BIRKAT HA-TORAH (Heb. בִּרְכַּת הַתּוֹרָה), the blessing over the Law. The study of the Law was always regarded as a foremost religious duty and hence had to be preceded by a formula of benediction. This requirement applies both to the liturgical reading of the Torah and to ordinary study. Various formulas are given in the Talmud (Ber. 11a–b) in the name of several rabbis and all have been integrated into the traditional liturgy. These benedictions were instituted in talmudic times based upon Deuteronomy 32:3 (see TJ, Meg. 4:1, 74d) and by a fortiori inference from the duty to recite Grace after Meals (TJ, Ber. 7:11a; TJ, Meg. loc. cit.). Three blessings over the Law are pronounced at the beginning of the daily morning prayer. The first praises God for granting Israel the privilege and the duty of studying Torah; the second is a prayer that the study of Torah may be pleasant and that it should be cultivated by one's offspring and the whole house of Israel; the third is identical to the benediction recited before the Reading of the Law in the synagogue service: "Who has chosen us from all nations and hast given us Thy Law." They are followed by selections from Scripture (Num. 6:24–27), the Mishnah (Pe'ah 1:1) and the Talmud (Shab. 127a), recited in symbolic fulfillment of the duty to study Torah. Jacob b. Asher interpreted the words "Torah of truth" to refer to the written Torah, and the words "everlasting life" to refer to the oral tradition. These benedictions contain 40 words, said to symbolize the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai (Tur OH 139). The benedictions over the Law have uniform wording in all modern rituals, including that of Reform Judaism. Only the Reconstructionist trend, which repudiates the notion of the election of Israel, has changed the wording of the middle part of the benediction to read "who hast brought us close to Thy service" instead of "who hast chosen us."
ET, 4 (1952), 615–31; J. Heinemann, Ha-Tefillah… (1964), 105–8; E. Levy, Yesodot ha-Tefillah (19522), 130, 315–6; Hertz, Prayer, 12–17, 190–3; E. Munk, World of Prayer (1961), 41–49, 174–5.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.