of Alternate B'rachot
are a special category of prayers created by rabbis in the second
or third century. In contemporary times, B'rachot and other prayers
have been reformulated, and gender-neutral English translations
appear in many prayer books. However, Hebrew is a gendered language,
and all B'rachot in the traditional liturgy still are written
in the male gender. The masculine language in Jewish prayers is
not just a matter of a grammar. Masculine imagery also is used
to describe God.
A traditional B'racha begins: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech
Traditionally translated as: Blessed are You, O Lord our God,
King of the Universe.
Hebrew God-language projects masculine metaphors of God as Lord,
master, and king. In most prayers, the holiest, ineffable name
of God (YHVH) is replaced in Hebrew by two yods. However,
the rabbis designated the name "Adonai" to be used as the
universal pronunciation of YHVH, a masculine-gender Hebrew word
meaning Lord or master. Adonai has become so associated
associated with God's name that religiously observant Jews refuse
to pronounce it unless praying or reciting from the Bible. Thus,
because of traditional liturgical usage, Adonai itself
has come to be identified with the name of God.
B'rachot attempt to use a gender-neutral image of God, and invoke
God's spirit or force rather than calling on God as King.
an alternative B'racha could begin: N'varech Ya Eloheinu Ruach
as: Let us bless Ya, our God, Spirit of the World.
alternative B'rachot begin with N'varech, or "let us bless,"
implying a partnership with God rather than simply describing
God as a blessed deity. The partnership of humans and God is considered
necessary for Tikkun Olam, or restoration and healing in the world.
is an ancient name for God, a shortened form of YHVH, the name
of God to be held in awe and to remain unuttered. The word YHVH
is related to the Hebrew root "hayah," meaning "to
be," or "to exist." When Moses spoke to the burning
bush and asked the Being to whom he spoke for a name, the reply
came back: "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh," I am what I am. Tell
them I AM has sent you." The word, Ya, symbolizes God
as a Being Who is abstract and unknowable, without a limiting
of the word Eloheinu emphasizes that Ya is "our God,"
in contrast to other idolic gods in ancient times, who frequently
had names containing derivatives of "El." Both Ya and
Eloheinu are gender-neutral descriptors.
The image of God as King of the Universe (Melech ha-Olam) may
have been appropriate in ancient times, when kings often were
regarded as ominipotent or even divine. However, the concept of
G-d as a spirit or force is more intimate and meaningful in the
twenty-first century. Thus, the alternative B'rachot often invoke
Ruach, or God's spirit, from Genesis 1:2: V'ruach Elohim
m'rachefet al p'nei hamayim, "God's spirit hovered over the
face of the deep." Ruach is translated as Spirit or
Soul, but can also mean "life's breath," or the force
that gives life to all. The word Ruach is grammatically
neutral in Hebrew, either masculine or feminine, so either feminine
or masculine gender may be used for the remaining words in the