Simchat Yom Tov

  • Deracheha Staff; Laurie Novick, Director
Researched by Hannah Abrams and Sara Krishtul
 
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Defining the Mitzva
 
The Torah commands us to rejoice on our festivals:[1]
 
And you shall observe the festival of Shavuot to the Lord your God, the abundance of the contribution of your hand that you shall give as the Lord your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter and your bondsman and your bondswoman, and the Levite who is in your gates, and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are among you, in the place that the Lord your God will choose to make His name dwell there. And you shall remember that you were a bondsman in Egypt, and you shall keep and observe these laws. You shall observe the festival of Sukkot, for seven days, when you gather in from your threshing floor and from your wine press. And you shall rejoice on your festival, you and your son and your daughter and your bondsman and your bondswoman and the Levite and the stranger and the orphan and the widow who are in your gates: Seven days you shall hold a festival for the Lord your God, in the place that the Lord will choose; for the Lord your God will bless all your crops and all the work of your hands, and you shall be only joyous.
 
Each of our festivals marks a religious milestone, tied to our connection with God and the Land. On Pesach, we begin the Spring harvest as we celebrate our freedom and redemption as God's people. On Shavuot we celebrate the reaping of the grain and the giving of the Torah, which binds us to God. On Sukkot we celebrate the ingathering of the harvest and the miracle of God's protection as we traveled through the wilderness to the Promised Land.
 
Our connection to God past and present and our gratitude for being able to sustain ourselves provide ample cause for celebration.
 
Rejoicing Appropriately
 
As our households celebrate, we are commanded to include the more vulnerable elements of our community, the orphan and widow, in the rejoicing. Rambam elaborates on this responsibility to the community. He emphasizes that our rejoicing becomes service of God only when we generously welcome others to participate with us.
 
Mishneh Torah, Shevitat Yom Tov 6: 18
When one eats and drinks, one must feed the convert, the orphan, and the widow along with the rest of the unfortunate poor. But one who locks the doors of his courtyard and eats and drinks, he and his children and his wife, and does not feed and give drink to the poor and embittered, this is not the rejoicing of a mitzva but rejoicing of his belly…
 
Our celebration only truly serves God when we open our homes to those who are destitute (or perhaps even to those who are lonely or difficult to host.) Otherwise, it can become mere decadence and hedonism.
 
The ultimate source of our celebration, though, is a sense of being before God:
 
And you shall sacrifice peace offerings (shelamim) and eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God.
 
One who eats and drinks to excess, and thus loses sight of God's presence does not fulfill the mitzva:
 
Mishneh Torah, Shevitat Yom Tov 6:20
For drunkenness and hilarity and frivolity is not rejoicing but wildness and foolishness, and we were not commanded in wildness and foolishness but in rejoicing, which includes worship of the Creator of everything.
 
In the absence of Beit Ha-mikdash
 
In Beit Ha-mikdash, the primary expression of simcha was eating peace offerings (shelamim) before God, as though partaking in a shared celebratory meal. The Talmud addresses the question of where that leaves us after the Temple's destruction, when we have no way to offer sacrifices:
 
Pesachim 109a
It was taught in a baraita: Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira says: At a time when Beit Ha-mikdash is standing, rejoicing is only with meat, as it is said: “And you shall sacrifice peace offerings (shelamim) and eat there and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Devarim 27:7). And now, when Beit Ha-mikdash is not standing, rejoicing is only with wine, as it is said: “And wine gladdens a person’s heart” (Tehillim 104:15).
 
The Talmud teaches that, in the absence of sacrificial meat, wine becomes the central element of our Yom Tov rejoicing. Tosafot take this as a description of a rabbinic-level mitzva to rejoice in an era without Beit Ha-mikdash:
 
Tosafot Moed Katan 14b s.v. Aseh de-yachid
It seems to me that rejoicing on the festival is also rabbinic, and "ve-samachta" [the Torah-level mitzva of rejoicing] – that is with peace offerings of joy (shalmei simcha)...
 
