Miracles, Midrashot and Mizrachi
BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN
The days of Chanukah were established as holidays of הַלֵּל וְהוֹדָאָה – days when we recite Hallel and prayers of thanksgiving – an appropriate time to thank Hashem for both past and modern miracles. It is a time to celebrate the bayit, our homes, upon which the mitzvah of lighting candles is predicated (נֵר אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ – a candle per home), and also a time to celebrate chinuch – the rededication of the Temple. Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the name Chanukah derives from the same root as the word chanoch, to educate. Jewish education was threatened by a Hellenistic cultural darkness that dismissed the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvot, and so we light the Chanukah candles, rededicating ourselves as parents and educators to battle for the continuity of Jewish identity. This mitzvah is incumbent upon every household and every individual in the home, women included, reinforcing the significance of chinuch in every bayit.
Although women are generally exempt from positive, time-bound mitzvot, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches that women are obligated in the mitzvah of Chanukah lights, for אַף הֵן הָיוּ בְּאוֹתוֹ הַנֵּס, “they too were part of that miracle.” Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi uses the same formulation regarding a woman’s obligation to drink the Pesach seder’s four cups and hear the megillah reading on Purim.
Early commentators offer different interpretations of “they too were part of that miracle.” According to Rashi, due to the active role of women in catalyzing these miracles of redemption, they are obligated to actively commemorate the respective miracles. Tosafot maintain that women played a passive role in benefitting from Hashem’s miraculous intervention and therefore must convey gratitude for national salvation. The latter argue that perhaps women should be obligated in other mitzvot which express thanksgiving for miracles (e.g. sukkah, three meals on Shabbat).
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l limits the “they too” inclusion of Tosafot by distinguishing between different commandments that include commemoration of a miracle. Some mitzvot only peripherally require commemoration, so not everyone included in the miracle is obligated to commemorate the miracle. Regarding the three rabbinic mitzvot of Chanukah lights, four cups and megillah, however, the publicizing of the miracle is central to the fulfillment of the mitzvah, thereby requiring even “passive” beneficiaries of the miracle to publicize the mitzvah.
Women are equally obligated in publicizing the miracle of Chanukah through the chinuch of the home and the nation. Today as in the past, women are actively involved in catalyzing miracles of redemption and restoration of family values and national destiny. Women are also among the passive beneficiaries of the miracle of the return to Zion and are required to publicize and perpetuate the chinuch of Chanukah, lighting candles and igniting souls with Torah values.
Beginning with the Mizrachi Teachers Training College (today Lifshitz–Herzog College of Education) established in Yerushalayim in 1921, the Talpiot Beit Midrash for Teachers (1937) and Machon Gold, founded in 1958 by the Torah Education Department of the WZO, the Religious Zionist movement built a strong foundation of batei midrash for women. With over 60 post high school midrashot in Israel, more women than ever before in Jewish history are learning Torah on advanced levels.
World Mizrachi has led world Jewry in strengthening our Religious Zionist values in the political, social and educational spheres. It is a tremendous privilege to work with dreamers and builders who never cease to promote programs for Jewish education and leadership-training for both men and women. Mizrachi recruits and trains female educators through the Shalhevet two-year leadership program and the Lapidot three-year program for preparing women to teach topics of Torah shebe’al peh in Israel and the Diaspora. These programs ignite, inculcate and proudly celebrate the reestablishment of the core values the Seleucid Greeks attempted to undermine – the personal and national homes of the Jewish people.
On Chanukah we are reinvigorated to restore and perpetuate inspired Jewish education as we simultaneously celebrate Jewish sovereignty and opportunity in our homeland. Torah education for women is a vital component in assuring the success of this endeavor. Chanukah reminds us of the Jewish woman’s critical role in shaping our people’s identity and destiny. On the holiday that celebrates the Jewish home, our people turn to the Jewish woman, the עֲקֶרֶת בַּיִת, the foundation of the home, to participate and publicize.
Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi Matan Lapidot Educators’ Program.