The Laws of Purim - Ta'anit Esther, and Women's Obligation of Keri'at Megilla
the laws of THE FESTIVALS
THE LAWS OF PURIM
In memory of Yissachar Dov Shmuel bar Yakov Yehuda Illoway
and Leah Ruth Illoway bat Natan Naso Jacobs
Shiur #15: The Laws of Purim
Ta'anit Esther, and Women’s Obligation of Keri'at Megilla
Rav David Brofsky
This week we will discuss the Fast of Esther (Ta'anit Esther) observed before Purim, and then begin our study of the obligation of mikra Megilla, focusing upon a woman's obligation to hear the Megilla reading.
Unlike the other “minor” fasts (as opposed to Yom Kippur), which are enumerated and discussed by the Talmud (Ta'anit 29a), Ta'anit Esther is not mentioned anywhere in the Mishna or Talmud. In fact, the earliest reference to Ta'anit Esther appears in the eighth-century Gaonic work Sheiltot de-Rav Achai, authored by R. Achai Gaon. In any event, the fast is discussed by the Rishonim, codified by the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 686) and universally observed.
What is the source and nature of this fast, and how should we understand its relationship to Purim?
The Shibolei Ha-leket (cited in the Beit Yosef, O.C. 686) cites Rashi as explaining that Ta'anit Esther commemorates the three-day fast observed by the Jews of Shushan at Esther’s behest during the month of Nissan (Megilla 15a), before she approached Achashveirosh to invite him to the feast. Recall from the Megilla that Esther told Mordekhai before she approached the king:
Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink, for three days, night and day; My maidens and I, too, will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish. (4:16)
Rashi describes this fast as a "mere custom" (minhag be-alma), and criticizes those who treat it with unnecessary stringency.
Rabbeinu Tam, on the other hand, as cited by the Rosh (Megilla 1:1), suggests that Ta'anit Esther is a rabbinic obligation, alluded to by the Talmud (Megilla 2a), and commemorates the day upon which the Jews gathered to fight those who sought to destroy them (the 13th of Adar). The Rosh writes:
“It is a day of gathering for everyone” – that everyone gathers together for the Fast of Esther. The rural population comes to the cities to recite Selichot and supplications, just as on this day the Jews gathered together to defend themselves and thus required Divine mercy. Likewise, we find that Moshe declared a fast when they [Benei Yisrael] fought against Amalek, as it is written, “And Moshe, Aharon and Chur ascended to the top of the mountain” (Shemot 17:10), and Masekhet Ta'anit derives from here that “three [authorities] are required [to declare] a public fast.” Rabbeinu Tam brought proof from here for our observance of Ta'anit Esther, which we commemorate as they did in the days of Mordekhai and Esther, when the Jews gathered to defend themselves. We find no other proof for [the practice of Ta'anit Esther] other than here.
The Ra'avad (cited by the Ran, Ta'anit 7a in the Rif) offers yet a third explanation:
The thirteenth isn't similar to the other fasts, as it commemorates the miracle which occurred [on that day]. In addition, we have a written reference to it as it says (Esther 9:31): "To confirm these days of Purim in their appointed times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had enjoined them, and as they had ordained for themselves and for their seed, the matters of the FASTINGS and their cry…" – in other words, to observe this fast each and every year.
According to the Ra'avad, the fast of Esther was actually instituted as part of the original Purim edict. Our celebration includes reenacting the fast which preceded the war, during which the Jewish people experienced a miraculous redemption. Incidentally, the Rambam (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 5:5) also identifies this verse as the source for Ta'anit Esther, though he does refer to it as just a “custom.”
We have thus identified three possible sources for this fast, which reflect three different levels of the obligation. Seemingly, the lower the obligation of the fast, the more readily we will permit a person to eat in certain situations. Indeed, the Shulchan Arukh (686:2) states, "This fast is not an obligation; therefore, we may be lenient regarding the fast in cases of need, such as a pregnant or nursing woman or a sick patient."
A second question that arises concerns the nature and character of this fast. While the other fast days express our sorrow over the loss of the beit ha-mikdash, it remains unclear whether Ta'anit Esther shares the mournful qualities of the other fasts. Indeed, the Ra'avad cited above describes the fast in almost festive terms.
