The secular newspapers like to report on the weekly talks of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leading rabbinic arbiter of the Sephardi/Mizrachi community in Israel. Occasionally he says outrageous things, but this time he made a ruling likely to please a more liberal readership.
On the upcoming holiday of Purim both men and women are required by Jewish law to hear the entire reading of the biblical book of Esther, known as a Megillah (scroll) twice– once in the evening and once the next morning. It is almost always read by a man in the synagogue. But since most rabbinic authorities agree that women can fulfill their obligation by hearing a woman read, it’s common for communities to hold all-women readings. Some girls learn it as part of their bat mitzvah celebrations.
Haaretz reports that Rabbi Yosef went further, ruling that not only can men listen to a women reading, which is surprising in itself, but that they fulfill their religious obligation by hearing a woman chant. Rabbi Yosef explained that he does not consider everyday speaking or chanting from a scroll to fall under the prohibition of “kol isha,” which only relates to a man hearing a woman singing. He doesn’t recommend a woman reading as the ideal, but in a small settlement with no man qualified to chant “kemo ben adam,” like a human being, a qualified woman is preferred. Chanting the ten-chapter megillah from a scroll containing no vocallization, punctuation, or cantillation symbols requires many hours of preparation, and I can attest that the congregation suffers from a poor reading.
The report added that Rabbi Yosef also permits the use of megilloth written by female scribes.
This ruling is sure to make waves in the Orthodox community in Israel and elsewhere.
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