An example of Chacham Ovadya’s broad shoulders

Most of us assume that when women make a bracha over candles before Yom Tov, that they make shecheyanu. It’s certainly what my mother does, and what my wife does. I can’t recall what my Booba on my father’s side did, as I wasn’t there when she performed this.

Readers may be surprised to know that this practice has no known source in the entire Gemora. (see for example (אור זרוע (ח”ב סי’ יא and (בלקט יושר (ח”א [או”ח] עמוד מט ענין ג). Probably the mosy strident view (unsurprisingly) is that of the R’ Yaakov Emden in his Sheilas Yavetz (ח”א סי’ קז)

“על כן אמרתי לעצמי הנח להן מנהגן שהוא ירושה להן מאבותיהן ועשו כן בפני גדולי עולם ז”ל, וביחוד הא דידן דברת מרי דעובדא היא

וטוב בעיני (ללמוד זכות בכך על המנהג) לברך. אם הייתי מוצא לי סעד וסמך בדברי הפוסקים ז”ל. אבל עדיין לא ראיתי בשום א’ מספרי הפסק המפורסמים שיזכירוהו. ולכן קשה בעיני שיעשו להם הנשים מנהג לעצמן בלי יסוד מוסד. ומה”ט מעיקרא לא שבקינן להו למעבד עובדא באתרא דלא נהוג

Therefore I say, let the women perform in the way they do (saying Shecheyanu, as this is an inheritance from their parents, and they have performed this already in front of important Torah authorities.

It would be good in my eyes if I could find a (single) supporting source in the Poskim for this, however I have not seen permission for saying Shecheyanu in the name of any well-known Posek. It is therefore troubling for me that women have assumed a minhag without any real source. Therefore, in the first instance, one should not allow them to do so, in a place where there is no such minhag

R’ Ya’akov Emden was a straight as they come. He spoke his mind, and was uninfluenced by   a “quasi” Daas Torah. Interestingly, he allowed his wife to do this (he had a number of wives, and miserable life) because of Shalom Bayis. He justifies that it’s not a Bracha L’Vatolo (a blessing in vain).

So the practice doesn’t appear anywhere in primary sources or poskim. Some claim there is a reference in the Yerushalmi, but it isn’t in any Yerushalmi version extant today. I haven’t checked whether R’ Shaul Liberman had any view on this, being a renowned expert in Yerushalmi, as was Rav Goren.

In Ashkenaz, my feeling is that we always assume that even if the Minhag is somewhat unsupported, since women have been performing this for generations, it must have some tradition/Mesorah, and we can’t just come along and say “they were wrong”. Modern day and not so Modern Day Poskim generally defend old minhagim and even Halacha even if they are not understood, unless it’s known to be a shtus and if it implies that what was done in “Der Heim” was questionable.

It’s not uniform, of course. The Vilna Gaon, and following him, the approach from Beis HoRav, the family of R’ Chaim Volozhiner, the method of psak was, how can I put it, “more daring, or had more degrees of freedom”. The Gaon had no issue, for example, going through a Sugya in depth and  deciding in favour of the Beis Yosef against the Ramoh, if he felt that the Beis Yosef’s conclusion fitted in better with the Gemora etc. Others would not do so, because the Ramoh was generally the last word for Ashkenazim whether one understood his opinion or had questions on it. Instead, when faced by such a conundrum, they would first accept that the Ramoh (or Aruch HaShulchan, Mishneh Brura, Shulchan Aruch HoRav etc) defines what we should do, even if we can’t understand it. The next step was to answer the difficulties, as pointed out by those such as the Gaon, and if this attempted resolution was too contorted, they would remain בצריך עיון and keep up the practice of the Ramoh/Magen Avraham etc.

Enter Chacham Ovadya, in Yechaveh Daas (ח”ג סי’ לד) where he writes:

“נשים שנהגו לברך שהחיינו בעת הדלקת הנרות של יום טוב, אין למנהגם כל יסוד בהלכה, ונכון שיפסיקו לנהוג כן, ויכוונו לצאת ידי חובת ברכת שהחיינו בקידוש של יום טוב, כתקנת חכמים”.

In other words, he concludes that since this is not a minhag that can be substantiated with any source (and if there was a source, HE is the one who would unearth it more than anyone else), women should “break this minhag” and cease making the Shehechayanu at kindling the lights.

This was his style and philosophy. He was never afraid to call a spade a spade, and had the shoulders to do so. Ashkenazim would ignore his view on the grounds that he has invalidated Toras Imecha, but he would counter that it was born out of a mistake, and simply isn’t Torah.

If it was anyone else, they might be attacked halachically, however, when you are dealing with the encyclopaedic knowledge of Rav Ovadya, you’d be unlikely to find something he hadn’t seen or known about. He was just the pinnacle of an oracle.

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