Women and Reading Megillah
Question #1: Ba’alas Korei
May a woman be the ba’alas keri’ah of the megillah?
Question #2: Kiddush and Arba Kosos
The elderly Mr. Klein is fully alert, but, unfortunately, he has difficulty enunciating. May Mrs. Klein recite kiddush and the other brachos of the seder for him?
Although there is a general rule exempting women from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama, (time-bound requirements involving positive action), such as tefillin, sukkah and tzitzis, there are numerous exceptions to this rule. For example, women are required to observe mitzvos related to Shabbos and Pesach and to hear Megillas Esther on Purim, all topics that we will discuss.
Part of the miracle
In three places, the Gemara quotes an early amora, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who ruled that women are obligated to fulfill the mitzvos of megillah, ner Chanukah and the four kosos of seder night. Although these are all time-bound mitzvos aseih, women are obligated to observe these specific mitzvos because of a different rule, af hein hayu be’oso haneis, “they were also included in the miracle.” This rule means that, when Chazal created the mitzvos of kindling Chanukah lights, reading megillah on Purim or consuming the four cups on the first night of Pesach, they included women in the obligation, notwithstanding that they are usually exempt from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama.
The rishonim dispute what the term af hein hayu be’oso haneis means. Is this emphasizing that they were saved by the miracle, or does it mean that they were involved in bringing about the miracle?
Rashi and the Rashbam (Pesachim 108b) explain that af hein hayu be’oso haneis means that women were involved in causing the miracle (think of Esther declaring that the Jews fast and do teshuvah, approaching Achashveirosh and setting Haman up for his execution). On the other hand, Tosafos (Megillah 4a s. v. She’af; Pesachim 108b s. v. Hayu) contends that it means that women, also, were saved by the miracle of survival, either physical or spiritual, that we celebrate in each of these observances.
Mitzvos min haTorah?
Note that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi applied his principle to three mitzvos, each of which is a requirement only miderabbanan. Is this coincidental, or is the principle of af hein hayu be’oso haneis a principle that Chazal created that does not apply min haTorah? This issue is disputed by two Ba’alei Tosafos. The first opinion cited by Tosafos contends that af hein hayu be’oso haneis is a rabbinic principle and will not create a Torah requirement (Tosafos, Megillah 4a s. v. She’af; Mordechai, Megillah #780). The disputant, Rabbeinu Yosef of Eretz Yisrael, rules that af hein hayu be’oso haneis applies even to mitzvos that are min haTorah.
Prior to answering our opening questions, we need to understand a halachic principle called shomei’a ke’oneh, which translates, literally, as “hearing is like responding.” This principle means that when I hear someone recite a prayer, the megillah, kiddush or havdalah, it is considered as if I, myself, recited it.
I will explain this principle with an example that we utilize regularly: Except for heads of household, most of us fulfill the mitzvos of kiddush and havdalah by hearing someone else recite them. But the mitzvah is to recite kiddush and havdalah, not merely to hear them. So, how do we fulfill these mitzvos when we are only hearing them? The answer is that, because of shomei’a ke’oneh, it is deemed that we recited kiddush and havdalah ourselves.
For shomei’a ke’oneh to work, three conditions must be met:
(1) The individual performing the mitzvah must have in mind to be motzi the other people, meaning that he knows that he is acting on behalf of those listening.
(2) The individual performing the mitzvah must be required to observe this mitzvah. In other words, if a child (under bar or bas mitzvah) recites kiddush or havdalah on behalf of an adult, the adult does not fulfill the mitzvah, since the child is not obligated in this mitzvah min haTorah (see Brachos 20b).
(3) The listeners must have in mind that they are discharging their obligation to perform the mitzvah by hearing this recital.
It is for this last reason that, immediately prior to Parshas Zachor, the gabbai announces that everyone should have in mind with the reading of the ba’al keri’ah to fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Amaleik’s dastardly deeds. Only the ba’al keri’ah actually reads the appropriate Torah portion. The rest of us discharge our obligation to observe this mitzvah by hearing the ba’al keri’ah, which, because of shomei’a ke’oneh, is considered as if we read it ourselves. In addition to Parshas Zachor, brachos, reading the Torah and the megillah, kiddush and havdalah, there are numerous other applications of shomei’a ke’oneh.
We should note that, although the person being motzi others must be obligated by the Torah to fulfill the mitzvah, this does not require him to fulfill the mitzvah with this reading, by which he is being motzi others. He may recite kiddush or havdalah for someone else, even if he, himself, has already fulfilled the mitzvah, or if he intends to fulfill the mitzvah later with a different recital of kiddush or havdalah. That is why a ba’al keri’ah can read megillah many different times to be motzi other people, even though he has already fulfilled the mitzvah. This is also the reason why kiddush and havdalah are recited in shul, notwithstanding that the person reciting them plans to recite them again at home.
At this point, I can present the halachic background behind our opening question: May a woman be the ba’alas korei or ba’alas keri’ah of the megillah?
Whether a woman may assume the role of ba’alas keri’ah is the subject of a fascinating dispute among rishonim, as we will soon see.