Rav Soloveitchik, as quoted in Rav Michel Shurkin’s Harerei Kedem (188), noted a number of practical ramifications of this question. For example, would the Rambam’s ruling (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 1:14) advocating that one refrain from "idunim" (entertainment or physical delights) on fast days apply on Ta'anit Esther? If we place Ta’anit Esther in a separate category from the other fasts, as a festive, rather than mournful, occasion, then we would likely permit such activities. Indeed, the work Piskei Teshuvot (686:2) rules that on Ta’anit Esther one may listen to music and prepare new clothing, activities which are generally discouraged on other fast days.
Furthermore, Rav Soloveitchik suggested that the Rambam's assertion that the fast days will not be observed in the messianic era (Hilkhot Ta'aniyot 5:9) might not apply to Ta'anit Esther, which is an integral part of the Purim celebration (see Rambam, Hilkhot Megilla 2:18).
While questioning the character of the day, one might also explore whether Ta'anit Esther comprises a separate custom or obligation, or whether it is integrally connected to the observance of Purim.
For example, the Rambam (Hilkhot Megilla 5:5) and Shulchan Arukh (686:2) rule that when Purim falls on Sunday, in which case we cannot fast on the day immediately preceding Purim (Shabbat), we fast on the previous Thursday. The Kolbo (R. Aaron b. Yaakov of Lunel), however, rules (in Siman 45) that one should fast on Friday, so that the fast is juxtaposed to Purim as closely as possible. (See Shibolei Ha-leket – Purim, 194, who severely criticizes this practice.) Apparently the Kolbo views the fast as an integral part of Purim, which should be observed as close to Purim as possible, even at the price of fasting on Friday, which we generally avoid.
I believe that there is a much deeper question that we must ask, as well, concerning the observance of Ta’anit Esther: In what way, if at all, does Ta’anit Esther contribute to the Purim celebration? Some of the aforementioned sources indicate that while the fast may be commemorative, it is hardly integral to the Purim celebration. Furthermore, a careful look at Ta'anit Esther reveals that it does not, according to some views, accurately commemorate the events portrayed by the Megilla. Moreover, it does not conform to the rules of other fast days, as we demonstrated above! These discrepancies seem to indicate that Ta'anit Esther might not commemorate a tragic event, or any event, at all. Rather, it may simply be another, yet different, day of Purim.
Rav Soloveitchik zt"l (see Shiurei HaRav, pp. 175-180) suggested that Purim and Ta'anit Esther commemorate two distinct themes of Purim, which he claimed may be rooted in the different themes of the Megilla itself.
He notes in this context the Gemara’s discussion (Megilla 3b) concerning the requirement to read the Megilla twice, both by night and during the day. The Gemara cites two Scriptural sources for this halakha, two verses in which man is commanded to repeat his call to God. The first source, "My God, I call out to you during the day, but you do not answer, and in the night, as well, I am not silent" (Tehillim 22:3), compares the Megilla reading to a desperate cry for help. The second source, "So that my glory may sing praise to you and not be silent, Hashem, my God, I continuously thank you" (Tehillim 30:13), equates mikra Megilla with a song of praise for God.
Rav Soloveitchik suggested that both themes accurately capture the nature of Purim. During most of the Purim story, the Jewish people are threatened and pursued; the redemption surfaces only towards the end of the Megilla. In other words, the story of Purim, and, subsequently, its celebration, involves two parts: an acknowledgement of the crisis and "what could have been," as well as thanksgiving for the redemption.
Ta'anit Esther and Purim, therefore, reflect two aspects of the Purim celebration. Each, without the other, is incomplete. One cannot truly appreciate Purim without having fasted on Ta'anit Esther, and Ta'anit Esther alone certainly doesn't capture the totality of the Purim story.
Interestingly, the Shibolei Ha-leket cites R. Amaram Gaon as recording the custom of the Tanna’im and Amora’im, as well as the “house of the courts,” to recite supplications and solemn prayers on Purim day itself! Apparently, this custom attempts to integrate both themes into the day of Purim.
