By Liz Piper-Goldberg
This past week, I was honored to chant Megillat Esther at Women of the Wall’s Shushan Purim celebration. I love the melody and flow of the special trope used to sing the story of Esther and Mordechai’s triumph over Haman. I had chanted Megillat Esther earlier in the week at a Progressive synagogue in Modi’in, a city near Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a walled city, which means that it celebrates Purim a day later on what is known as Shushan Purim.
When I arrived in the Old City on Monday to join Women of the Wall, the backdrop of the Kotel created a special atmosphere and pointed reminder of this uniquely festive day in Jerusalem. The colors and costumes of the more than 100 women gathered around the megillah scroll highlighted the joy and excitement of the holiday.
As I waited for my chapter and my turn to step up to the scroll, a woman approached me and asked what we were reading. “Megillat Esther!” I responded, “Hayom Shushan Purim,” (Today is Shusan Purim). “But women can’t read this holy scroll,” she said, and walked away.
Had I had the opportunity, I would have responded that women are not only allowed, but commanded to chant megillah, citing the principle of “nashim hayavot b’mikre megillah, she’af hen hayu b’oto ha’nes” (Talmud Bavli, Masechet Megillah 4a) – we, as women, are required to participate in the chanting of Megillat Esther, because we were also present and active in the miracle of Purim.
This halachic (legal) distinction applies to several mitzvot in which women are not only encouraged to participate, they are required to do so. All of these commandments – lighting Hanukah candles, drinking the four cups of wine at the Passover seder, and chanting Megillat Esther – commemorate miraculous events from our past in which women were recognized as equal and crucial actors in the story.
As a Reform rabbinical student, I support egalitarian participation of women in all areas of Jewish life, from chanting Torah to leading services to heading committees and major Jewish organizations. I also respect those for whom halacha is central to their involvement in Judaism. This concept of “af hen hayu b’oto ha’nes” is a powerful way to connect and involve women across religious denominations. Praying and chanting with Women of the Wall continues to teach me about the ways that women can come together to advance not only our standing but also our understanding of Judaism.
Liz Piper-Goldberg is a first-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) and a former Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC).