Women Reading The Megillah by Rabbi Howard Jachter

1999/5759

            One of the more interesting Halachic issues regarding Purim is the question of the propriety of a woman reading the Megillah for other women and men.  This issue has been debated from the time of the earliest  Rishonim until today, and the debate may have even begun during the period of the Amoraim.  We will survey the major issues and concerns regarding this question.

            The Mishna (Rosh Hashana 29a) articulates the following rule: "Kol Sh'eino M'chuyav Badavar Eino Motzi Et Harabim Yedei Chovatan,"  whoever is not obligated to perform a particular Mitzva cannot discharge other people (Motzi) of their obligation to perform a particular Mitzva.  Thus, a woman cannot blow Shofar on behalf of a man, since she is not obligated to blow Shofar. Moreover, the Gemara (Berachot 20a) explains that the level of obligation of the one performing the Mitzva must be on the same level as the individuals he wishes to be Motzi.  For example, the Gemara discusses whether a woman is obligated to recite Bircat Hamazon on a biblical level or only a rabbinic level.  The Gemara explains that only if a woman is obligated on the same level as a man regarding Bircat Hamazon can she recite Bircat Hamazon on his behalf.

            Accordingly, the question of whether women can read Megillah on behalf of men is contingent on whether her level of obligation in this Mitzva is on the same level as a man.  The Gemara (Megillah 4a) seems to clearly indicate that women are obligated to recite the Megillah on the same level as men.  The Gemara states: "Nashim Chayavot B'mikra Megilla She'af Hein Hayu B'oto Haneis."   "Women are obligated in the reading of the Megillah because they also were deeply involved in the miracle [of Purim]" (see Rashi and Tosafot for different explanations of the phrase "Af Hein Hayu B'oto Haneis").

            Tosafot (s.v. Nashim Chayavot and see Rabbeinu Channanel) writes that it seems clear from this Gemara that a woman can be Motzi men in their obligation to recite the Megillah.  In fact, many Achronim (Marcheshet, Aruch HaShulchan, Rav Soloveitchik) point out that the Rambam agrees with this assertion of Tosafot.  The Rambam writes (Hilchot Megillah 1:1) "Hakol Chayavim Bikriata Anashim, V'nashim V'geirim," "everyone is obligated to recite the Megillah, including men and women."

            Tosafot, in Megillah, however, cite the celebrated opinion of the Baal Halachot Gedolot (Behag) that "a woman may recite the Megillah on behalf of other women but not on behalf of a man." Tosafot cites a Tosefta (Megillah ch.2) as a source for this ruling. The Tosefta rules that an Androgynous (someone who has both male and female features and thus his status is that of both a male and female person) cannot recite the Megillah on behalf of a man. Tosafot explains that this is because of the partial female status of the Androgynous. Accordingly if an Androgynous cannot recite the Megillah on behalf of a man, certainly a woman cannot. Tosafot explains that the Behag would say that the Gemara in Megillah does not teach that a woman is obligated to read the Megillah, rather her obligation is only to hear the Megillah. The Rosh (Megillah 1:4) cites a passage from the Yerushalmi, (Megillah 2:4) as proof to the opinion of the Behag. The passage states that both Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and Rabbi Yonah Avuha D'Rebbi Maneh would make sure to read the Megillah to the women of their families, because women are obligated to hear the Megillah. It is very significant to note that both Tosafot and the Rosh agree that according to the Behag, a woman can read the Megillah on behalf of other women.

            The Beit Yosef (____ ___ _"_ __"_ _____ ___ __"_) cites the various opinions among the Rishonim regarding whether or not the view of the Behag is considered normative. No consensus on this question emerges from the Rishonim. Some Rishonim accept the Behag as normative Halacha, and others do not.

            Rav Akiva Eiger in his Gilyon Hashas to Megilla 4a refers us to Tosafot to Sukkah 38a (_"_ _À__ À___) who present a different understanding of the opinion of the Behag. They say that the Behag believes that although women are obligated to read the Megillah, they cannot discharge others (À_ _____) because ___À ___ ____À, it is an inappropriate activity for a woman (perhaps because it is a public activity which this Tosafot seems to believe to be unbecoming for women).  The Korban Netanel (Megillah 1:40) asserts that according to the approach of Tosafot to Sukkah 38a, a woman should not read the Megillah even on behalf of a group of women.  The Magen Avraham (271:2), however, believes that Tosafot's ___À ___ ____À applies only when women read for men.