This dialectic, of course, not only portrays the different components of the Purim story, but accurately reflects the precarious existence of the Jewish people since the destruction of the Temples, during which time the story of Purim occurred.
The Obligation of Women in Mikra Megilla
As we discussed in a previous shiur (http://vbm-torah.org/archive/moadim69/07-69moed.htm), women are included in the obligation of mikra Megilla, despite the general rule exempting women from time-bound commandments ("mitzvot asei she-hazman gerama”).
This halakha is explicitly established in the Talmud (Megilla 4a): ”R. Yehoshua b. Levi said: Women are obligated in the reading of the Megilla, as they, too, were included in the miracle” (“af hein hayu be-oto ha-neis”).
Similarly, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Megilla 2:4) states:
Bar Kappara said: One must read the Megilla before women and minors, for they, too, were involved in the doubt [i.e. danger] (she-af otam hayu ba-safek). R. Yehoshua ben Levi acted accordingly: he gathered his sons and the members of his household and read [the Megilla] in their presence.
The Rishonim elaborate on this halakha, and discuss the issue of whether a woman may read the Megilla for a man in order to fulfill his obligation.
Most Rishonim (including the Rambam, Hilkhot Megilla 1:1) maintain that men and women share an equal obligation in mikra Megilla, based upon the Talmud’s comment in Masekhet Arakhin (3a), "‘All are qualified to read the Megilla… [this comes] to include women." Therefore, in their view, a woman may certainly read for a man (Rashi, s.v. la'atuyei; R. Yishayahu of Trani [Riaz] in Shiltei Ha-giborim to the Rif, Megilla 4a; Ritva, Megilla 4a; Meiri, Megilla 5a; Or Zarua 2:368).
Some, however, insist that a woman may not read the Megilla for a man, based upon a comment in the Tosefta (Megilla 2:4):
All are obligated to read the Megilla: kohanim, Levites and Israelites... [but] women are exempt and do not enable the many [i.e. men] to fulfill their obligation.
The Ba'al Halakhot Gedolot (or Behag), for example, writes that although women are obligated because of "af hein hayu be-oto ha-neis," they still may not fulfill the obligation on behalf of a man (Tosafot 4a, s.v. nashim; Rosh, Megilla 1:4).
The Rishonim and Acharonim address the question of why, according to this view, women cannot fulfill a man’s obligation, give that they are included in the mitzva. One approach (see Semag, Divrei Soferim – Asei 4; Ritva, Megilla 4a, s.v. she-af hein) claims that although men and women indeed share an equal level of obligation, a woman should not read for men due to external considerations, such as kevod ha-tzibbur (“congregational honor” – see Megilla 23b), or zila be-hu milta (impropriety).
Tosafot express this view in Masekhet Sukka (38a, s.v. be-emet ameru):
…Because we are dealing with a community, it would be a breach of propriety (zila be-hu milta) were a woman to assist the masses in fulfilling their obligation. Thus, women are obligated in Megilla reading, but the Ba'al Halakhot Gedolot rules that women cannot assist the masses in fulfilling their Megilla obligation.
The Kolbo (45) cites R. Yitzchak ben Abba Mari of Marseilles, France (author of the Sefer Ha-Ittur) as prohibiting a women from reading for a man for a different reason:
The author of Aseret Ha-diberot wrote that when reading [the Megilla], women do not enable men to fulfill their obligation; the reason is kol be-isha erva [their voice is considered like “nakedness”].
According to this view, a woman should not read the Megilla for men because this would violate the law that forbids men from listening to a woman singing.
We should note, however, that although the Shulchan Arukh (E.H. 21:1) indeed rules (based on the Rosh and Rambam) that men should refrain from listening to a woman's singing voice, especially during the recitation of keri’at shema (O.C. 75:2-3), most Poskim maintain that a woman reading the Megilla would not violate this halakha. They note the implication of the Mishna (Megilla 23b) that a woman may even publically read the Torah, if not for the consideration of kevod ha-tzibbur.
