Among the many blessings we recite is the beracha of baruch sheptarani. Like other berachos, the crux of the beracha is an expression of gratitude to Hashem.
But unlike most berachos that relate to a person’s own experience—physical pleasure, witnessing earthly phenomena, a life experience, the performance of mitzvos, and so on—the beracha of baruch sheptarani is related to a person’s son. Upon a son’s reaching bar mitzvah, the age when he accepts personal responsibility for his own mitzvah performance, a father recites a blessing over his release from “his son’s punishment.”
The primary source of this beracha is a Midrash in Parashas Toldos. The Torah describes how Yaakov and Eisav had very different character traits: “The boys grew up, and Esav became a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents” (Bereishis 25:27). Rashi explains that Yaakov turned to the path of serving Hashem in the “tent of Torah,” while Eisav turned to the path of idolatry.
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 63:10) comments on this: “For the first thirteen years of their lives, both went to school and both came from school. After thirteen years, this one went to the study halls, and this one to the houses of idolatry. Rabbi Elazar said: A person must take responsibility for his son until the age of thirteen. From then on, he needs to say: Blessed is He who exempted me from this one’s punishment.”
But what is the nature of this blessing? Is it a full beracha, like all others? Is it recited only over boys, or even over girls? When is the correct time to recite the blessing? Should mothers also recite the blessing?
We will address these questions, among others, below.
Source of the Blessing
The wording of the Midrash, as cited above, is not conclusive as to the nature of baruch sheptarani. The words “from then on” seem to imply that from the age of thirteen and on, a person should feel grateful for his son’s coming of age, but not necessarily to recite a blessing over a specific event. Yet, several early authorities interpret the Midrash as referring to a specific beracha.
One source for this is the Orchos Chaim (Rav Aharon of Lunil, Berachos no. 58), who writes that the blessing of baruch sheptarani should be made the first time the son is called up to read from the Torah. The Orchos Chaim did not innovate this, and he refers to the custom of Rabbi Yehudai, who recited the beracha when his son was first called up.
Rabbi Yechiel of Paris (no. 23) cites the same halacha in the name of Rabbi Yehuda ben Baruch (of the eleventh century; it is possible that this is the same “Rabbi Yehudai” to whom the Orchos Chaim refers), adding that “this blessing is obligatory.”
Beyond the source in the Midrash, these sources suggest that the custom of reciting the beracha is an ancient minhag Ashkenaz. Although the blessing is not mentioned by major early Poskim (such as the Rif, Rambam, Rosh, Tur, and Shulchan Aruch), it is mentioned by the Rema (Orach Chaim 225:2).
A Full Beracha
The halachic sources mentioned above suggest that the beracha of baruch sheptarani is recited as all other berachos, including Shem (the name of Hashem) and Malchus (mentioning the kingship of Hashem). This likewise emerges from the Minhagei Maharil, who includes Shem and Malchus in the blessing. The blessing is also mentioned by Shut Tashbatz (no. 390), though he does not mention if one says the Shem and Malchus.
Yet, the inclusion of Shem and Malchus in the blessing, rendering it a full beracha, seems to run against the halachic principle whereby only berachos originating in the Talmud are official and authoritative (see Rosh, Kiddushin 1:41). Due to this principle, the Leket Yosher (customs of the Terumas Hadeshen, p. 90) mentions the blessing in Aramaic, rather than in Lashon HaKodesh, so that the Name of Hashem is not mentioned in its Torah form (see also Divrei Chamudos on the Rosh, Berachos 9:5, no. 30).
After citing the beracha in the name of Maharil, the Darchei Moshe (Orach Chaim 225) also questions how a full blessing is recited for a beracha not mentioned in the Gemara. In keeping with the observation, the Rema (225:2) rules that the beracha should be recited without the mention of Shem and Malchus.
The Mishnah Berurah (225:8) cites the Vilna Gaon (also mentioning the Maharil) that contrary to the ruling of the Rema, the blessing should be recited as a full beracha, with Shem and Malchus. Although it does not have a source in the Gemara, the beracha (as the Mishnah Berurah mentions) does have a source in the teachings of Chazal (the previously cited Midrash).
Many authorities agree to recite the blessing in full (see Chayei Adam 65:3; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 61:5; Aruch Hashulchan 225:4; Siddur Baal Hatanya), but others rule like the Rema (see Kaf Hachaim 225, 15; Chazon Ish, Orchos Rabbeinu 3 page 224; Halichos Shlomo, Tefilla 23, 40). The common custom is to recite the beracha without mentioning the name of Hashem, and to simply state: “Baruch sheptarani me-onsho shel zeh.”
What Does the Beracha Mean?
