Pesahim 79a-b - Women and the Passover sacrifice

September 07, 2013



What level of obligation do women have regarding the korban Pesah?
Although the main discussion of this question takes place in the next chapter of Massekhet Pesahim, as we will see, the point is raised here in the context of bringing the Pesah 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 Pesah 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 Pesah sheni should they miss Pesah rishon (first), or, perhaps, their obligation does not go so far.
Mishna: If the entire community or most of it became ritually impure, or the priests were all impure and the community was pure, they should perform the ritual of the Paschal lamb in ritual impurity. If a minority of the community became impure, even if they are many people, those who are pure perform the ritual of the Paschal lamb on the first Pesah, and those who are impure perform the ritual on the second Pesah.
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 (ritually pure). 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 Pesah rishon nor on Pesah 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 Pesah on Pesah rishon, but on Pesah sheni they can choose whether or not to participate.
So, on Pesah 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 Pesah sheni either, since they can only do so if they were a minority on Pesah rishon. If we remove the women from the equation on Pesah sheni - since they are not obligated to participate in it - it turns out that the tameh people were not a minority on Pesah rishon, so the obligation to bring a sacrifice on Pesah sheni never takes effect.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.
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