Tomorrow, on the holiday of Shavuot, in one of the synagogues of the town of Efrat in Judea and Samaria, two women will come up to read the Megillah of Ruth as both the men and women of the shul will be listening. This will not be taking place in a Reform or even Conservative synagogue, but in the Zemer Hazayit Orthodox synagogue of the town’s most prominent rabbi, who is one of its founders, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.
“The initiative for the Megillah reading by women began with a constraint,” Dina Mann, one of the two Shavuot readers, told Maariv. Last Purim, the shul was looking for a man to read the Esther Megillah, and when none was found, the women of the community, many of whom have been reading the Esther Megillah for women for years, posed an halachic query to Rabbi Riskin, asking if they could read Esther in the absence of a qualified man.
The Efrat Rabbi answered that while men cannot keep the mitzvah of hearing the Esther Megillah by listening to a woman’s reading, it would be allowable with other megillahs (Ecclesiastics, Song of Songs, Ruth and Lamentations).
“One of the principles of our synagogue is the integration of women within the framework of halacha,” Mann said, “under the guidance and decisions of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin.”
“This point is deeply ingrained in the core idea of our synagogue,” she added.
The women will be reading the Megillah from the women’s section.
Mann said she expected the men of the synagogue to be very accepting of the new custom.
Rabbi Riskin told Maariv that he sees no problem in women’s reading behind a mechitzah. He said that the only reason he had not allowed women’s reading of the Esther Megillah had to do with the fact that some Ashkenazi rabbis are explicitly against it – while the Sephardim support it.
The Shulchan Aruch follows the Gemara Megillah in stating that it is permitted for women to go up to the Torah—which included reading allowed one’s assigned portion—but at the same time discourages actually letting them fulfill the mitzvah because it might offend the congregation.
It appears that Rabbi Riskin’s congregation is not easily offended.