Other Rishonim explain that a woman cannot read the Megilla for a man not due to external factors, but rather because women's obligation of mikra Megilla differs fundamentally from men’s. The Rosh (1:17), for example, writes:
And the Ba'al Ha-halakhot ruled that women are only obligated to HEAR the Megilla; however, her reading [of the Megilla] cannot assist the men in fulfilling their obligation. For the men are obligated to READ [and do not fulfill their obligation] until they hear the Megilla read by men, who are obligated in READING like them - and hearing [the reading] from women is not equivalent to [meaning, it is a lower level of obligation than] the men's reading for themselves... And according to Halakhot Gedolot and Tosefta, the statement in Arakhin, “All are qualified to read the Megilla...to include women” needs to be explained [as follows]: not that women are qualified to read for men, but [rather that they are qualified to read] only for women. [And the significance of this statement is] that one should not suggest that women cannot fulfill their obligation until they hear an important [i.e., high level obligation] reading of men. [The Gemara] teaches us that a woman can indeed assist her fellow [woman in fulfilling her obligation].
According to the Behag, then, a woman’s obligation of Megilla reading is of a different nature than a man’s, and for this reason a woman’s reading does not suffice to fulfill a man’s obligation. Interestingly enough, the Mordekhai (Megilla 779) claims that the Behag had a different text of the Gemara, which read, "Women are obligated in hearing the Megilla [mashma Megilla].”
The Behag’s position may also affect a different question, namely, the blessing a woman should recite before reading the Megilla. According to the Rishonim who equate a man and woman's obligation in mikra Megilla (either theoretically or also practically), women should recite the same berakha recited by men – "al mikra Megilla." However, the Behag (especially as understood by the Mordekhai) would presumably rule that women should recite "al mashma Megilla" ("on the hearing of the Megilla"), as their obligation differs from men’s. Similarly, the Rema (O.C. 689:2) writes, "There are those who say that if a woman reads for herself she recites the blessing “li-shmo’a megilla” (“to hear the megilla”), since she is not obligated to read."
We find in the Acharonim other reasons, as well, for why a man's obligation may fundamentally differ from a woman's. Some claim that a man’s obligation is either fundamentally broader, or stems from a higher level of obligation, than the women’s requirement.
R. Chanokh Henikh Agus, in his Marcheshet (1:22:9), explains that by reading the Megilla one fulfills two separate mitzvot: pirsumei nisa (publicizing the miracle) and hallel (see Megilla 14a). While men and women share equally the obligation of pirsumei nisa, women are exempt from hallel. Therefore, he concludes, women cannot discharge a man’s obligation of Megilla reading, as she is not obligated in all its components.
Incidentally, he proposes a possible distinction in this regard between the nighttime reading and the daytime reading (see Megilla 4a). The hallel component of Megilla likely applies only by day, and therefore theoretically, according to the Behag, a woman should be able to read for a man on Purim night, but not on Purim day. (We will return to this point a bit later.)
Similarly, R. Aryeh Leib ben Asher Ginzburg (1695-1785), in his Turei Even (Megilla 4a, s.v. nashim), argues that while a man's obligation in Megilla originates from divrei kaballa (prophetic revelation), a woman's obligation, which is based upon the principle of af hein hayu be-oto ha-neis, is rabbinic in origin, and thus a lower level of obligation. For this reason, he explains, a woman cannot discharge the higher obligation of a man. Interestingly, this theory, too, may result in a distinction between the nighttime and daytime readings. Some Poskim view the daytime reading as the primary mitzva of mikra Megilla, and the nighttime reading as an additional reading ordained later by Chazal. It would thus stand to reason that men and women share the same level of obligation on Purim night, such that a woman would be able to read the Megilla for men at night. (See R. Tzvi Pesach Frank, Mikra’ei Kodesh – Purim, 29.) We should note, however, that the Turei Even does not offer this suggestion himself.
R. Tzvi Pesach Frank proposes a similar theory regarding the situation when Shushan Purim falls on Shabbat, in which case Jerusalem residents read the Megila on Friday, the 14th of Adar, by force of rabbinic enactment. Here, too, since the reading is required only mi-derabannan, a woman might possibly be permitted to read for a man in this case.
