of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali



Women are required [to recite] Kiddush even though it is a 'positive, time-specific commandment', since mention is equated with observe: since women are obligated to 'observe' [the Sabbath restrictions], this applies also to 'mentioning', and they can facilitate the performance of the mitzvah by men since they are Torah-commanded just as they are.


Paragraph 2 of Section 271 emphasizes that as regards Kiddush the obligations of men and women are identical. (Actually, we should say 'almost identical' - because females assume the obligation one year before males do.)

A well-known mishnah [Kiddushin 1:7] makes a general statement concerning the obligations of Jewish females concerning the commandments of the Torah:

All positive, time-specific mitzvot are incumbent upon men whereas women are excused; all positive mitzvot that are not time-specific are incumbent upon both men and women; all negative commandments, be they time-specific or not, are incumbent upon both men and women...

Here are some explanations of this mishnah that I gave when we studied Tractate Kiddushin in the Mishnah Study Group (December 11th 1995):

A positive mitzvah is one that requires us to do something - acts of commission; a negative mitzvah is one that requires us to refrain from doing something - acts of omission. A time-specific mitzvah is one that has to be performed at a certain time (of day, month, year) and whose performance is ritually meaningless if performed at the non-prescribed time. An example of a positive mitzvah would be "Rise before the hoary head" - i.e. show respect to the aged at all times and in all places. An example of a negative mitzvah would be "Do not steal". An example of a positive time-specific mitzvah would be "You must reside in sukkot for seven days" - choosing to reside in a sukkah at any time other than during the festival of Sukkot is a ritually meaningless act... While this "rule of thumb" is not universally applied by the later codes, it certainly is one of the main sources for the ritual distinctions between the sexes that are still items for discussion, even among Conservative Jews, and even in the brink of the 21st secular century...

At this juncture I shall not elaborate on the present state of equality or inequality between the sexes in modern Conservative Judaism - not because I think that it is irrelevant to our topic, but because I think that such a discussion at this point would not serve the major purpose of explicating Paragraph 2.

Clearly, as we noted in the previous shiur, the command to 'mention' the sanctity of Shabbat at the onset of the holy day before the evening repast is a mitzvah of the Torah: "Mention the Sabbath day and declare its holiness" [Exodus 20:8]. It is also obvious that this mitzvah must be classed as 'time-specific', since there is no ritual meaning or virtue in reciting Kiddush, say, before breakfast on Tuesday mornings. The particular version of Kiddush which concerns us in Section 271 is relevant only to the Sabbath Eve. (I shall qualify that statement in a minor fashion at some time in the future, but for now let us accept it as absolutely correct.) Thus, the mitzvah to recite Kiddush on Friday night is a 'positive, time-specific' commandment, and according to the above mishnah women should be excused its performance.

However, it is almost universally well-known that in the Torah there are two versions of the Ten Commandments. The command concerning Shabbat in the version given in the book of Exodus is the basis for the institution of Kiddush as we have seen. But the wording of this command is rather different when Moses recapitulates it in the book of Deuteronomy:

Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; you shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave ... so that your male and female slave may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and God freed you from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

Here, the emphasis is not on 'remembering' or 'mentioning', but on observance. And the context makes it quite clear that 'observance' of Shabbat means being obligated by the restrictions that make the day what it is - the Thirty-Nine Tasks and all their ramifications [See the shiurim Shabbat 008, 009, and 010 for the full explanation of this concept.] Now, at the heart of these tasks lies the idea that they must not be performed on Shabbat, therefore they and all their derivatives are a 'negative' command. As such, according to the mishnah in Kiddushin, they are binding on males and females alike, regardless of whether they are time-specific or not.

In the Gemara [Rosh ha-Shanah 27a and elsewhere] we are told that both versions of this commandment were uttered at Sinai simultaneously:

"Mention" and "Observe" were uttered simultaneously - something which no [human] mouth can utter nor can the ear understand.

Thus, according to this baraita, our ancestors standing at Mount Sinai and hearing the Divine Voice utter its eternal commands heard both terms - "Mention" and "Observe" - simultaneously. (This is alluded to in the second verse of Rabbi Shelomo Alkabetz' [1505-1576] famous hymn Lekha Dodi which is sung in the synagogue on Friday evening.) Thus, halakhically, the command to observe the Sabbath restrictions and the command to mention its holiness by reciting Kiddush are equally obligatory. This is why Rabbi Karo, in Paragraph 2 above states that "since women are obligated to 'observe' this applies also to 'mentioning'".

When two Jews have an equal obligation it is possible that one of them can facilitate the performance of the mitzvah by the other. The most obvious example is when one of a group recites out loud a berakhah before performing a certain mitzvah: all those present who respond 'Amen' are deemed to have recited the berakhah as well. While in some circles it is customary for each person sitting at the dining tables on Friday night to recite Kiddush individually, this is certainly not the general rule. In most households one person recites Kiddush and the others fulfill their obligation by responding 'Amen'.

Since, as has now become clear, the obligation of males and females as regards Kiddush are equal, there is no reason why a female (over the age of twelve) should not facilitate the performance of the mitzvah by everyone present, including the males. It is perhaps salutary to emphasize this halakhic fact, because there are still many circles in Conservative Judaism where only men are accorded the prerogative of reciting Kiddush. Even in the ever-decreasing number of Conservative congregations which are not yet egalitarian there is no halakhic justification for disbarring females from this privilege - and Rabbi Karo says just this in Paragraph 2, above!


Because of personal commitments, the next shiur in this series will be sent out on April 5th (God willing).