The Mishnah (Megillah 19b) states: Everyone is qualified to read the megillah except for a minor and someone who is not halachically responsible for his actions. The Gemara (Arachin 2b) asks: what is being added by emphasizing that “everyone” is qualified to read the megillah? The Gemara replies that women, who are usually not obligated in time-bound mitzvos, are obligated to read the megillah, to the extent that they may read the megillah to be motzi others. Rashi explains, explicitly, that this means that a woman may read the megillah to be motzi a man in his obligation. Thus, according to Rashi, a woman may be the ba’alas keri’ah of the megillah.
However, the Ba’al Halachos Gedolos (usually abbreviated as Bahag, the author of a halachic work from the era of the geonim) notes that the Tosefta, a halachic work dating back to the era of the Mishnah, disagrees. The salient part of the Tosefta (Megillah 2:4), as we have its text, reads: “All are obligated in the reading of the megillah… . Women… are exempt and cannot be motzi the public (rabbim) from their responsibility.”
Is there any way to resolve this contradiction between the Mishnah, as understood by the Gemara, and the Tosefta?
The Bahag presents an approach to explain the Mishnah and the Tosefta such that there is no conflict between the two positions. When the Mishnah implies, and the Gemara states explicitly, that a woman can be motziah (the feminine of motzi; plural motzios) someone else, it means that she can be motziah a woman, but not a man.
Why should this be true? The Bahag explains that there are two levels of mitzvah regarding the megillah:
(1) To read the megillah.
(2) To hear the megillah.
Ordinarily, a man fulfills both requirements when he hears the megillah from another man, since the person reading the megillah, who has both obligations, reads it for the purpose that the listeners fulfill all their megillah-related obligations. However, since a woman’s obligation is only to hear the megillah, but not to read it, it is not within her ability to be motzi someone who is obligated to read the megillah (Rosh, Megillah 1:4; note that Shu”t Avnei Neizer [Orach Chayim #511:4-5] and the Brisker Rav [Al Hashas, Inyanim #15] explain the Bahag’s approach slightly differently).
With this approach, the Bahag explains that the Mishnah refers to a woman reading the megillah for other women, which she can do, and the Tosefta refers to a woman reading the megillah for men, which is why it states that a woman cannot be motziah the public, which includes men.
The Tosefta according to Rashi
According to Rashi, either the text of this Tosefta is in error (as is not uncommon in our texts of the Tosefta) or it disagrees with the Mishnah as understood by the Gemara, in which case we rule according to the Mishnah and Gemara (both of these approaches are mentioned, in different places, by the Bach, Orach Chayim 689). We should point out that the texts that we have received of the Tosefta are notoriously unreliable, since copyists often made errors and, as a result, texts that were studied less frequently are often inaccurate. As an example, the rishonim who quote this Tosefta cite it with at least three significantly different texts.
Also, if, indeed, there is a dispute between the tanna who authored the Mishnah and the one who authored the Tosefta, the halacha follows the author of the Mishnah. Thus, either approach used to explain Rashi’s position is highly satisfactory.
Several authorities infer from the Rambam that he agreed with Rashi’s halachic conclusion (Magid Mishnah, Hilchos Megillah 1:2; Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 689). The Beis Yosef and the Darkei Moshe quote other rishonim on both sides of fence: The Or Zarua rules like Rashi, whereas the Ra’avyah and the Mordechai (Megillah #779) rule like the Bahag. The Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion is unclear (Orach Chayim 689:2), whereas the Rema rules like the Bahag.
According to the Bahag’s opinion, some authorities contend that a woman hearing megillah when no male is fulfilling the mitzvah should not recite the brocha al mikra megillah, since she is not required to read the megillah, but to hear it. The Rema records that she should recite lishmo’a megillah, but others prefer that she should recite lishmo’a mikra megillah (Mishnah Berurah 689:8).
Getting a third opinion
Are there any other opinions? We actually find a few other opinions among rishonim, who present alternative ways of resolving the contradiction between the Mishnah and the Tosefta, with halachic results unlike either Rashi or the Bahag. Rabbi Moshe of Coucy (France), a ba’al Tosafos who wrote a halachic work based on the 613 mitzvos, usually called Sefer Hamitzvos Hagadol (abbreviated as Semag), agrees with the Bahag that a woman cannot be motziah a man, but disagrees with the reason why. In his opinion, just as Chazal ruled that a woman cannot fulfill the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah, because it is not kavod hatzibur for her to read for the community (Megillah 23a), she may also not read to be motzi a man in megillah (towards the beginning of Hilchos Megillah in the Semag). Tosafos (Sukkah 38a s. v. Be’emes at end) may agree with this opinion of the Semag.
With this approach, the Semag answers the contradiction between the Mishnah and the Gemara, on one hand, and the Tosefta, on the other, in a way similar to that of the Bahag. The Mishnah and Gemara teach that a woman may read the megillah for someone else; the Tosefta is ruling that she may not be the ba’alas keri’ah for a community.
