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There are two mitzvos that the rabbanan instituted for Chanukah, lighting candles and saying Hallel. The Gemara in Shabbos 23a says that women are obligated in the mitzvah of lighting candles because af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness – they too were involved in the miracle.
It is implicit from the Rambam, in Hilchos Chanukah 3:14, that women are exempt from the mitzvah of saying Hallel on Chanukah. Many Acharonim were bothered by a simple question: the Gemara in Shabbos 23a says that women are obligated in the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanukah as a result of: af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness. Why then should they not be obligated in the mitzvah of Hallel?
To make the question stronger, some Acharonim point to Tosafos in Sukkah 38a (d”h me) that says that women are obligated in the mitzvah of Hallel on Pesach because of the rule of af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness. Why then should they be exempt from the mitzvah of Hallel on Chanukah?
The sefer, Sdei Chemed, quotes from Reb Sholmo HaKohen from Vilna that in truth women are obligated in the mitzvah of Hallel on Chanukah – but are not obligated in saying the entire version that Chazal instituted. They can fulfill their obligation by reciting one short paragraph that mentions praise to Hashem for the miracles. This idea is similar to the opinion of the Rambam, who says that one is obligated min haTorah to daven once every day. However, one need not daven the Shemoneh Esrei to fulfill this obligation; rather one can simply make one bakashah to fulfill his obligation.
Not all, however, welcomed this answer for several reasons. First, we do not find that it is mentioned anywhere that women are obligated to say Hallel. The Rambam writes that they cannot be motzi a man in his obligation, and does not differentiate whether they had earlier said one line of Hallel. Second, the Beis Yosef writes that women should not recite a berachah on Hallel on Chanukah. If they are indeed obligated and they are saying the version that Chazal instituted, why should they not recite a berachah as they do on Pesach?
Tosafos, in numerous places, inquires why women are not obligated in several different mitzvos as a result of the rule of af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness. In Megillah 4a, for example, Tosafos asks why women are not obligated to eat matzah on Pesach as a result of the rule of af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness. So why does the Gemara need to find a drasha that obligates them? Also, Tosafos (Sukkah 108b) asks why women are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah when the pasuk in Vayikra 23:43 says that we have the mitzvah of sukkah as a result of Hashem’s miracle of making sukkos for us in the desert. Thus, they should be obligated as a result of the same rule of af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness.
Several Acharonim ask why women are not obligated in the mitzvah of tefillin. The pasuk in Shemos 13:9 says that we wear tefillin because Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim. Based on that, women should be obligated in the mitzvah of tefillin as a result of af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness.
The Sefer Harirai Kedem quotes an amazing explanation from Reb Moshe Soloveitchik that answers all of these questions, including the original one regarding Hallel on Chanukah. He explains that there is a difference between when a mitzvah’s essence is to publicize the miracle and when the reason why we are obligated is to remember a miracle. There are only three times when the Gemara says that women are obligated in mitzvos as a result of the rule of af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness: lighting candles on Chanukah, reading the Megillah on Purim, and drinking four cups of wine on Pesach. All three of these mitzvos’ essence is to publicize the miracle associated with that holiday. The mitzvos of sukkah, matzah and tefillin are all connected to miracles; however, they are merely a remembrance of the miracles. The essence of these mitzvos is not to publicize the miracle (pirsumei nissa). The only time that the rule of af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness can obligate one in a mitzvah is when the essence of the mitzvah is to publicize the miracle. Since the essence of the mitzvos of sukkah, matzah and tefillin are not pirsumei nissa, the rule of af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness cannot obligate women in those mitzvos.
The mitzvah to recite Hallel that Chazal instituted regarding Chanukah was in fact a direct result of the miracle of Chanukah; however, its essence is not to publicize the miracle but rather to give thanks for the miracle. On the other hand, the mitzvah of lighting candles was instituted in order to publicize the miracle. Therefore we can apply the rule of af ha’eim hayu b’osah haness – thereby obligating women in the mitzvah of lighting candles but not in the mitzvah of saying Hallel on Chanukah.
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