The Need for a Quorum of Ten for Megila Reading

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein
This shiur is dedicated le-zekher nishmot Amelia Ray and Morris Ray 
on the occasion of their eleventh yahrtzeits 
by their children Patti Ray and Allen Ray
            In this shiur,* we shall deal with the communal dimension of megila reading, against the backdrop of the Gemara in Megila 5a:
Rav said: Megila, at its time [= on the fourteenth of Adar], may be read even by an individual; not at its time [= when its reading is advance to yom ha-kenisa], [it must be read] with ten. Rav Asi said: Both at its time and not at its time, [it may be read] with ten. It once happened that Rav took [the view] of Rav Asi into consideration.
            The dispute between Rav and Rav Asi relates to the question whether a quorum of ten, i.e., a minyan, is required for megila reading. The Rishonim (ad loc.) dealt with two main questions:
1)         What is the final Halakha? This question divides into two, the one connected to the narrow issue, whether we rule like Rav or like Rav Asi, and the other viewing the issue from a wider perspective and considering the law in both lekhatchila and bedi'eved situations.
2)         What is the foundation of the disagreement between Rav and Rav Asi?
            The Ba'al Ha-ma'or (3a in Alfasi) cites the prevalent view among the Provencal Rishonim (in the wake of the Halakhot Gedolot), according to which the law is in accordance with Rav Asi, that in all cases the megila must be read in the presence of ten. This ruling is based on the fact that even Rav himself took the view of Rav Asi into consideration and read the megila in the presence of ten even at its time. The Rif, the Rambam and the Or Zaru'a (II, no. 370) rejected this ruling of the Provencal authorities, and decided the law in accordance with Rav.
            As stated above, beyond the question whose position do we follow, there is room to distinguish between a case of lekhatchila and a case of bedi'eved. In other words, we can understand that the dispute between Rav and Rav Asi relates to a bedi'eved situation, namely, that Rav Asi is stringent about the requirement of a minyan even bedi'eved. According to this understanding, lekhatchila all agree that the megila reading should be conducted in the presence of ten. Alternatively, it may be suggested that the dispute between Rav and Rav Asi relates to a lekhatchila situation, but bedi'eved even Rav Asi concedes that the megila may be read even in the absence of a minyan. If we understand the disagreement in this fashion, then it is Rav who maintains the extreme position, that when the megila is read at its proper time, there is no need for a quorum of ten, even lekhatchila.
            The different opinions regarding the final Halakha are influenced, of course, by the more fundamental issue, namely, the basis of the dispute between Rav and Rav Asi. This is connected to the Mishna in Megila 23b and the Gemara thereon:
The blessings of the Shema are not read aloud, [the prayer leader] does not pass before the Ark, [the priests] do not lift up their hands [for the priestly blessing], the Torah is not read, the haftara from the Prophets is not read, there is no ma'amad and moshav [at a burial], there is no recitation of the mourner's blessing, the mourner's consolation, or the groom's blessing, and there is no zimmun with less than ten; and [when redeeming] landed property [from hekdesh] nine and a priest, and the same [when redeeming] a man.
Gemara: From where do we derive these laws? Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: As the verse states: "And I shall be sanctified in the midst of the children of Israel" (Vayikra 22:32) – all holy matters (davar she-be-kedusha) require at least ten.
            The Mishna lists a series of scenarios, which we designate as "devarim she-be-kedusha."[1] It is the sanctity in each of these cases that demands the presence of ten adult male Jews, upon whom the Shekhina can rest.
            It seems possible to say that the requirement of ten for the megila reading indicates that we are dealing here with a davar she-be-kedusha. The striking difficulty of this assertion is that the aforementioned Mishna does not include megila reading in its list of devarim she-be-kedusha. The Ramban noted this difficulty in his Milchamot (3a in Alfasi), writing:
The things taught in our Mishna are all communal obligations, applying only to those who are obligated in the matter. But megila – just as the community is obligated, so is each and every individual obligated, and an individual who has not [yet] read requires ten in order to publicize the miracle. And whether they already discharged their obligation, or they did not yet discharge their obligation, [the megila] is read in the presence of ten in order to discharge the obligation of the individual, which is not the case in all the other mitzvot.
            The Ramban explains that the megila is not an obligation falling upon the community, but rather one that falls upon the individual. Megila reading requires a quorum of ten for the purpose of pirsumei nisa, in order to publicize the miracle.
            Thus, there are two possible approaches to understanding the requirement of ten for megila reading:
1)         Davar she-be-kedusha.
2)         Pirsumei nisa.
There are several practical differences between these two explanations, which we shall discuss below.
            The Ramban himself relates to the identity of those comprising the quorum of ten, and writes that there is no need for "those who are obligated in the matter." This expression has three possible meanings, and it is unclear to which of the three the Ramban is referring:
1)         Men who have already discharged their obligation
2)         Women
3)         Minors
According to the plain sense of the Ramban's words, he refers to all three sets of people, but the Rishonim and Acharonim discuss each set independently.[2]
            A second practical difference between the two understandings relates to a law recorded in the Mishna in Rosh ha-Shana 27b:
And similarly, one who was passing behind a synagogue or whose house was close to a synagogue, and he heard the sounding of a shofar or the reading of the megila – if he directs his intention, he fulfills [his obligation], and if not, not.
