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The Gender Factor
‘…Where There Is Loss Of Work…[Only]
Three Are Called To The Torah’
(Megillah 22b)

 

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The Mishna (21a) says 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 as to whether three or four aliyos are called to the Torah on a public fast day. In resolution, the Gemara (22b) cites a beraisah that postulates that the number of aliyos on Monday and Thursday is limited to three because they are workdays and the Sages did not want to cause loss of work by extending the Torah reading to more than three readers. Thus, since [most] public fast days are workdays there are also only three aliyos.

 

They Doth Protest

On Rosh Chodesh, however, the Gemara notes four people are called to the Torah because it is not a regular workday. This is rather difficult, for where do we see that Rosh Chodesh is not a regular workday? Thus Rashi explains that Rosh Chodesh is not considered a regular workday by dint of the fact that women abstain from work on Rosh Chodesh for the reason stated below. (See Magen Avraham, O.C. 282:sk6 and Birkei Yosef ad loc.)

The verse (Exodus 32:3) states that the people removed the golden earrings from their ears and donated them for the golden calf (eigel). The Midrash (Tanchuma, Parashas Ki Tisa 19, Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer chapter 45) infers from the fact that the pasuk does not state that the women removed their earrings, as stated in the previous pasuk that the women refused to contribute to this sinful cause. [The Da’as Zekenim (Exodus 35:22) explains that the men, in their desire to make the eigel, contributed their wives’ earrings against their will.]

 

Ladies Day

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 jewelry towards making the eigel. Therefore, only women observe Rosh Chodesh as a Yom Tov and abstain from [certain types of] work on Rosh Chodesh.

 

Ab Initio Donors

Rabbeinu Bachya (Exodus 35:20) points out that women have a natural penchant for jewelry and thus it would seem natural for them to refuse to part with their jewelry. Hence, the fact that they refused to donate their jewelry for the eigel does not conclusively demonstrate their virtue. However, their piety was verified at the time that materials were collected for the construction of the Mishkan. He infers from the verse: “The men brought [donations] in addition to those brought by the women (Exodus 35:22), that the women’s enthusiasm for donating towards the building of the Mishkan exceeded that of the men, as they were the first to contribute. This certainly proved their righteousness, for they overcame their natural craving for jewelry and donated it for the Mishkan.

This explains why the women were given the mitzvah of Rosh Chodesh as a reward for their eagerness to contribute towards the Mishkan – because the Mishkan was inaugurated on Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

 

Local Custom

The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 417:1) remarks that some women have a custom not to perform melachah [labor] on Rosh Chodesh and he comments that it is a good custom. (See Biur Halacha ad loc.) The Remah (O.C. ad loc.) notes that in some places the women refrain from performing only certain melachos on Rosh Chodesh, and he writes that one should follow the prevailing [local] custom.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.