Sunday 3 January 2021

Matzah, Tefillin and Time-Bound Mitzvot

In Pesachim 43b, we learn that women are obligated in the mitzvah of eating matza. The reason, however, is a tad complicated. Since women are, normally, not obligated in time-bound positive mitzvot (i.e. positive mitzvot that are performed at a designated time), it should follow that women are not obligated in the mitzvah of matza - after all, the mitzvah is performed at a designated time (Passover). However, matza is one of the exceptions to the oft-repeated rule that women are not obligated in time-bound positive mitzvot.

But why? From where do we derive the general principle that women are not obligated in time-bound positive mitzvot in the first place? 

Mishnah Kiddushin (1:7) states:

כל מצות עשה שהזמן גרמה אנשים חיבין ונשים פטורות

For all positive, time-bound commandments, men are obligated and women are exempt

In the Gemara at Kiddushin 35a:

ומנו רב אחא בר יעקב אמר קרא (שמות יג, ט) והיה לך לאות על ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת ה' בפיך הוקשה כל התורה כולה לתפילין מה תפילין מ"ע שהזמן גרמא ונשים פטורות אף כל מ"ע שהזמן גרמא נשים פטורות ומדמצות עשה שהזמן גרמא נשים פטורות מכלל דמ"ע שלא הזמן גרמא נשים חייבות

The Gemara comments: And who is the scholar called by the nickname: The Sages of Paphunya? It is Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov, who said as follows: The verse states with regard to phylacteries: “And it shall be a sign for you on your arm and for a memorial between your eyes, that the Torah of the Lord may be in your mouth” (Exodus 13:9). In this manner the entire Torah is juxtaposed to tefillin: Just as donning tefillin is a positive, time-bound mitzvah and women are exempt from it, so too are women exempt from every positive, time-bound mitzvah in the Torah. And from the fact that women are exempt from every positive, time-bound mitzvah, one can learn by inference that women are obligated in every positive mitzvah that is not time-bound.

The argument is that: 

1. Women are not obligated in tefillin, a time-bound positive mitzvah 

2. Tefillin is compared to the entire Torah

3. Given Tefillin's importance, we can learn from tefillin about the entire class of mitzvot that are time-bound and positive

4. Therefore, as women are not obligated tefillin, they are not obligated in any time-bound mitzvot (with, of course, as noted, some exceptions)

The question remains begged: why, then, are women not obligated in tefillin - from where do we derive that? It is stated as much in Mishna Brachot:

נָשִׁים וַעֲבָדִים וּקְטַנִּים פְּטוּרִין מִקְּרִיאַת שְׁמַע וּמִן הַתְּפִלִּין, 

"Women, slaves and minors are exempt from reciting the Shema and putting on tefillin"

The argument so far seems circular: women are not obligated in time-bound mitzvot. Why? Because women are not obligated in tefillin. Why? Because women are not obligated in time-bound mitzvot. 

The Talmud Yerushalmi offers an answer at Brachot 14b:

נשים מניין (דברים יא) "ולמדתם אותם את בניכם" - ולא את בנותיכם. את שהוא חייב בת"ת חייב בתפילין, נשים, שאינן חייבות בת"ת, אינן חייבין בתפילין.

From where do we know that women [are exempt from Tefillin]? [It is written in (Deuteronomy 11)] 'And you should teach it to your sons [בניכם]' - [and this implies] not to your daughters. [So] one who is obligated to learn Torah is obligated [to wear] Tefillin, [but] women, who are not obligated to learn Torah, or not obligated [to wear] Tefillin.

I am not intelligent or learnèd enough in Torah to make much more of a comment on this, I merely present some of the sources that I have attempted to understand. Instead, I merely note that both Sefaria and the Stone Edition of the Chumash from Artscroll translate בניכם as children, not sons. If we can learn anything from this (and it is not clear that we can learn women are not obligated in Torah from it), then surely it must be that words and meaning really do matter.