The Gender Factor
‘Where There Is Loss Of Work…
Three Are Called To The Torah’
The Mishnah (21a) rules that on Monday and Thursday three people are called to the Torah (for an aliyah), whereas on Rosh Chodesh four people are called to the Torah. The Gemara (22a) deliberates how many people are called to the Torah on public fast days.
To resolve this question, the Gemara (22b) cites a beraisa that postulates that the number of aliyos on Monday and Thursday is limited to three because the sages did not want to take time away from the workday. Since most public fast days fall on workdays, the Gemara concludes that only three people should be called up to the Torahon these days as well.
They Doth Protest
On Rosh Chodesh, however, the Gemara notes that four people are called to the Torah since Rosh Chodesh is not a regular workday. This is a rather difficult statement; in what sense is Rosh Chodesh not a regular workday?
Rashi explains that Rosh Chodesh is not considered a regular workday since women abstain from work on Rosh Chodesh. (See Magen Avraham, O.C. 282:6 and Birkei Yosef ad loc.)
Why don’t they work on this day? Exodus 32:3 states that Bnei Yisrael removed their gold earrings and donated them for the eigel. The Midrash (Tanchuma, Parashas Ki Tisa 19, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 45) infers from the fact that the pasuk does not state that the women removed their earrings that the women in fact refused to contribute to the eigel. (The Da’as Zekenim writes that the men, in their desire to make the eigel, contributed their wives earrings against their will.) Rashi (ad loc. s.v. “Roshei Chodashim,” citing his teacher) explains that Rosh Chodesh was given as a Yom Tov specifically to women as a reward for refusing to contribute toward making the eigel. Therefore, women observe Rosh Chodesh as a Yom Tov and abstain from (certain types of) work on this day.
Ab Initio Donors
Rabbeinu Bachya (Exodus 35:20) points out that women have a natural penchant for jewelry and do not like to give up jewelry they own. Hence, the fact that they refused to donate their jewelry for the eigel does not conclusively demonstrate their righteousness.
However, their piety is clearly evident in the making of the Mishkan. Exodus 35:22 states that the “men brought [donations] in addition to those brought by the women.” This verse proves, argues Rabbeinu Bachya, that the women’s enthusiasm for donating towards the building of the Mishkan exceeded that of the men, since they contributed first. Clearly, then, the women were righteous as they overcame their natural craving for jewelry and donated what they owned for the Mishkan.
This explains why the women were given the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh. They were rewarded for their eagerness to contribute towards the Mishkan, which was inaugurated on Rosh Chodesh Nissan.
The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 417:1) remarks that some women have a custom not to perform melachah on Rosh Chodesh and maintains this custom is a good one (see Biur Halacha ad loc.). The Rema (O.C. ad loc.) notes that in some places women refrain from performing only certain melachos on Rosh Chodesh; he writes that one should follow the prevailing local custom.