The Torah instructs us to “Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, when they attacked you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted…. You must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget!” (Devarim 25:17-19).

According to Rambam (Melachim 5:5), this means that we have an obligation to remember the evil perpetrated against us by Amalek—when we were so vulnerable—in order to arouse our animosity towards them forever.

As the Gemara in Megillah (18a) explains, it is not enough that we keep this remembrance in our hearts and thoughts; rather, we must verbalise it in our mouths and declare this remembrance out loud. This is accomplished by the communal reading of Devarim chapter 25, verses 17-19, which is the Scriptural source for this duty to remember Amalek’s attack against the Jewish People.

Is the reading of parashas Zachor a Torah-based obligation (mi-d’Oraysa) or is it ofrabbinic origin (mi-d’Rabbanan)?

Tosafos in Gemara Berachos (13a, s.v. Bilshon Hakodesh) states plainly that the reading of Parashas Zachor is indeed mi-d’Oraysa, as are several other portions listed there. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 685:7), as well, alludes to this Tosafos (that the public reading of Parashas Zachor is mi-d’Oraysa) and rules that therefore individuals who live in small villages that do not normally have a minyan are obligated to go [once a year] to a larger town where they can hear Parashas Zachor read aloud in a minyan of at least ten men.

Once a year

Our Sages (Megillah 29a) instituted that this public reading of Parashas Zachor take place once a year. If the reason for reading Parashas Zachor is that we not forget what Amalek did to us, why is it enough to read it once a year? Rabbi Moshe Shick of Chust (Maharam Shick on Taryag Mitzvos, Mitzvah 605) explains this based on the Gemara in Bava Metzia which teaches about the laws of one who finds a lost object. The Gemara states (Bava Metzia 28b) that it takes twelve months for a person to forget about his lost object. Likewise, we see that the mourning period a child observes for a deceased parent is for a year, as it takes twelve months for the child to forget the intensity of his or her relationship with the parent. Therefore, with regard to remembering the deeds of Amalek, as long as we recall it by recitation once a year, we will not forget. More frequently than once a year is not necessary and more than once a year is too long to keep our memories sharp.

Are Woman obligated to hear the reading of Parashas Zachor?

In general, women are exempt from positive, time-bound mitzvahs (such as eating in a Sukkah during the festival of Sukkos). However, women are obligated to keep all mitzvahs that are not time-bound (such as affixing a Mezuzah on their door). Therefore, it should follow that women would be obligated in the mitzvah of Zachor-Remember, since the underlying mitzvah here is to remember Amalek’s evil deeds throughout the year, and at not merely at a specific time. Nevertheless, Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah 603) writes that this mitzvah is intended for men but not for women since the mitzvah is linked to our war with Amalek, and it is a man’s duty to wage war but not a woman’s.

However, the Minchas Chinuch (ad loc.) disagrees with Sefer Hachinuch on this point because war with Amalek is in itself a positive mitzvah that is not time-bound; this is known as a milchemes mitzva, “a mitzvah war,” which is fought even by women (when necessary)! One needs halachic proof to exempt a woman from any mitzvah, and in this case, where do we find any such proof? Furthermore, why should the mitzvah of remembering be connected to war, for it is possible that even when Mashiach arrives and Amalek is destroyed we will still be obligated to remember what they did to us. We see, then, that the mitzvah to remember what Amalek did to us is not connected to war  so women should be obligated to keep it.

In brief, the debate about if women are obligated in hearing the reading of Parashas Zachor comes down to this: Are women obligated in remembering Amalek.

The modern day poskim discuss this issue:

  1. Minchas Yitzchak records the widespread custom that women go to shul to hear Parashas Zachor read in public. This is also the position of Maharam Diskin, Rav Y.S. Eliashiv and Rav Moshe Feinstein.
  2. However the Chazon ish (Hanhagos Chazon Ish, 23) ruled, as quoted by R Chaim Kanievsky, that women are not obligated in hearing Parashas Zachor, in accord with Sefer Hachichuch mentioned above. This is also the position of the Avnei Nezer and others.

Practically speaking

Since we are dealing with a potential Torah-binding law, and this is the widespread custom in our communities, women should hear the public reading of Parashas Zachor (in shul and read from a Sefer Torah scroll).In extreme situations where, due to circumstances beyond her control, a woman cannot go to shul to hear it read in public, she may rely on the opinion of Teshuvos Vehanagos (vol. II, 344) who ruled that women may read it from a printed Chumash.

This should be relied on only in extenuating circumstances because reading from a printed Chumash might halachically only be considered reciting something by-heart and is not true “reading.” It is also proper to bear in mind when listening to reading of the Megillah on Purim that you wish to also fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Amalek (since Haman was a descendant of Amalek). Though this last point is a dispute amongst the authorities, since in any case there are lenient opinions with regard to women hearing Parashas Zachor, we may also rely on the lenient opinion with regard to fulfilling remembering Amalek’s deeds via the Megillah reading. This is because we can combine the effect of this Megillah reading with the reading of Parashas Zachor from a Chumash.

As an alternative solution, The Magen Avraham (O.C 685:7) says, you can fulfil your obligation by listening to the Torah reading on Purim day itself when we read “vayovo Amalek.” Though this ruling is a dispute amongst the authorities, since in any case there are lenient opinions regarding women hearing Parshas Zachar, we can be lenient under these circumstances.

Wishing the community a freilichen Purim!