blessings is an insightful and wide-ranging study of one of the most controversial Jewish prayers, showing its constantly evolving language, usage, and interpretation over the past 2,000 years.
  • Oxford University Press; December 2010
  • ISBN 9780199706433
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF format
  • Title: The Three Blessings
  • Author: Yoel Kahn
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press
Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780195373295
  • 9780199706433

In The Press

"Yoel Kahn's work is fascinating and significant. This work will interest not only specialists in the area and scholars of religion more broadly, but also learned readers generally. The larger issues of the construction and maintenance of social and religious identity, presented here through the vehicle of liturgical and ritual enactment, are timely and important."--Richard S. Sarason, Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
"What does it signify when Jews thank God for not making them gentiles or men thank God that they are not women? Kahn's sweeping study of the evolving texts and meanings of these "blessings of identity" provides insights simultaneously into the histories of Jewish liturgy, of Jewish women, and of Christian-Jewish relations."--Ruth Langer, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, Theology Department, Associate Director, Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, Boston College
"The book is written in clear, accessible prose that should make Kahn's study available even to nonspecialists in a wide variety of settings."--Religious Studies Review
Both scholars and educated people will greatly benefit from reading The Three Blessings. It can serve as a wonderful tool for all those who wish to delve deeper into questions of liturgy and theory, the tension between the written word and religious practice, liturgical innovations as a form of linguistic resistance, and Jewish response to changing historical realities-all presented in a clear, well-documented, scholarly as well as religious voice."--Shofar

About The Author

Yoel Kahn was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and received his Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union. He is now the Rabbi of Congregation Beth El, an innovative Reform synagogue in Berkeley, California. He brings scholarship and the empathy of a practitioner to his research on the lived experience of prayer across the generations.

Subject categories
ISBNs
  • 9780195373295
  • 9780199706433