Friday, March 02, 2007

Parshas Zachar

This Shabbos we read in the haftarah one of the two Torah portions regarding Amalek, colloquially termed "Parshas Zachar". It is considered by most to be a biblical obligation to hear this Torah reading. Recently, it has become customary to require women to attend synagogue to hear this reading also, with some synagogues instituting a special reading later in the day for women who cannot attend the regular reading. However, it is indisputable that there is a longstanding custom for women not to attend this reading any more than any other reading. Posekim have struggled to understand the basis for this custom, but I think it can be explained with a very basic grammatical point. The word for a female in Hebrew is "nekevah" and the word for a male is "zachar". Our Sages, who named this portion Parshas Zachar, certainly intended that it only be obligatory for men. Otherwise, they would not have termed it a parashah for the zachar.

But, you might ask, there is a special institution to allow women to inherit from their fathers' estate. This document is called a "Shtar Chatzi Zachar", literally a document of half a male. It enables a women to inherit with her brothers. If that's the case, perhaps women have half of an obligation to hear "Parshas Zachar". Indeed, I believe that this is the source for the practice of many women to attend this special Torah reading but to show up late. They opt to hear only the second half.

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