Cup image from Embee's Gifs


Illustration from Darmstadt Haggadah


Woman at seder illustration from Darmstadt Haggadah

        Miriam's Cup: Alternate B'rachot

Select an
Alternate B'rachot

Candlelighting                               Matzah

Wine                                            Karpas

Washing the Hands                       Maror

Woman at seder illustration from Darmstadt Haggadah

Explantion of Alternate B'rachot

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 ha-Olam,

Traditionally translated as: Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe.

The 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.

Alternative 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.

Thus, an alternative B'racha could begin: N'varech Ya Eloheinu Ruach ha-Olam,

Translated as: Let us bless Ya, our God, Spirit of the World.

These 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.

Ya 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 description.

Insertion 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 b'racha.