The Final Halakha
The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 689:2) cites both views on this issue:
All are obligated in the reading of the Megilla: men, women and freed slaves. Children, too, are educated to read it. Both one who reads [the Megilla] and one who hears it read by another have fulfilled their obligation - provided that one hears it from somebody who is obligated to read it.... And there are those who maintain that women cannot assist men in fulfilling their obligation.
As we might expect, the Shulchan Arukh’s ambiguity in this regard has generated much debate. Some Sephardic authorities (including Ben Ish Hai – Shana Rishona, Tetzaveh, 2; and Kaf Ha-chayim, O.C. 689:14) claim that Halakha follows the second, stringent opinion recorded in the Shulchan Arukh. R. Ovadia Yosef (see Yechaveh Da'at, 3:51 and 4:34, and R. Yitzchak Yosef's Yalkut Yosef V, pp. 287-289), however, claims that whenever the Shulchan Arukh cites a view without attribution followed by another opinion attributed to “those that maintain” (“stam ve-ahar kakh yesh omrim”), Halakha follows the first view cited. Nevertheless, R. Yosef adds, it is preferable to satisfy all views and not allow a woman to read for men, except in extenuating circumstances.
The Rema (R. Moshe Isserles, 1525-1572), who, to a large extent, represents Ashkenazic tradition and practice, appears to rule in accordance with the stringent view of the Behag:
And there are those who maintain that if a woman reads for herself, she should recite the blessing, "...li-shmo’a [to hear] Megilla" - for she is not obligated to read it.
Accordingly, it would seem that Ashkenazim should follow this stringent position.
As for the scope of this ruling, none of the Rishonim who cite the Behag, or the Poskim who accept his ruling, suggest a distinction in this regard between the nighttime and daytime Megilla readings. Indeed, the theories cited above from the Marcheshet and Turei Even appear to have been offered as theoretical interpretations of the Behag, and not as practical suggestions or rulings. Therefore, there seems to be little basis to support the practice proposed by R. Avraham Weiss ("Women and the Reading of the Megilla," Torah u-Madda Journal, 8 (1998-1999), pp. 295-397) and R. Daniel Landes ("The Reading of the Megilla on Purim Night" at http://www.pardes.org.il/online_learning/halacha/Megilla_reading.php) allowing a woman to publicly read the Megilla for men on Purim night. See R. Aaron Cohen's response, "Women Reading Megilla for Men: A Rejoinder," in The Torah U-Madda Journal, 9 (2000), pp. 248-263, as well as R. Aryeh Frimer's critique of their approach (http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/tfila/frimer2.htm).
Women's Megilla Readings
Until now we have discussed the question of whether a woman may discharge the obligation of a man. With regard to a woman reading the Megilla for other women, the Gemara (Arakhin 3a) quite clearly implies that this would be perfectly acceptable. Indeed, the Tosefta (Megilla 2:4), cited above, only restricts a woman from reading for a man, but not for other women.
R. Netanel Weil (1687-1769), however, in his Korban Netanel commentary on the Rosh (Megilla 1:30), asserts that the Behag even restricts women from fulfilling the obligation of other women. He bases this position on the comments of Tosafot in Masekhet Sukka (48a), who mention the consideration of "zila behu milta." The Korban Netanel writes:
That which the Tosafot in Sukka 38a wrote, “Or else [women cannot recite birkat ha-mazon for men] because it is dishonorable for the many, for it is [like] Megilla in which women are obligated [but] Halakhot Gedolot explained that women do not enable the many to fulfill their obligation in Megilla” – that is to say that a woman may not enable many women to fulfill their obligation, because it is dishonorable for them [to have the Megilla read to them by a woman]. But as far as reading for men, even without this reason they cannot do so, not even one woman for one man, because they are not obligated [to read].
The Korban Netanel asserts that two factors limit a woman’s ability to fulfill another’s obligation. Firstly, she may not discharge a man’s obligation because her obligation is fundamentally different from his, and, secondly, Tosafot believe that due to reasons of impropriety, women may not even fulfill the obligation of other women in a public setting.
