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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Women in Miracles (Part 3: Svara)

Far and away, what is most difficult in this sugya is explaining the Rashbam.  What is the connection between the miracle being done through a particular woman, and women of all future generations being obligated in a mitzva that publicizes the miracle?

Miracles are unique phenomenon that occur infrequently.  As the Ramban explains at the end of Bo, a miracle testifies to many important and fundamental ideas.
וכאשר ירצה האלוהים בעדה או ביחיד ויעשה עימהם מופת בשנוי מנהגו של עולם וטבעו, יתברר לכל בטול הדעות האלה כלם, כי המופת הנפלא מורה שיש לעולם אלוה מחדשו, ויודע ומשגיח ויכול...ובעבור כי הקב"ה לא יעשה אות ומופת בכל דור לעיני כל רשע או כופר, יצווה אותנו שנעשה תמיד זיכרון ואות לאשר ראו עינינו, ונעתיק הדבר אל בנינו, ובניהם לבניהם, ובניהם לדור אחרון
A miracle proves that God created the world in so far as He has dominion over the laws of nature.  It shows that God knows mankind, and that He is involved in man's affairs.  These particular miracles (Pesach, Purim, and Chanuka) also show that Hashem is close to Bnei Yisroel; when we cry out to Hashem in prayer, He answers us.  The Rambam at the very end of his introduction to the Mishne Torah explicitly says that this is one of the purposes of reading the megila:
אלא כך אנו אומרין, שהנביאים עם בית דין תיקנו וציוו לקרות המגילה בעונתה כדי להזכיר שבחו של הקדוש ברוך הוא ותשועות שעשה לנו, והיה קרוב לשווענו כדי לברכו ולהללו, וכדי להודיע לדורות הבאים שאמת מה שהבטיחנו בתורה: ומי גוי גדול אשר לו אלוהים קרובים אליו
However, God does not perform open miracles in every generation.  It is therefore incumbent upon the people who witness a miracle to spread that knowledge to others in their generation, as well as to preserve that knowledge for all future generations by relating the events they personally witnessed to their offspring.

In other words, a miracle creates an obligation to establish a transmission process that maintains the memory of the empirical observation of the miracle.  The chain of transmission starts with the first people who witnessed the miracle and continues with every generation adding another link to the chain that ultimately connects back to the original witnesses.  The people of the first generation in the chain are not merely acting to set up the mitzva, but are the first performers of the mitzva which is continued by future generations.  They are the first link in the chain.

The people of the original generation were not all equally involved in the miracle.  A few select individuals were involved in a unique way.  These were the righteous individuals that the miracle was done through.  Who the miracle is done through is not merely an afterthought.  Rather, they have a superior perspective from which to observe and transmit the miracle.

It is for this reason that the chain of transmission begins with those individuals in particular, and not from those with an inferior perspective.  Future generations continue the knowledge given to us by those select people who have the best access to the miraculous events.

Since, in these three cases (the four cups, Chanuka candles, and megila) a woman was among the select individuals who the miracle itself was done through, women as a whole must be part of the chain.  It would be impossible to exclude women from being the gavra of the mitzva for future generations, being that they are necessarily part of the mitzva in the first generation.  In other words, since a woman is at the beginning of the chain, women by definition are part of the chain of transmission and are therefore obligated in the mitzva.
Thus, in setting up these mitzvos, the Rabanan had no choice but to go against the ordinary principle of not obligating women in time bound mitzvos.

This explains the reasoning of the Rashbam.  Does Tosafos fundamentally disagree about the nature of publicizing miracles, or is there a way we can understand the position of Tosafos which is consonant with this general understanding?


  1. Are you saying that the mechayev of pisumei nisah is being involved in the nes itself? Then it comes out that there is a different mechayev for the original people who the miracle occurred to and those of the subsequent generations. Also, was there an intrinsic chiyuv of pirsumei nisa without the takanas rabanan? If not, then it would seem that the obligation of pirsumei nisah would be no different for Yehudis than it would be for my wife today.

