Chapter 23: Some Laws Concerning the Holidays and Festivals

01. Rosh Ĥodesh and Birkat Ha-levana

These laws are numerous; hence, we shall mention but a few that pertain to women.

It is a mitzva to have an expansive Rosh Ĥodesh meal (SA 419:1). One may perform any type of labor on Rosh Ĥodesh; however, women customarily reduce their workload a bit on Rosh Ĥodesh. This is a noble custom, because Rosh Ĥodesh is considered a minor holiday for women, a reward for not having participated in the sin of the Golden Calf (SA 417:1; MB 3; this is explained at length in Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 1:6-7).

Women are exempt from Birkat Ha-levana (a monthly blessing on the moon), since it is a time-bound mitzva. Although according to Ashkenazic custom women may recite such berakhot, the widespread custom is that women do not recite this berakha (MB 426:1). 1

  1. This berakha is reciting on the waxing moon. For Ashkenazim, this is from the third day of the month until the full moon, and for Sephardim it is from the seventh of the month until the full moon. Women are therefore exempt; so state MA and MB 426:1. Ĥokhmat Shlomo challenges this by noting that the berakha does not depend on time but on the phase of the moon, for we may only give thanks for it when it is waxing, just as we may only recite She-heĥeyanu on fruit when it is newly appeared on the trees. However, a distinction can be made between the two cases: She-heĥeyanu is recited over new fruits and depends not on a specific time but on the condition of the fruits, whereas Birkat Ha-levana completely depends on time, for time is established based on the moon. See Halikhot Beitah 16:10 and in the notes. The prevailing custom is that women do not recite it, and MB mentions the explanation of Shlah (Sha’ar Ha-otiyot 100) that women refrain from reciting this blessing because the deficiency of the moon was caused by the sin of the first woman which in turn precipitated Adam’s sin. Out of shame, women refrain from reciting the berakha on the renewal of the moon. Even though this sin was rectified when they did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf (even while the flaw persisted among men), and for this reason Rosh Ĥodesh was given to women to observe to a greater degree than men, a woman nevertheless was the direct cause of the moon’s deficiency, and therefore, out of shame, they refrain from reciting a berakha over its renewal. However, Me’iri states based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin 42a that women must recite this berakha but that since they are not familiar with the wording, they may recite a shorter version of it. See AHS 426:14. Kaf Ha-ĥayim 426:1 states that it is best for a woman to hear the berakha recited by a man.

02. Shofar and Musaf on the Days of Awe

Women are exempt from the mitzva of shofar since it is a positive time-bound mitzva, though women who wish to fulfill it earn reward. It is customary for Jewish women to fulfill the mitzva of shofar. If a man who already heard the shofar blows for women, he does not recite a berakha on their behalf. If a woman who follows Ashkenazic custom is present, she recites the berakha before the blowing, and if there are other women in attendance, they listen to her and respond “amen.” However, if all the women present follow Sephardic custom, they fulfill the mitzva without a berakha (SA 589:6; above, 2:8).

As we have learned (above, 2:9), the poskim disagree about whether women must pray Musaf. Some say that since Musaf contains a request for mercy, it is like other obligatory prayers, which, according to Ramban and most poskim, women must recite. Furthermore, since Musaf was instituted to honor the sanctity of the day, women must recite it just as they must recite kiddush (Magen Giborim). Others maintain that since Musaf is time-dependent, women are exempt from its recitation (Tzelaĥ). In practice, since it is a rabbinic commandment, halakhic practice follows the lenient opinion and women are not obligated to pray Musaf, although they may do so and are rewarded for it. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is proper that all women pray Musaf because the primary request for mercy on the Days of Awe is in Musaf.