R. Yehuda Henkin (http://www.nishmat.net/article.php?id=8&heading=0) notes that the Tosefot Rosh (Sukka 38a), who often restates and clarifies the words of the Tosafot, clearly indicates that Tosafot referred to a case of women reading for men, and not for other women. R. Henkin therefore contends that although later halakhic works such as the Mishna Berura (689:2, and Sha'ar Ha-tziyun 15) cite the Korban Netanel’s ruling, his interpretation should be disregarded. In any case, the Korban Netanel’s position is certainly a minority view, for which there is little support in other sources.
Another basis for objecting to women’s reading for other women may be found in the Magen Avraham (689:6), who cites a comment in the Midrash Ha-ne'elam (a section of the Zohar) forbidding a woman from reading for other women, and even for herself. (Incidentally, the Chayei Adam 155:11 interprets this Midrash as allowing a woman to read for herself, but not for others.)
Ostensibly, the conventional interpretation of the Behag’s ruling would allow women to read the Megilla for other women. Some, however, note that since it is preferable to hear the Megilla reading in the presence of a minyan, women should preferably attend the synagogue reading, rather than conduct a separate women’s Megilla reading. (Although, as we will see, the Rema 690:18 questions whether a group of ten women may suffice to meet this preferred standard.)
However, many women are already compelled to miss the synagogue reading due to family responsibilities, and therefore attend later readings held without a minyan. Furthermore, some women simply find it difficult to hear from the women's section, as the Mishna Berura (689:1) observes. Therefore, while there may be certain halachic advantages to hearing the Megilla read by a man, in some communities women hear the Megilla read by other women. These readings have, under certain contexts, gained the approval of such figures as R. Aharon Lichtenstein and R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin (see Benei Banim, 2:10). In fact, R. Ovadia Yosef goes so far as to encourage this practice: "...the custom of women who make a minyan (!) by themselves for Megilla reading...should be encouraged" (Yabia Omer, O.C. 8:56:4). See R. Aryeh Frimer’s comprehensive discussion of the various views on this subject, in his article, "Women's Megilla Readings" (http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/tfila/frimer2.htm).
Which berakha should a woman recite before she reads the Megilla? As mentioned earlier, this issue likely hinges on the question of whether or not men and women share the same obligation of Megilla reading. Those who equate women’s obligation with men’s, either practically or only fundamentally, would certainly require women to recite the standard berakha of “al mikra Megilla.” Those who follow the Behag, by contrast, and distinguish between the obligations of men and women regarding Megilla reading, would likely require women to recite a different text.
As cited above, the Mordekhai (Megilla 779), citing the Ra’avya (Megilla 569), understood the Behag to mean that a woman’s obligation requires “hearing,” rather than “reading,” the Megilla, and they should therefore recite the berakha of “al mashma Megilla.” We also cited the Rema’s ruling (689:2) that women should say, “li-shmo’a Megilla.” (Curiously, the Chayei Adam records a view that women should recite, “li-shmo’a MIKRA Megilla.”)
Many Acharonim, however, dispute the Rema’s ruling, arguing that the original berakha of “al mikra Megilla” was intended for both men and women. This is the view of the Peri Chadash (O.C. 689:2) and Vilna Gaon (Ma’aseh Rav – Hilkhot Purim, 246). Others also add the factor that most Rishonim view a woman’s obligation as similar to a man’s, thus mandating that they recite the same berakha.
R. Frimer, in the article cited above, cites a host of modern authorities, including R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Ve-aleihu Lo Yibol, I, O.C. 433), R. Yehoshua Neuwirth (Madrikh Hilkhati Le-achayot Be-vatei Cholim, chap. 10, Purim, no. 3), R. Yechiel Michel Tuketchinsky (Luach Eretz Yisrael, Purim), R, Chaim David Halevi (Mekor Hayim Le-benot Yisrael, sec. 34, no. 8), and R. Moshe Harari (Mikra’ei Kodesh – Purim, 9:9), who rule in accordance with the Rema. He then cites others, such as R. Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer O.C. 1:44 and 8:22:27), R. Moshe Sternbuch (Moadim U-zmanim, 2:171 and Teshuvot Ve-hanhagot 3:228), who rule in accordance with the Peri Chadash and Vilna Gaon.
