07. The Rules Governing Which Mitzvot are Incumbent upon Women

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As a rule, women and men are equally obligated to perform the mitzvot, with the exception of time-bound positive mitzvot, from most of which women are exempt, as the Sages say in the Mishna (Kiddushin 29a), “Concerning all positive time-bound mitzvot, men are obligated and women are exempt.”

The following are positive, time-determined mitzvot from which women are exempt: 1) The recitation of Shema each day and night (including the mitzva to remember the Exodus from Egypt, see below, 16:3); 2) tefillin of the head; 3) tefillin of the arm; 4) tzitzit; 5) sukka; 6) lulav; 7) shofar; and 8) counting the Omer. 1

There are other positive time-bound mitzvot that are incumbent upon women: 1) Eating matza on Pesaĥ night (Pesaĥim 43b); 2) rejoicing on the holidays (Pesaĥim 109a); 3) sanctifying Shabbat (by making kiddush; Berakhot 20b); and 4) affliction on Yom Kippur (Sukka 28b).

According to most poskim, women are exempt from rabbinic time-bound mitzvot as well, for all laws enacted by the Sages were established to resemble biblical laws. Therefore, women are exempt from the recitation of Hallel on Rosh Ĥodesh. On the other hand, some poskim maintain that women must fulfill the rabbinic time-bound mitzvot. Nonetheless, everyone agrees that mitzvot that were instituted by the Sages as a result of a miraculous event are obligatory for women, for they too participated in the same miracle. These mitzvot are: 1) Four cups of wine on the night of the Seder; 2) reading Megilat Esther on Purim; and 3) lighting Ĥanuka candles. 2

However, concerning all other mitzvot, there is no difference between men and women, and as explained later in that mishna (Kiddushin 29a), “All positive mitzvot that are not time-bound – both men and women must fulfill.” A few examples include: affixing a mezuza to one’s doorpost, tithing terumot and ma’asrot, and giving loans and tzedaka.

Further, the Sages say there: “Regarding all negative mitzvot, whether they are time-bound or not time-bound, both women and men are obligated.” For example, women are commanded just like men to heed the prohibition of ĥametz on Pesaĥ and of eating and drinking on Yom Kippur. Despite the fact that these prohibitions are dependent on time, women’s obligation is the same as men’s because they are negative mitzvot (mitzvotlo ta’aseh”).

Some mitzvot lo ta’aseh pertain solely to men: bal takif (the prohibition against cutting the hair from the corner of one’s head), bal tashĥit (the prohibition against destroying the corners of one’s beard), and the prohibition on kohanim coming into contact with corpses (Kiddushin ad loc.). 3

In the next chapter, we will explain the reason for the difference between men and women concerning positive time-bound mitzvot.

  1. There are a few other mitzvot from which women are exempt for different reasons: 1. Torah study (for the sake of learning; however, in order to live a life of Torah women must learn. See below 7:2); 2. writing a Torah scroll; 3. betrothal (kiddushin); 4. procreation (these last two mitzvot are actively performed by the man); 5. brit mila (circumcision); and 6. pidyon ha-ben (the redemption of the first-born male). This list is based on Rambam’s Sefer Ha-mitzvot, at the end of his enumeration of the positive mitzvot. However, there is disagreement regarding some of the laws; for example, Sha’agat Aryeh §35 states that women have an obligation to write a Torah scroll.
  2. According to most poskim, including, She’iltot, Tosafot, Ran, Ritva, and Ra’ah, women are exempt from rabbinic time-bound mitzvot, whereas according to Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam, and Manhig, women must fulfill positive time-bound mitzvot instituted by the Sages.
  3. The mishna in Kiddushin discusses individual personal mitzvot that women perform nowadays, but there are other general mitzvot that are different for men and women, such as testifying as a witness, in which only men are obligated, and the mitzva of war for the purpose of conquering our land, which pertains to men, although women are commanded to assist the men in fulfilling that mitzva.

    In contrast, the mitzva of nida (the laws of family purity) pertains solely to women. Furthermore, women possess the initial entitlement to perform certain mitzvot before men, such as hafrashat ĥalla (tithing dough) and lighting Shabbat candles.

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