April 14, 2024
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The ‘Baruch She-Petarani’ Blessing

The above blessing is not in the Talmud or the Geonim. When did the practice of reciting it in shul when one’s son is age 13 start? (I am basing this column on the scholarly book: “Bar Mitzvah: A History,” by Michael Hilton, 2014).

Our starting point is a passage at Gen. Rab. 63:10 regarding Yaakov and Esav.

“And the youths grew up” (Gen. 25:27). Rabbi Levi made an analogy to a myrtle and wild rosebush that grew next to each other; when they had grown, one gave forth scent and the other thorns. So too with these, for thirteen years they both went to school and came back from school, but after thirteen years this one went to study-houses and this one went to idolatrous temples. Rabbi Elazar said, until thirteen years a person needs to take care of their children—from this age onwards (“mi-kan va-eilech”) he needs to say: ‘Blessed is the one who has exempted me from the punishment of this one.’”

The R. Elazar cited above is probably an Amora who lived in Israel. (There are different readings as to the precise name of the Sage.)

In theory one could look at this source and argue that the recital of our blessing has a long history and dates from the Land of Israel in the Talmudic period and for some reason was not recorded until many centuries later.

But we have no evidence of anyone saying this blessing in a public setting, or anywhere at all, until 11th-century Germany. (Of course, anyone could have looked at the above passage and decided to recite the above phrase to himself at any time. There is no way of tracking this.)

More importantly, we do not have to view R. Elazar as giving an instruction of halacha. Probably all he meant was: this is what one should think (=say to himself) from that point on.

The use of the phrase “mi-kan va-eilech” supports the idea that we are not getting an instruction to recite something at a specific time and that this is merely an instruction to have a certain attitude from that point on. Even if it is a suggestion for a recital, the recital could be any time.

So when did people start reciting our blessing? Here is the evidence that we have:

—SeferHa-Ittur, laws of Milah (Provence, 12th cent.): “There are places where, when he reaches 13, one recites “be-shem” (with God’s name?) “she-petarani mei-onsho shel zeh.”

—R. Judah b. Yakar (Provence, 12th cent.): “If someone has a son, and he raises him to age 13, he recites: ‘Baruch Ha-Makom she-hatzileini mei-onsho shel zeh.’ ”

—A passage perhaps by R. Yehiel of Paris (13th cent.) states that the above blessing must be recited the first time the son reads the Torah and cites R. Yehuda b. Baruch as doing this, and adds that this blessing is a חובה. (He uses the word פדתני instead of פטרני.) R. Yehuda b. Baruch lived in Germany in the 11th cent. and was a student of R. Gershom (d. 1028). (Customs from Germany often spread to France, but Hilton questions whether this story about R. Yehuda is true.)

—R. Avigdor Tzarfati (13th cent.?): “It is a duty to recite this blessing over one’s son when he is 13 years and one day old, when he stands up to read from the Torah.” This source also mentions that the father is to place his hands on his son’s head while reciting it.

—R. Aharon Ha-Kohen of Lunel (13th cent.) mentions the blessing in his Orchot Hayim. He writes that some recite it the first time their son is called to read from the Torah. Then he cites “R. Yehudai” as having done this. (Often “R. Yehudai” is a reference to R. Yehudai Gaon of the 8th cent. But more likely this reference is to the 11th-cent. figure mentioned above.)

—R. Shimshon b. Tzadok (Germ., 13th cent.) served as an attendant to R. Meir b. Rothenberg. In his work about the practices of R. Meir, he writes that when one’s son reaches the age of 13, one is required to recite this blessing.

—Maharil, Germany, d. 1427: Minhagei Maharil was written by a pupil of his. Here it is written that Maharil made this blessing when his son became bar mitzvah and read from the Torah and that this practice is found in the Mordechai (Mordechai b. Hillel, 1240-1298, Germany). (Hilton writes that it is not found in our surviving writings of the Mordechai.)

Based on some of the above sources (and a few later ones), R. Moshe Isserles (16th-cent. Poland) concluded: “yesh omrim” that one whose son becomes bar mitzvah should recite this blessing. He adds that it is best to recite it without “shem and malchut.” See OH 225. (I will discuss this issue next week.)

***

I would like to briefly comment on why the critical age is 13. The idea that a boy’s status changes at age 13 is already found in the Tannaitic period. At Niddah 5:6 we learn that a boy can make a valid vow at age 13. (At Avot 5:25 we have: “ben shelosh-esreh la-mitzvot.” But exactly what the passage means is unclear and Hilton points out that it was probably not in the original Mishnah.)

Most authorities take the view that age 13 is a “halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai,” like most other halachic shiurim. More specifically, there is a requirement of two שערות and the presumption is that they are there by age 13. See, e.g., the explanation of pseudo-Rashi on Avot in the standard Talmud and R. Isserles to OH 199:10.

But an interesting statement about age 13 is found in Avot De-Rabbi Natan A, 16:2. (The statement is anonymous. It could be Tannaitic, Amoraic or even a little later.)

“They say that for the first thirteen years the Evil Urge is greater than the Good Urge. There in his mother’s womb, a person’s Evil Urge grows with him. [After he emerges into the world] he starts breaking the Sabbath, and nothing is there to stop him; killing people, and nothing is there to stop him; going out to sin, and nothing is there to stop him. After thirteen years, the Good Urge is born. Then when he breaks the Sabbath, it says to him: Empty one! Isn’t it written “One who breaks it will surely die”? When he kills, it says to him: Empty one! Isn’t it written: “One who spills the blood of a person, his own blood will be spilled”? When he goes out to sin, it says to him: Empty one! Isn’t it written: “Both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death”? When a person… goes to commit some act of lewdness, all of his limbs will obey him, because the Evil Urge rules over all 248 limbs. When he goes to perform a mitzvah, his limbs begin to grow lazy, because the Evil Urge in his stomach rules over all 248 of a person’s limbs. The Good Urge, meanwhile, is like someone trapped in a prison, as it says (Ecc. 4:14), “From the prison, he comes forth to rule”—that is the Good Urge.”

This source is telling us that age 13 is when the Good Urge begins to rule over the Evil Urge.


Mitchell First would like to wish mazal tov to Michele and Dr. Ben Cooper on the bar mitzvah of their son Asher!

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