This week’s Parsha, Parshat Tazria, begins with the purity and impurity laws of a yoledet, a woman who gives birth. A woman postpartum, according to the Torah, goes through two time periods: one with a stricter set of laws in which she is unable to be with her husband or to visit the mikdash and a second one in which she is unable to enter the mikdash, yet is allowed to be with her husband. (Nowadays, the laws are different due to Rabbinic decrees, of which I will not elaborate on in this dvar torah.) The postpartum impurity varies in length between a woman who has a baby boy and a woman who has a baby girl. When a woman gives birth to a boy, she is tamei for seven days and prohibited from visiting the mikdash for an additional 33 days. When a woman gives birth to a girl, she is tameifor 14 days and prohibited from visiting the mikdash for an additional 66 days. Many commentators tackle the obvious question: why is there a difference between the lengths for a girl and a boy?
There are many, many explanations given to this question; I would like to focus on one. The Gemara in Nidah 31b states the following: “Why did the Torah require seven days of waiting for a boy and fourteen days for a girl? All are happy when a male is born. The woman forgets her oath – in which she swore at birth that she would never be with her husband again – after seven days. . All feel sorrow when a female is born. The woman forgets her oath after fourteen days.” Clearly, the Gemara views the birth of a boy and of a girl in a radically different manner. Why do all rejoice with a boy and not with a girl? As a mother of b’h three girls (and one boy) and a teacher at a woman’s midrasha, I find the statement at first glance very difficult. My husband and I love raising our girls and certainly rejoiced when they were born. As a seminary teacher, I enjoy every moment educating women and being an active part of our unique way of thinking and analyzing (if it can be categorized that way). Is there really an inherent difference between giving birth to a boy or a baby girl? And if so, is this statement sociological, historical, economical or anthropological?
This question is compounded when examining the mitzvah of peru urvu – the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. It is quite telling that in order to fulfill this mitzvah, the Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with Beit Hillel who says that a man is required to father both a boy and a girl. The Gemara quoted the passuk “male and female he created them” as its proof, clearly showing that G-d created both genders and desires both to be on equal ground. Why then, according to the Gemara, would a couple feel sorrow at the birth of a baby girl?
This question can be answered by examining the different brachot that are said upon the birth of a child.
The first moments immediately following the birth of a child, are filled with feeling of awe and wonderment of such a miraculous occasion. Birth is a spiritual and transcending experience like no other, which forces one to ponder G-d’s glory. Therefore, naturally, there is a brachah that is appropriate for elevating such the moment.. The Gemara in Brachot 59b states that a man who hears his wife had a baby boy recites the brachah of Hatov Vehameitiv. The Shulchan Aruch in Aruch Hayim 223:1 rules accordingly, as well. The Rama adds that there is a leniency regarding this brachah practice, and many commentaries do not require Hatov Vehameitiv. The Mishnah Brurah comments that one who has a baby girl does not bless Hatov Vehameitiv even if the daughter is the first after many sons, thus, allowing the father to fulfill the mitzvah of peru urvu. Though, the Mishnah Brurah is keen to add that there is an opinion that gives one the option of reciting the brachah of Shehechiyanu upon the birth of a daughter. Once again, the difference in the brachot between a girl and a boy highlight the different reaction one should have towards having a girl and having a boy.
In the same Gemara quoted above, it states that if someone built a new house or bought new garments he should recite Shehechiyanu. If the owner must share the house or garments with others then he blesses Hatov Vehameitiv instead. The Gemara explains that this distinction between the two brachot: one makes Hatov Vehameitivwhen he has partners and a Shehechiyanuwhen the object(s) is his alone. The Rashba explains that quite literally the birth of a boy has practical out comes for the parents and the whole community while the birth of a girl does not. Once a couple has a son the parents can be rest assured that there will be someone to look after them once they pass. The son’s job, in the past, was to be financially in charge of the parents’ burial as well as the inheritor of the property. Historically, this role was extremely important and the source for much joy.
The brachah of Shehechiyanu, on the other hand, is a private brachah thanking G-d for a similar happy occasion. For example, this is the brachah that we say when we do not see our friends or relatives – both men and women – for 30 days (a difficult feat in this day in age with modern technology).
Furthermore, Rav Moshe Feinstein explains that when the Mishnah Brurah writes that it is optional to say a brachah on a girl, this applies only when the husband hears that his wife has given birth. However, Rabbi Feinstein states that a father is chayav to recite the brachah upon seeing for the first time his newborn daughter because “every man is happy when he sees his daughter.” Rav Moshe further explains that Chachamim of previous generations did not think to specifically mention this chiyuv because it is obvious that one would do so – had the Mishnah Brurah thought that others disagree with the practice of saying Shehachiyanu on a girl, he would certainly have written in favor of it. When Rav Feinstein references others, like Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who disagree with this ruling, he raises the possibility that perhaps the father is thinking about the financial responsibility of the girl – to feed her, to provide for her, to support her, and to marry her off – which could negate his “true” happiness. However, Rav Moshe dismisses these reasons and says that one should make the brachah of Shehechiyanu regardless, explaining that we should seize this opportunity to bless Hashem on this momentous occasion.
Based on the reasoning of the Rashba and Rav Moshe Feinstein, it seems as if the difference between the birth of a boy and a girl is purely a historical reason based largely on financial concerns. A boy has the potential over time to lessen the financial burden on his parents; while a girls cost to her parents only grows over time, culminating in her dowry.
Glass ceilings and all, it is doubtful if this practical difference still exists today. Thus, returning to our original question: what brachah should be made on the birth of a girl.
Many authorities such as Rav Moshe Feinstein, hold that we are required today to say Hatov Vehameitiv on a boy and Shehechiyanu on a girl. There are some authorities, however, such as Rav Beni Lau and Rav Yehuda Henkin, who say that since the financial origins for the different brachot is no longer relevant, one is allowed to say Hatov Vehameitv on a girl, as well. Regardless of which of the two brachot one chooses to say, all agree that this momentous occasion warrants some brachah to mark our feelings of awe and admiration for the ways in which G-d created us. Both the father and the mother may recite the blessing.