by R. Moshe Kurtz
Lomdus on the Parsha: Vayakhel
Based on the Acclaimed Sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon
Q: Are women obligated to build the Holy Temple?
And all the skilled women spun with their own hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen. And all the women who excelled in that skill spun the goats’ hair. (Exodus 35:25-26)
The Mishnah (Kiddushin 29a) explicitly states that regarding “all positive, time-bound commandments, men are obligated to [perform them] and women are exempt from them.” However, it remains unclear to what extent a woman may voluntarily perform a mitzvah that she is not included in. There is a major disagreement between Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions: The Rema (O.C. 17:2) based on Tosafos (Kiddushin 31a s.v. Lo Mifkadana) rules that a woman who opts to wear tzitzis would recite a blessing, just like her male counterparts. However, the Shulchan Aruch (589:6) rules in accordance with the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tzitzis 3:9) that a woman may not recite the blessing since it would be false for her to state vitzivanu, as she is not actually commanded to perform the time-bound mitzvah (see Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Sukkah 6:13).
However, there are some (Tosafos, Gittin 45b, s.v. Kol) who go so far as to claim that women were not simply exempted from time-bound commandments, but were excluded (mufkaos) from being party to such a mitzvah. This raises a troubling question: How then could women spin materials for the Tabernacle, which needs to be performed lishmah (see Tosefta, Megillah 2:10) i.e. by those who are obligated in its construction – if so, how could it be sufficient for women to volunteer their services?
We can begin to answer this question by turning to the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:12) who rules that women’s participation in the construction of the Tabernacle and Temple was not merely voluntary, but was considered to be a formal expectation:
We must not build the Temple at night, as (Num. 9:15) states: “on the day in which the Sanctuary was raised up.” [Our Sages interpret this phrase as implying:] We may raise it up by day and not by night. We must be involved with its building from dawn until the appearance of the stars. Everyone is obligated to build and to assist both personally and financially; [both] men and women, as in the [construction of the] Sanctuary in the desert. [Nevertheless,] children are not to be interrupted from their [Torah] studies. The construction of the Temple does not supersede the [observance of the] festivals.
The Kesef Mishneh (ad loc.) explains that the Rambam’s infers that women are obligated in this mitzvah since the aforementioned verse states, “And all the skilled women spun with their own hands…”
However, it is difficult to make sense of the Rambam’s inclusion of women. The Talmud (Shavuos 15b) informs us that the Temple was only constructed during the day time. If so, how could Rambam rule that women were obligated to contribute to the construction of the Temple, which is a time-bound mitzvah? And, if we accept the Kesef Mishneh’s elucidation of the Rambam, that this was an exception, why then was it not listed along with the other exceptions enumerated in the Talmud (Kiddushin 34a)? Some commentaries were so troubled by this that they indeed concluded that women were not included in the mitzvah of building the Temple (see Aruch LaNer, Yevamos 5b, Tosafos s.v. Ta’ama).
We will present two approaches to salvage the Rambam’s position:
1) The Beis Yitzchak (O.C. no. 3) distinguishes between the edifice of the Tabernacle/Temple versus the utensils and accessories. While the actual building could only be constructed during the day, anything that was not intrinsically part of the edifice itself could be made during the night time. That would mean that spinning materials among other jobs (e.g. lighting the Menorah, see Pesachim 59a) were not considered time-bound, and thus, women could conceivably be included in the obligation, just as the Rambam rules. (However, see R. Yerucham Fishel Perlow, aseh no. 13 who takes issue with this distinction.)
2) In truth, there is no fundamental issue with constructing the Temple during the nighttime. However, if the Temple was constructed during the nighttime it’s operations would be limited to nighttime services (see Jerusalem Talmud, Yoma 1:1). Whereas, constructing the Temple during the daytime would sanction it for both daytime and nighttime operations.
This is potentially supported by the language of the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:1) himself, who writes that “It is a positive commandment to construct a House for God, prepared for sacrifices to be offered within and so that we will celebrate there three times a year, as (Ex. 25:8) states: “And you shall make Me a sanctuary.” Radvaz understands this to refer to the mitzvah of reiyas panim, simply visiting the Temple, which can be performed during the day or night. (However, see Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Chagigah 1:1 which indicates that this mitzvah is contingent upon bringing an offering.) Thus, the prime directive of the Temple does not limit it to daytime operations and thus can very well include women in the mitzvah.
May it be God’s will that the Temple be rebuilt soon, and that we may merit to serve God both day and night through the entire Messianic age.
Note: This series is not intended to dispense practical halachic conclusions. The Torah presented here is but a small extraction from the breadth of the sefer Chavatzeles HaSharon and is not affiliated with the author in any official capacity. Translations are adapted from Sefaria, Chabad.org, Mechon Mamre, and my own. Contact: [email protected]