            The Mishna's ruling regarding a shofar is understandable – a person is required to direct his intention to hearing the sounding of the shofar, and if he does so, he fulfills his obligation. Regarding megila reading, however, a problem arises according to the first understanding proposed above. Several posekim have ruled that a person who passes behind a synagogue does not join them with respect to devarim she-be-kedusha. If megila reading is included among devarim she-be-kedusha, then intention to fulfill the mitzva should not suffice here. The Ritva notes this point, and therefore explains that in light of this Mishna we are forced to say that a quorum of ten is required for megila reading not because it is a davar she-be-kedusha, but rather to publicize the miracle:
We learned in Rosh Ha-shana (27b): "One who was passing behind a synagogue and heard the sounding of a shofar or the reading of the megila – if he directs his intention, he fulfills [his obligation]." And the Gemara says about this (ibid. 28b): "Is it not that he directed his intention to fulfill [the mitzva]." And this is despite the fact that he is standing outside the synagogue, so that he does not join the congregation, for joining only applies to those standing in the same domain, as is stated in chapter Kol Gagot (Eruvin 92b). Surely we maintain here that a quorum of ten is not required bedi'eved, and that Mishna is a case of bedi'eved. And even according to the view of Rabbenu Alfasi, z"l, that according to Rav Ashi, ten are required even bedi'eved, even so, it can be argued that regarding megila, since there is no difference in the reading or in the blessings between an individual and the community, and we do not require real joining because of davar she-be-kedusha, but rather we want ten in order to publicize the miracle – even though he is standing outside the synagogue, and in such a case it is generally not regarded as joining, here it suffices, since he heard it from ten who do publicize the miracle. Thus it seems to me.
            Those who disagree with the Ritva are forced to say that one who passes behind a synagogue can join the quorum inside the synagogue even for devarim she-be-kedusha, and not just to publicize the miracle.
            A third practical difference between the two understandings brings us back to the dispute between Rav and Rav Asi. If we understand megila reading as a davar she-be-kedusha, which requires ten, it is difficult to understand why bedi'eved the megila can be read even without ten, for we do not find such a distinction in the parallel laws (e.g., the Torah cannot be read nor can kedusha be recited without ten – even bedi'eved).
            According to the Ramban, however, that ten is required in order to publicize the miracle, there is room to distinguish between lekhatchila and bedi'eved. It is possible to say that even in the framework of pirsumei nisa, a quorum of ten is a critical requirement, and in the absence of a minyan, there is no reason to read the megila. In other halakhic realms, however, we do find a tendency toward leniency with respect to pirsumei nisa. Thus, for example, in times of danger, Chanuka candles may be lit on the table inside the house, even though this involves less pirsumei nisa. So too, then, regarding megila reading, there is room to be lenient bedi'eved, and permit it even in the absence of a quorum, and publicize the miracle only when time and place make that possible. Moreover, there is room to say that ideal pirsumei nisa is in the presence of ten, but even with less than ten there is a certain element of pirsumei nisa, and that element allows for the megila to be read.
            This argument, that even a reading of less than ten involves a certain element of pirsumei nisa, follows from what Rashi says in our passage:
At its time – on the fourteenth, since it is obligatory on each and every individual, it may be read even by an individual, for everybody is reading it, and there is pirsumei nisa.
            Rashi explains that, according to Rav, the fact that every individual is reading the megila leads to pirsumei nisa. This assertion is based on two assumptions:
1)         Megila reading requires pirsumei nisa.
2)         Pirsumei nisa is achieved even by individuals reading the megila.
Rav Asi can, of course, disagree with either one of these two assumptions. He might argue that there can be pirsumei nisa even with less than ten people, but megila reading is a davar she-be-kedusha, and therefore it requires ten in all cases. Alternatively, he might argue that megila reading does in fact require pirsumei nisa, and it is not a davar she-be-kedusha, but pirsumei nisa is not achieved through the reading of individuals, but only through communal reading.
            Earlier, we raised two possibilities as to the case about which Rav and Rav Asi disagree:
1)         Rav adopts the extreme position, according to which there is no need for ten even lekhatchila, and Rav Asi maintains an intermediate position, requiring ten lekhatchila, but not bedi'eved.
2)         It is Rav Asi who takes the extreme course, requiring ten in all cases, even bedi'eved, whereas Rav insists on ten only lekhatchila, but not bedi'eved.
