The Sages of the Mishna say that women are obligated in the mitzva of prayer (Berakhot 20b). According to most poskim, this mishna means the prayers instituted by the Sages apply to men and women alike. Of the three daily prayers enacted by the Sages, Shaĥarit and Minĥa are obligatory and Ma’ariv is voluntary. However, as time went on, men accepted upon themselves to pray Ma’ariv as an obligation. Women, on the other hand, did not, and therefore, for them, Ma’ariv remains voluntary.
It would seem, based on the rule that exempts women from positive time-bound mitzvot, that women should be exempt from prayer, since the obligation to pray is dependent upon time – Shaĥarit in the morning and Minĥa in the afternoon. However, because the purpose of the Amida is to request God’s mercy, and women need to request mercy just like men, the Sages instituted the Amida for men and women alike, and women are obligated to pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa.
Women must also pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa on Shabbatot and festivals. Even though the thirteen intermediate petitionary berakhot of the weekday, which constitute the essence of the supplication for mercy, are not recited, the Shabbat and festival Amidot nevertheless include appeals for mercy like “kadsheinu be-mitzvotekha ve-ten ĥelkeinu be-Toratekha…” (“Sanctify us with Your mitzvot and grant us our share in Your Torah…”). 1
- According to Ramban, who maintains that the mitzva of prayer is a rabbinic decree, everything instituted by the Sages regarding prayer applies to men and women alike, and that is the meaning behind the Mishna’s statement in Berakhot 20b that women are obligated to pray. The Gemara explains that since women also need mercy, they are required to pray even though the obligation is time-bound. Likewise, Rashi, Rosh, and Ra’ah maintain that women must pray because the purpose of prayer is to request mercy; hence, women are required to pray both Shaĥarit and Minĥa. MA 106:2 and MB 106:4 state that this is the opinion of most poskim. SAH 106:2 rules this way as well. (According to Rashi, there is the additional reason that women are exempt from time-bound positive Torah mitzvot but obligated in time-bound positive rabbinic enactments.)
According to Rambam, who maintains that the mitzva of prayer is biblical, women are obligated, since the Torah does not specify a particular time for prayer. According to Rif and Rambam, there is a version of the Gemara which explains women’s obligation to pray “because it is a positive mitzva that is not time-bound.” Based on this, many poskim have explained that women are obligated to recite one prayer, like the biblical command (see below, n. 2). In contrast, several prominent Aĥaronim maintain that Rambam obligates women to pray both Shaĥarit and Minĥa, but that Ma’ariv is voluntary. In their view, since the basis for the obligation of prayer is the same for both men and women, and the Sages established that the mitzva of prayer is fulfilled by reciting two obligatory prayers, women are also required to do so. See Maharam ben Ĥaviv in Kapot Temarim, Sha’agat Aryeh §14, Erekh Ha-shulĥan, Or Le-Tziyon 2:7:24, Yad Peshuta on MT, Laws of Prayer 1:1, and Maĥazeh Eliyahu §19. All these Aĥaronim maintain that, in practice, women must pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa, since both Rambam and Ramban agree on this matter.
See Berur Halakha (Zilber) OĤ 2:106, which states that many Rishonim agree with Rambam and maintain that prayer is a biblical commandment. Presumably, this contradicts what MB 106:4 states, namely, that according to most poskim women are obligated to pray both prayers. However, in keeping with what we have seen, many poskim maintain that even according to Rambam, women are obligated in both prayers. ↩