ג׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ט (November 11, 2018)

Menahot 93a-b: Women and the Sacrificial Service

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, semikha – laying of hands on the sacrifice – is one of the essential activities associated with individual korbanot. The Mishna on today’s daf teaches that all who bring a sacrifice must perform the act of semikha, with certain exceptions. Among those listed as an exception are women.

The source quoted by the Gemara for this ruling appears together with sources limiting a servant or an agent performing semikha on behalf of someone else, which, in the case of a woman, would be her husband. Based on this, most commentaries understand the Mishna as limiting women from performing semikha on her husband’s sacrifice; with regard to her own sacrifice the source that frees a woman from the obligation to perform semikha appears in 1:2 (see Kiddushin 36b), although Rabbi Yosei permits them to do so (see Eiruvin 96b).

Tosafot ask why there is a need for the Torah to free women from the obligation to perform semikha, since it is a mitzvat aseh she-hazeman gerama – it is a positive, time-bound commandment, which women are generally not obligated to perform – since semikha is performed only during the day and not at night. Many answers are offered in response to this question.

– Tosafot suggest that since the commandment of semikha and that of sheḥita (slaughtering the sacrifice) are connected, we might have thought that just as a sacrifice can be slaughtered by a woman, similarly she would be obligated in semikha.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that it is incorrect to assume that simply because it is performed during the day, semikha should be considered a mitzvat aseh she-hazeman gerama. According to his view, only the sheḥita must be done during the day. The fact that sheḥita is performed immediately after semikha, leads us to perform semikha during the day, but that is only for technical reasons.

– The Sefat Emet points out that sacrifices themselves are mitzvot aseh she-hazeman gerama, yet women offer sacrifices much as do their male counterparts. We can therefore conclude that the rule freeing women from performing positive, time-bound commandments does not apply to the sacrificial service.

– Finally, in his Netivot HaKodesh, Rabbi Avraham Moshe Salmon suggests that we should not view semikha as being the responsibility of the person offering the sacrifice, but as an obligation connected to the sacrifice itself. From that perspective one could have suggested that even a sacrifice brought by a woman would require semikha.