Women Hearing Parashat Zachor

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

12 Adar Aleph: Tzitz Eliezer on Women Hearing Parashat Zachor

In many shuls, Parashat Zachor offers an example of the alacrity with which Jews can fulfill mitzvot. Men and women make sure to hear the verses read, and shuls offer multiple readings, to help ensure all hear the words. As the questioner in Tzitz Eliezer 22;38 noted, Shulchan Aruch does not mention women regarding this obligation, nor do any of the commentaries or later re-doings of hulchan Aruch, such as Chayye Adam, Aruch HaShulchan, or Kaf HaChayyim.

That question is dated dates 12 Adar 5756 (1996). Tzitz Eliezer starts his answer by referencing a discussion in Torat Chessed, who pointed to longstanding custom that women did not come to Zachor. When a rabbi wrote to him about his efforts to cajole or coerce women to come, Torat Chessed admonished him to refrain, to allow women to follow existing custom if they preferred.

On the other hand, Binyan Tziyyon HaChadashot 8 writes the opposite, that he had heard from the head of the rabbinical court of Wurzburg that R. Nosson Adler [the teacher of Chatam Sofer] held that women were obligated, so much so that he insisted his housekeeper/maid make sure to hear Zachor.

Why Shouldn’t Women Have to Hear Zachor?

R. Adler did not explain his reasoning; Binyan Tziyyon assumes it’s simple, that remembering Amalek has no time component to it, and women are generally obligated in commandments that have no time component. While we read this section on Shabbat Zachor, the mitzvah is to hear it read once a year (or even less often, according to some authorities).

Binyan Tziyyon knew of another possible reason to exempt women, the fact that the obligation to remember Amalek is connected to the obligation to wage war against them. Since women don’t go to war, we might assume that they need not hear the reading of Zachor. Sefer HaChinuch 603 is explicit that only men are required to participate in destroying Amalek, which could lead us to exempt women from Zachor.

A Slave’s Exemption

In Tzitz HaKodesh, R. Joshua Zvi Michel Shapira reported that the author of Zayit Ra’anan had inferred that women had a lesser obligation in Zachor than men. He derived that from a comment of Rosh regarding Brachot 47b, which tells us that R. Eliezer freed a slave of his to allow him to help make a minyan. Rosh says it must have been to allow for some Biblicallyobligated need, such as reading Zachor.

Rosh’s focus was what does or doesn’t allow freeing partially converted slaves (the Gemara limits that to where there’s a pressing need or value; a discussion for another time). Zayit Ra’anan argued that Rosh must be assuming that the Gemara saw women as exempt from Zachor, since we generally assume that non-Jewish slaves bear the same obligations as women (another discussion for another time). If women (and slaves) were fully obligated in Zachor, R. Eliezer would not have needed to free his slave, since he could have completed the minyan as a slave, since he, too, would have been as obligated as the men.

Tzitz HaKodesh wasn’t convinced for another reason, that women might be obligated to hear Zachor, where men are obligated in zechirah, articulating their memory of the need to wipe out Amalek (this is similar to a claim Behag made aboutMegillah on Purim, that women only have to hear it, not read it).

Women, Slaves, and Minyan

Binyan Tziyyon disagreed with this logic for another reason. He separated the question of who can make a minyan from that of who is obligated in a ceremony. Grant that women must hear Zachor, that does not mean they count towards the minyan for it.

Minyan, Binyan Tziyyon reminds us, is a fulfillment of the verse ve-nikdashti be-toch Benei Yisrael, that Hashem will be sanctified among the Jewish people. While one way to read that is that it includes anyone who is obligated to create or contribute to that sanctification, Binyan Tziyyon held that only ten men were called a group of Benei Yisrael (a term that does, literally, mean “sons of Israel”), that only they define a public assembly of the Jewish people.

On the other hand, Rambam and Sefer HaChinuch seemed to see no distinction between men’s and women’s obligations inMegillah, such that women could read for men and fulfill their obligation. Marcheshet held that Rambam’s logic applies toZachor as well, and that Behag and Rambam would be the two sides of the question.

Shulchan Aruch’s Ruling

Regarding Megillah, Shulchan Aruch 689;2 excluded deaf-mutes, minors, and the mentally incompetent (the usual group of those who are not halachic agents) and then mentioned “some who say” that women cannot fulfill men’s obligations with their readings. When Shulchan Aruch adds a “some who say,” the halachic tradition is that he agreed with the first opinion. If so, he seems to imply that women can fulfill men’s obligations, and that would apply to Zachor as well.

Aruch HaShulchan raised a concern that comes up in other contexts of women acting to help men fulfill their obligations,kavod hatzibbur, the honor of the community. (The definition of that honor has become a topic of much debate in our times, as some push for more of women’s involvement in the public ritual of shul, but that’s not our topic here.).

Rema also recorded the idea—following Behag’s logic—that women would make a brachah of lishmo’a on Megillah, tohear, not al mikra, “on the reading of,” and thus also might not be able to be the agent of men’s fulfilling their obligations.

This review of all the technical details does not raise any red flags in terms of women hearing Zachor, however, so Tzitz Eliezer sees no reason why Ashkenazic women should not make all efforts to hear Zachor at shul.

(I don’t consider it my place, in general, to question the meshivim whose responsa I summarize, nor to add my own opinions. In this instance, I note that I know of many sources Tzitz Eliezer clearly did as well, which he might have chosen to bring to bear on this question.

For instance, Sefer HaChinuch 603 exempts women from the mitzvah to remember what Amalek did, since they do not have to wage the war stimulated by that memory; but Minchat Chinuch points out that Rambam in Sefer HaMitzvot 189 did not mention that women were exempt, when he usually does. Minchat Chinuch suggested that Rambam held that there were elements of the war with which women would help, even if not the war itself.

Torah Temimah to Devarim 25;19, in the notes, is not sure the questions are connected, because women might be obligated to remember what Amalek did even if they take no part in the war. Their memory would lead them to encourage the men who were going to war, which would help the effort as well.

Since I have literally no doubt Tzitz Eliezer knew all these sources and more, I am left to wonder if his responsum here meant to say something along the lines of, “sure, there’s discussion about whether women are obligated, whether they can fulfill men’s obligations, and so on, but there’s enough room to say yes, so what’s the problem if they want to come to shuland hear Zachor? So of course they should, if they want to.”)

I have an answer to that, but this is his show, not mine, so we’ll leave it there. Happy Purim!

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