04. “They too Participated in that Miracle” – Pesaĥ, Purim, and Ĥanuka

  1. Yehoshua b. Levi said: Women must drink four cups of wine on the night of the Seder (Pesaĥim 108b), read the megilla (Megilla 4a), and light Ĥanuka candles (Shabbat 23a) “for they too participated in that miracle.”

There are two interpretations of this dictum: According to Rashi and Rashbam (Pesaĥim 108b; Shabbat 23a) women’s obligation stems from the fact that they participated significantly in those miracles. Regarding the Exodus the Sages said: “In the merit of the women who lived in that generation the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt” (Sota 11b). Despite the terrible slavery, the women did not lose hope of redemption; they reassured their husbands and gave birth to the next generation. The miracle of Purim, of course, transpired through Esther. The miracle of Ĥanuka began with a woman named Yehudit, who heroically beheaded the enemy governor and led to the abolition of the Greek decree of jus primae noctis (see Peninei Halakha: Zemanim, ch. 11 nn. 12-14). Thus, from a certain standpoint, women’s connection to these mitzvot supersedes that of men.

However, most commentaries understand that the words “they too” (“af hen”) indicate the primary obligation applies to men (who are obligated in time-bound positive mitzvot) and that women are obligated in the mitzva secondarily because “they too participated in that miracle” (Tosafot Pesaĥim 108b and Megilla 4a, Rashba, Ritva, Ran, Me’iri, and others).

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