Sukkah, Daf Lamed Het, Part 2
In the time of the Mishnah not every person in the synagogue would recite the Hallel on his own, as we normally do today. Rather, the leader would recite part, or perhaps most of the verse and the rest of the congregation would respond with the second half of the verse, or with “Halleluyah.” In this way, the leader would aid the congregation in fulfilling their obligation to recite Hallel.
In this mishnah we learn that slaves, women and minors cannot aid a free adult male in his recitation of the Hallel because they themselves are not obligated to recite Hallel. This fits in with two general rules: 1) women and slaves are exempt from positive time-bound commandments; 2) a person who is not obligated for something cannot fulfill that obligation on behalf of someone who is.
The second part of the mishnah is concerned with the repetition of verses during Hallel. This mishnah will be explained later in the Talmud.
משנה. מי שהיה עבד או אשה או קטן מקרין אותו – עונה אחריהן מה שהן אומרין, ותבא לו מאירה.
אם היה גדול מקרא אותו – עונה אחריו הללויה,
מקום שנהגו לכפול – יכפול, לפשוט – יפשוט, לברך – יברך, הכל כמנהג המדינה.
One who has a slave, a woman, or a minor read [the Hallel] to him, he must repeat after them what they say, and a curse be upon him.
If an adult recited to him, he repeats after him [only] Halleluyah.
In a place where the custom is to repeat [verses], he should repeat;
[Where the custom is] to say them only once, he should say them once.
[Where the custom is] to recite a blessing afterwards, he should recite the blessing afterwards.
Everything is dependent on local custom.
The mishnah describes an adult man who doesn’t know how to recite Hallel and therefore needs someone else to recite it for him. Usually, this would be done by another free adult male, but for some reason, this person cannot find another free adult male who knows how to recite the Hallel. He therefore turns to a slave, a woman or a minor who does know how to recite Hallel. This is allowed, except unlike a normal case where the person would only answer “Halleluyah” (as is the case in section two), in this case he must repeat the entire verse after the slave, woman or minor. In this way, he fulfills the obligation himself and they do not fulfill it on his behalf.
It is interesting to note that it sounds like the rabbis had to confront the possibility that a slave, woman or minor would be more educated, at least religiously, than a free man. It is hard to know how realistic this situation was or how often it might arise. Nevertheless, it is at least a theoretical possibility. The mishnah is clearly disturbed by the man’s lack of knowledge and hence it says that a man who allows this situation to happen should be cursed.
This is the normal way in which Hallel was recited during the time of the Mishnah and Talmud.
גמרא. ת”ר באמת אמרו: בן מברך לאביו, ועבד מברך לרבו, ואשה מברכת לבעלה. אבל אמרו חכמים. תבא מאירה לאדם שאשתו ובניו מברכין לו.
GEMARA. Our Rabbis have taught: They truly stated that a [minor] son may recite [Birkat Hamazon] for his father, a slave may recite it for his master, and a wife for her husband; but the Sages said, May a curse come upon that man whose wife and [minor] sons have to recite the benediction for him.
This is a related baraita that basically teaches the same thing that was taught in the mishnah about the Hallel and relates it to Birkat Hamazon. Women, slaves and minors can recite birkat hamazon for the “man of the house” but it is considered disgraceful for a man to have a woman, slave or child recite birkat hamazon on his behalf.