  2. @Jeff-1)When a miracle occurs there is a chiyuv to publicize it. These woman happen to have the most awareness of the particulars of the neis therefore they started the chain of publicizing it, and it continues through neir chanukah ect.. by the whole nation including women.

    2)It could be that the takana didn't exist for yehudis and esther and the women in Egypt, however there could be a philosophical idea of transmitting the ideas of the neis as per ramban(which is what they did). Later on,the Rabbis structured this possible philosophical kiyum into a halachik form of neir chanuka ect... .

  3. But I still don't understand why my wife has an obligation to light or say megillah. My wife no longer has awareness of the particulars of the neis even though Yehudis did. Therefore, I do not see why the fact that Yehudis helped the neis come about makes women obligated. Again, as the Rabbis here have stated in the past, why does the fact that Yehudis HERSELF had more awareness of the particulars make women IN GENERAL obligated? Couldn't that fact also be established through men lighting or saying megillah?

    1. The event of the nes is mechayav the nation (for this generation and all future generations) to perpetuate its memory. The takana is the concretization of this obligation. This perpetuation only takes place through a chain of transmission, and cannot be accomplished by the people of that generation alone. Thus, my publicizing and Mordechai's publicizing are two instances of the same communal obligation (we merely occupy different positions on the chain).

      Which part of the klal yisrael does this chiyuv of perpetuation fall upon? If only the men, it will exclude Esther and your wife. If women as well, it will include both Esther and your wife. Since the proper perpetuation must include Esther (because of her unique role and perspective in the nes), the obligation cannot be limited to the men of klal yisrael, but must extend to women as well.

      Given that the original publication and the current publication are two instances of the same communal obligation, it is not possible for Esther to be obligated and your wife to be exempted. Halachikly, they are both women, and the class of women must be included or not.

  4. As an aside, see Tehillim 107 (the whole perek) for a description of the obligation of those saved through a "nes" to publicize this to mankind. This is the source in the gemara (brachos 54b) for birchas ha'gomel. See specifically metzudas dovid on passuk 8.

  5. But again, did the takanas Rabanan take effect at the time of Esther or only afterwards?

    1. Is your question based on the fact that we seem to be equating two different things:

      1) The initial obligation (on Esther, Yehudis, etc) of publicizing the miracle which clearly did not have the specific form of lighting candles, drinking 4 cups, or reading the megila.

      2) The later mitzva of publicizing the miracle which has the specific form of lighting candles, drinking 4 cups, or reading the megila.

  6. Replies
    1. That is definitely a critical question, as our current formulation in this post is unclear with regards to that issue. While we have left the formulation of relationship between the 1 and 2 (the initial obligation and the later mitzva) vague at this point, we will try to address it directly in the next post, which deals with defining the machlokes between the Rashbam and Tosafos.

      Our main goal in this post was to give a sensible understanding of the Rashbam. While it might not be a perfect formulation at this stage, it seems to us like it does address the heart of the issue. Are you bothered by the answer as a whole, or just the precise formulation?

    2. I would phrase my question again as follows: I understand that Yehudis had an obligation to transmit the miracle because of the nature of her involvement. However, I would assume that the other women of that generation also had an obligation to publicize the miracle despite their not having the insight of Yehudis. Furthermore, even though Yehudis and those women were obligated, why does it follow that all women are now obligated? Once it was institutionalized by Chazal, why shouldn't zeman gerama exclude women from then on?

    3. Perhaps to make the question stronger, shouldn't the obligation of the women at the time of Chanukah to transmit the miracle make women just as obligated as Yehudis herself?

