The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Pesach Sheni and Women: An Old Mishnah vs. R. Yishmael’s School, and Historical Reality

The Pesah sacrifice represented the most significant ritual defining the Jewish collective and individual identity. MekRY and MekRSbY (Genizah fragment JTS ENA 1340.4 NY) establish, through an exegetical explanation, that women are fully obligated to partake in the Pesah sacrifice (or Pesah rishon). The present inquiry is concerned with the tannaitic understanding of women’s status with respect to Pesah sheni. The relationship between Mishnah and Tosefta is investigated also in the light of an archaeological find – an inscription recorded on an ossuary from Jerusalem – which parallels the mishnah on the topic of women and Pesah sheni, pointing to the historical value of the mishnaic narrative. Mishnah Pesahim 9 discusses the sacrifice of Pesah sheni without any reference to women. However, Mishnah Hallah 4:11 speaks of how Yosef haKohen brought his wife to Jerusalem to celebrate “the minor Pesah.” Tosefta Pesahim 8:10, on the other hand, offers the entire halakhic discussion about women’s eligibility for Pesah sheni (with their participation being either optional, obligatory or prohibited), with a parallel to the story in Mishnah Hallah. The conclusion is that women are permitted, but not obligated to perform the ritual, and as for Yosef haKohen – “they sent him back, so that the matter [his wife coming to do Pesah sheni] would not be established as obligatory.” Interestingly, SifNum 70 (school of R. Yishmael) obligates women to perform the Pesah sacrifice, and Tosefta Pesahim 8:1 speaks of zavot, niddot and yoldot as being obligated in the second Pesah. This Tosefta seems to align with the school of R. Yishmael and SifNum in obligating women to perform Pesah sheni – an understanding reflecting Yosef haKohen’s story and its possible historical value–, against the mishnaic opinion.