Women fulfill Hatarat Nedarim (the annulment of vows) with the recitation of Kol Nidrei on the eve of Yom Kippur. Therefore, women should make sure to arrive at the synagogue in time for Kol Nidrei. A married woman may appoint her husband as an agent and ask him to annul her vows when he annuls his own. However, an unmarried woman may not appoint another man or woman to annul vows on her behalf (SA 239:56; Taz 46; Rav Pe’alim OĤ 4:34:5),

03. Sukkot

There are two time-bound positive mitzvot performed on Sukkot, the mitzva to sit in the sukka and the mitzva to take the lulav, and women are exempt from both. If they wish to perform them, they earn reward. According to Ashkenazic custom, they recite a berakha on the performance of these mitzvot, and according to Sephardic custom no blessing is recited on sitting in the sukka, though with regard to lulav, some recite a berakha and some do not. Every woman should continue following her custom. 1

It is a mitzva to rejoice on this festival through nice clothing and nice jewelry as well as through meat, wine, and other delicacies that bring joy (SA 529:2; Peninei Halakha: Mo’adim 1:10). It is a mitzva on Ĥol Ha-mo’ed as well to be happy, dress nicely, and eat good food (MT, Laws of Yom Tov 6:17 and 22; MB 530:1; Peninei Halakha: Mo’adim 10:3).

  1. According to Ĥida and Zekhor Le-Avraham (as cited in Kaf Ha-ĥayim 17:4 and 589:23), women recite a berakha when taking the lulav. This is also the position of Rav Pe’alim (vol. 1, Sod Yesharim 12) and R. Messas (Shemesh U-magen 2:72:3) regarding lulav, and this was the practice in the family of R. Ovadia Hadaya. In contrast, according to SA, they do not recite a blessing. Yeĥaveh Da’at 1:68 and Yabi’a Omer 1:38-42 and 5:43 strongly support the custom of SA not to recite a berakha and mention that some Ashkenazic poskim, including Ĥakham Tzvi and Divrei Ĥayim, ruled against reciting this berakha. See above, 2:8, and n. 9 and Peninei Halakha: Sukkot 5:6.

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).

5. Ĥanuka

As we have learned, women are obligated to light Ĥanuka candles, for they too participated in that miracle. A married woman fulfills her obligation through her husband’s lighting, and a daughter by her father’s. However, if the husbands or fathers do not light, either because they are not home or for another reason, the wife or daughter must light. A woman who lives alone must light her own candles.

A daughter who lives in her father’s house may light with a berakha according to Ashkenazic custom, even though her father already lit. According to Sephardic custom, only the head of household lights in the home (see Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 12:3-4 and n. 2).

Women customarily do not work while the Ĥanuka candles are burning, to demonstrate that these lights are for the sake of a mitzva and not for any utility and because the Ĥanuka miracle began with Yehudit, giving this holiday a higher status for women – akin to that of Ĥol Ha-mo’ed. According to the first reason, cooking and frying are forbidden at this time, because perhaps the light of the candles will assist the performance of these actions. According to the second reason, only actions forbidden on Ĥol Ha-mo’ed, such as laundry and sewing, are forbidden while the candles are burning; however cooking and frying foods are permitted, and that is the common custom. Families that customarily refrain from cooking and the like should continue to follow their custom. 1

Some poskim maintain that women must recite Hallel on Ĥanuka. Since they too participated in that miracle, they must express gratitude for it. However, according to most poskim, they are not obligated, and that is the prevailing custom. Those who wish to enhance the mitzva are commendable. According to Ashkenazic custom, they recite it with a berakha, and according to Sephardic custom, they recite it without a berakha. 2

  1. See SA 670:1 and MB 4. The prevailing custom is to be lenient, and so I have learned from R. Mordechai Eliyahu. See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 11:11.
  2. Based on Tosafot (Sukka 38b), some Aĥaronim infer that women must recite Hallel on Ĥanuka, because “they too participated in that miracle” so they too must express gratitude for it, just as they must recite Hallel on Pesaĥ night. This is the opinion of Torat Refael OĤ 75, Hitorerut Teshuva and Binyan Shlomo 2:63. However, according to most poskim (as well as MT, Laws of Ĥanuka 3:6) women are exempt from Hallel on Ĥanuka, since it is a time-bound positive mitzva. One possible explanation for this is that women fulfill their obligation of thanksgiving by lighting the candles. This stands to reason because for many generations most women did not know how to say Hallel, and it is problematic to say that they were obligated but did not fulfill their obligation. Rather, everything that is connected to the synagogue prayer service, which is dependent on time, does not obligate women. Yet they must recite Hallel at the Seder because it takes place at home and because women are obligated in it from the Torah, and everything the Sages instituted for men what instituted for women as well. See Yeĥaveh Da’at 1:78, Halikhot Shlomo: Mo’adim 2:17:6, and Halikhot Beitah 8:5 and in the notes.

