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I am aware that in the Talmud somewhere (but not where), there is a discussion of saying a blessing with the words changed. The conclusion is that as long as the "core" of the blessing or the central meaning is unchanged, the person praying still gets at least partial credit for having said the blessing.

My chabrusa and I disagreed on the precise meaning and implications of this. I said that this provided for groups such as the reform and reconstructionist movement to change the words of blessings without losing all credit for doing so. He argued that the rabbis' statement only accounts for unintentional word changes, such as if you say the wrong word by accident.

As an example, let us consider the gevurah prayer of the Shemoneh Esrei, where it is typical in the reform movement to replace המתים (the dead) with הכול (all). I would say that it is preferable to say המתים, but saying הכול still gets you "partial credit", as it were, because the core of the blessing, of Hashem being our support and rock who refreshes us and the world, remains. My chabrusa, on the other hand, would say that since they changed the word on purpose and it wasn't misremembering or misreading the blessing, no credit is given to someone saying the gevurah prayer with this change. [Note: Just before I submitted I realized that this may not be a good example, because someone could say "the core of the prayer is the resurrection of the dead, which is not intact with this word change, so even if the rabbis did refer to intentional changes, this particular change wouldn't be accepted. I don't have any other examples off the top of my head, though, so please answer with the assumption that any word change under discussion preserves the central meaning of the blessing in question.]

Which of us is correct?

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  • Piyutim were originally intentional changes to the wording. Then later they became just additions.
    – Heshy
    Mar 10, 2023 at 18:06

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The Talmud says that "we may not alter the coin that the Sages have minted -- En lecha reshut l'hosif 'al matbea' shetav'u chachamim bivrachot" [Berachot Y 86a]. This means that the prayers and blessings in the siddur may not be changed.

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    While true, this doesn't fully answer my question. Assume that someone ignores the rule and changes the words anyway (as we know this is being done today, this is no mere hypothetical). Do they still receive some merit for the blessing, even in the altered and diluted form, or do they receive no merit?
    – Benyamin
    Mar 10, 2023 at 18:48
  • If you are not allowed to do it, but do it anyway, why should you get any credit? Maybe a question about your punishment would be more appropriate. :-) Mar 10, 2023 at 18:57
  • Because there are lots of cases where doing something you are not supposed to do still gives partial credit and/or has some "recovery" that may be performed. If I recall, there is a case in Tractate Megillah along the lines of "A blind man cannot be called upon for such-and-such, but if he is, it is accepted". It's obviously not preferable, but it is still ultimately deemed acceptable if someone does it anyway. This is the concept of lechatchila and bedieved, which appears throughout the Talmud, and so it is not unreasonable to suggest that it may apply in this case as well.
    – Benyamin
    Mar 10, 2023 at 19:07

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