Question: If someone heard Megillat Esther in shul and later reads it at home for his wife and family, must he recite the blessings?
Answer: The preponderance of opinions on this matter has led to the following rule: When a person reads Megillat Esther for members of his household who were unable to go to shul, he recites the blessings before the megillah but not the one afterwards if there’s no minyan present.
The first mishnah of the third chapter of Tractate Megillah (21a) states: “The person who reads the megillah [for a congregation] may do so either standing or sitting. Whether one reads it or two read it, they [the congregation] have fulfilled their obligation. In a place where it is the custom to say a blessing, it should be said, and where it is not the custom, it need not be said.”
This mishnah seems to imply that reciting the megillah blessings reading is not necessarily required and subject to custom. The Gemara explains, though, that the differing customs only concern the blessing said after the reading of the megillah. The blessings before it, though, are mandatory – as R. Yehuda said in the name of Shmuel that one should recite a blessing before performing a mitzvah.
What blessing is said before reading the megillah? The Gemara answers by relating an incident. R. Sheshet of Kateriza was in the presence of R. Ashi and, before he read the megillah, he recited the blessings of MaNaCh (Mikra Megillah, Nissim – i.e., al mikra megillah, she’asa nissim, and shehecheyanu). What blessing is said after the megillah? The Gemara answers: “harav et riveinu.”
Based on this passage in the Gemara, the Mechaber rules (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 692:1) that someone who reads the megillah at night should recite three blessings beforehand. The next morning he should recite only two, omitting shehecheyanu. The Rema (ad loc.) cites several authorities who maintain that shehecheyanu should be recited in the morning as well. He adds that the custom “in these lands” is to recite shehecheyanu in the morning. Ba’er Heitev and Mishnah Berurah explain that the essence of the mitzvah to read the megillah applies during the day.
The Mechaber states that a person who omits any of the blessings (both before and after) has nevertheless fulfilled his obligation (and that of those listening to him). The Mishnah Berurah explains this ruling by the principle of “berachot ein me’akvot” – that a mitzvah is fulfilled even if one does not say the proper blessing. (If the person realized that he forgot to say the blessings while reading the megillah, though, he may say them in between chapters.)
The Mechaber also remarks (692:3) that a person reading the megillah for others should say the blessings even if he has already fulfilled his own obligation (having read, or listened to, the megillah in shul). The Mishnah Berurah notes that some decisors maintain that female listeners should recite the blessings themselves if they know them, but the prevalent custom is to be lenient and allow the reader to recite the blessings.
The Mechaber lists (ibid. 629:2) those who are obligated to read (or hear) the megillah: men, women, proselytes, and emancipated slaves. He also writes that both the person listening to and the person reading the megillah must be obligated to fulfill the mitzvah. Hence, one who hears the megillah from a deaf person, for example, has not discharged his obligation.
According to some opinions, women cannot discharge men of their obligation. The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc.) explains that megillah reading is similar to Keri’at haTorah, which women cannot do because of kevod hatzibur. In accordance with the rule of “la plug” (lit., “we do not differentiate”), they may not read the megillah even privately for individuals. The Mishnah Berurah cites the Rema, who notes that when a woman reads the megillah for herself she should say “lishmo’a megillah” (“to hear the megillah”) instead of “al mikra megillah.” He adds that the Chayei Adam prefers this wording as well.
In sum, we see that the obligation for women to hear megillah is equal to that of men, but they do not have the obligation to read the megillah. However, if no man is available, they must read it themselves (from a scroll).
(To be continued)