This question applies equally to a man who has already heard the Megilla and now reads for women who have yet to fulfill their mitzva. The Acharonim also discuss whether it is preferable for the listeners in this case to recite their own berakha, or for the reader to recite the berakha. Many (including Magen Avraham 585:3 and Chayei Adam 141:7) rule that the listener(s) should recite the blessing, although they acknowledge that common practice dictates otherwise.
Counting Women Toward a MInyan for Megilla Reading
A final issue relevant to this discussion is whether women may be counted toward a “quorum” for mikra Megilla. The concept of a required quorum for Megilla reading initially arises in the context of one who reads the Megilla before Purim (on the 11th, 12th or 13th of Adar). The Gemara (Megilla 2a) allows reading on these days under certain, extenuating circumstances, but this reading must be done in the presence of a minyan. Apparently, one who reads on a day other than Purim must create his own environment of pirsumei nisa by reading the Megilla publicly. On Purim itself, however, one may, strictly speaking, read the Megilla privately. Nevertheless, the Shulchan Arukh (690:18) writes that one should endeavor even on Purim day to read the Megilla in the presence of a quorum of ten men. If this is not possible, the Shulchan Arukh adds, then one may read the Megilla alone. The Acharonim explain that a public Megilla reading amplifies the pirsumei nisa, and fulfills the dictum of “be-rov am hadrat melekh” (public performance of mitzvot brings honor to the Almighty).
The question then arises as to whether this requirement of, or preference for, a “quorum” refers to the halakhic “minyan,” which is generally defined as ten adult males, or even to ten women or men and women. The Rema, in discussing the preference to read with a quorum, writes, “One may question whether women combine to form [a quorum of] ten.” He thus leaves this issue as an open question. Many Acharonim claim that the Rema's uncertainty relates only to the question of whether women can be counted together with men to form a minyan for Megilla reading. A group of ten women, however, certainly constitutes a “minyan” for this purpose. (See Piskei Teshuvot 690:11, and R. Aryeh Frimer's comprehensive treatment of this question at http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/tfila/frimer2.htm.)
An interesting ramification of this question relates to the situation when the 15th of Adar falls on Shabbat. In such a case, Jerusalem residents read the Megilla on Friday (the 14th of Adar), insert al ha-nissim in their prayers on Shabbat, and hold the festive Purim meal on Sunday. (This situation is called “Purim meshulash,” or “the triple Purim,” as the Purim observance is spread over three days.) The Acharonim discuss the question of whether the Jerusalemites’ reading on Friday should be considered a “keri’a bi-zmana” (reading on Purim day itself), in which case they may read even without a quorum, or if this reading constitutes a reading “she-lo bi-zmana” (at a time other than Purim), such that a quorum is required. The Mishna Berura (590:61) and Peri Chadash (18) rule that in such a case one must, indeed, hear the Megilla in the presence of a minyan, while others (see Chazon Ish 155:2, Ir Ha-kodesh Ve-ha’mikdash 26:2, Mikra’ei Kodesh – Purim 50, Yabia Omer 6:46) disagree. According to the first view, we might require all women, even those who cannot attend the earlier reading due to family responsibilities, to hear the Megilla with a minyan.
It appears that the common custom in Jerusalem is not to require a minyan for Megilla reading in Jerusalem on the Friday of a Purim meshulash. Interestingly, however, when R. Aharon Lichtenstein originally sanctioned the “women’s Megilla reading” in Jerusalem’s Midreshet Lindenbaum (which has since been adopted by numerous seminaries and communities), he also ruled that on the Friday of a Purim meshulash they should not hold such a reading, so that the women could read with a quorum. This ruling is based upon two stringencies: firstly, that the Jerusalemites’ reading on Friday of a Purim meshulash constitutes a keri’a she-lo bi-zmena, and secondly, that women do not count toward a quorum for a keri’a she-lo bi-zmana. As noted, however, it seems to be customary among Jerusalem residents to permit private readings for women, especially when more than ten women are present.
Next week we will discuss the laws of reading the Megilla in walled and unwalled cities.