Question: Our custom is that women hear Megillah reading on Purim night but not on Purim day. Is this custom correct according to Halacha?
Answer: There is no distinction between men and women regarding the obligation to hear Megillah reading and women are just as obligated as men in this Mitzvah since they too were included in the miraculous salvation in the days of Mordechai and Esther. There is an especially pertinent reason to obligate women to hear the Megillah being read since this miracle was brought about through a woman, namely Queen Esther. This is especially true regarding the Purim day Megillah reading which is more important than the Purim night Megillah reading.
Nevertheless, there were some places where the custom was for women not to hear the Megillah being read on the morning of Purim. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, in his Sefer Taba’at Ha’Melech (beginning of Hilchot Megillah), quotes the words of the Responsa Mayim Chaim who writes that their custom was that the Megillah would not be read for women on Purim day and he writes that a different Rav questioned this notion. However, he supported this custom based on the words of the Sefer Me’orei Ohr who writes that there is not such a firm obligation to read the Megillah twice and this is only done in commemoration of the fact that the Jewish nation would cry out day and night during their perilous situation, as the verse states, “I will call out during the day and you do not answer and by night and I have not respite.” Thus, they did not wish to burden women who are busy with the other Mitzvot of Purim and one who is involved with one Mitzvah is absolved from another. All of the above is the opinion of the Mayim Chaim who wished to uphold this custom of women not hearing Megillah being read on Purim day.
Maran zt”l writes that this opinion is completely baseless and should not even be said, for any G-d-fearing woman can certain find some time during Purim day to hear the Megillah being read since this is the primary Mitzvah of Purim. Needless to say, the custom of those women who treated Megillah reading on Purim day lightly is not an ancient custom and is merely a custom instituted by ignorant people and it contradicts the Gemara and all the Poskim. There is certainly a Mitzvah to eradicate this custom completely.
Thus, halachically speaking, women are obligated to hear Megillah reading, both on Purim night and then once again on Purim day, as is the law with regards to men, and this law may not be taken lightly.
Eating Before Megillah Reading
One may not eat before Megillah reading. Therefore, those women who do not come to hear Megillah at the time the congregation is praying in the synagogue and wait for their husbands to come home from synagogue and only then do they go to hear Megillah reading should be careful not to eat anything until they hear Megillah reading themselves.
However, they may drink tea or coffee or taste some fruit before hearing Megillah reading. Similarly, one may also partake of some cake or even less than a Kebeitza (an egg’s volume, approximately 54 grams) of bread. Those who act stringently and abstain from eating anything until the Megillah is read are especially praiseworthy. There is no distinction between the Purim night or Purim day Megillah reading, for one may not eat before Megillah reading in any case.
On Purim night in places where Megillah is read immediately following the Fast of Esther and a woman is waiting at home to hear Megillah reading later, she may eat some fruits or a some cake, tea, or coffee even preferably and she need not remain fasting until after she hears the Megillah. (The great Rishon Le’Zion Shlit”a rules likewise in his Yalkut Yosef-Purim, new edition, page 556.)