    Rambam writes (MT, Laws of Ĥanuka 3:6) that since women are exempt from Hallel, they cannot recite it on behalf of men, who are obligated. This would seem to apply to Hallel on Rosh Ĥodesh as well, as indicated by MA 422:5. However, BHL §422 s.v. “Hallel” states that since Hallel on Rosh Ĥodesh stems from custom and not obligation, and both women and men are technically exempt, presumably she may recite it on a his behalf.

06. Parashat Zakhor

The poskim disagree about whether women must hear Parashat Zakhor. According to most poskim, women are exempt because the mitzva to remember what Amalek did is linked to the mitzva to eradicate Amalek, and since women are not commanded to fight in wars, they need not remember what Amalek did to the Israelites (Sefer Ha-Ĥinukh §603). Others maintain that women have a connection to the mitzva of war since they must assist the fighters, and therefore the mitzva to remember Amalek applies to them too. Although the Sages ordained a specific time to read Parashat Zakhor – the Shabbat before Purim – according to the Torah it has no set time. Since hence it not a time-bound mitzva it applies to women as well (Minĥat Ĥinukh ad loc.).

In practice, according to most poskim women are exempt from hearing Parashat Zakhor; however, le-khatĥila it is preferable that she hears it in order to satisfy all opinions. A woman who has difficulty getting to the synagogue but still wishes to fulfill the mitzva should recite the passage from a ĥumash, since according to many one thus fulfills the biblical obligation to remember. In a place where a Torah class is held for women in the synagogue, it is permissible to take out a Torah scroll to read them Parashat Zakhor. Even though there is no minyan present, it is still preferable that they hear the passage from a kosher Torah scroll. 1

  1. The mitzva can be fulfilled on the Torah level by commemorating it once a year, and therefore the mitzva is not considered time-bound. However, according to many, since women do not wage war, they are not obligated to remember the eradication of Amalek. The poskim who disagree maintain that women are obligated to fight in mandatory wars (milĥemet mitzva), and Radbaz (on MT, Laws of Kings 7:4) explains that they are required to supply soldiers with food and water. Although women are exempt according to most poskim, they should preferably satisfy all opinions, as stated in Yeĥaveh Da’at 1:84. See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 14:7 n. 9.

    The poskim disagree about the parameters of the biblical obligation. Rosh implies that the Torah commandment is to hear the Parashat Zakhor from a valid Torah scroll, whereas Ramban indicates that this is a rabbinic enactment. Likewise, there is disagreement about whether according to the Torah it must be read with a minyan (see Peninei Halakha: Zemanim, ch. 14 n. 7). It seems that if it was the Sages who ordained reading the passage with a minyan and from a Torah scroll, it would constitute fixing a specific time – the Shabbat before Purim. Since the rabbinic enactment is thus time-bound, women are exempt from it. Even according to the opinion that women must remember Amalek, they would not need a Torah scroll. So states Kaf Ha-ĥayim 685:30 in the name of Limudei Hashem and Erekh Ha-shulĥan §2.

    Thus, le-khatĥila, women should hear it with a minyan. If they cannot, it is best that it is read to them from a Torah scroll without a minyan. If that too is not possible, then it is best that it is read from a ĥumash. Still, some  Aĥaronim state that a Torah scroll is not removed from the ark for women (see Responsa Kinyan Torah 7:53 and Halikhot Beitah 9:8). However, it is unclear what the problem with removing a Torah scroll for them is since in principle it is permissible to remove one for the sake of Torah study. The custom in Ashkenazic communities was to take out a Torah scroll for the women’s reading, as cited by Minĥat Yitzĥak 9:68 and Torat Ha-mo’adim 2:13.

