Guest post by R. Aryeh A. Frimer
Rabbi Aryeh A. Frimer is the Ethel and David Resnick Professor of Active Oxygen Chemistry at Bar Ilan University (E-mail) and has written extensively on the status of women in Jewish law; see: bermanshul.org/frimer.
I continue to be amazed each time a very old fact is resurrected and rehashed, and presented if it were a brand-new piece of evidence. This time it was Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative), who cited a 1471 siddur transcribed by the scribe, polemicist and geographer R. Abraham Farissol for an Italian patroness. This siddur, that has been known and studied for decades, contains the text: “she-asatani isha ve-lo ish – who has created me a woman and not a man.” Schonfeld goes as far as to maintain that “[this] siddur has revealed an early example of egalitarian Jewish prayer, presenting historical attempts to battle gender inequality… This Siddur proves that the degrading attitudes towards women, which we are seeing in certain extreme religious communities in Israel today, are a modern distortion of Judaism.” (link).
Schonfeld’s statement is astounding for a variety of reasons:
It is not at all clear as to why Schonfeld considers the benediction “she-lo asani isha” a reflection of inauthentic Judaism. On the contrary, there is no doubt as to the authenticity of the text of this benediction – since it appears thrice in Rabbinic literature: in the Tosefta, the Talmud Bavli and the Yerushalmi. Despite the fact that all Jews share the same level of kedushat Yisrael (Jewish sanctity), Jewish law, nevertheless, distinguishes between the obligations of kohanim (priestly clan), leviyim (Levites) and yisraelim (other Israelites), as well as between males and females. Women are generally freed from mitsvot asei she-ha-zeman gramman (time-determined positive commandments), which include, inter alia: sukka, lulav, shofar, tefillin and tsitsit – and this exemption is deemed to be biblical in origin. This lack of identity between the religious obligations of men and women leads us to the inescapable conclusion that Judaism is most definitely not egalitarian. Both the Tosefta and the Yerushalmi make it clear that the “she-lo asani isha” benediction is related strictly to men’s greater obligation in commandments – not to any inherent added value or worth men have over women.
In addition, while the Farissol siddur is a curious piece of liturgical history, Farissol’s reading “she-asatani isha ve-lo ish” is totally absent from the well-documented Italian rite. This clearly indicates that it was completely rejected by mainstream Jewish liturgy.
Finally, I wonder why Schonfeld finds Farissol’s reading of any halakhic import? We know nothing of R. Farissols’s halakhic credentials or his halakhic underpinnings. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, neither he, nor any of his religious rulings, has been cited authoritatively anywhere in the halakhic literature.
As to the intent and import of “she-lo asani isha” benediction, the reader is referred to several recent articles and posts.
 B.T. Menahot 43b; J.T. Berakhot 9:1; and Tosefta Berakhot 6:18.
 For further discussion, see: Aryeh A. Frimer and Dov I. Frimer, “Women’s Prayer Services: Theory and Practice. Part 1 – Theory,” Tradition, 32:2 (Winter 1998), pp. 5-118, text following note 25. PDF file available online at: link (PDF). In Resp. Iggerot Moshe, O.H. VI, sec 2, R. Feinstein notes that – though their obligations are similar, a non-Jewish slave, unlike a woman, cannot recite a berakha on the performance of a mitsvat aseh she-hazeman gramma. This is because his kedushat yisrael is limited to what he is obligated in. On the other hand, a woman has full kedushat yisrael, but was partially exempted from the performance of specific mitsvot.
 See: R. Saul J. Berman, “The Status of Women in Halakhic Judaism,” Tradition, 14:2 (Fall 1973), pp. 5-29.
 See: Mishna Kiddushin 1:7; Tosefta Kiddushin 1:10; Talmud Kiddushin 29a, and Kiddushin 33b and ff.
 The same comments are true for George Jochnowitz’s Judeo-Provencal prayerbook (Roth Manuscript 32) with a similar formulation; see George Jochnowitz, “…Who Made me a Woman,” Commentary, April 1981; pp. 63-64; George Jochnowitz, “Women’s Blessings,” Commentary, October 1981, Reader Letters.
 Aryeh A. Frimer, “Feminism and Changes in Jewish Liturgy: A Review of Rabbi Prof. Daniel Sperber’s On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations,” Hakirah, XII (Fall 2011) 65-87 – available online here: link (PDF) . This paper was reprinted without notes under the title “The Wrong Changes in Jewish Liturgy,” Hirhurim – Musings, October 11, 2011, available online at: link.