Question: According to Chazal, it would seem that women have no simcha obligation on Yom Tov other than to purchase new garments. Is that, in fact, the case?
Answer: The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 529:2) states: “A man is required to manifest joy and gladness of heart during the festival – he, his wife, his children, and all who are dependent on him…”
This halacha is based on the statement of our Sages (Pesachim 109a) that a “person is required to gladden his children and household on Yom Tov, as it states (Deuteronomy 16:14), ‘Ve’samachta becha’gecha [ata u’vincha u’vitecha ve’avdecha va’amatecha, ve’halevi ve’hager ve’hayatom ve’haalmanah asher bi’she’arecha] – You shall rejoice on your festival [you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your bondwoman, the Levite, the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow within your gates].’”
The Gemara asks, “In what manner do we gladden them?” It responds, “With wine.” R. Yehuda disagrees and states, “Men with what is suitable for them, women with what is suitable for them.” The Gemara explains that for men, it is wine, and for women, it is garments.
The Mechaber (Orach Chayim ad loc.), based on the Gemara (supra 108b-109a), adds that “to children we give parched ears of corn and nuts, and for the women one buys garments and jewelry according to one’s financial ability; one is also required to feed the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow, along with the other indigents.”
The Mechaber writes clearly that a wife should be glad on Yom Tov, but nowhere does the Gemara mention one’s wife. One could suggest that “bnei veito” refers to one’s wife, but the verse it cites in support of its statement – Deuteronomy 16:14 – does not contain these words!
Perforce, we must say that the words “ve’samachta becha’gecha, ata” refer to both the husband and his wife just like the word “ata” (Exodus 20:8-10 and Deuteronomy 5:14) in reference to Shabbat include one’s wife. The Gemara (Berachot 20b) derives from these two sources that women, though exempt from mitzvot aseh she’ha’zeman gerama – time-based commandments – are nevertheless required to recite Kiddush (on wine) on Shabbat. Thus, there is no question that “ata” is addressed to a man as well as to his woman.
Rabbi Aaron Felder, zt”l, late mara de’atra of Congregation Bnei Israel Ohev Tzedek in Philadelphia, discusses in his She’elot Aharon (siman 57) the simchat Yom Tov obligation of women. In addition to Pesachim 109a, which we cited earlier, he notes other Talmudic sources, including Kiddushin 34b and Rosh Hashana 6b, that seem to place the woman as the object of her husband’s simcha requirement, while she herself has no such requirement.
However, he also cites Chagiga 5b-6a which states that the mother of a young child is required to join in the simcha of the festival. This is the view of Beit Hillel based on I Samuel (1:22), which states, “VeChana lo alta ki amra le’ishah, Ad yiggamel hana’ar va’haviotiv – Chana did not ascend [to Shiloh, where the Mishkan was then located] for she said to her husband, ‘When the boy is weaned, I will bring him.’”
Rabbi Felder explains, citing the Ba’al HaMa’or on Rosh Hashana, that a husband is required to bring his wife up to Jerusalem in order that she rejoice with him. He also notes the Jerusalem Talmud’s statement (Chagiga 1:2) that women have an obligation of simcha. (However, the Gemara also rules that they do not have the requirement of aliyah le’regel – ascending to Jerusalem on the three festivals.) A husband must gladden his wife and she, in turn, is required to gladden him.
Rabbi Felder also cites Torah Temima to Deuteronomy 16:14 that “even though a woman is not obligated in time-based mitzvot, in this particular mitzvah of rejoicing on the festivals, she has an obligation because of her husband, for the Gemara states (Yevamot 62b), ‘He who dwells without a wife is without joy,’ and the Torah states (Deuteronomy 16:14), ‘Ve’samachta becha’gecha – You shall rejoice on your festival.’ If she does not share in his joy, how is his joy complete? Thus, she is obligated to rejoice.”
He also cites Minchat Chinuch (Mitzvah 264), which proves that a woman is obligated to rejoice from the fact that aveilut is suspended on Yom Tov. If she had no simcha requirement, she would be required to mourn on Yom Tov. Since she isn’t, she obviously has a simcha obligation.
He also quotes the Me’iri (Kiddushin 34b) stating that a single woman, too, is obligated to rejoice on Yom Tov. The phrasing of “her husband gladdens her” is only due to the fact that a married woman’s main requirement is to allow her husband to gladden her while she in turn gladdens him.
We conclude with two of Rabbi Felder’s many other citations, Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 488) and Rambam (Hilchot Chagiga 1:1), which both opine that “women are obligated to rejoice on the festivals.”
May we all rejoice on these festivals as we anxiously await our redemption, speedily in our days. Amen.