I have heard that there is a special ceremony called a siyum that Jewish firstborns attend in the synagogue on the morning before Passover. Is this something that firstborn females attend as well, or is it just for men? I have been hearing conflicting reports.


First a bit of background:

A siyum is a celebration marking the completion of the study of a tractate of Talmud. This joyous event normally features some Torah thoughts discussing the last few lines of the Tractate just completed as well as refreshments.

Now, what does the siyum have to do with the morning before Passover?

It is customary for firstborns to fast on the day before Passover, commemorating the fact that on that night (the eve of Passover), G‑d slew the firstborn Egyptians, but spared the firstborn Jews. This is a minor fast, about which we are more inclined to be lenient—especially since the day before Passover is a very busy time when people need their energy. As such, it is common for the firstborns to be present at a joyous occasion—such as a siyum or a circumcision—where participating in the celebratory meal is a mitzvah. Once they have already broken their fast at the meal, they may continue to eat the rest of the day. The rationale is that participating in the siyum and its accompanying meal accomplishes whatever a fast would have accomplished—plus some.

In light of the fact that both male and female firstborn Egyptians died, Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Code of Jewish Law, writes that in some communities the women observe this fast along with the men. However, Rabbi Moshe Isserles (known as the Rama) writes in his commentary on the Code that this is not the usual custom, and that only men must fast. This is because the narrative in the Torah makes no mention of women being included in the death of the firstborn.

The prevailing custom is that only men observe the fast (or participate in a siyum), but there are some communities, predominantly Sephardic, where women observe it too. So what should you do? I would suggest that you talk to your rabbi to find out what tradition is prevalent in your community.

I hope this helps.

All the best,

Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov

for "Ask the Rabbi" @

Code of Jewish Law Orech Chayim 470.