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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Why Are Women Required to Recite the Haggadah?

This 18th Century handwritten Passover Haggadah was discovered in a heap of rubbish.

This 18th Century handwritten Passover Haggadah was discovered in a heap of rubbish.
Photo Credit: BBC

In the list of 613 Mitzvos of the Torah, the Sefer HaChinuch lists Mitzvah 21 as Sipur Yitziyas Mitzrayim – the retelling of the exodus story – which we do via the Haggadah,  But then the Chinuch makes an astonishing assertion: This Mitzvah is a biblical level requirement for women. The Minchas Chinuch asks the obvious question. Is this not a Mitzvas Aseh SheHaZ’am Grama – a positive commandment that is time bound? …from which women are exempt?

The typical answer one might offer for this would be ‘SheAf Hein Hayah  B’Oso HaNes…. They too were included in the the miracle of the exodus. But that principle applies only to rabbinic enactments like hearing Megilas Esther on Purim or the drinking the Daled Kosos (the 4 cups of wine) at the Seder. It is never used to require women to observe a biblical level time bound positive commandment like Sipur Yitzias Miztrayim. Why should women then be required to do that?

The Sefer Kehilas Yaalov gives us an interesting answer. Women are required to eat Matzah on Pesach too – even though that too is a time bound positive commandment. The reason for that is as follows: Kol SheYeshna B’ Bal Tochel Chametz, Yash Na B’Kum Ochel Matzos (Pesachim – 43b). Any time a positive time bound commandment is connected to a Lav (a negative commandment – in this case ‘Do not eat Chametz) …its counterpart (in this case eating Matzah) applies. Even though a woman would ordinarily not be required to do a time bound positive commandment… when it is tied to a negative commandment she is required to observe that Mitzvah.

The Gemarah (Pesachim – 115b) tells us that Matzah is Lechem Oni. One of the definitions of Lechem Oni is something upon which many things are answered – which is in essence what Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim is. Meaning that in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Matzah properly, it must be eaten as part of Sipur Yitzias Mitzrayim – that is, saying the Haggadah. And that makes it a biblical level requirement.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah . / Harry Maryles

About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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One Response to “Why Are Women Required to Recite the Haggadah?”

  1. Lize Bartsch says:

    Women and children are not mentioned in the Tora because of two reasons: 1. They are arranged beneath their fathers or husbands, they are included as a unity in the family but submissive. When the man is mentioned it includes his family but he as the head of the home is notified and he has to delegate Gd’s authority to his family and instruct them. 2. Often when the Bible says ‘men’ it means mankind i.e. all humans.

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