There are times when the Gemara records a halachic opinion that is supported by proof, or a halachic opinion that is supported by consensus, or a halachic opinion that is supported by authority. And then there are times when the Gemara records a non-halachic opinion of an individual scholar – which while of interest to us, should be approached differently to the other, above-mentioned instances.
I mention this because today’s daf (Pesachim 65a) includes a statement attributed to Rebbi that אשרי מי שבניו זכרים – “happy is he whose children are males”, אוי לו מי שבניו נקבות – “woe to him whose children are females”. And notwithstanding the apologetics offered to explain this statement (eg. Artscroll suggests that ‘woe’ here refers to the worry that a father constantly has given his anxiousness about such things as ‘safeguarding her chastity and marrying her off’), the clear meaning of this ‘woe’ is that having daughters is a less than ideal state of affairs.
Admittedly, not all scholars saw life through the same lens, and we are taught in Bava Batra 141a that Rav Chisda believed that ‘daughters are dearer than sons’. Still, the attitude expressed in our daf is also found elsewhere in the Talmud (see its parallel in Bava Batra 16b and Niddah 31b), and according to numerous authorities, this is the basis why the Gemara (Brachot 59a) and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 223:1) only state with reference to the birth of a son that the parent/s should recite the הטוב והמיטיב bracha. As the Netziv (Meromei Sadeh 54a) explains, ‘perhaps we must say that a daughter is not a good gift to her father as is known in the Aggadah’. Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Birkot HaNehenin 12:12) states that, ‘upon hearing [that his wife has given birth to a daughter] he does not recite any bracha because it is not good news’. And similarly, the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 223:1) writes that ‘upon the birth of a girl we do not recite this bracha because there is not so much joy [upon the birth of a girl] as there is [upon the birth] of a boy’.
Significantly, the Rambam did not codify this rule, and this led Rav Nachum Rabinovitch to explain (in his Yad Peshuta commentary to Hilchot Brachot 10:7) that: ‘…it seems that…if both he and his wife together want a son more, then they need to recite the bracha of HaTov VeHaMeitiv. But it is possible that his wife would prefer having a girl, then they should not say the HaTov VeHaMeitiv bracha. And also if the father would rather have a daughter – and this was a point of disagreement in [Gemara] Bava Batra 141a if a daughter is preferred to a son… Based on this what emerges is that if both the father and the mother prefer having a daughter, then they should recite HaTov VeHaMeitiv on the daughter, and this is the rule if they prefer having this one rather than that one. Because this law changes based on circumstance; and therefore, our teacher did not state anything explicit [about this], but rather, we can learn from the rule that every good that is for him and for others, he should recite the bracha of HaTov VeHaMeitiv.’
Reflecting on this interpretation, Rabbi Sacks explains (in his essay ‘Creativity and Innovation in Halakhah’): ‘How …are we to understand the Baraita [stating that HaTov VeHaMeitiv is recited upon the birth of a son]? It could be taken in two ways. First it could be an independent law in its own right. It could, as it were, be a halakhic stipulation that this event – unlike the birth of a daughter – demands this blessing. Alternatively, though, it could merely be understood as an example of the kind of event that is “good for oneself and others.” The baraita chooses this example because it is uncontroversial. Elsewhere the Gemara discusses whether daughters evoke as much delight as sons. Some said yes, others said no. All, then, could be assumed to take delight in the birth of a son. Not all could be assumed to feel likewise at the birth of a daughter. Rambam clearly takes the second interpretation. The baraita is an example of a general rule, not a new law. Therefore he does not codify it. It follows that if both father and mother are delighted at the birth of a daughter – if it is “good for oneself and others” – they make the blessing ha-tov ve-ha-metiv.’
It should be noted that there are those such as the Rashba (Responsa Vol. 4 No. 77) who interpret HaTov VeHaMeitiv not merely as an expression of joy but also as an expression of personal benefit, and because it was understood that a son – more than a daughter – would be more likely to financially provide for parents while they are still alive and arrange for their burial when they die, this was the reason why he believed the birth of a son alone should warrant the recitation of HaTov VeHaMeitiv.
Yet, as Sharon R. Siegel explains (in her essay ‘Reciting the “Ha-Tov ve-haMeitiv” blessing on the birth of a daughter: A Survey of Halakhic Sources’ – Tradition 44:4, 2011), ‘today, many parents feel tremendous joy upon the arrival of a newborn daughter. In addition, a daughter is now as beneficial as a son from a practical standpoint. Unlike in medieval or even more recent times, daughters today work outside the home, financially support their parents (and their immediate family), bury their parents, and inherit from them. Therefore, two key issues impacting the question of whether parents may recite “ha-tov ve-haMeitiv” on the birth of a daughter are the extent to which the personal emotions of parents and the material benefits they will ultimately accrue should be taken into account. These issues dovetail with the more technical points of how to interpret the interplay between the Gemara’s general rule and the beraita’s specific cases and how to construe the relationship between “ha-tov ve-haMeitiv” and “she-hehiyyanu.” In sum, modern decisors are left to determine how to interpret the Gemara and when to consider contemporary attitudes in resolving whether the parents of newborn girls may give thanks to the God of the universe who is Good and causes all good.’
Ultimately, the opinion found in our daf was not a lone opinion, and I believe that it should be understood – and has classically been understood – as it is read. But as mentioned, there were others who saw things through a different lens.
As for me – I am the proudest and happiest father of my five daughters Meira, Aviva, Eliana, Shoshi & Libbi, and rather than my and Donna’s life being one of אוי (woe), it is – Baruch Hashem – one of joy, gladness and wow!