08. Women and Megilla Reading

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According to Rashi and Rambam, women and men are equally obligated in the mitzva to read the megilla, and a woman may read the megilla for her husband. In contrast, Behag and Rabbeinu Ĥananel maintain that women’s obligation differs from that of men: men must read the megilla, whereas women must hear it. Therefore, a man who reads the megilla recites the berakhaal mikra megilla” (“concerning the reading of the megilla”) and a woman who reads for herself recites “lishmo’a megilla” (“to hear the megilla”). According to this opinion, a man does not fulfill his obligation with his wife’s reading. Responsa Avnei Nezer (OĤ 511) explains that this difference stems from the fact that women must hear the megilla only in order to publicize the miracle, and therefore their obligation is only in hearing the megilla and not reading it. In contrast, men are commanded to publicize the miracle and also to remember Amalek to wipe him out ultimately. Therefore, men are commanded to read the megilla. 1

Since the Rishonim are evenly split on this issue, most Aĥaronim rule that a woman may not read the megilla on a man’s behalf except in extenuating circumstances, when it is not possible for the man to read for himself or hear it from another man. In that case, at least he will fulfill the mitzva according to the opinion that a woman may read on a man’s behalf. 2

According to the vast majority of poskim, a woman may read on behalf of other women. Some say that a woman cannot fulfill the obligation on behalf of many women, since megilla reading has a status similar to Torah reading, and just as a woman does not read from the Torah, so too she does not read the megilla for many women. Some poskim say that when the megilla is read for women no berakha is recited (Ben Ish Ĥai, year 1, Teztaveh 1; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:19). However, halakhic practice follows the overwhelming majority of poskim who maintain that a woman may read on behalf of other women and that if the group is comprised of ten women, the reader recites the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu” (“Who fights our battles”) after the megilla. However, le-khatĥila, it is preferable that women hear the Megilla read by a man,  to satisfy all opinions. Ideally, women would hear the megilla in the synagogue with men, since “In a multitude of people is a King’s glory.” 3

  1. Turei Even on Megilla 4a states that the mitzva of reading the megilla is derived, first and foremost, from the text of the megilla itself, which was composed with Divine inspiration. This is a time-bound positive mitzva and thus applies only to men. The obligation of women is derived from the rationale that “they too participated in that miracle,” a rationale that is solely rabbinic. Therefore, according to Behag and Rabbeinu Ĥananel, a woman cannot read on a man’s behalf..
  2.   There are Aĥaronim who interpret SA 689:1-2 to mean that a woman can read on a man’s behalf, and that this is indeed the halakha (Birkei Yosef 271:1; Ma’amar Mordechai 689:2). The view of most Aĥaronim is that a woman should not read on a man’s behalf. So state Levush, Eliya Rabba 689:2, Pri Ĥadash 1, Erekh Ha-shulĥan 3, Ĥikrei Lev, and Derekh Ha-ĥayim. Some interpret SA as taking a stringent approach (Pri Megadim Eshel Avraham 4; and see Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:14). See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 15:7 nn. 6 and 7.
  3. Korban Netanel (on Rosh, Megilla 1:4:m) innovatively suggests that a woman may not read on behalf of many women. This is cited in SHT 689:15. However, it seems that the intent is to be stringent le-khatĥila, because SHT 16 states that the dominant opinion is that women and men have an equal obligation. Halikhot Beitah (Petaĥ Ha-bayit 25; also cited in Halikhot Shlomo 19 n. 4) states that R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach questions Korban Netanel’s explanation and concludes that halakhic practice follows R. Tikochinsky, who rules in Lu’aĥ Eretz Yisrael that a woman may read on behalf of many women. The reason for the opinion that no berakha is recited on a reading for women is concern for the position that no berakha is recited when reading for an individual, and women collectively are considered to be like an individual (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:19). The opinion of most poskim is that there is no need to be concerned for this at all. See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim 15:7 and n. 8.
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