Peninei Halakha

09. Seder Night

Women are obligated to perform all the mitzvot of the Seder night – retelling the Exodus from Egypt, eating matza and maror, drinking four cups of wine, and reciting Hallel – for they too participated in that miracle (Pesaĥim 108b; SA 472:14; MB 479:9; see earlier in this chapter, section 4). This is only yearly occasion when women are required to recite Hallel (Tosafot, Sukka 38a). 1

Le-khatĥila, women must recline while eating matza and drinking the four cups of wine, but if they forget they need not repeat it. It is best that important women (“nashim ĥashuvot”) who forgot to recline while eating matza repeat the mitzva while reclining. 2

  1. According to Yeĥaveh Da’at 5:34, even women at home must recite Hallel with a berakha on Pesaĥ night before the start of the Seder, just like men customarily recite it in the synagogue, because it is recited in praise of the miracle. This is based on Sephardic custom, as mentioned in SA 487:4. However, according to Rema’s custom, it is not recited in the synagogue. Some say that even in Sephardic custom it should not be recited by an individual (Beit Yehuda). Accordingly, women who are at home should not say it either. Since this is a matter of uncertainty pertaining to a rabbinic enactment, halakhic practice follows the lenient opinion and women are exempt from the recitation of Hallel before the Seder night. See Mikra’ei Kodesh ch. 3 nn. 18-19, which states that many women did not know how to recite it so it is inconceivable that they would have been required to recite it while home alone.
  2. Pesaĥim 108a states that a woman need not recline if she is in her husband’s presence, with the exception of an important woman. SA 472:4 rules accordingly. (The rationale is that if reclining in the manner of free people does not reflect an inner sense of freedom, it has no purpose. This is similar to the logic behind a disciple not reclining in the presence of his rabbi without permission.) There are different opinions about what defines an “important woman” – that she is not subservient to her husband, that she is wealthy, that she is pedigreed, or that her husband does not mind if she reclines. Rema states that all women nowadays are considered ĥashuvot, but the custom is nevertheless that they do not recline, as per Raavya, who says that there is no longer a mitzva to recline at the Seder since we do not recline at formal banquets in general. In practice, all women from all communities should try to recline, because the prevailing custom goes against Raavya’s opinion on this matter, as Knesset Ha-gedola and Kaf Ha-ĥayim (28) state. Many Ashkenazic women in fact do so. But if a woman forgot to recline, she need not eat or drink again, since the mitzva of reclining is rabbinic, and there are several poskim who maintain that women are exempt, either because they are not ĥashuvot or because the view of Raavya is correct. See Ĥazon Ovadia § 14. Nonetheless, it seems that women who see themselves as important should recline while eating the Torah-mandated kezayit of matza and refrain from relying on the opinion of Raavya. (This note appears in Peninei Halakha: Pesaĥ, ch. n. 9.)

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