Rambam, however, disagrees, He writes that the mitzva of rejoicing on a festival retains its Torah-level status, even without our partaking in the sacrifice:
 
Rambam, Sefer Ha-mitzvot, Positive Mitzva 54
And the 54th mitzva is that He commanded us to rejoice on festivals, and He, may He be exalted, said: “And you shall rejoice on your festival.” …And the first matter hinted at in this command is that one should in any case sacrifice a peace offering (korban shelamim). And these peace offerings are in addition to the festive peace offerings (shalmei chagiga), and in the Talmud they are called peace offerings of rejoicing (shalmei simcha)…The statement “and you shall rejoice on your festival” includes what [the Sages] said also, "rejoice in all types of rejoicing." And this includes to eat meat on festivals, and to drink wine, and to wear new clothes…All this is included in the statement “and you shall rejoice on your festival.” And of these, drinking wine alone is more obligatory, because it is more specifically associated with rejoicing…
 
To Rambam, the Torah's definition of rejoicing includes partaking in the sacrifice but is not restricted to it. Any act of rejoicing can count as fulfillment of the Torah-level mitzva. Rav Soloveitchik explains how this works conceptually:
 
Shiurim Le-zecher Abba Mari 186
For a person’s emotional state during the festival is the essential mitzva of rejoicing, but the Torah commanded how to fulfil rejoicing of the heart and formalized the Halacha thus: at the time of Beit Ha-mikdash, this rejoicing was realized through eating sacrificial meat, and today through various pleasures…
 
Eating the sacrifice, or feasting with meat or wine, is indeed the external fulfillment of an act of rejoicing, but the fundamental mitzva is to achieve an emotional and spiritual state of simcha, through these means and others.
 
Women's Obligation
 
Are women obligated in the mitzva of simchat Yom Tov? On the one hand, both the daughter and the widow are mentioned as rejoicing on the festival in Devarim 16:14. On the other hand, rejoicing on the festival would seem to be a positive, time-bound commandment https://deracheha.org/positive-time-bound-commandments from which women are typically exempt.
 
The Talmud lists rejoicing on the festival as one of the exceptions to the rule – a positive time-bound commandment in which women are obligated.
 
Behold matza, rejoicing, and hakhel – [each is] a positive, time-bound mitzva, and women are obligated
 
Later on, however, it presents a challenge to that idea in the name of Abbaye:
 
Kiddushin 34b
….Rather than deriving from tefillin, to exempt [women from positive time-bound mitzvot], derive it from rejoicing, to obligate [women in these mitzvot]. Abbaye said: A woman – her husband causes her to rejoice [so we cannot derive it from the mitzva of rejoicing]. What about a widow? Through whoever she is with.
 
Abbaye suggests that the mitzva for a woman to rejoice on a festival is incumbent on her husband, not herself. At first glance, we might think that the verse’s reference to the widow, who has no husband, refutes this idea. However, Abbaye explains that the widow is mentioned in order to obligate the head of the household that she joins for the festival to cause her to rejoice.
 
A tosefta, paraphrased in both the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, states that a man has a mitzva to cause his wife (and children) to rejoice on the festival, as by giving them wine or whatever suits them:
 
Tosefta Pesachim (Lieberman) 10:4
It is a mitzva for a person to cause his children and members of his household to rejoice on the festival. How does he make them rejoice? With wine, as it is written: “And wine gladdens a person’s heart.” R’ Yehuda says: women with what is appropriate for them, and children with what is appropriate for them
 
The tosefta does not indicate whether the husband is required to support his wife’s independent obligation to rejoice, or whether he alone is obligated in her rejoicing.
 
The Talmud quotes Rabbi Zeira as assuming that women are obligated to rejoice on a festival. The discussion revolves around bal te’acher, the prohibition to delay bringing a sacrifice as vowed beyond a single cycle of three festivals. Does the prohibition apply to women, who are not obligated to make a pilgrimage to Beit Ha-mikdash on the festivals?[2]
 
Rabbi Zeira asks: A woman, what is she [obligated or not] in the mitzva of bal te'acher? Do we say that since she is not obligated to appear [in Beit Ha-mikdash on the festival, she is not obligated in bal te'acher]? Or perhaps, since she is obligated in rejoicing [on a festival, she should be obligated in bal te'acher]?
 
In yet another Talmudic passage, though, Abbaye himself seems to espouse the view that women are obligated in simchat Yom Tov. Here, the context is a discussion of how independently mobile a child needs to be in order to be obligated to appear at Beit Ha-mikdash for a festival: [3]
 
Abbaye said to him [Rabbi Zeira]: Until here [Yerushalayim]. Since his mother is obligated in rejoicing, his mother brings him.
 
Tosafot resolve the apparent contradiction in a way that understands Abbaye as exempting women from an independent obligation of simcha.[4]
 
Tosafot Rosh Ha-shana 6b s.v. Isha
Rabbeinu Tam explains "her husband causes her to rejoice," that the obligation is on her husband and not on her….and this that was said in Chagiga, that his mother is obligated [in rejoicing] is obligation because of her husband and not because of herself.
 
Ritva, however, suggests a different resolution of Abbaye's statements:
 
Ritva Kiddushin 34b
…A woman, her husband causes her to rejoice. Rashi explains "A woman is not obligated in rejoicing; rather, her husband is obligated to cause her to rejoice." This is not clear, for we count it above among the mitzvot in which women are obligated, and furthermore, Abbaye himself says in Tractate Chagiga that a woman is obligated in rejoicing…It seems that we should explain that we say thus: That we cannot derive from [the mitzva of] rejoicing [a rule to obligate women in positive time-bound mitzvot], because rejoicing is different, since the Torah only obligated women in it through the means of her husband, which is not the case for other [mitzvot], which are not dependent on the husband at all. So it seems to me.
 
Ritva writes that a woman would typically rejoice by partaking in her husband's peace offering, or otherwise have her rejoicing facilitated by her husband. This does not detract from her own obligation to rejoice. It does mean, however, that the mitzva of rejoicing cannot serve as a basis for learning about other mitzvot.
 
According to this line of thought, Abbaye and Rabbi Zeira would agree that a woman who isn’t a member of a male-headed household is independently obligated to rejoice on a festival. Rabbi Zeira, however, would disagree with Abbaye about the prominence of the husband's obligation in the wife's fulfillment of her own. Me'iri spells this out:
 
Beit Ha-bechira Kiddushin 34b
A woman is obligated in rejoicing as we have explained. What he [Abbaye] said here, “a woman – her husband causes her to rejoice” is not to release her from the obligation of rejoicing. Rather, her primary obligation is through the husband’s rejoicing. Nevertheless, regarding the practical halacha, even a woman without a husband is obligated in rejoicing.
 
A husband and wife's rejoicing are intertwined. If a woman is married, her husband has a mitzva to facilitate her rejoicing, but all women also have an independent obligation to rejoice.[5]
 
Rambam seems to follow this view:[6]
 
The rejoicing referred to on festivals is that one should offer peace offerings (shelamim) in addition to the festival peace offerings (shalmei chagiga).  These are called peace-offerings of festival joy (shalmei simchat chagiga), as it says (Devarim 27:7): "You shall sacrifice peace offerings (shelamim) and eat them there and rejoice before the Lord your God." Women are obligated in this mitzva.
 
The seven days of Pesach and the eight days of Sukkot, along with the other festivals, are all forbidden for eulogizing and fasting. And a person is obligated to be joyful and of a good heart on them—he, his children, his wife, the members of his household and all who accompany him. As it says (Devarim 16:14), "And you shall rejoice on your festival, etc." Even though the joy that is mentioned here is [referring to] peace offerings (shelamim)—as we explain in the Laws of the Festival Offering—included in that joy is for him, his children and the members of his household to rejoice, everyone according to what is appropriate for him.
 
The view that women are obligated in simchat Yom Tov is widely accepted as Halacha:[7]
 
Shulchan Aruch OC 529:2
A person is obligated to be joyous and of good heart on the holiday, he and his wife and his children and all who join him. How does he cause them to rejoice? He gives the children toasted wheat and nuts; and buys the women clothing and jewelry according to his means; and he is obligated to feed the stranger, the widow and the orphan along with the other poor people.
 