It is possible that that these two possibilities are based on different understandings of the requirement of ten. The Gemara implies that Rav Asi sees the need for ten as a fundamental requirement. Therefore, even if bedi'eved he allows for megila reading without ten, we must try to find a way for there to be pirsumei nisa – even if only partial – in such a reading. According to Rav, on the other hand, the requirement of ten does not appear to be essential whether in the framework of pirsumei nisa or in the framework of devarim she-be-kedusha. Why then does Rav require ten lekhatchila? The answer to this question may perhaps be connected to a more general law: "Be-rov am hadrat melekh" - "In the multitude of people is the king's glory" (Mishlei 14:28). The Ritva on our passage mentions this idea, saying as follows:
This is the plain sense of the text that Rav and Rav Asi disagree about the lekhatchila situation. Even though we have learned that priests in their service, Levites in their singing, and Israelites in their post must all interrupt their service and come to hear megila reading, that is, to participate in the community reading – even so there is no difficulty for Rav, for Rav agrees that the best way to fulfill the mitzva is to read it in the presence of the community, in a multitude of people, to the extent possible, because of pirsumei nisa and because of "be-rov am hadrat melekh." Only that he says that at its time a person is not required to exert himself and collect ten people from the marketplace, whereas Rav Asi maintains that he is required to search for ten people, even at its time.
            The Ritva deals in one breath with the requirement to read the megila in the presence of ten in order to publicize the miracle, and with the requirement of "be-rov am hadrat melekh." Naturally, the general requirement of "be-rov am" should be less extreme than the requirement of ten in the framework of the laws of megila, and in that framework it is clear why Rav is lenient bedi'eved. Indeed this is the ruling of the Rema (690/18) who writes:
If the community has read it, and an individual did not hear, he may read it if even lekhatchila [alone], since it is being read in that city with ten. The Mishna Berura explains for an account of "be-rov am" we do not make him exert himself to gather ten. (Mishna Berura 690/64 see the continuation).
            The Mishna Berura is aware of the possibility according to which the requirement of ten is merely on account of "be-rov am," and he understands that in such a framework there is room for leniency.
            We saw earlier that Rav and Rav Asi agree that megila reading not at its time requires a quorum of ten, and that their disagreement is limited to the case of megila reading at its time. Why did the Amoraim distinguish between megila reading at its time and not at its time?
            It seems that there is room to distinguish between reading at its time and reading not at its time, according to both of the explanations presented earlier. If megila reading "at its time" is meant to publicize the miracle, this is also the role of the ten people – to allow for pirsumei nisa. This can lead us to the conclusion that regarding megila reading at its time, women can read for themselves, minors can read for themselves, and the like. Megila reading not at its time, on the other hand, is not directly related to pirsumei nisa, but rather it constitutes an independent enactment instituted by the Sages for those who are unable to read the megila at the proper time. It may be argued that this independent enactment turns the megila reading into a devar she-be-kedusha, and this requires a quorum of ten adult men.
            This last distinction could have practical ramifications in the following instances:
1)         One who knows that he will not have access to a kosher megila on the fourteenth of Adar, and therefore advances his reading to an earlier date.
2)         "Purim Meshulash" in walled cities, when the megila is read on the fourteenth of Adar.
Regarding the first case, it is very clear that such a reading is governed by the laws of megila reading not at its time. If we understand that such a reading is regarded as a davar she-be-kedusha, it would require a quorum of ten, like any other davar she-be-kedusha.
The second case is more complicated, for we find a disagreement among the Rishonim about the nature of this reading – is the megila reading in the walled cities on the fourteenth of Adar a reading at its time or not at its time. Some Rishonim understand that reading the megila on the fourteenth in the walled cities is part of the basic enactment of megila reading, and thus we are dealing with reading at its time. Others, however, understand that this reading on the fourteenth is reading not at its time. If we accept the second approach – the dominant one among the posekim – then the megila reading on the fourteenth in walled cities in a case of "Purim Meshulash" will be governed by all the stringencies discussed above.[3]
(Translated by David Strauss)

* This shiur was summarized by Udi Schwartz, but was not reviewed by HaRav Lichtenstein.
[1] This is a general definition that does not necessarily apply to all the cases in the Mishna: The assessment of land, the mourner's blessing, and perhaps perisa al shema as well, are not devarim she-be-kedusha. Rabbi Yosef D. Soloveitchik understood that davar she-be-kedusha includes everything that contains a mention of God's name. According to this, it is difficult to assume that megila reading is a davar she-be-kedusha, for it does not include even a single mention of God's name (unless we distinguish between "Ha-Melekh Achashverosh" and "Ha-Melekh," the latter referring to the King of the universe). Nevertheless, there is room to suggest that it is not the Divine name itself which turns something into a davar she-be-kedusha, but rather the sanctification of God's name. According to this definition, the megila, which sings the praises of God and His exclusive rule over the world, fits well into the category of davar she-be-kedusha.
[2] See Shulchan Arukh and Rema 690:18. The Rema implies that it is possible to distinguish between the various factors. On the one hand, the Rema is in doubt about women, which seems to indicate that he thought that it is possible to regard megila reading as a davar she-be-kedusha. On the other hand, the Rema writes that a person may read for himself if in his city there is a megila reading in the presence of ten which fulfills the requirement of pirsumei nisa. This implies that megila reading is not a davar she-be-kedusha.
[3] Indeed, HaRav Lichtenstein ruled for the students at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem that they may only read for themselves in an ordinary year, but not in cases of "Purim Mesulash."