A woman who wishes to voluntarily fulfill the positive time-bound mitzvot receives reward for doing so, although it is not the same as a man’s reward. As R. Ĥanina states, “Greater is the [reward for] one who is commanded to do and does than one who is not commanded and does” (Kiddushin 31a). Ritva explains that the reason for this is that one who is commanded to perform a mitzva encounters the resistance of his; therefore his reward is greater, as the Sages say, “lefum tza’ara agra” (according to the torment is the reward) (m. Avot 5:23).
However, the Rishonim disagree about whether a woman may recite a berakha on positive time-bound mitzvot. According to Rambam and several other Rishonim, women are forbidden to do so, for included in the berakha are the words, “Who has sanctified us in His mitzvot and commanded us” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu”). How can women say “commanded us” (“ve-tzivanu”) when they were not commanded? Would this not be a needles berakha (berakha le-vatala)? SA 589:6 rules against reciting a berakha, and this is the widespread practice among Sephardim.
However, according to Rabbeinu Tam and most Rishonim, women may recite berakhot on positive time-bound mitzvot, for indeed, to a certain extent, those mitzvot pertain to them as well, as evidenced by the fact that they receive reward for fulfilling them. Regarding the phrasing of the berakha, there is no concern, because the word in the berakha is not “ve-tzivani (“commanded me,” in the singular), rather “ve-tzivanu” (“commanded us,” in the plural), referring to the entire Jewish people, of which women are part. They may therefore praise and thank God for sanctifying Israel through this mitzva. Rema rules accordingly, and this is the practice among Ashkenazim. 1
Time-dependent berakhot of praise and thanksgiving, like the berakhot of Pesukei De-zimra and Birkhot Keri’at Shema, may even be recited by Sephardic women, since they do not contain the word “ve-tzivanu,” and indeed there is a mitzva for them to recite these berakhot. Nevertheless, R. Ovadia Yosef maintains that according to Sephardic custom women are not permitted to recite these berakhot because they are exempt from the recitation of those passages of prayer. He therefore asserts that in schools where both Ashkenazic and Sephardic girls study, it is the teachers’ obligation to instruct the Sephardic girls not to recite the conclusion of Birkhot Pesukei De-zimra and Birkhot Keri’at Shema. Still, the opinion of many poskim is that even according to the Sephardic custom it is permissible and even a mitzva for women to recite the Pesukei De-zimra blessings and Birkhot Keri’at Shema since they are berakhot of praise and thanksgiving. This is the common practice, so teachers need not instruct Sephardic girls to practice differently than their Ashkenazic peers, especially when such a thing will lead to confusion in the classroom. 2
- It seems that the common practice in medieval France, Germany, and Provence was that women were permitted to recite blessings on positive time-bound mitzvot. This is also the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot, RH 33a; Eruvin 96a), R. Zeraĥya Halevi, Ritz Gi’at, Ramban (on Kiddushin 31a), Ran, Rashba, Ritva, Me’iri, and many others. In contrast, those who maintain that these berakhot should not be recited base themselves on halakhic argument, not on an attempt to justify common practice. Rambam, Smag, and Or Zaru’a thus question how women can say “ve-tzivanu.” Moreover, Raavad and Or Zaru’a further maintain that the halakha is in accordance with the opinion that there is no (voluntary) mitzva for women to perform these actions, and the berakha is therefore prohibited. According to Rid, women should not recite berakhot because if they do, they will consider themselves obligated, thereby transgressing the prohibition of “bal tosif” (adding to the laws of the Torah).
In practice, SA (589:6), which tends to rule leniently in cases of uncertainty concerning a berakha, states that women must not recite these berakhot, whereas Rema ruled, based on the prevalent Ashkenazic custom, that women do recite a berakha. Even though SA teaches not to recite berakhot on these mitzvot, many Sephardic poskim write, based on prevailing practice, that women do recite berakhot on positive time-bound mitzvot. So state Ĥida and Zekhor Le-Avraham (cited by Kaf Ha-ĥayim 17:4 and 589:23), and Rav Pe’alim, Sod Yesharim 1:12 regarding the berakha on shaking the lulav. This is also how the family of R. Ovadia Hadaya practiced. R. Messas (Shemesh U-magen 2:72:3) writes in Morocco the custom was that women did not recite these berakhot, but a Sephardic woman whose custom was to recite them may continue in her practice. In Yeĥaveh Da’at 1:68 and Yabi’a Omer 1:39-42 and 5:43, R. Ovadia Yosef strongly reinforces the Sephardic custom not to bless and even mentions that there are Ashkenazic poskim who teach not to recite the blessing, among them Ĥakham Zvi and Divrei Ĥayim. In conclusion, every ethnic group should continue to follow its own custom until this matter is resolved by the Sanhedrin, which will be established, with God’s help, speedily in our time. ↩
- Yeĥaveh Da’at 3:3 states that Sephardic women must not recite the berakhot of Pesukei De-zimra and so states Yabi’a Omer 2:6 regarding Birkhot Keri’at Shema, because the law concerning these blessings resembles the law regarding the recitation of berakhot on positive time-bound mitzvot. However, according to many Sephardic poskim (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 70:1; Responsa Or Le-Tziyon part 2, p. 44, which states that R. Ezra Attia, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Porat Yosef, rules thus; R. Messas in Shemesh U-magen 3:63:5; Halikhot Shlomo 7:2; Tzitz Eliezer 9:2; R. Ovadia Hadaya, and R. Mordechai Eliyahu), there is a difference between berakhot recited upon the performance of a mitzva and berakhot of praise and thanksgiving; not only are women permitted to recite the latter, but it is even preferable that they do so. That was the practice of righteous women in the past, and that is how women practice in most schools today. This is also the consensus of virtually all Ashkenazic poskim, as outlined in SAH 70:1 and AHS 70:1. MB 70:2 even cites an opinion which states that women are obligated to recite Pesukei De-zimra. Since many Sephardic poskim also maintain that it is best that women recite these berakhot, so as not to augment distinction between the girls and increase dissention between the ethnic groups, it is proper to teach everyone to recite the blessings. Moreover, the principle that we act leniently in uncertain matters of berakhot does not apply where there is a prevailing custom. Nevertheless, girls who know that the women in their family are strict not to recite these berakhot should be strict themselves. Girls who are unsure of their family’s custom should practice like the rest of the girls in their class.
It is my humble opinion that as a general rule, in a place in which people from all different ethnic communities live together, when there is difference between the different customs of the different ethnic groups, each ethnic group should be instructed to practice according to its own custom, rather than having everyone follow the opinion of the majority of poskim. However, when within one ethnic group the law is settled and in the other there is disagreement, it is best that everyone practices according to the majority, so as not to increase conflict among the Jewish people. ↩