What does the beracha of baruch sheptarani actually mean? For what are we expressing gratitude to Hashem? The Magen Avraham (225:5) offers two different interpretations of the blessing.
The first explanation he gives is that until the age of Bar Mitzvah a father is responsible for the misdeeds of his son, since he is charged with his upbringing. This means that the father is also held accountable for the son’s misdeeds. After Bar Mitzvah, the father is no longer liable to punishment on account of his son, because “he is obligated to strengthen his own self in Torah and mitzvos” (Mishnah Berurah 7). Upon his release from responsibility and accountability, the father makes the blessing of baruch sheptarani.
The Mishnah Berurah adds that the father retains a degree of responsibility for his son: “Know, that although he is no longer responsible for his chinuch, the father remains obligated to chastise his son whenever necessary, and if he fails to do this he is held responsible.” Yet, this responsibility is not unique with respect to a person’s children, but applies to anybody under our direct influence. The blessing of baruch sheptarani is therefore made upon a father’s release from his special responsibility towards his child.
A second interpretation, which the Magen Avraham cites from the Levush, is that until now the son was liable to be punished for the misdeeds of his father. After his Bar Mitzvah he becomes an independent entity, and is no longer punished on his father’s account.
According to this second interpretation, it seems that the son, rather than the father, should be the one to make the beracha. Indeed, Shut Shoalim Vedorshim (no. 5) cites the Shach (a disciple of the Arizal, Parashas Lech Lecha) that upon reaching his Bar Mitzvah, the son recites the beracha.
However, according to the Midrash and the above authorities, it is clear that the father, and not the son, recites the blessing, raising the difficulty of how the above interpretation can apply. The Divrei Chamudos (commentary to Rosh, Berachos 9:5, no. 30) explains that if the son is punished on account of his father’s sins, it follows that the punishment will “rebound” onto the father, too, and it is therefore fitting for the father to recite the blessing. He concludes that this interpretation is somewhat strained.
Reciting the Blessing for a Daughter
Based on the two interpretations mentioned by the Magen Avraham, there is room to investigate whether the berachah is recited for a daughter who reaches the age of twelve (Bas Mitzvah), or whether it is limited, as the wording of the Midrash suggests, to sons reaching the age of thirteen.
The Peri Megadim (225, Eishel Avraham 5) explains that the question of reciting the beracha for daughters is related to one of the two interpretations above.
If the rationale behind the blessing is that the father is no longer responsible for the upbringing of his son, it can be argued that the blessing does not apply to daughters. This reasoning is based on one opinion that is cited by the Magen Avraham (343:1), according to which a father is not obligated to bring up his daughters. If, however, the rationale is that the son is no longer punished for his father’s sins, the same idea will seemingly apply to daughters. This explanation is not very satisfactory since most authorities maintain that a father is obligated to educate his daughters.
Based on the wording of the Midrash, the Radal (Glosses to the Midrash) explains that the blessing is recited for sons alone because it is specifically related to the obligation of teaching one’s son Torah. For daughters, the obligation of teaching Torah is limited to the parts of Torah of practical relevance to them, and the full responsibility of teaching a child Torah applies only to boys.
The Kaf Hachayim (225:15) upholds the ruling that the blessing is recited for sons alone, explaining how this is true according to both interpretations of the Magen Avraham.
Yet, after citing the analysis of the Magen Avraham, Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yabia Omer, Orach Chaim, Vol. 6, no. 29) writes that most rishonim opine that a person is obligated in the upbringing of his daughters, and it therefore follows that the blessing should be made even for daughters who reach Bas Mitzvah. Based on this approach both interpretations of the Magen Avraham will sanction the recitation of the blessing for daughters.
Shut Yabia Omer concludes that the blessing should be recited for daughters without Shem and Malchus. However, the custom among Ashkenaz communities is not to recite the blessing at all for a girl who becomes Bas Mitzvah. As explained below, another possible reason why the beracha is not recited for daughters is that daughters are not called up to the Torah.
The Bas Mitzvah Celebration
Based on his aforementioned analysis, Rav Yosef adds that there is room to argue in favor of celebrating a Bas Mitzvah. A father experiences joy upon being released from responsibility for his daughter, and this is sufficient cause for a seudas mitzvah. He supports this position from Shut Yaskil Avdi, and even from the Ben Ish Chai.
Yet, many authorities do not concur. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:104, 2:97) writes emphatically that the seudah for a girl does not have the status of a seudas mitzvah, and strongly criticizes the practice of holding the festive meal in shul. He concludes that “if a father wishes to have a celebratory meal at home, he can do so, but there is no reason whatsoever to consider this meal a seudas mitzvah, and it is no more than a birthday celebration.”
