In Memory of my Mother and Teacher
Blume Devorah bat Esther z”l
On her shloshim, 28 Shvat 5772
Question: Is it permissible for women to read Megillat Esther in public on Purim?
Responsum: There are three basic approaches to this question in Talmudic and halakhic sources:
I) Women are required to read the Megillah and may therefore do so in public and fulfill the obligation of the congregation including the men.
This approach is based on two Talmudic sources.
The first is Mishnah Megillah 2:4 = Megillah fol. 19b:
All are fit to read the Megillah
except for a deaf mute, an insane person and a minor.
On this, the Talmud comments (Arakhin 2b-3a):
“All are fit to read the Megillah” to include what? To include women.
The Talmud in Arakhin then brings an Amoraic statement which also appears in Megillah 4a:
For Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said:
Women are required to read the Megillah
because they too were included in that miracle.
Rashi comments in Arakhin:
For they are obligated to read the Megillah and fit to read it and to fulfill the obligation of men to hear it.
Rashi is following here the well-known halakhic principle that whoever is obligated to do a mitzvah can fulfill the obligation of all those who are obligated to do that mitzvah (based on Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 3:8).
Rashi’s opinion is not an isolated one. The following halakhic authorities all rule according to the Talmud in Arakhin and/or according to the dual statement of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi that women are required to read the Megillah and can therefore read in public and fulfill the obligation of the entire congregation including men.
The Babylonian Geonim
Rav Yehudai Gaon, Halakhot Pesukot, ed. Sasson, p. 38 = the Hebrew version, Hilkhot Reu, ed. Schlossberg, p. 11 which quotes Rabbi Joshua ben Levi.
Halakhot Ketzuvot, ed. Margaliot, p. 87 which is an Italian version of part of Halakhot Gedolot which quotes Mishnah Megillah.
Spain and North Africa
The Rif to Megillah 4a, ed. Vilna, fol. 2b who quotes Rabbi Joshua ben Levi.
Maimonides, Hilkhot Megillah 1:1-2 as stressed by the Maggid Mishneh and Hagahot Maimoniot ad loc.
Rabbi Avraham of Lunel, Sefer Hamanhig, ed. Refael, p. 249 who quotes Rabbi Joshua ben Levi with additional comments.
Hidushei HaRitva to Megillah 4a, fol. 5d.
Ran on the Rif to Megillah 19b, ed. Vilna, fol. 6b (but cf. below parag. II for the Ran’s other opinion).
Rabbi Yosef Karo, Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim 689:1-2 according to Yalkut Yosef, note 21.
Meiri to Megillah 4a, ed. Hirschler, pp. 20-21 and to Berakhot 47b, ed. Dickman, p. 179.
Rabbi Yitzhak ben Moshe of Vienna, Or Zarua, Part II, paragraph 368, fols. 77d-78a who rules like Rashi and rejects Halakhot Gedolot.
Rabbi Yosef Kafih in his commentary to Maimonides loc cit.,Zemanim, Part II, p. 824.
Rabbi Daniel Landes, “The Reading of the Megillah on Purim Night”, March 1997 (unpublished).
Furthermore, the Ritva and the Ran in Spain and the Meiri in Provence (in his commentary to Berakhot) rule that since a woman is obligated to read the Megillah, she may also be counted in the minyan for the Megillah reading.
II) Women are exempt from reading the Megillah but are required to hear the Megillah.
This opinion is based on the Tosefta (Megillah 2:7, ed. Lieberman, p. 350) and the Yerushalmi (Megillah 2:4, ed. Venice, fol. 73b = ed. Vilna 2:5, fol. 21a).
The Tosefta states:
Women and slaves and minors are exempt,
And cannot fulfill the obligation of the public.
The Yerushalmi relates that
Bar Kapara said: he must read it before women and minors because they too were in a state of doubt [as to whether they would live].
Rabbi Joshua ben Levi did so. He would gather his children and the members of his household and read it before them.
Halakhot Gedolot (ed. Warsaw, fol. 40c = ed. Jerusalem, Vol. I, p. 406; cf. Otzar Hageonim to Megillah, p. 7) rules that
women, slaves and minors are exempt from reading the Megillah but are required to hear it since all were in doubt [regarding] “to destroy, to kill, to exterminate”, and since all were in doubt, all are required to hear.
He then quotes Rabbi Joshua ben Levi from the Yerushalmi (along with an additional sentence which is not in our Yerushalmi).
Many attribute to Halakhot Gedolot the opinion that since women are only required to hear the Megillah, they can only fulfill the obligation of other women.
This approach of Halakhot Gedolot was followed by the following authorities:
Rabbeinu Hananel to Megillah 4a who quotes Rabbi Joshua with the reading “to hear”.
Zohar Hadash, Vol. II, Ruth, fol. 47b.
Ran on the Rif to Megillah 4a, ed. Vilna, fol. 2b (but cf. above in section I).