 

Shulchan Aruch and its Commentaries

            The Shulchan Aruch )À___ ____ ____:_( first presents the opinion that women can read the Megillah on behalf of men and subsequently cites the opinion of the Behag that women cannot read the Megillah on behalf of men.  It seems clear from the language of the Shulchan Aruch that women can read the Megillah on behalf of other women, according to all opinions.

            The Rama, adding to this rule of the Shulchan Aruch, cites the Mordechai who asserts that if a woman reads the Megillah for herself, she should recite the Beracha of _____ _____  instead of the conventional Beracha of __ ___À _____.  This follows Tosafot in Megillah and the Rosh's presentation of the Behag, that women are obligated only to hear the Megillah and not to read the Megillah.  It seems that the Rama does not preclude the reading of the Megillah by women for women listeners. 

            The Magen Avraham____ ____ ___ _'( ) cites a Midrash which rules that a woman should not read the Megillah for herself.  Rather, she should be sure to hear the reading from a man.  This author and Rabbi Zvi Grumet heard from Rav Soloveitchik, an explanation of this opinion.  The Rav said it was based on the aforementioned passage from the Jerusalem Talmud which cited the practice of Amoraim to read the Megillah to the women in their families.  The Rav explained that the Talmud is teaching that women do not have an independent obligation to read the Megilla.  Rather, it is the obligation of the man of the house to read the Megillah to all the family members of that household.

            What emerges at this point is that there are two reasons to preclude women reading the Megilla for other women.  First is the opinion of the Korban Natanel that women reading for women is inappropriate because it is considered ___À ___ ____À.  Second is the Magen Avraham who adopts the approach of the Midrash, that women should not read the Megillah even for themselves.  It seems clear, though, that women should not read the Megillah for men, because many Rishonim rule in accordance with the Behag.  The Shulchan Aruch cites the Behag's opinion as a viable approach, and the Rama rules in accordance with the Behag (and the commentaries to the Rama voice no disagreement to his ruling).

 

Late Codifiers

            Both the Chayei Adam )___:_À( and the Mishna Berura )____:_( cite the Magen Avraham.  However, the Chayei Adam strongly questions the basis of the Magen Avraham's citation and therefore rules that if a woman has no one to read the Megillah for her, she should read it for herself.  The Mishna Berura cites the decision of the Chayei Adam as normative practice.  Moreover, the Mishna Berura writes in 689:7 that a woman can read the Megilla for other women.  In ___ _____ (____ ___ __), the Chofetz Chaim explains the basis for ruling like the Chayei Adam.  First, he notes that the primary opinion in the Shulchan Aruch follows the Rambam and the other Rishonim who rule that women can read the Megillah even for men.  Second, is that even according to many interpretations of the Behag, women can read the Megillah for themselves. The Chofetz Chaim rules, however, in ___ _____ )____ ___ __( that a woman should not read for many women because of the Korban Netanel's interpretation of Tosafot, that this is considered ___À ___ ____À.  (See, however, Halichot Beita p.71 who cites Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach who rules in accordance with the Magen Avraham's (271:2) interpretation of Tosafot in Sukkah, that ___À ___ ____À applies only for women reading for men.)  The Aruch HaShulchan (____:_) also seems to disagree with the Mishnah Berurah, as he does not cite the opinion of the Korban Netanel.

