Eruvin 96 Woman putting on Tefillin and בל תוסיף

There is a long discussion  in this perek regarding whether the night is a time for the mitzva of wearing Tefillin, which could be connected to the question of whether Shabbos is a time for this mitzva, and the broader question of whether Tefillin is considered a positive mitzva bound by time, which woman are exempt from.

Another issue addressed here is whether the prohibition of בל תוסיף  (adding to the Torah) is transgressed when one performs a mitzva in its incorrect time, or when someone who is exempt from the mitzva fulfills it.

In searching for a Tana who holds that there is indeed a mitzva to wear Tefillin on Shabbos, the Gemara points to a Beraisa which states that Michal bas Cushi (understood as a reference to Shaul’s daughter Michal-see Rashi) put on Tefillin and the Chachamim never protested . It also states that the wife of the prophet Yona did the mitzva of עליה לרגל  (going to Yerushalayim for the festivals and bringing a special sacrifice) and the Chachamim also never protested.

The Gemara at first assumes that the fact that the Chachamim never protested against Michal for wearing Tefillin must mean that it is not a מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא  (positive mitzva bound by time.)  Otherwise, she would have been exempt, the prohibition of בל תוסיף  would have applied, and the Chachamim would have protested.

At this stage, the Gemara assumes that if someone who is not commanded to fulfill a particular mitzva performs it voluntarily, he/she has actually transgressed the prohibition of adding to the Torah

This assumption needs to be addressed. After all, there is a famous rule of גדול המצווה ועושה ממי שאינו מצווה ועושה  (one who performs a mitzva that he is commanded to fulfill is greater than one who performs it voluntarily in the absence of an obligation.)

This rule is applied (Kiddushin 31a) by Rav Yosef to explain why he would make a party if he discovered that a blind man is  liable in all mitzvos, and to highlight the huge reward for honoring parents, in the famous case of the non-Jew , דמא בן נתינא, who merited to raise a פרה אדומה   (red heifer) for performing this mitzva even though he was not commanded to do so.

It seems clear from this that one certainly receives reward for performing a mitzva that one is not commanded to fulfill, albeit not as much as that received for fulfilling a mitzva that one is commanded to perform.

Perhaps one can argue that in the case of a non-Jew, performing a mitzva voluntarily is praise-worthy seeing as non-Jews are not commanded in בל תוסיף   (the prohibition of “adding to the commandments ” is not one of their 7  mitzvos!)

Similarly, in the case of Rav Yosef, he might have been previously unsure whether he was obligated to keep the mitzvos or not and kept them conditionally out of doubt, and such conditional observance would not be prohibited by בל תוסיף .

It would then be possible that if a woman is definitely not obligated to put on Tefillin, doing so would involve the prohibition of בל תוסיף.

In truth though, we immediately notice another issue with the Gemara’s assumption.

If Tefillin is NOT a positive mitzva bound by time, it should follow that ALL woman are obligated to put on Tefillin, and Michal bas Shaul should have been an unusual case, which it clearly appears to have been.

It is possible that the Gemara would have dealt with these issues, but had no need to, seeing as it immediately rejects this assumption for even more obvious reasons.

It points out that the very same Beraisa that records the actions of Michal also records how Yona’s wife performed the mitzva of עליה לרגל  without rabbinic sanction.

As it is impossible to argue that עליה לרגל  is not a  מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא, it is clear that the author of the very same Beraisa holds that that when a woman performs a mitzva that she is exempt from, there is NO issue of בל תוסיף .

The Gemara thus suggests that this Beraisa expressed the view of Rabbi Yosi regarding סמיכה  (the mitzva of placing one’s hands on an animal before slaughtering it for a  sacrifice .)

He is of the view that even though women are exempt from this Mitzva, they may do so voluntarily if they wish to , clearly holding that NO בל תוסיף  is involved.

The Gemara does note though that neither Rabbi Meir nor Rabbi Yehuda (in our Mishna) agree with Rabbi Yosi and that they do not allow a woman to perform סמיכה  or to blow shofar voluntarily.

At first glance, it seems that this is because they hold that performing a mitzva that one is not obligated in involves the prohibition of בל תוסיף.

Rabbi Shimon, in contrast, agrees with Rabbi Yossi, and if the above assumption is correct, it follows that woman performing mitzvos they are exempt from are subject to a tannaic dispute where Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Shimon permit it and Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda do not.

Now that we have seen that performing mitzvot voluntarily is subject to tannaic debate, it is  possible that the Tannaim and Amoraim who apply the rule of גדול המצווה ועושה   to a blind person and a non-Jew hold like Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Shimon regarding women, and that this view is accepted by the סתמא דסוגיא  (main sugya) elsewhere.

