למינים ולמלשינים אל תהי תקווה
“Let there be no hope for heretics and traitors …”
The Amida was composed around the Fifth Century before the common era. The Amida is also known as “Shemona ‘esre,” which means “eighteen” in allusion to the eighteen blessings it contains. But in reality, the Amida we say today contains nineteen blessings, not eighteen! Around the year 100 of the common era, more than 500 years after the Amida was formulated, Rabban Gamliel (the second) and his rabbinical court decided to add a blessing in the Amida – which is the Berakha we are exploring today– and he commissioned this mission to one of his students, Shemuel haQatan. This berakha is known as Birkat haMinim, the prayer in which we ask for God’s help to deal with those who wish to destroy Israel, physically or spiritually.
Maimonides (MT, Tefila, 2: 1) explains the reason why Rabban Gamliel added this blessing in the Amida .
בימי רבן גמליאל רבו המינים בישראל, והיו מצֵירין לישראל ומסיתין אותן לשוב מאחרי ה ..וכיון שראה שזו גדולה מכל צורכי בני אדם, עמד הוא ובית דינו, והתקין ברכה אחת וקבע אותה בתפילה
“In the times of Rabban Gamliel the heretics multiplied in the Jewish people, and made the people of Israel suffer and tried to persuade them to turn away from Hashem … Rabban Gamliel saw that [getting rid of] the heretics was [in that moment] the most urgent need of the people, and composed a [new] blessing and established it the Amida … “
At that time there were many “sects” among Jews: Yehudim who, for example, did not believe in our oral tradition (tsadoqim), made fun of rabbis and tried to persuade other Jews to abandon traditional religious practice. This is also the time in which a group of Jews became “apostles”, which according to Matthew were the men chosen by Yeshu as “fishers of men” to spread the Christian message among gentiles and other Jews. As we well know, over time, this religious proselytism turned into “religious persecution”, initiated, ironically by the converted Jews. That is why this berakha refers not only to heretics in the field of “theological doctrine” (these are the MINIM), but also to the political field (these are the MALSHINIM, i.e., “made the people of Israel suffer” ), those members of the Jewish people, the first Christians, the Samaritans and other groups, who joined the enemy, Rome, to fight against Israel.
What is clear is that, as Rabbi Enoch Zundel (died in 1867) explains in his commentary “‘Anaf Yosef”, this Berakha does not refer to the Gentiles, but particularly to the internal traitors among the Jewish people.
But who qualifies today for this shameful categorization? Who are the heretics? Are we praying in this Berakha for the eradication of those Jews who do not fully observe the Torah? Absolutely not! The Tora and the Sages of Israel taught us to have much understanding for those Yehudim who, for different reasons, do not fully comply with all Mitzvot (tinoq shenishba ben hagoyim). In fact, it is our duty to inspire all our Jewish brothers and sisters and bring them closer to HaShem, with affection and patience, and in no way desire their suppression.
I think that in our day, this Berakha is destined to two very specific types of “treason”.
MINIM (Heretics), “Religious Betrayal”, alludes to Jews who left Judaism, converted to another religion and now devote all their efforts to proselytism, trying to convert other Jews to their new beliefs (Messianic Jews, Jews for Jesus, and so on). These individuals, who try to hide their intentions, and who take advantage of their Jewish condition to give more credibility to their reprehensible mission to remove their brothers from the Tora, cause irreparable damage to the people of Israel, and are beyond any possibility of repentance or redemption.
MALSHINIM (traitors), “National or political treason,” refers to those Jews who join the “political” enemies of Israel. In our day, for example, those who want to destroy the State of Israel. Unfortunately, and although they are not that many, there are Jews (such as “שוברים שתיקה” or even some observant Jewish groups!) who betray Israel, or join nations like Iran, which openly express their intention to destroy Israel. A Jewish group or individual who aligns with those who try to wipe Israel from the map, has crossed a red line that leaves him or her beyond the possibility of return (teshuba). That is why we DO NOT pray for their repentance or redemption, since the harm they have done to the cause of the people of Israel is irreparable.
In this Berakha, then, we ask for HaShem ‘s assistance, asking that He takes care of the Yehudim who betray the Tora and have turned against their own People. Because there is little we can do to defend ourselves from the disloyalty of “our own brothers”
David ben Yehezqel
Yosef ben Reuben