Shiur 23: Women And Sukka

  • Rav Chaim Navon

I. Why are Women Exempt from Sitting in a Sukka?

 

            The Mishna in Sukka (28a) explicitly exempts women from the obligation to sit in a sukka. The Gemara there notes that this principle is a “halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai,” a law transmitted by God to Moshe orally at Sinai as an addendum to the written Torah. The Gemara asks why such a halakha was necessary. Sukka is a time-bound positive commandment, and the rule is that women are exempt from all such mitzvot! Abaye and Rava offer different answers: According to Abaye, the halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai was necessary because of the general principle that we learn regarding the mitzva of sukka: “teshevu ke’ein taduru,” i.e., when the Torah states, “You shall sit in the sukka” (Vayikra 23), it means that one must sit in the sukka as he would ordinarily reside in his house. What this means is that one's residence in the sukka must be characterized by the same level of ease and comfort as is his residence in his house. One might therefore have thought that in order for a man to fulfill the mitzva, his wife must sit in the sukka together with him. In order to negate such an idea, a special halakha had to be taught to Moshe at Sinai. Rava proposes a different answer. According to him, without this special halakha, we might have learned by way of a verbal analogy from the mitzva of matza on Pesach that just as women are obligated to eat matza,[1] so too are they obligated to sit in the sukka. The halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai negates such a possibility.

 

            Before we analyze the positions of Abaye and Rava in detail, we must address a basic question: According to the Gemara, a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai establishes that women are exempt from the mitzvaof sukka. What exactly is the content of this halakha? There are two possibilities.

1)    The halakha teaches that the rule of teshevu ke’ein taduru does not apply here, and that we do not draw an analogy between matza and sukka. Rather, we follow the fundamental law that women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments.

2)    The halakha teaches that there is an independent and localized exemption of women from the mitzva of sukka.

According to the second understanding, we cannot exempt women from sukka based on the general rule regarding time-bound positive commandments, and therefore we need a special halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai to teach us that women are, in fact, exempt from sukka.

 

            The Ritva(Sukka 21b) follows the second alternative. The Gemara teaches that non-Jewish slaves are exempt from the mitzva of sukka. The Ritva asks: What is the novelty of this ruling? Like women, non-Jewish slaves are exempt from all time-bound positive commandments, so they are exempt from sukka in any case! He answers in light of the sugya referred to above: We see that a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai was needed in order to exempt women from sukka. If so, it follows that the general exemption of women and slaves from time-bound positive commandments does not apply here. Just as we need a special teaching to exempt women from sukka, so too we need a special teaching to exempt slaves from sukka.

 

            One could have said that the halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai restores the general exemption granted to women regarding time-bound positive commandments. If so, it is obvious that slaves too are exempt. But the Ritva seems to have understood otherwise. According to him, the verbal analogy that one might have drawn from matza to sukka teaches us that the general exemption regarding time-bound positive commandments does not apply here.[2] When the Gemara refers in the next stage of the sugya to the halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai that women are exempt from sukka, that halakha relates only to women, and a source is still needed to teach us that slaves too are exempt.

 

            There are posekim who rule that even women who ordinarily recite blessings on time-bound positive commandments should not recite a blessing on sitting in a sukka. This, indeed, is the customary practice in some communities. The Acharonim (see, for example, Responsa Yabia Omer, I, Orach Chayyim, no. 39) explain that the mitzva of sukka is different from other related mitzvot in that sukka is a conditional mitzva (apart from the first night of Sukkot). If a person wants to eat bread, he must eat it in a sukka, but if he does not want to eat bread, he is not obligated to sit in a sukka. Since the level of obligation in this mitzva is reduced, some women were accustomed not to recite a blessing on it, perhaps because in such a situation it is even more difficult to claim, “and He has commanded us.”

 

            My colleague, Rav Shmuel Shimoni, suggested another explanation of this custom, in light of our sugya. The Tosafot maintain that, in general, women are permitted to recite a blessing on mitzvot from which they are exempt. This applies to the general exemption from time-bound positive commandments. But as we saw, it is possible that with respect to sukka there is a different exemption, specific to sukka, based on a halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai. It may be that this exemption removes women in a more sweeping manner from the fulfillment of the mitzvaof sukka, and therefore they do not recite a blessing. It should be emphasized that this explanation serves to reconcile one unusual custom, which does not reflect the prevalent practice.

