to have kavvana in their prayer. . . . And I saw in a book that in some places in Spain, the “kosher” and learned women used to rise very early to [go to] their synagogue (beit ha-kenesset she-la-hen), and pray together (mit-pallelot be-tsibbur), and appoint one of them as shelihat tsibbur, and take out a sefer Torah; and some of them used to don tefillin, and everyone was wrapped in a tallit, and they used to do so on the Sabbath and Holidays, too. And afterwards they used to return to their homes and wake up their husbands and their sons to get up and pray. And this they used to do as a stringency which they undertook, since women are exempt from time-bound mitsvot, so they will have time to prepare their husbands’ needs. And that is why they used to rise early for prayer while their husbands were still asleep. And this settles the correct meaning of the verse, “A nation that rises as a lioness and as a lion” (Numbers 23:24); the female is mentioned first, before the male, for as we have said, both the man and the woman used to rise to worship their Creator, but the woman before the man.180*
In the modern period, with the establishment of yeshiva day schools and summer camps for girls, we find—even in the hareidi school system—the natural development of hazzaniyyot who lead their classmates and friends in prayer.181 Hence, women praying together in prayer groups cannot be deemed a departure from normative Judaism.
With regard to a women’s Megilla reading as well, the element of innovation is minimal. We have already noted above182 that it is a prevalent custom worldwide to have a second Megilla reading for women. In these special readings, the only man present is the ba’al korei; hence, it is not the presence of exclusively women that is the innovation. The new element in contemporary women’s Megilla readings is that now women read for other women. This, however, should present no halakhic problem, since women are also obligated in the mitsvah of Megilla. Until recently, it was rare for women to know how to cantillate the Megilla, but the obstacle was not halakhic. Women were often illiterate and rarely attended services at all.182* Furthermore, since they could not serve as ba’alot keria for a normative Torah reading, they simply had little practical use or reason to learn trop (the traditional cantillations).182** Finally, in light of the long list of posekim who permit a women’s Megilla reading,183 whatever innovative elements there may be in such a practice come with substantial rabbinic approval.
The lightning rod for the charge of innovation focuses, to a large extent, on the pseudo-keriat haTorah at the women’s services.183* Nevertheless, the earlier quote from R. Messas