Jewish Understandings of the Other: An Annotated Sourcebook
Over the millennia, Jews have sought to understand their relationships to their gentile (i.e. non-Jewish) neighbors. Many Jewish teachings generated texts that subsequent generations accepted as authoritative. Despite their authority, these texts often offer a variety of opinions. As Jews seek to understand their place in today's multi-cultural world, they do so in dialogue with these texts. Some of these texts are "difficult." The annotations accompanying them explore ways of reading and understanding them, as historical, theological and legal texts, and as received texts today.
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Liturgy: Daily Prayers: "Who has not made me a gentile."

ברוך אתה ה' א-להינו מלך העולם, שלא עשאני גוי Blessed are You, Eternal our God[1], who has not made me a gentile.

[1] To this point, this is the standard formulation of any statutory Jewish blessing.


Tosefta Berakhot 6:18 teaches in the name of Rabbi Yehuda ben Ilai (mid-2nd c. CE) that every (Jewish) man is obligated to recite three blessings daily. These express gratitude for ones station in life through the negative statements: thank God that I am not a gentile, a woman, or a slave (or in earlier formulations, a boor). This language echoes Greek prayers preserved first by Plato. Especially because this text also appears as a legal dictum in the Babylonian Talmud, Menahot 43b, these blessings, which modern scholars call the "blessings of identity," gradually became part of the preliminary prayers to the daily morning service. They are found in the earliest preserved Jewish prayer books, from the end of the first millennium, but not yet universally as public prayers.

At times, Jews have recited more positive formulations. Thus, some Palestinian-rite Jews of the late first millennium and medieval Italian Jews recited "who has made me an Israelite and not a gentile" (with parallel formulations for other blessings, and sometimes with additions, like "who has made me human and not a beast," and "who has made me  circumcised and not uncircumcised."). "Gentile" in this context is a catch-all term for non-Jew, so the intent of the person reciting this blessing correlates with the non-Jews with whom he personally interacts. Some Jews in Muslim lands recited "who made me Israelite and not Ishmaelite." (Ms. Parma 887) When Christians came to perceive that "gentile" applied to them, this blessing became for a while an object of criticism and censorship. One common solution in Italy was to maintain the positive formulation, "who has made me an Israelite" while dropping the negative "and not a gentile." In contemporary times, liberal prayer books have retrieved this positive formulation, not because the intent is different, but because the positive statement of identity cannot be understood as casting aspersions on others.


Kahn, Yoel. The Three Morning Blessings "...Who Did Not Make Me...": A Historical Study of a Jewish Liturgical Text. Ph.D. dissertation. Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, 1999.

Tabory, Joseph.  "The Benedictions of Self-Identity and the Changing Status of Women and of Orthodoxy." Kenishta: Studies of the Synagogue World 1 (2001): 107-138.

Wieder, Naphtali.  "About the Blessings 'Goy - Slave - Woman,' 'Brute,' and 'Boor'" [Heb.]. Sinai 85 (1979): 97-115; reprinted in his The Formation of Jewish Liturgy in the East and the West: A Collection of Essays [Heb.]. I:199-218. Jerusalem, 1998. 

Translation and Annotation by Ruth Langer