Seeing as we usually rule like Rabbi Yossi, this would not be surprising.

Yet the Tosfos introduce another complication to the discussion.

They quote another Midrash according to which the Chachamim did indeed object to the actions of Michal!

They also object to Rashi’s assumption that those Tannaim who forbid women from wearing Tefillin, blowing shofar, סמיכה and certain other mitzvos do so because of בל תוסיף, seeing as we have seen elsewhere that many mitzvos may be performed even by those not obligated in them.

In particular, he brings the case where Rabbi Yehuda never voiced any disapproval about Queen Helena sitting in the sukkah(Sukkah 2b)

Instead, he suggests that there are certain specific mitzvos which Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Meir do not allow women to perform, each for their own reasons.

One example he gives is Shofar, because blowing shofar is rabbinically forbidden on Shabbos and Yom-Tov in the absence of an obligation, which means that women who do so are actually transgressing a rabbinical prohibition related to the laws of Yom-Tov!

Regarding Tefillin, he suggests that Tefillin require a particularly clean body, and that these authorities were concerned that women are not particular enough about this, an explanation also brought by the Rashba.

Some Rishonim (See for example Ritva) even suggest that even those Chachamim who did not protest Michal’s actions were still not unhappy about them for this reason, though given that she was a princess, it seems somewhat hard to accept that she was not at least as careful about cleanliness than the average man at the time!

This entire suggestion, however , seems like a historical and societal issue, and there is little evidence of there being a long-term decree of chazal forbidding women to wear Tefillin for this reason- As such, in today’s Western society where women certainly seem  to be as careful as men about cleanliness, perhaps more so, and where almost everyone washes more often than the average man once did, applying this reasoning seems rather far-fetched, particularly given that other Rishonim such as Rashi and the Meiri do not share this concern, and most Rishonim certainly hold that the authoritative view of Rabbi Yossi has no such concern.

As such, it seems that there is nothing wrong with women wearing Tefillin voluntarily if they so choose, and they would probably be rewarded for doing so as an אינה מצווה ועושה .

Although the Rema himself writes that one should protest against women who put on Tefillin, presumably due to the concern of גוף נקי  as per the Ritva, this ruling seems to be against against the way most Rishonim learnt the sugya, and as pointed out above, it is hard to say that the concern of גוף נקי  is applicable today, particularly for woman who are not constantly busy with babies.

However, this might only be the case if they are aware that they are not obligated and choose to do so as a רשות  (voluntary act,) the term Rabbi Yossi himself used to describe it.

If however, they claim that they are equally obligated to do so like men are, and do it out of a sense of חיוב  (obligation,)  one could argue that this might indeed involve the prohibition of בל תוסיף (see Rambam Mamrim 2/9)  who makes a similar argument against pretending or assuming that rabbinic laws are biblical.)

In addition, it could also set a precedent for “twisting” eternal aspects of halacha to fit modern social norms and values, a pandora’s box which once opened, is almost impossible to close- whereas the concern for גוף נקי  might be less relevant in modern western society, this concern is even more relevant than ever.

This might explain why most Torah authorities are anything from hesitant to strongly opposed to allowing woman to put on Tefillin en masse, and like in all far-reaching changes to our behavioral status quo, encouraging this without support from at least some of them seems at best extremely unwise.

 In addition, although we have made a compelling case to allow at least individual women who wish to perform this special mitzva to do so, at least in modern western society, it requires broad shoulders  (which I do not have)  to rule against the Rema in practise, and there are also sources from those who follow the “kabbalistic approach” that are against this for kabbalistic reasons (see Yalkut Yosef: דינים לאשה ולבת פרק ד  for a list) – I have just come as usual to learn the sugya from the primary sources and point out some of the issues involved.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha

Shabbos 88 Choice and coercion in religious life 

On today’s daf, we are faced with 2 very different approaches to how the Torah was giving, so much so that it seems bizarre that the Gemora brings them one after another without noting any contradiction.

On the one hand , the Gemara learns from the passuk ויתישבו בתחתית ההר (” and they settled down at the bottom of ( or underneath) the mountain”- Shmot 19/17)  that Hashem  raised the mountain over us and threatened that if we do not except the Torah, we would be buried under it .

Although it is certainly within normative use to translate the word בתחתית as “at the foot of” , and not “under” , and this is probably the simple פשט , we can  explains that this derasha is based on the contrast between this word and another word used  in an earlier passuk  (Shmos 19/2) to describe their position, namely נגד (by or opposite) the mountain .

It seems clear from this that the Torah was forced on us, to the point that the Amora, Rav Acha bar Yaakov, makes the rather harsh point that this is in fact מודעא רבה לאורייתא , a strong argument for those who do not follow the Torah, seeing as it was given by force .

