Monday, March 02, 2009

Women Reading Megillah For Men

There is a recent news item quoting R. Ovadiah Yosef as permitting women to read megillah on Purim for men (Haaretz, Arutz Sheva). This is in the news because R. Yosef recently said it publicly but it is not, in my opinion, newsworthy because he has consistently ruled like this for decades and has published this ruling multiple times in his writings (e.g. Yechaveh Da'as 3:51, 5:34; Yalkut Yosef, mo'adim vol. 5 pp. 287-289).

However, I believe that there are three important comments to be made about this ruling.Click here to read more

  1. The first is that R. Yosef is clear that women may only read megillah for men when there is no man available who is able to read. This is because the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 689:2) quotes an opinion ("yesh omerim") that women cannot read for men. While the Shulchan Arukh rules like the first view, we should be concerned for the second rule when possible and not have women read for men. If a man who is able to read is not available, then we can follow the first view.

  2. Second, this ruling is only for Sephardim. Ashkenazim follow the Rema who adds to the above in Shulchan Arukh the comment that "some say" that women who read megillah recite a different blessing because their obligation is different from men. The upshot of such a ruling is that women cannot read megillah for men because their obligation is to hear megillah while a man's obligation is to read it (this is not the place for a discussion of what this means). The general rule is that when the Rema adds a "some say" to the Shulchan Arukh, he believes that in practice we must be strict for this view (see Yad Malakhi, Kelalei Shulchan Arukh Ve-Rema, par. 18). Therefore, even if R. Ovadiah Yosef had permitted following the first view in the Shulchan Arukh, which he did not, Ashkenazim would not be able to follow it because we adhere to the stricter view quoted by the Rema.

    There are a few recent articles arguing that this only applies during the day and not at night, but they are (in not just my opinion but that of many others) entirely unconvincing. R. Aryeh Frimer, a self-described feminist and a chronicler of halakhic views on women's issues, concludes in his article "Women's Megilla Reading" (link): "Nevertheless, there are those who have recently suggested, that even according to the Behag, women can in practice read for men at the nighttime reading of the Megilla... Several basic arguments seriously undermine reliance on this lenient approach in practice." He proceeds to list four fatal (in my opinion) objections to this view.

  3. And finally, it is not true that there is a Charedi conspiracy of chumros (strictures) to prevent women from reading megillah for men. For starters, the Rema rules that they cannot and he dates to way before any such modern phenomena. The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (689:2) is very strict about this and he is not at all known for his chumros. To my knowledge (and that of R. Aryeh Frimer in the aforementioned article), there is no classical authority post-Shulchan Arukh to allow women to read megillah for men because of the technical issues regarding levels of obligation. See also this article by R. Yehudah Henkin in which he also concludes that women may not read megillah for men: link.
See also these two article in the Torah U-Madda Journal, vol. 9:
  • R. Avi Weiss, "Women Reading the Megillah": link
  • R. Aaron Cohen, "Women Reading the Megillah for Men: A Rejoinder": link

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