Rabbi Yitzhak ben Abba Mari, Sefer Ha’ittur, Part II, fols. 113c-d.
France and Ashkenaz
Tosafot to Arakhin 3a, s.v. La’atoyei.
Rabbi Eliezer ben Yoel Halevi, Sefer Raaviyah, ed. Aptowitzer, paragraph 569, pp. 292-293 and paragraph 843, p. 580.
Rabbi Elazar of Worms, Sefer Harokeah, parag. 236.
Rabbi Simhah of Speyer quoted by Hagahot Maimoniot to Maimonides loc. cit.
III) Women are required to read the Megillah but can still only fulfill the obligation of other women.
This opinion is not based on a Talmudic source but on another version of Halakhot Gedolot. It is quoted or mentioned by Tosafot to Sukkah 38a, s.v. Be’emet amru; the Meiri to Megillah 4a, pp. 20-21; Tur Orah Hayyim 689; Menorat Hamaor by Rabbi Yisrael Al-nakawa, ed. Enelow, part II, p. 212.
IV) Summary and Conclusions
It is clear from the above that a rabbi who wants to rule leniently can rely on approach No. I, while a rabbi who wants to rule strictly can rely on approach Nos. II or III. Indeed, many if not most Orthodox rabbis do not allow women to read the Megillah in public or only allow them to read the Megillah for other women. However, if one follows the general rules of Jewish law it is clear that the Babylonian Talmud takes precedence over the Tosefta and the Yerushalmi (see Entziklopedia Talmudit, s.v Halakhah, Vol. 9, col. 247, note 108 and col. 250, note 147).
Indeed, this is exactly what the Or Zarua and the Meiri state explicitly regarding our topic. The Or Zarua (Part II, parag. 368, fol. 77d) says that since the baraita in the Tosefta is not mentioned in our Talmud, we do not rely on it, and it seems to me that the main thing is as Rashi explained: to include women who are obligated to read the Megillah and fit to fulfill the obligation of men.
The Meiri states (in his commentary to Megillah, p. 21):
And the main thing is not to push aside an explicit Talmudic passage in our hands by a baraita (i.e. the Tosefta) or by the Western Talmud (i.e. the Yerushalmi) and how much the more so by logic, but let us rely on the well-known principle that “all who are obligated in something fulfill the obligation of the public”.
Therefore, it is clear that according to the Babylonian Talmud and a large number of early authorities, women are required to read the Megillah and can therefore read the Megillah in public for a congregation which includes men. This is not some modern innovation but the most authoritative halakhic opinion on this topic. Furthermore, it also stands to reason as three of the Rishonim state that women may be counted in the minyan for the Megillah reading.
28 Shvat 5772
Rabbi Eliezer Berkowitz, Jewish Women in Time and Torah, Hoboken, New Jersey, 1990, pp. 92-100
Rabbi Aaron Cohen, The Torah U-Madda Journal 9 (2000), pp. 248-263 (a rejoinder to Rabbi Weiss below)
Rabbi Alfred Cohen, Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society30 (Fall 1995), pp. 25-41
Rabbi H. Z. Dimitrovsky, Hiddushei Ha-Rashba to Megillah, Jerusalem, 1981, cols. 46-48
Rabbi H. Y. Ehrenreich, Otzar Hahayyim 6 (5690), Nos. 5-6, pp. 145-149
Rabbi David M. Feldman in: Seymour Siegel and Elliot Gertel, eds.Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law, New York, 1977, pp. 300-301
Rabbi Levi Ginzberg, Peirushim V’hiddushim Bayerushalmi, Part II, New York, 1941, pp. 175-176
Rabbi Sh. H. Kuk, Iyunim Umehkarim, Vol. 2, Jerusalem, 1963, pp. 46-49
idem., Otzar Hahayyim 6 (5690), No. 4, pp. 106-108
Rabbi Saul Lieberman, Tosefta Kifshutah to Megillah, pp. 1147-1148
Yisrael Ta-Shema, Hatefillah Ha’ashkenazit Hakedumah, Jerusalem, 2003, pp. 223-226
Rabbi Avraham Weiss, The Torah U-Madda Journal 8 (1998-1999), pp. 295-317
Shevah Yalon, Kol Mitzvot Aseh Shehazman Garma Nashim Peturot, M.A. Thesis, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan, 1990, pp. 107-113
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Yalkut Yosef, Vol. 5, Jerusalem, 5748, pp. 287-289
Photo Credit: Chefallen (Own work)
David Golinkin is President of The Schechter Institutes, Inc. and President Emeritus of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. For twenty years he served as Chair of the Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) of the Rabbinical Assembly which gives halakhic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel. He is the founder and director of the Institute of Applied Halakhah at Schechter and also directs the Center for Women in Jewish Law. Rabbi Professor Golinkin made aliyah in 1972, earning a BA in Jewish History and two teaching certificates from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received an MA in Rabbinics and a PhD in Talmud from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he was also ordained as Rabbi. For a complete bio click here.