Rabbi Ovadia’s Surprising Ruling: Women Can Read Megillah for Men

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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.

A video of Rabbi Ovadia’s talk can be found here. Rafi listened, and confirmed Haaretz’s report. He shares his thoughts here.

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Comments

  1. He also talks about listening to the megilla through a microphone, and other topics.
    As always, Rav Ovadia is difficult to understand, so you have to listen carefully, if you have the patience…

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  2. the part about a wman writing the megilla can be found from about 26 minytes in. The part about a woman reading can be found about 10 minutes in.

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  3. Rav Ovadia says that there was a tanach written by a woman. At the bottom she wrote “I, so and so the scribe, apologize if there are any mistakes. I am pregnant and was having contractions when I wrote this”.

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  4. If chanting from a scroll doesn’t fall under kol isha (and presumably, ‘kvod hatzibur’), what exactly is the problem with women reading from the Torah in shul, as well?
    I sense a revolution brewing…

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  5. Ariella Brown says:

    Miriam, the Gemara actually says that women could be called up to the Torah. The reason they do not, and I would imagine that wold be the same principle that prevents them from reading the Megillah for men, is the concept that it is not kavod hatzibur. What exactly is meant by kavod hatzibur may be interpreted, but it would not mean that the chanting is tantamount to singing and a violation of Kol Isha.

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  6. Ariella Brown says:

    typo above: wold should be would. But I just can’t see a traditional shul allowing that. R’ Weiss gets labelled very far left for allowing women to layn the Megillah just for other women.

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    • mominisrael says:

      Miriam, the reason is that a woman’s obligation to hear the megillah is at the same level as a man’s. For commandments where only men are obligated, a woman’s performance of the commandment can’t exempt the man. So a woman could make kiddush for a man, but she couldn’t make havdalah because the woman’s obligation to hear the havdalah prayer is in dispute.
      Rafi, love the bit about the contractions.
      Thanks Ariella, I think “kavod hatzibbur” would apply equally to megillah and Torah reading. The fact that women could be called up to the Torah may strengthen the argument for allowing women to read the megillah for men–i.e. there is a precedent for overlooking kavod hatzibur.

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  7. I love it!

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  8. Bruce Epstein says:

    See the comments by Professor Jeffrey Woolf at http://myobiterdicta.blogspot.com/2009/03/much-ado-women-reading-megillah-for-men.html

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  9. MII:

    “it’s common for communities to hold all-women readings”

    maybe it’s common where you live

    “he does not consider everyday speaking or chanting from a scroll to fall under the prohibition of “kol isha,””

    he explained years ago that there is no issue of erva for kol isha when the shekhina is present (or something like that)

    (a friend of mine recommended that i daven in shira hadashah. i didn’t realize what i was getting myself into and i ended up leaving in the middle.)

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  10. mominisrael says:

    Bruce, thanks for posting the link.
    LoZ, perhaps common is too strong a word. There is, or has been, at least one in Petach Tikva.

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  11. LoZ, it’s been common for years in MO communities to have at least one or two women’s readings on Purim. You don’t live in an MO community (at least from your posts it seems that way), so you wouldn’t know. I’ve been to a women’s reading every year since I’ve been in high school and I’m in my 30′s.

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  12. There have been more & more women copying Megillot Esther as well. Sarah bat R’ David Oppenheim of Prague wrote one in the 1700′s, I wrote one in 2003, Nava Levine-Coren wrote one in 2004…it’s a growing movement within the Modern Orthodox community.

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  13. ABBI:

    i don’t live in a MO community, but i don’t live in a total coccoon either.

    please define “a women’s reading” and “common”

    i am aware that there are a *few* shuls with women’s megillah readings, i.e., where women read for women, but it is definately not *common* (i would say it’s an itsy bitsy minority). or maybe i’m wrong. even in manhattan, how many shuls have women’s readings?

    and as far as readings where women read for men, i’ll bet that’s even less than an itsby bitsy minority.

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  14. LOZ common= 1-2 readings happen on a yearly basis in many Orthodox communities around the globe and they are accepted or tolerated by the community at large. They are not crazy whacky things that happen in one Jewish community on Earth.

    I’ve lived in several Jewish communities over the course of my adult life and there was always a women’s reading to go to where I lived. That’s what I call common. A number of the Orthodox readings I went to even had men in attendance.

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  15. on kol isha and leining see
    http://koltorah.org/ravj/The%20Parameters%20of%20Kol%20Isha.htm

    third paragraph under the heading zemirot

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