Mishna Berura 529:15
A person is obligated to be joyous – This is a Torah-level positive commandment, as it is written “you shall rejoice on your festival,” and it also applies to women
 
Rav Moshe Sternbuch adds that even those who maintain that women are exempt from rejoicing on festivals apply the exemption only to concrete actions (e.g., eating meat, drinking wine, and wearing new clothes). According to all opinions, however, women are obligated in achieving the emotional state of simcha on Yom Tov because it is a mitzva performed with the heart:
 
Mo'adim U-zmanim 7:11
It seems that women are exempt from rejoicing, and only her husband causes her to rejoice with him, according to Abbaye…in this aspect of rejoicing, which is rejoicing of the heart, women are also obligated….in mitzvot that depend on the heart, even if they are time-bound, women are obligated.
 
Why is the husband responsible for his wife's simchat Yom Tov?
 
Simchat Yom Tov is a combination of an internal spiritual and emotional state with the external objects and actions that foster and reflect that state of joy. A husband or father's mitzva of simchat Yom Tov includes responsibility for contributing to his household's rejoicing.
 
In earlier generations, purchase of the new clothing or festive foods that would help spur a household to happiness depended in a practical sense on funds controlled by the male head of the household. Nowadays, as more and more women have financial independence, many women have the ability to contribute funds toward the household's simcha, and should do so.
 
However, there might be a deeper message here, as well. Torah Temima argues that a husband's rejoicing depends on his wife's:
 
Torah Temima Devarim 16:66
...The matter is according to what is explained in Yevamot 62b, "whoever does not have a wife dwells without joy, as it is written “you shall rejoice, you and your household." if so, regarding rejoicing of the festival where it is also written like this, it is impossible for him [the husband] to fulfill this mitzva on his own. Logic tends to say that if she does not take part in his rejoicing, his rejoicing is incomplete, and therefore she is also obligated on his account...
 
Taken more broadly, simcha is mutually reinforcing. Whatever the household makeup, every household member, regardless of gender, contributes to every other member's rejoicing.
 
In Practice
 
We saw above that wine is suggested as a means of rejoicing, especially when there is no sacrifice of which to partake. Should women's rejoicing on Yom Tov include drinking wine as well? What other acts might be seen as fulfillments of the mitzva of simcha?
 
Both the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi list a few examples of what a husband might do to help his wife rejoice, in the name of Rabbi Yehuda:
 
Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:1
It is taught: A person needs to cause his wife and his children to rejoice on the festival. With what does he make them rejoice? With wine. Rabbi Yehuda says: Women with what is appropriate for them, and children with what is appropriate for them. Women with what is appropriate for them, like shoes and bells. And children with what is appropriate for them, like nuts and hazelnuts.
 
The Sages taught: A person is obligated to cause his children and the members of his household to rejoice on a festival, as it is stated: “And you shall rejoice on your festival” (Devarim 16:14). With what should one make them rejoice? With wine. Rabbi Yehuda says: Men with what is appropriate for them and women with what is appropriate for them. Rabbi Yehuda elaborates: Men with what is appropriate for them, with wine. And women, with what? Rav Yosef taught: In Babylonia with colorful clothes and in Eretz Yisrael with pressed linen clothes.
 
It is not clear from either source if Rabbi Yehuda means to reject wine as a means for women to achieve simcha or simply add to it. Nor is it clear if anyone, man or woman, needs to eat meat in the absence of Beit Ha-mikdash.[8]
 
In his presentation of this halacha, Rambam seems to imply that women need not drink wine or eat meat (without the sacrifice), since he lists these as male modes of rejoicing:
 
Mishneh Torah, Shevitat Yom Tov 6:18
For the women he buys new clothes and beautiful jewelry according to his means. And the men eat meat and drink wine, since there is no simcha except with meat, and no simcha except with wine.
 