Rav Moshe adds an explanation for why girls should be different from boys: surely girls enter the yoke of mitzvos at twelve, just as boys do at thirteen?
The explanation he offers is that unlike the public expressions of a boy’s coming of age, such as his joining a minyan and wearing tefillin, there are no public expressions for a girl becoming Bas Mitzvah. The celebration of a Bar Mitzvah comes on account of the practical demonstrations of the boy’s coming of age, and there is therefore no corresponding celebration of a Bas Mitzvah.
Should Mothers Recite the Blessing?
Do mothers recite the beracha of baruch sheptarani, or is it limited to fathers?
Based on the first interpretation offered by the Magen Avraham, the blessing of baruch sheptarani is related to the obligation of chinuch (upbringing) of a parent vis-à-vis his children. The question of a mother’s obligation to bring up her children is a subject of dispute among rishonim (Nazir 29b) and authorities, as cited by the Magen Avraham (343:1) and the Mishnah Berurah (616:5; 640:5). A mother’s recitation of the blessing will depend on these opinions.
Yet, the common custom is that mothers do not recite the beracha. Three possible reasons can be suggested for this:
The Father’s Recites for his Wife
One possible reason for why mothers do not recite the beracha this is that the father recites the blessing on their behalf, in a similar manner to the blessing of hatov veha-meitiv recited upon the birth of a baby boy. After the father has recited the blessing, there is no longer cause for the mother to recite her own blessing. However, based on this reasoning it seems that a widow, or a mother whose husband is absent, will recite the beracha herself.
Being Called Up to the Torah
Another possible reason why mothers do not recite the blessing is because the basic form of the beracha is related to the child’s being called up to the Torah (as noted above from rishnonim, who write that the blessing is made upon the son’s being called up for the first time). The connection with being called up is explained by Shut Divrei Malkiel (Orach Chaim no. 4), who writes that the blessing was instituted in a manner resembling birchas ha-gomel, which requires the presence of ten men, and which is normally (it is not required) recited in conjunction with the reading of the Torah.
The Divrei Malkiel concludes that the blessing of baruch sheptarani “must therefore be recited at the time of the Torah reading” (see also Zeh Hashulchan vol. 2, 225, who disputes the assertion that the blessing of baruch sheptarani requires a minyan, and Shut Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 7, no. 23 who upholds it). Based on this ruling, we can understand why mothers, who are not practically involved in the Torah reading, do not recite the blessing, whose form involves being called up to the Torah.
A similar principle is outlined by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shut Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim Vol. 5, no. 14) concerning the blessing of baruch sheptarani for daughters. Rav Moshe relates to birchas ha-gomel, explaining that the beracha is preferably recited upon being called up to the Torah, or immediately after the Torah reading where this is not possible. He then adds that the same principles apply to the blessing of baruch sheptarani, explaining that the beracha is not recited upon a girl’s coming of age because she is not called up to the Torah.
This explanation will aid us in understanding both why the beracha is not made for girls, and why mothers do not recite the beracha.
The Chinuch Obligation on mothers
The primary source for the obligation of chinuch on mothers is the Gemara in Sukkah (2a-b) referring to Hilni (Helena) Hamalka. While this Gemara seems to imply that women are obligated in education of their children, another source—the Gemara in Nazir (29b)—indicates that they are not obligated in chinuch, and that this obligation falls only on the father.
A possible solution to this seeming contradiction is that although women are obligated in chinuch for specific mitzvos, the overall responsibility (and therefore accountability) for the education of a child rests on the father alone. Due to this distinction, only the father recites the beracha.
Summary and Further Halachos
- The blessing of baruch sheptarani is made when a son reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah. The blessing is usually recited in shul, in front of ten men, on the occasion of the child’s first being called up to the Torah after reaching the age of thirteen. It seems that if the first opportunity is missed, the blessing can be recited up to thirty days later (based on the comparison Poskim make with birchas ha-gomel).
- The common custom is to recite the berachah without Shem and Malchus.
- Two interpretations are given for the blessing: 1. The father is released from responsibility for his son’s misdeeds; 2. The son is no longer punished for his father’s sins.
- Some deduce from the wording “this one’s punishment” that one must recite the blessing in the presence of the son (when he is called up to the Torah; see Shaarei Efraim 4:25; Shut Yad Yitzchak 3:303; Chasan Sofer, end of birkos ha-shachar). However, if this is not possible, the blessing can be recited in the absence of the son (Shut Betzel Hachochma 5:132), as the rulings of other Poskim imply.
- The blessing of baruch sheptarani is not recited for daughters. Likewise, mothers do not recite the blessing.