    Women are exempt from the other three special parshiyot read in Adar (Shekalim, Para, and Ha-ĥodesh), for they are time-bound. According to those who maintain that Para is a biblical mitzva (as cited in SA 685:7), perhaps women are obligated since the Torah does not specify a particular time. However, MB 685:15 states that according to many Aĥaronim it is a rabbinic obligation whose time is fixed in Adar, so women are exempt.

07. Purim

Women are obligated in all four mitzvot of Purim – reading the megilla, mishlo’aĥ manot (sending gifts of food to a friend), matanot le-evyonim (gifts to the poor), and a festive meal.

Mishlo’aĥ manot is fulfilled by giving two portions to one person. Matanot le-evyonim is fulfilled by giving two poor people two gifts each. Married women are obligated in these two mitzvot, so a married couple bust give mishlo’aĥ manot to two different people, one from the husband and one from the wife. Likewise, together they must give matanot le-evyonim to four poor people, two from the husband and two from the wife (MB 795:25). Nevertheless, some poskim say that a couple fulfills the mitzva jointly, by giving one mishlo’aĥ manot and two matanot le-evyonim. Even according to this opinion, however, adult sons and daughters do not fulfill their obligation through their parents (AHS 794:2). Halakhic practice follows the majority opinion, and even married women must give mishlo’aĥ manot and matanot le-evyonim of her own (see Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 16:6).

Women are obligated to rejoice on Purim by drinking wine. However, they should take care not to get drunk, since drunkenness is more shameful for women than for men and constitutes a breach of tzni’ut, a trait for which women are praised (Ketubot 65a; Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 16:11).

Concerning the custom of giving tzedaka before Purim to commemorate the half-shekel that was contributed to the Temple while it stood, some poskim exempt women whereas others obligate them. The common custom today is to give at least a half-shekel for each member of a household, even a fetus (Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 14:10).

08. Women and Megilla Reading

According to Rashi and Rambam, women and men are equally obligated in the mitzva to read the megilla, and a woman may read the megilla for her husband. In contrast, Behag and Rabbeinu Ĥananel maintain that women’s obligation differs from that of men: men must read the megilla, whereas women must hear it. Therefore, a man who reads the megilla recites the berakhaal mikra megilla” (“concerning the reading of the megilla”) and a woman who reads for herself recites “lishmo’a megilla” (“to hear the megilla”). According to this opinion, a man does not fulfill his obligation with his wife’s reading. Responsa Avnei Nezer (OĤ 511) explains that this difference stems from the fact that women must hear the megilla only in order to publicize the miracle, and therefore their obligation is only in hearing the megilla and not reading it. In contrast, men are commanded to publicize the miracle and also to remember Amalek to wipe him out ultimately. Therefore, men are commanded to read the megilla. 1

Since the Rishonim are evenly split on this issue, most Aĥaronim rule that a woman may not read the megilla on a man’s behalf except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not possible for the man to read for himself or hear it from another man. In that case, at least he will fulfill the mitzva according to the opinion that a woman may read on a man’s behalf. 2

According to the vast majority of poskim, a woman may read on behalf of other women. Some say that a woman cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of many women, since megilla reading has a status similar to Torah reading, and just as a woman does not read from the Torah, so too she does not read the megilla for many women. Some poskim say that when the megilla is read for women no berakha is recited (Ben Ish Ĥai, year 1, Teztaveh 1; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:19). However, halakhic practice follows the overwhelming majority of poskim who maintain that a woman may read on behalf of other women and that if the group is comprised of ten women, the reader recites the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu” (“Who fights our battles”) after the megilla. However, le-khatĥila, it is preferable that women hear the Megilla read by a man,  to satisfy all opinions. Ideally, women would hear the megilla in the synagogue with men, since “In a multitude of people is a King’s glory.” 3

