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What is the history behind the bracha of v'lamalshim?

  • Was there a specific ideology or group that the baracha was targeting?

  • Why would someone davening to Hashem and saying the rest of the barachos (re: ejecting a shat"z who doesn't say that bracha) take offense to this bracha? Was there an original censored nusach that obviates this issue?

  • Was this bracha always called birkas haminim, or was there an earlier reference that was censored?

  • Which famous people were minim and what were their practices?

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As Elbogen notes (p45) "No benediction has undergone as many textual variations as this one, some through the natural effect of changing times, and others through censorship. It is most doubtful that we will ever be in a position to recover its original text" – Curiouser May 22 '11 at 20:44
Do any of the Brachot of Shemone Esrei have 'Official Titles'? What does that even mean? – Double AA Jun 14 '12 at 19:01
up vote 5 down vote accepted

According to the gemara (Berachos 28b), this b'racha originated in the time of R' Gamliel of Yavneh and was composed by Shmuel Hakatan. To answer your questions:

  • R' Gamliel, as quoted by the gemara there, said "כלום יש אדם שיודע לתקן ברכת הצדוקים", implying that the purpose of the b'racha was against the Sadducees. However, the text of the gemara is quoted differently by different sources. Rambam (Tefilla, 2:1) writes the reason for this b'racha as "בימי ר"ג רבו האפיקורוסין בישראל והיו מצירים לישראל ומסיתין אותן לשוב מאחרי השם", and Kesef Mishna there quotes the above gemara with "האפיקורוסין" instead of "הצדוקים". Others, when referring to the gemara, used the term "מינים". These terms are more general for those with heretical beliefs.

    R' Elie Munk, citing Halachos Gedolos, Machzor Vitry, and Rashi's uncensored commentary on the gemara, writes that Christianity was clearly the purpose of this b'racha, as is also indicated by the time period in which it was written.

    However, זדים were also included in the b'racha to pray for their demise. They are the blatant evildoers (פושעים) within the Jews. (See Megilla 17b)

  • According to the gemara (Berachos 29a), the reason we "eject" the sh'liach tzibbur if he skips (or perhaps even hesitates at) this b'racha is because we suspect he is a מין himself.

    Some may be offended by this b'racha because it is a prayer for the demise of other human beings. However, the Gra's nusach is to say "וכל הרשעה כרגע תאבד" instead of "וכל עושי רשעה", to pray for the destruction of the evil instead of the evildoer.

  • This b'racha is generally called ברכת המינים, or ברכת האפיקורסים, or ברכת הצדוקים, depending on your version of the gemara in b'rachos. Some call it ברכת המשומדים, though, as many texts have the b'racha beginning with "ולמשומדים אל תהי תקוה". The Tur (OC 118) calls this b'racha קללת המינים.

  • The gemara above, in its discussion of whether we suspect people of heretical beliefs, brings the case of R' Yochanan Kohen Gadol, who after many years of faithful service, became a צדוקי.

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Close call, but checkmark for the extra resources in #1. Although the gemara seems to imply that the bracha preexisted R'Gamliel in some form (which may have been free-form) and R' Gamliel was looking for someone who knew how to be "mesakein" it. I haven't looked into this too much, that's just a cursory reading. – YDK May 22 '11 at 6:07
  1. Rashi (Megillah 17b, ד"ה כלו הפושעים) identifies them as people שאינם מאמינין בדת משה שהיתה מן השמים - who deny the Divine origin of the Torah. By comparison, in a different context, Rambam (Hil. Teshuvah 3:7) defines "minim" as people who deny some aspect of Hashem's divinity - His existence, individuality, noncorporeality or infinite existence, or who worship intermediaries between themselves and Him.

    According to Rashi, then, I'm not sure what identifiable historical movement would be the target of this berachah - the earliest author I know of who questions this principle was Chivi Habalchi, in the era of the Geonim. According to Rambam, on the other hand, the early Christians might well be described as minim, on the grounds of the fifth item in his list.

  2. This berachah, for obvious reasons, has indeed suffered heavily from censorship over time. Still, though, we do see that it asks for the punishment and defeat of the minim (it is in fact the only berachah in Shemoneh Esrei where we ask for something negative like that). Even a min does believe in Hashem (at least in some distorted version), so he might indeed balk at reciting such a blessing and thereby cursing himself - and we'd eject him for precisely that reason: we don't want anything to do with such a person (the halachah about minim, after all, is that מורידין ואין מעלין).

  3. The standard edition of the Gemara (Berachos 28b-29a) calls it ברכת הצדוקים, and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 126:1) calls it ברכת המלשינים. And Rambam's version (at the end of Sefer Ahavah, in Yemenite manuscripts) begins ולמשומדים. So it's hard to tell what's the original name.

  4. Don't know how famous they are, but the Gemara mentions a couple of people named Yaakov who are identified as minim: "Yaakov of Kfar Sechanyah" (Avodah Zarah 17a and 27b), a contemporary of R' Eliezer and R' Yishmael (early 2nd century); and another one (ibid. 27b) who was a contemporary of R' Abahu (late 3rd century).

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shouldn't that be maalin, since he was yored lifnei hateivah? – YDK May 22 '11 at 5:57
@YDK: hadn't thought of that meaning of the word. מורידין ואין מעלין has a different meaning - see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 425:5. It has to do with finding a min in a life-or-death situation. – Alex May 23 '11 at 15:34
Ah. I thought you were borrowing from the gemara in brachos- hebrewbooks.org/shas.aspx?mesechta=1&daf=29&format=pdf – YDK May 23 '11 at 20:01

I found this University based research paper regarding versions the bracha. The paper should be intellectually divided between facts (e.g. artifacts found in places like the Cairo geniza) and hypotheses which are good guesses, but should be taken as such.

Interestingly, Notzrim are mentioned in most versions, and so are minim, implying that they are different. So perhaps the minim are tzedukim. It's not clear what the original version was (the paper suggests it was the 6th skeletal version), but it may be a catch all bracha that changed over time according to the circumstances. (It's not clear from the Gemara what Shmuel hakatan did, but it sounds like the idea of the bracha existed previously and Raban Gamliel was looking for a mesorah for the nusach.)

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Not even 5 years have passed and your link already expired;) Any chance of rerouting it? – Loewian Mar 16 at 4:47

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