From a shiur by HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein

The gemara in Shabbat 23a states that women have an obligation to light Chanukah candles because "af hein hayu b'oto ha-neis" - they were also part of the miracle (meaning either that they were in the same danger as the men were or that they played a key role in bringing about the salvation). This phrase finds parallels in the gemara within the discussions of a woman's obligation to hear the Megilla on Purim and to drink four cups of wine on the night of Pesach. As these are all time-bound positive commandments, women should be free from any obligation to fulfill them, but their historical involvement in the events being commemorated brings them back up to a level of obligation.

Tosafot on Pesachim 109a ask a question on this concept with regard to a woman's obligation to eat matza on the first night of Pesach. We learn that their obligation in that mitzva comes from a comparison to the prohibition of eating chametz (leavened bread) over the course of the holiday. Just as women are commanded not to eat chametz, it being a negative commandment, so too are they obligated to eat matza. Tosafot ask why this comparison is needed - why don't we simply say that their obligation in matza also comes from the fact that they were part of the miracle? What seems to be the case is that this concept of "af hein" applies only to commandments that are Rabbinically ordained, such as Chanukah candles, Megilla, and the four cups, but does not apply to Torah injunctions such as matza.

Rav Moshe Soloveitchik (father of Rav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik) suggested a unique approach to this concept of "af hein." He wanted to claim that this concept was actually part of the performance of the mitzva. True, with regard to matza and succah women were involved in the historical events that those mitzvot serve as a reminder of, however that does not mean that they are included in the commandment to "sit in a Succah for seven days." However, with regard to Chanukah candles and the Megilla the entire essence of the mitzva is the actual publicizing of the miracle, and thus their inclusion in the miracle figures much more prominently in those cases. By the four cups, the specific blessing said at the end of the "maggid" section of the hagadah is "<i>asher ge'alanu</i>," thanking Hashem for redeeming us. Again, the place of women is much more central to the mitzva itself and not merely to the events surrounding it.

However, things are not as easy as they may seem. Based on Rambam, the obligation of women seems to be tantamount to that of men, and thus they can do the mitzva on behalf of a man, something allowed only when both parties have an equal obligation. The Tosefta (quoted by the Behag) argues and claims that women may not read the Megilla for men. Given this, what will be the case with regard to Chanukah candles - can a woman light for a man?

Three possibilities exist in terms of how to look at this case. The first is that, in reality, a woman may not perform either mitzva on behalf of a man. The second is that the reason of "af hein" means that a woman can perform these mitzvot on behalf of a man, and the opinion that this does not work by Megilla is an exception for some side reason. The third possibility is that "af hein" is not a reason to equate women to men, and that lighting Chanukah candles is an exception for some side reason.

If we say that Megilla is the exception, why is it an exception? Again, three possibilities exist. The first is that a woman may not perform the mitzva on behalf of a congregation because of "zila bei milta" - that it is below the dignity of the congregation to have a woman perform the commandments on their behalf. However, this line of reasoning allows the possibility of a woman acting on behalf of one individual man. This idea comes up with regard to the blowing of the shofar, where Tosafot claim that the only problem with a woman blowing for others is in public, but not for an individual. The next option is raised by the Semag. He claims that reading the Megilla is comparable to reading the Torah, which a woman may not do for a man, even one individual. The third approach is that the obligation of a woman is actually not equal to that of a man - while he is obligated to read the Megilla, her obligation is merely to hear it being read. This point is brought out by the Ra'avyah, who claims that all men (except for a child, a deaf-mute, and one who lacks sense) may read the Megilla, but women are not able to read the Megilla for men. Rav Lichtenstein suggested that perhaps the actual weight of the obligation does not differ for men and women, but that when the Sages established the law, they established two separate modes of fulfillment - reading for men, hearing for women.

With regard to Chanukah candles and the four cups, the Ra'avyah notes that he found no inherent difference between the obligations of men and women. Is it possible that differences exist nevertheless? One option is to say that similar to Megilla, a woman has a similar obligation but that she fulfills her obligation in a different way than a man does. Or perhaps we can suggest that "af hein" by Chanukah implies that the obligation of a woman is not an obligation inherent in the woman, by rather comes by riding on the coattails of the obligation of men. With regard to this, Tosafot in Megilla 4a ask what exactly "af hein" means - does it mean that they were also saved, or does it mean that they figured prominently in bringing about the redemption? If the latter is the case, then why is the term "af" used, which implies that their role is secondary?

Shifting gears, if we are to say that Chanukah candles are the exception to the rule, in what way are they an exception? The Pri Chadash suggests that Chanukah candles may not be as strict as Megilla, since it is possible for a person to pay another person a small amount so as to be included in his lighting. Rav Yoseif Dov Soloveitchik suggest a stronger difference between the two. By Chanukah candles, the mitzva is "ner ish u'beito," not a personal obligation on each individual but rather an obligation that each house have a candle lit. Thus, while a child cannot make a candle into an object of a mitzva ("cheftza shel mitzva"), a woman certainly can do so and thus may light for others. This point is made by the Orchot Chaim, who states that the obligation of a man is with regard to his household, and a woman has the ability to fill this role on his behalf.

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