06. Women Occupied with the Care of Their Children

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Women who are busy tending to their young children and occupied with managing the household are permitted le-khatĥila to fulfill the mitzva of prayer by reciting only Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah. As we learned (section 4 above), some poskim maintain that in principle women can fulfill the obligation of prayer with Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah. Although under normal circumstances it is not proper to rely on this opinion, nonetheless women who are taking care of their children are permitted le-khatĥila to fulfill their obligation with Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah. Similarly R. Aryeh Leib, the son of R. Yisrael Meir Kagan (the Ĥafetz Ĥayim), attests that his mother hardly prayed at all in the years that her children were under her care. She said that her husband told her that she is exempt from prayer because she is busy raising her children. 1.” Still, it is possible that women follow the principle of the law, for since during the years in which they are busy tending to their children they are greatly hassled, much more than one who has just returned from a trip. Therefore they do not customarily pray the Amida. See similarly Responsa Maĥazeh Eliyahu 20:5 in the name of Ĥazon Ish. Moreover, there is a rule that one who is engaged in the performance of one mitzva is exempt from the performance of another mitzva, and a woman who is caring for her children is engrossed in the continuous mitzva of ĥesed (loving-kindness). Therefore she is exempt from the mitzva of prayer which requires the effort of concentration. (This is according to Ran, as cited in BHL 38:8, s.v. “Im Tzarikh,” that even if one could exert himself and succeed in fulfilling two mitzvot simultaneously, the Torah does not compel one who is engaged in the performance of one mitzva to perform the other mitzva as well.)

We have already seen (section 4) that women fulfill their obligation of prayer by reciting Birkhot Ha-Torah and Birkhot Ha-shaĥar, for those berakhot incorporate praise, request, and thanksgiving. Additionally, berakhot do not demand as much kavana as the Amida, in which one stands before the King of kings. Hence, one’s preoccupations do not significantly prevent one from reciting Birkhot Ha-Torah and Birkhot Ha-shaĥar, and therefore all women must accustom themselves to recite them every day. ]

Even if a woman raising her children decides to go to work out of the need to help support the family financially, or sends her children to daycare, nursery, kindergarten, and school, and remains home to organize the house and rest a bit, since overall she is tired and busy with the care of her children, she may fulfill the obligation of prayer by only reciting Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah. If it is possible for her to have kavana in the Amida, it is better that she prays the Amida. Every woman may determine for herself if the burden of caring for her children is so stressful that she cannot pray Shemoneh Esrei. If this decision is too difficult for her to make by herself, she may consult a rabbi or rabbanit.

However, it is not proper for a woman who goes to work, not out of financial necessity, but because she has leisure time, to rely upon the lenient opinion. Instead, she should be strict to pray Shemoneh Esrei every day, in addition to Birkhot Ha-Torah and Birkhot Ha-shaĥar. 2

A woman, who, while caring for her children, prayed only a brief daily prayer must take care to resume praying Shemoneh Esrei every day once her children are grown and the burden of caring for the house has diminished.

  1. That is the prevalent minhag, attested to by R. Aryeh Leib in Siĥot He-Ĥafetz Ĥayim, 1:27. There are two reasons for this. First, in extenuating circumstances it is possible to rely le-khatĥila on the reasoning of MA. Second, some explain that the constant stress of tending to children’s needs falls under the same category of things that negate one’s kavana, for, in principle, one who is preoccupied is exempt from the mitzva of prayer. As the Sages say (Eruvin 65a), “One who returns from a journey is exempt from prayer for three days, and the same applies to other preoccupations.” Similarly, SA 108:2 states that one should not pray where or when his kavana will be disrupted. However, in practice, SA concludes, “Nowadays we are not cautious about this, because we do not have that much kavana in our prayers today [anyway
  2. However, there are different levels of preoccupation generated by the burden of running a household, depending on several factors: the number of children, their personalities and ages, whether they are in daycare, and how much assistance the woman has. Nevertheless, it is clear that if a woman is blessed with many children, even if she sends her children to daycare and does not work, the burden upon her is heavy and stressful, and she may fulfill her obligation le-khatĥila with Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah. If a working woman is able to pray while seated on her way to work, there is uncertainty about whether it is preferable that she prays Shemoneh Esrei sitting or that she suffices with a short prayer, as explained below 12:14. A woman who wants to pray the Amida while sitting on a regular basis may do so.
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