An Ashkenazi Implication of Rav Ovadia’s Ruling

The Israeli media and j-blogosphere is all in a tizzy about Rav Ovadia Yosef’s recent ruling that, in certain circumstances, a woman can be motzi a man in Megilla reading. Gil has an excellent analysis of the halakhic issue, which really draws attention to the fact that, in the current context:

a) The whole attitude of “gee, I wish an Ashkenazi posek had the guts…” is totally misguided. This is a machloket between the Mechaber and the Rema. Thinking that it has to do with contemporary agenda, while perhaps not completely inaccurate, ignores 500 years of halakhic tradition.

b) I think it’s hilarious how everybody thinks it such a chiddush that Rav Ovadia is meikil here. Rav Ovadia is not machmir in general, and he has some truly groundbreaking kulot to his credit (see Beta Israel, Karaites, hetter mekhira, and Yom Kippur War agunot). This might surprise some people in the media, who tend to see Rav Ovadia as an obscurantist, ayatollah-like political figure who can be counted upon for extremist, racist, or chauvinist statements. All of a sudden, he says something that is compatible with a feminist agenda, and he’s a media darling. Go figure.

I do believe, however, that this psak has implications for Ahskenazim. Rav Ovadia’s ruling is based on 2 premises:

a) Men and women have equal obligations to read the megillah (according to the accepted opinion).

b) Given the equal obligation, there is no external reason (e.g., kol isha) to prohibit the woman from performing the obligation on behalf of men.

The Rema’s disagreement is based on premise (a). Although there are poskim who would disagree with (b) as well, there is no Ashkenazi masoret psika against it. The ramifications would be for a case where all agree that men and women have an equal obligation.

An example of such a case is Kiddush. The Gemara links the obligations of Shemira with those of Zechira. The Shulchan Arukh and other mainstream poskim (Gr”a, Arukh Ha-Shulchan) explicitly state that, based on this principle, women can be motzi men in Kiddush. There are poskim who disagree fundamentally (Bach, Prisha), but even the Mishna Berurah only turns it into a chumra, importing the concept of zila milta to discourage the practice (see here, in brief).

Rav Ovadia’s ruling implies that he is not concerned for the Mishna Berurah’s issue of zila milta in this context, and this would seem to be an acceptable precedent even for an Ashkenazi poseik.

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