Women Writing STAM: Part 4

Megilas Ester

Writing Sample

The previous posts in this series addressed the halachic issues regarding women writing Sifrei Torah, tefilin, and mezuzos. This post will focus on a related topic – women writing megilas Ester.1

When writing scrolls of Tanach, we normally divide the scrolls into two categories:

  • Sifrei Torah (one scroll containing the five books of the Torah).

  • Kisvei kodesh (scrolls containing individual books of Tanach, or any collection of books of Tanach other than Sifrei Torah).

As a general rule, the halachos of writing Sifrei Torah are more stringent than those of kisvei kodesh. One of the differences between Sifrei Torah and kisvei kodesh relates to the concept of “lishma”2. The materials used to make Sifrei Torah (and tefilin & mezuzos) must be prepared lishma. For example, when manufacturing klaf for a Sefer Torah, the skins must be processed for the express purpose of writing a Sefer Torah. In contrast, parchment used to write kisvei kodesh does not need to be made lishma. Even if the hides were originally processed to be made into shoes or a handbag or a couch – if you turn them into parchment, you can write kisvei kodesh on them.

Despite the fact that megilas Ester is part of kisvei kodesh, when the Gemara discusses the halachos of writing megilas Ester, it applies some of the laws of a Sefer Torah. This unusual application of halacha is derived from the text of the megila, which sometimes refers to itself as an “igeres” – implying it has the status of kisvei kodesh, and sometimes as a “sefer” – implying it has the more stringent attributes of a Sefer Torah.

We have already established that a woman cannot write a Sefer Torah, but technically a woman is allowed to write kisvei kodesh. Because of megilas Ester’s “dual identity”, arguments could be made both for and against women writing megilas Ester.

This issue is particularly relevant because of another unique aspect of megilas Ester: It is the only book among kisvei kodesh which has a mitzva (dirabanan) to be read from a kosher scroll. Would a megilas Ester written by a woman be considered “a kosher scroll” for the purpose of fulfilling the mitzva on Purim?

One possible way to answer this question is to determine if megilas Ester is a sefer with some specific leniencies of kisvei kodesh (which would mean women cannot write a megila), or is it an igeres with some specific extra stringencies of a Sefer Torah (which might mean women could write a megila). Essentially, this is the “zebra question”: Is a zebra a black animal with white stripes, or a white animal with black stripes?

Soferet

The Gemara does not address this question, and the Rishonim disagree on the issue. This disagreement plays out in the aforementioned topic of tanning the hides lishma: Rabeinu Tam says that megilas Ester has all of the halachos of a Sefer Torah unless the Gemara says otherwise, and therefore the parchment needs to be tanned lishma. This would seem to imply that a woman cannot write a megila. The Rambam says that klaf for a megila does not need to be tanned lishma, but he doesn’t give a reason for his position. The Magid Mishna explains the Rambam’s position by saying that we don’t make any differentiation between megilas Ester and other kisvei kodesh unless specified in the Gemara. By the logic of the Magid Mishna, since the Gemara doesn’t explicitly prohibit women from writing megilas Ester, it should be permissible.

The Shulchan Aruch, in discussing the halachic requirements of megilas Ester,3 mentions both the opinions of Rabeinu Tam and the Magid Mishna:

אין כותבין המגילה אלא בדיו על הגויל או על הקלף כספר תורה … ואין העור שלה צריך לעבד לשמה ויש אומרים שצריך עיבוד לשמה

A megila must be written with [black] ink, on [parchment] like a Sefer Torah … The skins do not need to be tanned lishma, but some say that they do need to be tanned lishma.

As can be expected, the later Achronim are divided on the issue: Some poskim say that a megila written by a woman is pasul, but the majority of those who address the topic hold that it is kosher.

There are a few different methods that the various Achronim use to reach their respective conclusions. To give just one example, at the end of the megila (9:29) it says:

ותכתב אסתר המלכה בת אביחיל ומרדכי היהודי את כל תקף לקים את אגרת הפורים הזאת השנית

[Ester and Mordechai] wrote with full authority to uphold this second letter of Purim.

The targum on that pasuk reads:

וכתבת אסתר מלכתא בת אביחיל ומרדכי היהודי ית כל מגלתא הדא ית תקפא דנסא לקימא ית אגרתא דפוריא הדא תניינותא

[Ester and Mordechai] wrote this entire megila, because of the power of the miracle, to uphold this second letter of Purim.

The targum on this pasuk seems to say that Ester herself was one of the authors of the original text of the Megila. According to some opinions, this is evidence that a megilas Ester written by a woman is kosher.

In terms of practical application, the halacha is not so clear-cut: Even though the majority of Achronim hold that women can write a megila, within that position there are a number of prominent poskim who say that in practice you should not read from such a megila.4 One contemporary posek who reaches this conclusion is Rav Ovadia Yosef,5 who adds that in a bidi’eved situation – where you don’t have access to another megila – you can fulfill your obligation by reading from a megila written by a woman.

-= 8 =-


  1. The halachos of women reading megilas Ester are outside the purview of this blog. ↩

  2. Certain tasks must be done with specified intent. See STAM bits: “Lishma” for more details. ↩

  3. Orach Chaim 691:1. ↩

  4. At least not lechatchila. ↩

  5. Yabi’ah Omer: Orach Chaim 55. ↩