Straight after this , the Gemara brings statements of Chazal who understand the phrase “נעשה ונשמע” said by the people to imply that we accepted the Torah unconditionally and willingly , committing to keeping it even before we heard what was in it .

We could argue that this has nothing to do with accepting the Torah voluntarily, but rather the unconditional way in which we accepted that which was forced on us .

This could be  similar to if , chalila, a robber or powerful ruler (lehavdil) holds a gun to someone’s head –   one first immediately puts one’s hands up and says “Take anything you want, I will do whatever you say”, before actually hearing what he wants of one .

However, from the description of the 2 crowns that were given as a reward for this, and the story of the Sadducee who bothered Rava and mocked the way we accepted the Torah without first hearing whether we could handle it or not , it seems clear that the common explanation, namely that we indeed did indeed  accept the Torah voluntarily and unconditionally, is the correct one .

It is possible to suggest that these two forms of acceptance both took place, perhaps one after another .

Perhaps we first accepted the Torah voluntarily , but after hearing what was in it, or even before , started to have second thoughts? At which point we were told that it was now already binding on us and we have no choice but to accept it. 

This would be like making a voluntary vow , which once made is now compulsory, or entering a voluntary contract, which once signed , is now binding . See Tosfos on the daf who discussed this issue.

It could also be compared to a convert who voluntarily takes on Judaism, but who is now halachically Jewish, bound by the commandments, and unable to go back .

Alternatively, perhaps we were first coerced into accepting the Torah, and then later became excited about it and accepted it voluntarily. 

This would be similar to a child who is forced to go to school by his parent but then becomes excited about it and goes voluntarily.

Although interesting, the first explanation certainly fits the order of the pessukim better!

Nevertheless, we still need to explain why both these stages were necessary ?

If Hashem knew we would or did accept the Torah voluntarily, why did he force us to do so, particularly given the high risk that we would resent it and abandon it, as pointed out by Rav Acha bar Yaakov ? 

Rav Avraham Rivlin שליט”א , our mashgiach in Kerem b Yavneh, always makes an analogy to the different types of love we bless a bride and groom with ( it should be noted that on the next daf, the giving of the Torah is indeed compared to a wedding!)

Two of these are אהבה ( love) , and אחוה( brotherhood) 

Love is something personal, voluntary. 

A person chooses whom he wishes to love and be friends with. 

Brotherhood is something one has no say in at all- your brother is your brother whether you like it or not .

Love is something that can be temporary, unfortunately – even best friends often split up.

Brotherhood, in contrast is forever – one cannot “divorce one’s brother .”

We bless the bride and groom that their relationship  should experience the passion that comes with choosing who to love, but the stability and permanence of brotherhood .

Similarly, explains Rav Rivlin: It was essential for our love and passion for   Torah, that it be something we accept voluntarily .

Yet easy come, easy go, and something  we choose to love can often become less loved when the initial passion wears out.

As such, it was equally essential that our relationship with Torah also  contains “brotherhood”- an eternal and unbreakable bond, that weathers the highs and the lows and can never be broken.

This approach is fascinating, but could perhaps be questioned based on Rav Acha bar Yaakov’s point that, on the contrary, the fact that we accepted the Torah by coercion was actually an excuse to abandon it, not a reason to keep it forever !

Although this can perhaps be answered , there is another possibility I would like to suggest, which might also  bare some relation to Rav Rivlin’s approach.

There is a well-known, though counter intuitive Talmudic principle , that גדול המצווה ועושה ממי שאינו מצווה ועושה.” – one who performs a commandment he is obligated to perform is greater (gets greater reward) than one who performs a commandment voluntarily. ( see for example Avodah Zarah 3a, Kiddushim 31a )

This could be because someone who is forced to do something, has a natural temptation  to rebel and has to resist this urge to do so ( see Tosfos A.Z. 3a who takes this approach. ) 

This is in stark contrast to the passion with which  one fulfills a good deed which one has  chooses to do on his own .

As such, a child who becomes an adult celebrates the fact that until now, he only fulfilled commandments voluntarily, but know he will be fulfilling them because he is obligated to do so, and getting the increased merit for doing so.

Perhaps it is specifically for that reason, that once we had already accepted the Torah voluntarily, Hashem now forced the Torah on us.

Rav Acha’s point now supports this decision fully – precisely because we would now have an “excuse ” to rebel against what we had now been forced into , we have the potential to resist this urge and reach a far higher level and the accompanying merit. 

As such, this “coercion” now becomes one of the greatest kindness and opportunities that Hashem bestowed about us, perhaps even as a reward for our initial voluntary and unconditional acceptance! 

רצה ה.ק.ב.ה. לזכות את ישראל לפיכך הרבה להם תורה ומצוות

(מכות פרק ג פסוק טז)