 

II. The Difference Between Matza and Sukka

 

            Let us now return to the explanations proposed by Abaye and Rava as to why we might have thought that women should be obligated in the mitzva of sukka. Let us start with Rava's suggestion. Rava argues that we might have learned that they are obligated by way of a verbal analogy to matza: Just as women are obligated to eat matza on the seder night, even though it is a time-bound positive commandment, so too they should be obligated to sit in a sukka. On the face of it, this is a strange argument: Why is it specifically sukka that we learn from matza? Why not derive from a woman’s obligation in matza that they are also obligated in lulav? Why is it clear to the Gemara that women are exempt from the mitzvaof lulav, yet their obligation in the mitzva of sukka is under dispute?

 

            In this context, we should mention the distinction proposed by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (Alon Shevut 150; reprinted recently in his collection Minchat Aviv) between two types of mitzvot on the Festivals: mitzvot that serve as expressions of the unique quality of the day and mitzvot that fashion the unique quality of the day, shaping its essence and determining its nature. Rav Lichtenstein cites the mitzvot of matza and sukka as clear examples of the latter category. Thus, it may be argued that a woman's obligation to eat matza is not a localized obligation, but rather an instance of a woman's obligation in mitzvot that fashion the unique nature of the festival. According to this, we may apply this principle to sukka, the mitzva that fashions the unique quality of the Festival of Sukkot, as well.

 

III. Teshevu Ke’Ein Taduru

 

            Let us now turn to Abaye’s position. According to Abaye, one might have thought that a woman is obligated in the mitzva of sukka because of the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru. This rule establishes that a person is obligated to sit in his sukka in the same manner as he sits in his house. If his wife is not with him, this condition is not fulfilled. We may raise the question: Would we really have thought that women are obligated to sit in a sukka in order to allow their husbands to fulfill the mitzva of sukka in proper manner? Nowhere do we find a Torah obligation to help another person fulfill his mitzva. Apparently, the Gemara means that the Torah obligates women independently, but only so that men can properly fulfill their own obligation. This too is a problematic formulation, and perhaps a third formulation (proposed by Rav Shmuel Shimoni) is preferable: Perhaps we would have thought that the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru teaches that the entire family is obligated to sit in a sukka, just as the entire family lives together in their house.

 

            Elsewhere in the Gemara, the principle of teshevu ke’ein taduru arises with respect to a man residing together with his wife in the sukka. The Gemara in Arakhin 3b raises the possibility that priests should be exempt from the mitzvaof sukka, because they cannot live together with their wives in a sukka. Since this impairs the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru, perhaps priests should be exempt from the mitzva entirely. According to the Gemara's conclusion, even priests are obligated in sukka. But why does the Gemara assume that priests cannot live together with their wives in the sukka?

 

            Rashi and the Tosafot explain: On the days when the priests serve in the Temple, they may not engage in marital relations with their wives, in order to avoid contracting ritual impurity. We might therefore have thought that priests should be exempt from sitting in a sukka, since they cannot live there with their wives in the way one ordinarily lives in a house with his wife, i.e., in a way in which marital relations are permitted. This is a doubly novel position. First, that the prohibition on marital relations impairs the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru. And second, in such a case, even when the priests are in their houses, they are forbidden to engage in marital relations with their wives. The fact that they are now in the sukka is irrelevant. The Gemara's suggestion implies that not only does the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru equate residence in a sukka with residence in one's house, but it also defines the level of “hominess” that must be found in a sukka. Priests who serve in the Temple are forbidden to their wives, whether they live in their houses or they live in a sukka. It is not residence in the sukka that disrupts their family life. Nevertheless, the Gemara suggests that residence in a sukka,even in such a case, impairs the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru.

 

            In the end, the Gemara rejects this position and concludes that priests are, in fact, obligated in the mitzvaof sukka. Only while they are actually involved in the Temple service are they exempt from sukka. And this is not connected to the law that prohibits them from their wives, but rather based on the rule that one who is engaged in one mitzvais exempt from performing a second mitzva.

            When we mentioned the suggestion raised in the Gemara, we said that it involves two novel points. If so, it stands to reason that in the end, the Gemara rejects one of the two novelties: Either that, according to the Gemara's conclusion, even when the priests are forbidden to their wives this does not impair the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru; or that according to the Gemara's conclusion, the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru is not impaired when even in the house one would have conducted himself in the same manner.

