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 family. In contrast, Behag and Rabbeinu Ĥananel maintain that a woman’s obligation differs from that of a man: Men must read the Megilla, whereas women must hear it. Therefore, 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.
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 pressing 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 can read on a man’s behalf.
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, Hilkhot Purim 1 [Tetzaveh]; 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, reciting the same berakha a man recites. And if the group is comprised of ten women, the reader recites the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu” after the Megilla. However, le-khatĥila, it is preferable that women hear the Megilla read by a man, to satisfy all opinions. Ideally, women should hear the Megilla in the synagogue with men, as the more people there are, the more the miracle is publicized.
When a man reads the Megilla for women, the prevalent custom is for the reader to recite the berakha for everyone; and if ten women are present, he recites the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu” after the reading. Others follow the custom that one woman recites the berakha for all the women. Both customs are valid.
Some maintain that women and men have the same obligation, but women cannot read on behalf of men for a different reason. Smag states that it is because reading the Megilla is like reading the Torah. ma 689:5 explains that this means the Sages determined that women should not read the Megilla out of respect for the congregation, and that they cannot even read on an individual man’s behalf, so as not to make any distinctions. According to Kol Bo, women should not read the Megilla for men because a woman’s voice is considered erva. Those who maintain that women may read on behalf of men may have been referring to relatives, about whose voices one need not be so concerned. Alternatively, a woman could read for a man without the cantillation. Another possibility is that, technically, we are not concerned that a woman’s voice is erva in the context of mitzva observance.
. Some Aĥaronim 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). Ĥazon Ovadia, Purim, p. 59 states that even though the halakha follows the more lenient opinion, one should only rely on it under pressing circumstances. Most Aĥaronim, however, maintain that a woman should not read on a man’s behalf. Thus state Levush, Eliya Rabba 689:2, Pri Ĥadash 689:1, Erekh Ha-shulĥan 689:3, Ĥikrei Lev, and Derekh Ha-ĥayim. Some maintain that this is also sa’s position (Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 689:4; also see Kaf Ha-ĥayim 689:14).
. Korban Netanel (on Rosh, Megilla 1:4, n. 40) 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 689:16 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 ch. 19 n. 4) states that R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach questions Korban Netanel’s explanation and concludes that halakhic practice follows R. Yeĥiel Mikhel 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 (above n. 4), and women collectively are considered 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; as is written in Yabi’a Omer, oĥ 1:44. However, it seems obvious that it is a mitzva for women to hear the Megilla among a multitude of people; they are simply not obligated to the same degree that men are, for the same reason that women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments and from prayer in a minyan.
According to Rema 689:2, when a woman recites the berakha, she should recite “lishmo’a Megilla.” So state Levush, Baĥ, and mb 692:11. However, most poskim maintain that a woman recites the same berakha that a man does: “al mikra megilla” (“concerning the reading of the Megilla”). First of all, half of the poskim maintain, like Rashi and Rambam, that women and men have the same obligation. Second, even according to Behag and Rabbeinu Ĥananel, who maintain that a woman is obligated only to hear the Megilla, nonetheless, Rabbeinu Tam maintains that women may optionally fulfill mitzvot from which they are technically exempt and may recite berakhot over them, just like men do. Indeed, this is the Ashkenazic practice. Therefore, it may be that no distinction needs to be made between the formulation of the berakha for men and the formulation of the berakha for women. Most Sephardim follow this custom, and Pri Ĥadash and the Vilna Gaon concur.
The Talmud states in rh 29a, “Even though one has already discharged his obligation, he may absolve others of theirs.” That is, even if one has already performed a mitzva and recited a berakha over it, he may still recite a berakha on behalf of one who has not yet fulfilled his obligation. According to Behag and Rambam, this holds true only when the one who still needs to fulfill the mitzva does not know how to recite the berakha. If he knows how to recite the berakha, however, he must do so himself. Or Zaru’a and Ran, on the other hand, maintain that one may recite a berakha even on behalf of someone who knows how to do so himself. The answer to the question whether it is better for one of the women to recite the berakha as opposed to the male reader depends on this dispute. bhl 273:4 explains that the dispute concerns only the le-khatĥila case. Simply stated, it is preferable for one of the women to recite the berakha on behalf of all the rest, as this allows the women to fulfill their obligation according to all the opinions. Lu’aĥ Eretz Yisrael and Halikhot Shlomo 19:3 advocate this solution. In many communities, however, the reader recites the berakha, as mb states in 585:5 regarding shofar blowing and in 692:10 on the issue of women reading the Megilla. Minĥat Yitzĥak 3:54:38 states – based on a halakha in sa 689:5 and based on what we explained in n. 4, above – that if there are fewer than ten women, it is better for each one to recite her own berakha.
The issue of reciting the berakha of “Ha-rav et riveinu” when there are ten women is discussed below, n. 17.