This week’s parshah, Parshas Tazria, begins with the halachos of having a baby. When a woman gives birth to a boy or girl after a certain period of time, she must bring two korbanos –a one-year-old sheep as a korban olah and a young dove or a turtledove as a korban chatas. If she cannot afford to bring a sheep, she may bring two turtledoves or two young doves – one for each of the two korbanos.
The Gemara (Niddah 31b) states that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was asked why a woman who gives birth must bring a korban. He answered that while a woman is in labor, she swears that she will not return to be with her husband. Rashi explains that since made an oath that she did not intend to keep she must bring a korban.
The Gemara quotes Rav Yosef, who challenges Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. “How can she bring a korban chatas for such an oath,” he asks, “which was taken deliberately?” A korban chatas is only brought for aveiros performed accidentally. Additionally, the korban that one must bring for taking a false oath is a sheep, yet the pasuk says that a woman who delivers a baby must bring a bird for a korban chatas. This indicates that the korban chatas is not for swearing falsely. With these questions, the Gemara leaves the matter somewhat unresolved and moves to another topic.
The Ramban, in this week’s parshah, and the Chinuch (mitzvah 168) cite Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s reason as the basis for why a postpartum woman must bring a korban. The Minchas Chinuch says that the abovementioned Gemara seems to have disproved Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s explanation. Why, then, would these Rishonim cite this reason?
The Maharsha, on the Gemara in Niddah (ibid.), asks why the Gemara did not also challenge Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai with the following: Since a husband may annul his wife’s oaths, surely he annulled the oath his wife made while giving birth. The Maharsha explains that it was obvious to the Gemara that the husband would not have annulled such an oath on the day it was made, which is the only time that it may be annulled. Thus, the Gemara did not bother to ask this question. The Maharsha then says that based on this, the Gemara also knew the answers to the two questions (see above) that Rav Yosef asked on Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s explanation.
In answering the first question, the Maharsha suggests that since a woman knows that her husband has the ability to annul her oaths, her sworn oath is considered unintentional and she can bring a korban chatas.
As to the second question, the Maharsha proposes that if one cannot afford a sheep, he only needs to bring a bird as a korban – even after taking a false oath. Since the halacha treats a married woman’s property as being under the jurisdiction of her husband, she is considered to be unable to afford a sheep. She therefore only needs to bring a bird.
(As an aside, one must differentiate between the korban chatas and the korban olah that a woman must bring, for the pasuk says – regarding the korban olah – that she should bring a sheep, but if she cannot afford one she can bring a bird. Apparently, in the Maharsha’s opinion regarding the korban olah, we consider the woman capable of affording a sheep. Yet concerning the korban chatas, we do not. Perhaps pertaining to the korban chatas, which serves as an atonement for an aveirah that only she performed, we do not consider the combined finances of the couple –only hers. Regarding the korban olah, in contrast, perhaps we look at the couple’s combined finances.)