Monday, March 02, 2009

Much Ado: Women Reading Megillah for Men

Rav Ovadia Yosef has publicly ruled that women may read the Megilla for men, if competent men are not available. Haaretz has made a big deal about this, calling it 'a landmark decision liable to outrage many of his Ashkenazi counterparts.' Indeed, it may well outrage his Ashkenazi counterparts. However, it's hardly a landmark decision (except for the ignoramuses at Haaretz). On the contrary, it's perfectly consistent with Rav Ovadia's previously enunciated positions. (See the thorough, and insightful survey and analysis by Rabbi Professor Aryeh Frimer, here, and the parallel discussion by R. Yehudah Herzl Henkin, here.)

Briefly stated, Rav Ovadia's position is based upon the following considerations:

1) The Rambam states explicitly that women and men have the same level of obligation as far as מקרא מגילה is concerned.

הלכות מגילה וחנוכה פרק א
הלכה א:
קריאת המגילה בזמנה מצות עשה מדברי סופרים, והדברים ידועים שהיא תקנת נביאים, והכל חייבים בקריאתה אנשים
ונשים א וגרים ועבדים משוחררים.
הלכה ב:
אחד הקורא ואחד השומע מן הקורא יצא ידי חובתו והוא שישמע ממי שהוא חייב בקריאתה, לפיכך אם היה הקורא קטן או שוטה השומע ממנו לא יצא.
2) Rav Ovadia maintains that the Rambam's ruling is endorsed by R. Joseph Caro in the Shulhan Arukh:
שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן תרפט
אחד הקורא ואחד השומע מן הקורא, יצא ידי חובתו; והוא שישמע ממי שהוא חייב בקריאתה. לפיכך אם היה הקורא חרש או קטן או שוטה, השומע ממנו לא יצא; וי"א שהנשים ה אינם מוציאות את האנשים.
3) Rav Ovadia, decades ago, ruled that there is no problem hearing a woman's voice chanting blessings, prayers and so on. (Resp. Yehaveh Daat IV, no. 15). Furthermore, over the years he emphasized that many of those who do not allow a woman to read the Megillah for men, do so largely out of concern for the unseemliness of a woman chanting for men. (Though, he obviously does note the opinion of the בה"ג, the alternative opinion cited by R. Joseph Caro, that the level of obligation for men and women regarding Megillah reading is different.)
In a word, Rav Ovadia's ruling is another of his assertions of the classic Sephardic position that women may read for men, and that Sephardim (if not everybody) should follow the opinions of R. Joseph Caro. The latter, for various reasons, should be given priority. However, if there is no qualified male, Spanish tradition is certainly comfortable with a woman reading for a man, especially since, in Rav Ovadia's opinion, there is no unseemliness in a woman's voice when she prays or chants prayers.
All of this, though, is only relevant for Sephardim. It has no implications for Ashkenazim, who accept the view of R. Simon Qayyara in the הלכות גדולות, that men and women are not equally obligated to read the Megilla. Therefore, an Ashkenazi woman cannot read for an Ashkenazi man.


Rafi G. said...

is the ashkenazi opinion also that women cannot read for women (i.e. they dont have an obligation at all? so they can only read for themselves but not for other women?

as I said in my post, I seem to remember (which might be wrong) that the opposition to a womens minyan was based on the fact that they might end up reading the megilla which they cannot do.

Rafi said...

If the issue is level of hiyuv, then it would seem obvious that women can read for women, even in Ashkenaz.

Soferet Avielah Barclay said...

Women's Megillah readings have been going on since the late 1980's. In my Orthodox shul in Vancouver we had them from about 1994, I think. Women have been copying Megillot for some time, as well, in both Ashkenazi & Sephardi circles.

Anonymous said...

"Rav Ovadia, decades ago, ruled that there is no problem hearing a woman's voice chanting blessings, prayers and so on."

Is ROY's opinion also that there is on kol isha for singing zemirot? I thought that the position was either that singing shira, torah, to children etc is not kol isha. Or that they all are kol isha. Is that correct, or does rOY only permit leining and prayers - I presume when you write "Chanting" prayers you mean singing and/or following nusach - but not singing of optional zemirot?
Do sefardi female followers of ROY sing zemiros in mixed company unlike other ashkenazi haredim?

Aryeh Frimer said...

Right on the money!

Below is what I sent to Avodah (Combination of two posts):

It should be made clear that there is absolutely nothing new in Rav Ovadiah Yosef's recent pronouncement and he has been saying this for years. He maintains that the mehaber in OH 689:1 holds that women are obligated equally with men and hence can be motsi them. In 689:2, the Mehaber brings a dissenting view that women cannot be motsi men. However, the Halakha says Rav Ovadiah is like the first opinion, but because of the dissenting view, one should be Mahmir leHatkhilla. This is the Psak for Sefaradim ONLY!

The Rema in 689:2 rules like the Behag that women cannot be motsi men. That is Ashkenazic Pesak.

Regarding women's Megilla readings for women, see R. Ovadiah Yosef, Yabia Omer, VIII, O.H., sec. 56, end of no. 4 writes: “...the custom of women who make a minyan by themselves for mikra Megilla...should be encouraged.” Thus, he holds this is leKhatehilla. Indeed, his son R. David Yosef, Torat ha-Moadim: Hilkhot u-Minhagei Purim ve-Hodesh Adar, sec. 5., note 9, p. 139, s.v ve-ha-Rema, indicates that despite the rulings of Magen Avraham and Korban Netanel, Ashkenazi (and certainly Sefardi) women can read for women. For more on this subject, see: “Women?s Megillah Reading,” Aryeh A. Frimer, In ?Traditions and Celebrations for the Bat Mitzvah,? Ora Wiskind Elper, Editor; Urim Publications: Jerusalem, 2003; pp. 281-304. Word file available at:; PDF file available online at:; HTML files available at;

RO Yosef is also quoted in this shiur as permitting be-di-avad one to read from a Megilla written by a woman. There is nothing new here either and this has been his public position since 1983. See: Yabi`a Omer 8, Orah Hayyim #55, starting from the middle of sec. 3. I should add that this is an extensive mahloket haPoskim (As ROY ke-darko bakodesh cites extensively). Hence, Rav Ovadiah is matir only be-di-avad - where one read from such a Megilla already or there is no other megilla available.