 

            The Rema (Orach Chayyim 639) addresses the question why people are lenient regarding sleeping in the sukka. He relates to this issue both in his strictures to the Shulchan Arukh, and also, at greater length, in his commentary to the Tur, the Darkhei Moshe. In his justification of the customary practice of refraining from sleeping in the sukka, the Rema suggests that people rely on the fact that sleeping without one's wife causes distress, and thus one does not fulfill teshevu ke’ein taduru. In this context, he refers to the passage in Arakhin. Apparently, he understood that even according to the Gemara's conclusion, when a man is in a sukka without his wife, he does not fulfill teshevu ke’ein taduru. If so, why aren't the priests exempt from the mitzva of sukka during the period that they serve in the Temple? Apparently, this is because they are forbidden to engage in marital relations in any event, whether in the sukka or at home. But in a different situation, when a person could engage in normal marital life when he is inside his house, but sleeping in a sukka bars him from doing so, this is a consideration that exempts him from sleeping in a sukka.

 

            There is an additional novelty in the words of the Rema: The Gemara speaks of marital relations. The Rema assumes that even living without one's wife, regardless of actual marital relations, impairs the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru. He proves this from a passage in Eiruvin (63b) that rebukes a third party for sleeping in the same room as a married couple. This rebuke applies even during the time of the month that the woman is forbidden to her husband. Even when a couple is forbidden from engaging in marital relations, there is emotional intimacy between the two, which is interrupted when a third party enters the room. In the passage in Sukka as well, Abaye does not mention marital relations, and it would seem that he too agrees that shared quarters with one's wife might be critical for the fulfillment of teshevu ke’ein taduru. Those who, in practice, do not sleep in the sukka might rely on this argument.

 

            The Rema does not rely on these arguments as decisive factors regarding optimal practice, but he does use them to justify the behavior of those who do not sleep in a sukka. At the close of his words in the Shulchan Arukh, he writes: “And it is good to be stringent and be there with his wife, as he lives with her all year long, provided that is it possible for him to have a private sukka” (Orach Chayyim 639:2).

 

            In contrast, Maharam Chalava (in a responsum that deals primarily with the laws of an eiruv for courtyards), argues that the law of teshevu ke’ein taduru is not impaired when a man sits in a sukka without his wife (Responsa Maharam Chalava, no. 16). He argues, seemingly correctly, that the Gemara in Sukka is not dealing with an exemption based on teshevu ke’ein taduru when a man's wife is not with him. The Gemara raises an altogether different proposal – that perhaps women are obligated in sukka because the obligation to sit in a sukka falls on all the residents of the house.

 

IV. They Too Had a Part in the Miracle

 

            The Gemara states: “Women are obligated to drink four cups [of wine at the Pesach seder], for they too had a part in the miracle” (Pesachim 108a-b). The Tosafot discuss the meaning of “they too had a part in the miracle.” Some explain that the women were among those who brought about the deliverance of the people of Israel. The Tosafot raise a difficulty: The term “they too” implies that the women joined the men and were secondary to them. But Chazal cite this principle with respect to reading the megilla on Purim as well, and there the primary protagonist was Esther, a woman who was certainly not secondary to the men of the Purim story!

 

            Therefore, the Tosafot propose a different explanation: In the case of Esther, the women too were in danger of destruction, along with the men. Challenging this explanation, the Tosafot ask: Surely the women were also saved by the miracles accompanying the Exodus from Egypt. This being the case, we should say “they too had a part in the miracle” regarding Sukkot as well, and therefore women should be obligated in the mitzva of sukka! The Tosafot answer that the principle of “they too had a part in the miracle” is only relevant for mitzvot that have the force of a Rabbinic decree (e.g., reading the megilla, lighting Chanuka candles and drinking the four cups), but it is not relevant for mitzvot that are found in the Torah.

 

            Rav Soloveitchik proposed a different answer in the name of his father Rav Moshe (Harerei Kedem I, p. 203, no. 116). According to him, the principle of “they too had a part in the miracle” only applies to mitzvot whose entire essence involves publicizing the miracle. This is obviously the case regarding Chanuka candles, and also with respect to megilla reading. Rav Moshe proves from the Rambam that the essence of the mitzvaof the four cups of wine at the seder is to demonstrate that one is feasting in a free manner, as if he had just left Egypt. In contrast, regarding the mitzva of sukka the rationale of “so that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths” is the reason for the mitzva, but it is not the defining characteristic of the mitzva. This mitzva does not place such a strong emphasis on the idea of publicizing the miracle. Therefore, the principle that women too had a part in the miracle is not enough of a reason to obligate women in the mitzva.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 



[1] See Pesachim 43a-b.

[2] Fundamentally, it may be suggested that the principle of teshevu ke’ein taduru cancels the exemption regarding time-bound positive commandments. It is questionable, however, whether this is relevant with respect to slaves.