“שאף הן היו באותו הנס”: Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi’s Including of Women in a Few Holiday Practices

Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, created the notion that women are equally obligated in consuming four cups of wine on the night of the Passover seder

Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, created the notion that women are equally obligated in consuming four cups of wine on the night of the Passover seder

In a categorical statement, the Mishnah proposes that “כל מצות עשה שהזמן גרמה–האנשים חייבין, והנשים פטורות – All positive commandments that time causes: men are obligated; women are exempt” (mKiddushin 1.7).  However, there are some exceptions (there are always exceptions…).  While recently studying some texts related to the reading of megillat Esther with a student (as part of my job), I came across the following (found on bMegillah 4a):

אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי: נשים חייבות במקרא מגילה שאף הן היו באותו הנס

Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, said: “Women are obligated in the reading of the megillah, since they also experienced that miracle.”

Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, certainly makes a great deal of sense: Esther played a very important role in orchestrating the saving of the Jews.  While I was familiar with the above statement, I was also familiar with the similar statement regarding Hanukah (bShabbat 23b):

אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי: נשים חייבות בנר חנוכה שאף הן היו באותו הנס

Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, said: “Women are obligated in the Hanukah candle, since they also experienced that miracle.”

This second statement of Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, seems to include the women in the miracle, since they also got to experience the re-dedication of the Temple (yes, I know there are other stories – e.g. from the Apocrypha, etc. – about women being involved with certain actions, but it’s not clear how significant they were). I was surprised to find that this statement was spoken by the exact same sage, so I thought I would look for any additional instances and, behold, I found one more (bPesahim 108b-109a):

אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי נשים חייבות בארבעה כוסות הללו שאף הן היו באותו הנס

Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, said: “Women are obligated in these four cups, since they also experienced that miracle.”

With this third and final statement, Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, is proposing that, in the departure from Egypt onward to freedom, Israelitesses were not excluded and, they, too, got to experience this departure.  When the Passover seder occurs in a couple of weeks, you’ll know who came up with the idea that women are also obligated to consume four cups of wine then.

Well, my interest is certainly raised why Rabbi Yehoshua, son of Levi, would want to equally obligate women in these three practices.  While I have not researched this matter any further [yet], I am definitely curious to see how else this second-century CE sage regarded and interacted with women that he made this move.

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