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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 10 Apr 2020 05:41 PM and ends Sat 11 Apr 2020 06:40 PM

Laws of Purim II

כ"ד שבט ה' אלפים תשס"ט



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.

Ta'anit Esther

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-tzibburzila be-hu milta (impropriety). (“congregational honor” – see Megilla 23b), or

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.%

# reads: 228

Original piece is http://vbm-torah.org/archive/moadim69/14-69moed.htm

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COSV chat

The Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM points out that if we accept the view that fast if the fasting during the battle, then the only person who fasted was Esther. This is because all the other jews were involved in defending themselves and fighting in the battle. They were therefore exempt from the obligation of fasting. The only person who was not involved in the battle was Queen Esther.

Posted by M Trebish on 2009-02-22 03:41:25 GMT