Mezuzah Maven

For the week ending 7 November 2020 / 20 Heshvan 5781

Eruvin 93 - 99

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
Library Library Library

When Exempt is not Excluded

“King Saul's daughter Michal would put on tefillin, and the Sages did not object; the wife of the Prophet Yonah made regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem during the three Festivals, and the Sages did not object.”

This beraita on our daf serves as a springboard and gateway for our Rishonim and Poskim to discuss a fundamental issue in Jewish Law. We learn elsewhere in Shas that women are exempt from fulfilling a mitzvah when the mitzvah is zman grama, meaning that it is time-related. For example, the mitzvahs of shofar, lulav and succah are applicable only on specific days of the year — Rosh Hashana and Succot. Therefore, women are exempt from the obligation of fulfilling these mitzvahs.

This exemption raises two intriguing halachic questions. One is if a woman — who is exempt from time-bound mitzvahs — may nevertheless do them. Secondly, if she is permitted to do them. May she say the beracha for the mitzvah she is doing? I assume that many readers are cognizant of the fact that many women nowadays are careful to hear the shofar, take the lulav and sit in the succah — and also make the appropriate berachas.

From the behavior of Shaul’s daughter wearing tefillin (although it is a time-related mitzvah since it is not always obligatory, such as at night or on Shabbat), it appears clear that although a women is exempt, she may do the mitzvah anyway. Similarly, the same proof may be brought from behavior of Yonah the Prophet’s wife doing the mitzvah of going up to Jerusalem for the Festivals despite this also being a time-related mitzvah. As the beraita notes, the Sages did not object to their deeds, despite a possible concern, explains Rashi, that doing a mitzvah that one is not obligated in might be a transgression of “do not add to the mitzvahs of the Torah.”

However, may a woman who does a time-related mitzvah say the beracha that a man would say: "Blessed are You, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His mitzvahs, and has commanded us to do the mitzvah of lulav/succah/shofar etc.”? May a woman say “and has commanded us” if she was not personally commanded to fulfill a time-bound mitzvah?

Rabbeinu Tam’s ruling, taught in Tosefot on our daf, is that she is permitted to say the beracha. Rabbeinu Tam avers that we should correctly assume that Michal said the tefillin berachas since the Sages did not object to her actions. The words “and has commanded us” are to be interpreted as her praising Hashem for commanding the Jewish People to perform this mitzvah.

Rabbeinu Tam adds an additional support for women saying a beracha when doing a time-related mitzvah despite their exemption from the mitzvah. There is a dispute between Rabbi Yehuda and the Chachamim regarding whether or not a blind person is obligated to fulfill mitzvahs that involve doing something — such as lulav, succah and shofar. Rabbi Yehuda says that the Torah exempts a blind man from doing mitzvahs. However, elsewhere in Shas we find that a blind man may say a beracha on any mitzvah he does — despite his exempt status. Based on this, it would seem that a woman should have the same “beracha rights” when doing a time-bound mitzvah.

Other Ba’alei Tosefot, however, challenge this proof. They argue that a blind man — unlike a woman — is obligated by Rabbinical Law to fulfill the mitzvahs. Therefore, it is appropriate for him to say the beracha “and has commanded us.” He says this beracha since Hashem has commanded him to obey the Rabbis, who decreed for him to fulfill the mitzvahs. Women, on the other hand, are not obligated in time-bound mitzvahs even according to Rabbinical Law.

According to this distinction, one might ask: “Why did our Sages not obligate women in the time-bound mitzvahs, as they did the blind man in all mitzvahs? One answer that Tosafot offers is that women, at least, are obligated by the Torah to fulfill mitzvahs that are not time-bound. This obligation causes them to stand out as Jews, whereas a blind person, without the obligation decreed by our Sages, would be virtually indistinguishable from non-Jews due to their total exemption.

When it comes to halacha, however, a blind person is, in fact, obligated in all mitzvahs by Torah Law. This is the ruling of the Chachamim, who do not agree with Rabbi Yehuda’s ruling. The

halacha regarding women saying a beracha over time-bound mitzvahs is not entirely clear. The Beit Yosef rules in line with the view of the Rambam that they should not do so. The Rema, on the other hand, rules in accordance with Rabbeinu Tam, that women should say a beracha. (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 589:6)

Accordingly, there are differing practices in our various communities. However, it is the wide-spread custom to discourage women from the mitzvah of tefillin. Another mitzvah where we find the Poskim discouraging women from performing a time-related mitzvah is tzitzit, a mitzvah that is related to the day and not the night (see the Rambam and the Rosh). The issue with tefillin involves specific halachic requirements for tefillin, and the problem with women wearing tzitzit is that it is a daily mitzvah — unlike other mitzvahs that women are exempt from but nevertheless do. Therefore, they may be viewed by the community as desiring to “show off” and may appear as being haughty. Haughtiness (ga’avah or y’hora) is a trait that is extremely negative and is the polar opposite of one of the most desirable traits in existence — humility. (Aruch Hashulchan Orach Chaim 17)

  • Eruvin 96a

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