There is yet a fourth approach to the issue, that of the Ba’al Ha’itur (Hilchos Megillah, page 110, column 1), but the details of his opinion are somewhat unclear (see Ran [Megillah 19b, 6b in the Rif’s pages]; Tur and Bach, Orach Chayim 689).
Three is a crowd
There is yet another opinion, contending that the Tosefta means that a woman should not read the megillah for more than one other woman (Korban Nesanel, Megillah 1:4:60, in explanation of Tosafos, Sukkah 38a s. v. Be’emes). According to this position, the Tosefta meant this when it said that a woman she should not read for the “public” (“rabbim” in the words of the Tosefta). The Mishnah Berurah quotes this approach as authoritative halacha (Shaar Hatziyun, 689:15). This opinion actually ends up with a stricter ruling, since, according to both Rashi and the Bahag, a woman may read megillah to be motziah other women, regardless as to how many there are, whereas this opinion allows her to be motziah only one other woman, not any more.
Does this principle of the Bahag apply to kiddush just as it applies to the reading of the megillah? Let us explore the halachic data on the subject.
The Gemara (Brachos 20b) states, unequivocally, that women are obligated in the mitzvah of reciting kiddush. Does this mean that a woman may recite kiddush to be motzi a man? Or, is this dependent on the dispute between Rashi and the Bahag?
Several early acharonim understand that the same dispute that exists between Rashi and the Bahag regarding women reading the megillah for men applies to women reciting kiddush for men (Maharshal and Bach, in their commentaries to Tur Orach Chayim 271). They conclude that a woman may recite kiddush for other women, but may not recite kiddush to be motzi a man in kiddush.
However, the Taz, who was the son-in-law of the Bach, disputes his father-in-law’s conclusion, contending that the Bahag’s opinion is limited to reading the Megillah, and does not apply to reciting kiddush. Since the Gemara concludes that women are obligated in kiddush min haTorah, it appears that they can be motzi men in kiddush. (This approach appears to be implied by the Gemara, Brachos 20b).
Kiddush according to the Semag
We noted above the opinion of the Semag that women cannot be motzios men in reading the megillah, just as they cannot be called up to read the Torah. This position should apply only to a woman reading the megillah, but not to reciting kiddush, which is usually not performed publicly, but recited at home.
At this point, let us explore one of our opening questions: The elderly Mr. Klein is fully alert, but, unfortunately, he has difficulty enunciating. May Mrs. Klein recite kiddush and the other brachos of the seder for him?
Chazal required that men and women have four kosos at the seder. It is difficult to imagine that someone can be motzi someone else in this requirement – drinking the four cups of wine it a mitzvah degufei, a mitzvah that is performed with one’s body, similar to matzoh, lulav and tefillin, which preclude one person performing the mitzvah for another. However, someone can recite the brachos that pertain to these kosos for someone else.
The Gemara states that each of the four kosos is associated with a different mitzvah of the seder, and, in fact, each of these mitzvos includes at least one brocha. We hold the kos while we recite these brachos.
1. The first kos is kiddush.
2. Over the second kos, we recite the brocha of Asher Ge’alanu, which completes the mitzvah of magid.
3. The third kos is used for birkas hamazon.
4. The fourth kos is the brocha upon the completion of Hallel.
Women are obligated in all the laws of the seder, which includes reciting the brachos associated with its four kosos. Does it say whether they can be motzios a man in these brachos? Would the Bahag’s opinion that they should not be motziah a man in megillah apply to these brachos? I did not find anyone who discusses this issue.
How do we pasken?
Having explained the understanding and ramifications of all these issues, let us present the halachic conclusions:
Most late authorities conclude that, regarding the reading of the megillah, we should follow the approach of the Bahag that women should not read megillah for men, and, also, we should follow the approach of the Semag that women should not read in public for a group of women. If no man is available who can read the megillah for her, a woman may read the megillah for herself, and she may also read the megillah for another woman.
Regarding the halachos of women being motzios men in kiddush, the later authorities do not accept the approach of the Maharshal and the Bach that the same ruling applies to kiddush. Instead, they contend that when there is a valid reason for a woman to make kiddush for her family, she should do so and be motziah the male members (Magen Avraham, 271:2 and later acharonim). Regarding the bracha of Asher Ge’alanu at the seder, my halachic conclusion is that Mrs. Klein may recite these brachos and be motziah Mr. Klein with them.
Why are women exempt from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama? Most people, and certainly several commentaries, assume that this is because a woman’s family responsibilities should not be subject to other mitzvos that may conflict with them. However, not everyone agrees with this idea. Some note that there already is a halachic principle of oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah, someone occupied with fulfilling one mitzvah is exempt from performing a different mitzvah, until the first mitzvah is completed. Thus, it would seem superfluous for the Torah to have established yet another rule, to exempt women from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama, because of the exact same rationale.
Other authorities contend that Hashem, Who created all of our neshamos, knows which mitzvos our particular soul needs in order to thrive, and each individual’s neshamah needs different mitzvos. Following this idea, it is obvious that kohanim need certain mitzvos, but are excluded from others; men require certain mitzvos and cannot fulfill others, and so, also, with women. Each person’s neshamah has its own Divinely created formula for what it needs.