            It is possible to add to the Chofetz Chaim's argument against the Magen Avraham based on three outstanding authorities who discussed this issue subsequent to the publication of the Mishna Berura, the Marcheshet, Avnei Nezer, and Ohr Sameach.  All three of these Acharonim understand the opinion of the Behag in a manner from which it would emerge that it would be appropriate for a woman to read the Megillah for other women.  The _____ (____ __) and Avnei Nezer (O.C. 511) write that the Behag rules that women cannot read the Megillah for men because the Behag believes that their levels of obligation differ.  Megillah reading for men has two aspects 1) Megillah reading 2) Remembering the wicked actions of Amalek (see Ramban to the conclusion of Parshat Ki Tetze).  The Marcheshet and Avnei Nezer write that the Behag believes that women are not obligated in the Mitzvah of remembering Amalek (like the opinion of the Sefer Hachinuch).  Hence, women are obligated only in one aspect of reading the Megillah - the obligation to read the Megillah.  Hence, they cannot read the Megilla on behalf of men since they are not on the same level of obligation as men regarding this Mitzvah.  According to this approach, women can read the Megillah for other women.

            The Ohr Sameach (_____ _____ ___ À ____ À) suggests, in a somewhat similar approach, an explanation of the Behag.  He develops the idea that men are obligated to read the Megillah because of _____ ___À__ (an enactment made by prophets), whereas women are obligated only on a Rabbinic level.  Again, because of disparate levels of obligation, women cannot read the Megillah on behalf of men.  According to this approach, even according to the Behag, women can read the Megillah on behalf of other women.

            The Aruch Hashulchan (____:_) offers another somewhat similar explanation.  He concludes from his discussion of this issue _____ ____ ____À__ ____ ______ ___ "a women can read the Megillah on behalf of other women, since their levels of obligation are the same."  We already noted that the Aruch Hashulchan (unlike the Mishna Berurah) does not cite the Korban Netanel's opinion that a woman cannot read the Megillah on behalf of a large group of women (also see Rabbi H. Reichman's citation of Rav Moshe Soloveitchik and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explanations of Behag in Rabbi Soloveitchik's shiurim to Sukka 38a).

 

Other Considerations

            It is interesting to note that almost all the Rishonim and Acharonim (save for the __ __) do not suggest that the reason for the Behag is that ___ _À__ ____, the Talmudic dictum (Berachot 24a) that a man is forbidden to hear a woman's singing voice.  This seems to constitute a proof to the ruling of Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (______ _____ À_ _:_) that the prohibition of ___ _À__ ____ does not apply to ____ ___, holy songs sung in a holy context such as Zemirot at the Shabbat table (see, however, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach's insights on this issues cited in Nishmat Avraham).

            A serious consideration regarding the issue of women reading the Megillah for other women is that a group of ten or more women do not constitute a ____ (quorum), (see Rama 690:18 and Aruch Hashulchan 690:25).  This is very significant in light of the Rama's ruling (____:À) that the Beracha recited at the conclusion of Megillah reading "Harav Et Riveinu," is only recited when there is a ____ reading the Megillah.  In a woman's Megillah reading group, the opportunity to recite this bracha is lost.  Interestingly, the Aruch Hashulchan does not cite this as a reason women should not read the megilla on behalf of other women (for an analysis of the question whether women can be part of the group of ten to read the Megilla, see this author's essay in Beit Yitzchak [5750:301-304]).

            Finally, the question of deviation from established practice must be considered.  Rav Hershel Schachter (___ ___ p. 145) cites Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik's __"_ opposition to women reading the Megillah even for women in shul, because of concern of deviating from established synagogue protocol and practice.

            In addition, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein often strongly urges that the Torah and mitzvot not be used as a _____ _____ __ "a hoe to plow with."  He warns that such events such as women's Megillah reading should not be used as a means to further one's political or social agendas.  See, though, Rav Yehuda Henkin (Teshuvot Bnai Banim 2:10) who permits women to read Megilla for other women.

 

Conclusion

            It seems clear that it is halachically inappropriate for women to read Megillah for men, as many Rishonim agree with the Behag and the Rama rules in accordance with the Behag.  The issue of women reading the Megillah for other women seems to be unresolved.  Those who permit such reading outside a synagogue context have a substantial halachic basis for such a ruling, and those who do not permit such a reading also have a substantial halachic basis for such a ruling.  For a full discussion of this issue see Rabbi Alfred Cohen's essay on this topic that appears in the Fall 1995 issue of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary and Society Techumin volume 18 pages 357-368.

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