Pesachim 43

Unexpected uses of flour.

In the midst of a discussion of leaven and matzah, yesterday’s daf ended with a discussion of women’s jewelry. Mishnah Pesachim 3:1 cites Rabbi Eliezer who says that among the leavened items that must be removed from the home before Passover are “women’s adornments.”

The Gemara asked the entirely reasonable question:

Could it enter your mind to say that adornments made from silver, gold, or woven materials contain leaven? 

In the days before kids brought macaroni necklaces home from school, the answer was clearly “no.” The Gemara therefore refines Rabbi Eliezer’s position, explaining that he was actually referring to cosmetics which might contain leaven among their ingredients. Today’s daf further explains:

Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: With regard to the Jewish women who reached physical maturity, but had not yet reached the age of majority: They would smear daughters of the poor with lime; they would smear daughters of the wealthy with fine flour; they would smear daughters of kings with shemen hamor, as it was stated: For so were the days of their anointing filled, six months with shemen hamor. (Esther 2:12)

The medieval commentator Rashi, who was himself father to at least three daughters, sensitively explains that premature puberty and the development of visible body hair can lead pre-teen girls to be embarrassed. Thus, the Gemara describes how such girls would remove their body hair using depilatories of various types, depending on what they could afford. Presumably, the Passover problem arises when wealthy girls use fine flour in this process, since that is obviously hametz. (Lime and shemen hamor, an expensive oil, do not contain leaven.)

But now this leads to a question of to what degree women are actually obligated in the commandment to remove leaven and consume matzah (the latter of which is, after all, a time-bound positive mitzvah, the sort that from which rabbis generally considered women to be exempt). Rabbi Eliezer argues that: 

Women are obligated to eat matzah by Torah law, as it is stated: You shall eat no leavened bread with it; seven days you shall eat with it matzot (Deuteronomy 16:3). Anyone included in the prohibition against eating leavened bread is also included in the obligation to eat matzah. And this includes women too, since they are included in the prohibition against eating leavened bread, they are also included in the obligation to eat matzah.

The juxtaposition of the law about refraining from leaven and the one about eating matzah suggests to Rabbi Eliezer that since women are definitely obligated in the former (a negative commandment, applicable to all), they are also obligated in the latter. These teachings apply specifically to adult women (children are not obligated) though it’s worth remembering that for the Talmud, adulthood began in one’s early teens. And yet the text includes pre-teen girls, who are not yet obligated in mitzvot, in the discussion of using cosmetics on Passover. From preteens to mature women, today’s daf invites all women, old and young, into bodily practices that mark and celebrate the holiday of Passover.

Read all of Pesachim 43 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 3rd, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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