Pesachim 79a-b

April 06, 2006

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What level of obligation do women have regarding the korban Pesach?

Although the main discussion of this question takes place in the next chapter of Masechet Pesachim, as we will see, the point is raised here in the context of bringing the Pesach sacrifice when the community is tameh, or ritually defiled.

Generally speaking, the rule is that women are not obligated in positive mitzvot that are time-bound. Therefore such mitzvot as hearing the shofar on Rosh ha-Shanah or sitting in the sukkah on the holiday of Sukkot are not obligatory on women. Nevertheless, with regard to the laws of Pesach it is well known that women are obligated in the positive commandments (like eating matzah), just as they are obligated in the negative ones (like refraining from eating hametz). The question that arises on our daf (=page) is whether the obligation is a full requirement to the extent that they would be obligated to bring a sacrifice on Pesach sheni should they miss Pesach rishon (=first), or, perhaps, their obligation does not go so far.

The Mishnah on our daf teaches that if the majority of the Jewish People are tameh - ritually defiled - we "push aside" the normal rules that limit the korban to people who are ritually pure and allow the sacrifice to be brought and eaten. If, however, only a minority of the people are tameh, then the majority - the ones who are tahor (=ritually pure) - bring the korban in its proper time, and the ones who are tameh bring their sacrifice one month later, on Pesach sheni.

The Gemara brings a number of baraitot that discuss what to do if there are an equal number of people who are tameh and tahor. The positions taken by the baraitot seem difficult.  For example, one baraita teaches that, in such a case, the people who are tahor bring the korban in its proper time, but those who are tameh do not bring the korban at all - neither on Pesach rishon nor on Pesach sheni.

Rav explains the case to be when there are an equal number of tameh and tahor people, but the majority of those who are tahor are women. Rav believes that women are obligated in the korban Pesach on Pesach rishon, but on Pesach sheni they can choose whether or not to participate.

So, on Pesach rishon only the people who are tahor bring the korban because there is not a majority of tameh people.  Therefore, we cannot activate the rule of tumah hutrah be-tzibur - that when the majority of the people are ritually defiled we allow the korban to be brought

The people who are tameh cannot bring the korban on Pesach sheni either, since they can only do so if they were a minority on Pesach rishon.  If we remove the women from the equation on Pesach sheni - since they are not obligated to participate in it - it turns out that the tameh people were not a minority on Pesach rishon, so the obligation to bring a sacrifice on Pesach sheni never takes effect.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.  To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.

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Next: Pesachim 80a-b