BIRKAT HA-MINIM


BIRKAT HA-MINIM (Heb. בִּרְכַּת הַמִּינִים, "benediction concerning heretics"), the twelfth benediction of the weekday Amidah (the Shmoneh Esreh prayer). The benediction belongs to the latter part of the Amidah petitions, which beseech the redemption of the people of Israel. Worded more like an imprecation (see Tanḥuma [Buber ed.], Vayikra 3), in its invocation of divine wrath against internal enemies to Jewish integrity and against external enemies of the Jewish people, it differs from the other petitions.

Birkat ha-Minim is also distinguished from the other Amidah benedictions by the fact that it was appended after the formulation and fixing of the Amidah text. The tradition of its secondary addition at Jabneh is shared by TJ (Ber. 4:3, 8a) and TB, which attributes its formulation to Samuel ha-Katan at the explicit request of the Nasi, Rabban Gamliel (Ber. 28b). Scholarly opinion is divided, however, with regard to the precise understanding of this process. One view holds that the tradition reflected by TB (ibid.) should be accepted literally; accordingly Birkat ha-Minim was formulated at Jabneh and added to the already existing eighteen benedictions (see Fleischer), upping the number to nineteen. Accepted in this nineteen-benediction form in the early Babylonian rite, it was subsequently transmitted from this rite to all prayer books up to the present. Others contend (see Heinemann) that Rabban Gamliel's request simply concerned the updating of an already existing benediction among the eighteen – whose content spoke out in general against separatists (see T. Ber. 3:25) – to incorporate explicit mention of the minim. This also explains why the versions of the Amidah in the Palestinian rite number only eighteen benedictions, inclusive of Birkat ha-Minim. The proponents of this view submit that the nineteen-benediction form of the Amidah in the Babylonian rite reflects a Babylonian custom of splitting the petition for the building of Jerusalem and for the coming of the Davidic messiah into two separate benedictions. In Palestine, both subjects were combined in a single benediction regarding Jerusalem.

Its exceptional importance in Christian-Jewish relations from the first century C.E. to the present has focused intense scholarly attention on this benediction. The relatively crystallized wording of the benediction in the extant early siddurim (ninth to twelfth centuries) makes it likely that the text preserved there closely resembles its original formulation. We find the following wording in a Palestinian siddur from the Cairo Genizah:

For the apostates let there be no hope. And let the arrogant government be speedily uprooted in our days. Let the noẓerim and the minim be destroyed in a moment. And let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not be inscribed together with the righteous. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who humblest the arrogant" (Schechter).

This was also the version commonly used in the Babylonian rite, in which the penultimate sentence, "And let them be blotted out," was replaced by a petition to cut off all enemies, "may all the enemies of your people and their opponents be speedily cut off." Other variants reflect a longer, more elaborated request for obliteration of enemies. The language of the benediction clearly demonstrates that it was directed, not at non-Jews in general, but rather specifically aimed against external persecutors of the Jews and against Jewish separatists who posed a danger to Judaism's internal cohesion. Nonetheless, as early as the first centuries C.E. we find church fathers voicing the claim that the Jews curse the Christians in their prayers. Such contentions, alongside censorship of siddurim, wrought significant changes in the wording of the benediction during the Middle Ages. Also contributing to this modificatory process were shifts in the social environment of the Jews and in their worldview. Without exception, the word noẓerim was expunged from all Jewish prayer rites, and in many, substitutions were made for minim (heretics) and meshummadim (apostates), as in the accepted opening in the Ashkenazi rite: "may the slanderers (malshinim) have no hope." Some Reform prayer books omit this benediction entirely.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

G. Alon, The Jews in Their Land in the Talmudic Age (70–640 C.E.) (1980), 288–307; I. Elbogen, Jewish Liturgy: A Comprehensive History. tr. R.P. Scheindlein (1993), 31–34, 45–46; E. Fleischer. "Le-Kadmoniyyut Tefillot ha-Ḥovah be-Yisrael," in: Tarbiz, 59 (1990), 435–37; D. Flusser, "Mikat ma'asei ha-Torah' u-Virkat ha-Minim." in: Tarbiz, 61 (1992), 333–74; J. Heinemann, Prayer in the Talmud: Forms and Patterns (1977), 225–26; W. Horbury. "The Benediction of the 'Minim' and Early Jewish-Christian Controversy," in: Journal of Theological Studies, 33:1 (1982), 19–61; R. Kimelman. "Birkat Ha-Minim and the Lack of Evidence for an Anti-Christian Prayer in Late Antiquity," in: E.P. Sanders (ed.), Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, vol. 2 (1981), 226–44; J.J. Petuchowski, Prayerbook Reform in Europe (1968), 223–25; S. Schechter, "Genizah Specimens," in: JQR,10 (1898), 657.

[Uri Ehrlich (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.