Though does not specify meat and wine when he lays out what a man should provide for a widow in his household to facilitate her rejoicing, Rashi does list food and drink, and wine was the preeminent drink of his day:
 
Rashi Kiddushin 34b s.v. Bi-shruya
And the person with whom she is staying is commanded to cause her to rejoice from his own resources, with food and drink and linen garments.
 
Similarly, Rabbi Akiva Eiger notes that women are obligated in simchat Yom Tov, and fulfill the mitzva through meat and wine,[9] though he argues that women are not obligated as a matter of simcha to eat bread on Yom Tov:[10]
 
שו"ת רבי עקיבא איגר מהדורא קמא סימן א
דהיא מחוייבה בשמחה, מ"מ [=מכל מקום] היינו דאסורה בהספד ותענית, ולהיות לה שמחה בשתיית יין ובשר אבל מ"מ [=מכל מקום] נראה דאינה מחוייבת באכילת פת דנראה דאכילת פת אינו מצד חיוב שמחה
 
Responsa Rabbi Akiva Eiger Mahadura Kama 1
For she is obligated in simcha, in any case, that means that she is forbidden in eulogizing and fasting, and should have simcha with drinking wine and with meat, but in any case, it seems that she is not obligated in eating bread, since it seems that eating bread is not based on the obligation of simcha
 
Other authorities, however, do include eating bread as a fulfillment of simchat Yom Tov:
 
Rosh Berachot 7:23
Therefore, it seems to Rabbeinu Yehuda that a person is obligated to eat bread on Yom Tov because of simcha.
 
In practice, women eat meat and drink wine on Yom Tov, so long as it adds to rejoicing, and men are obligated to enable their wives to make joyful purchases for the holiday, while a single woman attends to her own happiness. These purchases need not be restricted to clothing or ornament. Rav Shmuel Wosner gives some examples:
 
Responsa Shevet Ha-levi 8:124
And similarly clothing and so forth, or dancing or an excursion in honor of the simcha of the day that causes gratification. But giving a book, which indeed causes delight and simcha but is not connected specifically to the simcha of the day, and similarly an electronic device of mere women’s chatter, which does not exempt from the foundations of simcha of the day, like clothes and sweets and so on.
 
In Rav Wosner's chassidic community, women's formal learning opportunities are more limited. For women who do learn Torah, purchase of a book for Talmud Torah could well be a fulfillment of rejoicing on Yom Tov.
In a modern twist, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed notes that the married woman of today is free to make purchases for herself:[11]
 
Rav Eliezer Melamed, Peninei Halacha, Laws of the Festivals, 1:10
In contrast, now that there are so many types of clothing and jewelry available, choosing has become complicated. In many families, it is the accepted norm for the wife to choose clothes or jewelry for herself, and for the budget to be set by the couple in accordance with their means (as explained below in section 12). In order for the husband to participate in the mitzva, it is appropriate for him to encourage his wife to buy an item of clothing or jewelry for the festival. This way it can be considered a gift from him to her, which will increase her simcḥa.
 
Writing to a new widow, Rabbanit Anat Novoselsky suggests that a woman determine for herself what will best enable her to rejoice before God:[12]
 
Rabbanit Anat Novoselsky, "The Obligation of Women in Rejoicing on a Festival," in Ma She'eilateich Esther Ve-te'as, p. 35
Each woman must rejoice at the festive holiday meal, with a new item of clothing or jewelry or whatever causes her to rejoice, and it is not necessary to impose this obligation specifically on the husband. It is even fitting to be more particular about festival clothing than Shabbat clothing, and to avoid things that mar the joy of the heart… Seek the way that you will be able to cause yourself to rejoice in the best way possible, and you will merit to fulfil the mitzva, “and you shall rejoice in your festival and be only joyous.”
 