  1. Turei Even on Megilla 4a states that the mitzva of reading the megilla is derived, first and foremost, from the text of the megilla itself, which was composed with Divine inspiration. This is a time-bound positive mitzva and thus applies only to men. The obligation of women is derived from the rationale that “they too participated in that miracle,” a rationale that is solely rabbinic. Therefore, according to Behag and Rabbeinu Ĥananel, a woman cannot read on a man’s behalf..
  2.   There are Aĥaronim who interpret SA 689:1-2 to mean that a woman can read on a man’s behalf, and that this is indeed the halakha (Birkei Yosef 271:1; Ma’amar Mordechai 689:2). The view of most Aĥaronim is that a woman should not read on a man’s behalf. So state Levush, Eliya Rabba 689:2, Pri Ĥadash 1, Erekh Ha-shulĥan 3, Ĥikrei Lev, and Derekh Ha-ĥayim. Some interpret SA as taking a stringent approach (Pri Megadim Eshel Avraham 4; and see Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:14). See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 15:7 nn. 6 and 7.
  3. Korban Netanel (on Rosh, Megilla 1:4:m) innovatively suggests that a woman may not read on behalf of many women. This is cited in SHT 689:15. However, it seems that the intent is to be stringent le-khatĥila, because SHT 16 states that the dominant opinion is that women and men have an equal obligation. Halikhot Beitah (Petaĥ Ha-bayit 25; also cited in Halikhot Shlomo 19 n. 4) states that R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach questions Korban Netanel’s explanation and concludes that halakhic practice follows R. Tikochinsky, who rules in Lu’aĥ Eretz Yisrael that a woman may read on behalf of many women. The reason for the opinion that no berakha is recited on a reading for women is concern for the position that no berakha is recited when reading for an individual, and women collectively are considered to be like an individual (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:19). The opinion of most poskim is that there is no need to be concerned for this at all. See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 15:7 and n. 8.

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.)

10. Counting the Omer

Women are exempt from the mitzva of counting the omer, for it is a positive time-bound mitzva. If a woman wishes to fulfill this mitzva, it is a credit to her. As we have learned (above 2:8), according to Sephardic custom she does not recite the berakha, but according to Ashkenazic custom she may recite it.

However, even within Ashkenazic custom, some poskim are worried that since women are not present in the synagogue at the time of the counting of the omer, there is a reasonable concern that she will forget to count one day without realizing it and then continue counting with a berakha. According to halakha, one who forgets to count one day may not continue counting with a berakha, and if she does, according to some, it is considered a berakha le-vatala. To avoid this problematic situation, some say that even according to Ashkenazic custom it is best that women do not recite a berakha on this mitzva (MB 489:5). Others say that women should not count the omer for kabbalistic reasons (Rav Pe’alim, vol 1, Sod Yesharim 12). In contrast, some say that Ashkenazic custom is that women count the omer (MA 489:1). Therefore, according to Ashkenazic custom, whoever knows that she will be able to complete the entire count and that she may not recite a berakha anymore if she forgets, may recite a berakha. In particular, this pertains to women who regularly pray Ma’ariv or who are reminded to count the omer daily at home, as there is minimal concern that she will forget to count the omer. If there is a reasonable concern that she will forget to count one day, it is preferable that she not count with a berakha.

11. Birkat Ha-ilanot – The Blessing on the Trees

One who goes outside during Nisan and sees fruit trees blossoming recites Birkat Ha-ilanot, a berakha that expresses gratitude to God “Who let nothing lack in His world and Who created in it good creatures and good trees to bring people pleasure” (SA 225:1). Even though this berakha is connected to the month of Nisan, the poskim explain that this is not a time-bound obligation because according to most it is permissible to recite this berakha upon seeing blossoms even in a different month. Even according to those who maintain that this berakha may only be recited in Nisan, it is not because Nisan is defined as the time for making the berakha but because it is when blossoms appear. The berakha is dependent on the appearance of blossoms, not on a particular time. Therefore, it is proper for women to recite this berakha as well.