  7. Up until that question (which seems to be critical to understanding the Rashbam as well), I am ok with the answer

    1. I was thinking. Do you mean that according to the Rashbam ONLY Yeshudis was originally obligated? Therefore, when chazal instituted these mitzvos, they had to do it in a way which reflected the original obligation. That's why women are obligated nowadays. According to Tosafos, everybody had an equal obligation (men and women), so, again, when they instituted the mitzvos, women were included because the takanah had to reflect the way the mitzvah originally existed.

    2. No, we do not mean according to the Rashbam that the mitzva was instituted in a way that merely reflects its origination. In fact, that is the main idea we are trying to move away from.

      We are explaining the Rashbam in a much more concrete way. You are correct in saying that originally only Yehudis was obligated in publicizing the miracle. How could anyone else be obligated at first, as Yehudis was the only person who was even aware of the miracle?

      Once Yehudis spread the message, it was passed on from person to person until it ultimately reached our generation. Now we have to ask a simple question: Which type of people are responsible for the chain of transmission of the content of the message? Who is responsible for perpetuating the very information of the miracle?

      Surely women are the vehicles of transmission for the information encoded in the message. How could it be otherwise, as Yehudis was the first person in the chain!

      Woman are obligated in the perpetuation of the message not simply to reflect that Yehudis started the chain. Woman are obligated because they are an integral component of the chain. It would be impossible to exclude them from being transmitters of the message that began from a woman!

    3. I guess the other issue is that it does not appear that you are explaining this categorical distinction between men and women. Prior to the halachik formulation, we would not say that women were any different than men just because Yehudis happened to be a woman -- that would seem to be an accident of the event. Why is it that they are obligated categorically if the fact that Yehudis was a woman is an accident to begin with. I am not sure if I am expressing my question clearly here...

    4. We are saying that the fact that Yehudis was a woman is just an accident of the miracle. Nevertheless, when Chazal had to define the gavra of the mitzva of menora, they had to include women as well as men.

      This is because the gavra who comprises the chain of information of the miracle, by definition, includes women in so far as it ultimately begins with Yehudis. The gavra of the chain is the men and women of bnei yisroel.

  8. I dont think this is exactly what you are saying, but let me know what you think. Mitzvas asei shehazeman grama works to categorically exclude women from a particular mitzvah. For example, a woman is not obligated to recite shema because zeman grama tells us that they are not included in the institution of kriyas shema. However, zeman grama does not and cannot act as a p'tur. Meaning, if women are included in the institution of a mitzvah, you cannot use zeman grama as a p'tur to exclude them. In this instance, women were originally included in the institution of pirsumei nisa because of the nature of the involvement of Yehudis in the miracle. Therefore, one cannot use zeman grama here; because, then, it would be acting as a p'tur and not as a categorical exclusion. Chazal's takanah of hadlakas neiros was merely an insitutionalization of the pisumei nisa that existed prior to the takanah (as you explained previously). Therefore, we cannot use z'man grama as a p'tur since they were already categorically included in the mitzvah.

    1. Agreed. We have a support for your point from the top Tosafos on Psachim 108b. He "asks" why you need "af hein..." since these are derabanans and zman grama is only by deoraysas. He answers that the Rabanan usually set up things ke'ein deoraysa and therefore would also make women exempt from time bound mitzvos if not for af hein.

      Now for the support of your point. If zman grama were a pettur, you wouldnt need ke'ein deoraysa to pattur from derabanans. Rather, if the pettur applies to deoraysas, then certainly it would apply to derabanans. But it's not a pettur- just the Torah didnt obligate women in time bound mitzvos. But, in theory the Rabbanan can. However, ke'ein deoraysa says they wouldn't if not for af hein.

      That being said, your point is correct. When the Rabbanan set up a mitzvah, they wouldnt obligate women in time bound mitzvos. But here they arent making a new obligation, but continuing/extending an institution which already exists on men and women (because Esther, Yehudis,...). Therefore it must continue on men and women (unless zman grama were a pettur which we showed above it isnt).

      Do you follow the support? Are we following your point?


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