Further Reading:
 
Rav David Brofsky, "The Celebration of Yom Tov." VBM shiur. Available here:
Rabbanit Anat Novoselsky, "The Obligation of Women in Rejoicing on a Festival." Ma She'eilateich Esther Ve-te'as, Ohr Torah Stone 2014. Available here:
 
 
 

[1] Although this passage mentions only Shavuot and Sukkot, the mention of remembering our bondage in Egypt serves as a link to Pesach as well:
Sifrei Devarim 139:12
"Remember that you were a bondsman in Egypt and observe and perform [these ordinances]"—teaches us that all that we practice on Shavuot, we practice on Pesach.
Alternatively, Pesach is included because of a derivation from one holiday to another:
Sefer Yere'im 227
Simcha is not written regarding Chag Ha-matzot or Rosh Ha-shana. From where [do we derive it]? From R’ Yona’s comparison [hekesh] in Shavuot 10a “These shall you do for God on your holidays.” R’ Yona said: All the holidays are linked to each other. And Yom Kippur, even though it is included among the holidays, is not included in simcha because it is written regarding it “and you shall afflict your souls.”
[2] In the continuation of the passage, Rabbi Zeira's view is contrasted with Abbaye's position that her husband causes her to rejoice:
Abbaye said to him: Derive it from her being obligated in rejoicing. Did Abbaye say this? But Abbaye said 'a woman, her husband causes her to rejoice.' Abbaye said this from the perspective of Rabbi Zeira.
[3] See also Rashi here, who cites the verse later on in Devarim (14:26) about rejoicing with ma'aser sheini food, which includes mention of a man's household, his wife:
You shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you and your household shall rejoice in all your undertakings in which the Lord your God has blessed you.
Rashi on Chagiga 6a
She [his mother] is obligated in rejoicing - To make the pilgrimage [to Yerushalayim] and to rejoice on the festival with her husband, because women were commanded in rejoicing, as it is written (Devarim 14:26) "and you and your household shall rejoice."
[4] Along these lines, Ba'al Ha-me'or suggests that Abbaye’s statement in Chagiga does not refer to the wife’s independent obligation in rejoicing, but rather to her husband’s obligation to bring her to Yerushalayim and cause her to rejoice there:
Ha-me’or Ha-katan Rosh Ha-shana 1a
These words seem to contradict each other. Rather, we should explain these statements of Abbaye in Chagiga in accordance with what he said, that “a woman – her husband causes her to rejoice,” meaning that her obligation is incumbent on him. He should persuade her with words and cause her to come up [to Yerushalayim] in order that she rejoice with him…  
According to this reading of the sources, Abbaye maintains that a woman has no independent obligation to rejoice.
[5] See also Yerushalmi:
Women are obligated in simcha and are not obligated in appearing [at Beit Ha-mikdash]
[6] See also Lechem Mishneh here:
Lechem Mishnah Avodat HaKodesh 14:14
[Rambam] rules stringently like Rabbi Zeira, that a woman is obligated in simcha, and so he writes in Hilchot Chagiga 1:1.
[7] Rashi understands Abbaye as stating that women are exempt from simcha, but does not rule this way:
Rashi Kiddushin 35a s.v. Mi-shum de-havai simcha
We do not hold like Abbaye, who said above: “a woman – her husband causes her to rejoice.”
Sha’agat Aryeh also rules that women are obligated:
Responsa Sha’agat Aryeh (Yeshanot) 66
For it is perfectly clear to us that a woman is also obligated in the mitzva of simcha on the festivals like a man.
[8] Beiur Halacha 529:2
And nowadays, when Beit Ha-mikdash is not standing, we do not fulfil the obligation of simcha except with wine, as it says: “Wine gladdens a person’s heart.” But there is no obligation to eat meat nowadays, since we do not have the meat of the peace offering (shelamim). Nevertheless, there is still a mitzva in eating meat, since it is referred to as simcha, and Shulchan Aruch, who did not mention meat, followed his own approach.
[9] In a discussion of the custom not to eat meat prior to immersing in the mikveh, Taz attests to the custom for a woman to eat meat before mikveh if the meal is on Shabbat or Yom Tov:
Taz YD 198:25
On Shabbat and Yom Tov, the custom is to eat meat. She should just be careful to clean [her teeth] thoroughly afterwards.
[10] See also Yere'im:
Sefer Yere’im 227 (old edition, 127)
For without eating [bread] one can rejoice by eating meat and drinking wine.