09. Women’s Prayer

In contradistinction to the aforementioned, in women’s prayer, the personal element is more pronounced. Because women are exempt from time-bound positive mitzvot, they do not need to recite Pesukei De-zimra, the Shema and the berakhot associated with it, or the other passages that men recite in their prayers. Although women must use the text of Shemoneh Esrei instituted by the Men of the Great Assembly, since their prayer rite is shorter, there is less concern that routine will erode their kavana. In practice, even with regard to Shemoneh Esrei, women may decide whether to recite it twice daily in accordance with the stringent view, or once daily in accordance with the lenient opinion (see above, 2:5).

Moreover, since a woman need not pray in a synagogue and with a minyan, she may pray when she feels she will be able have more kavana. Likewise, the pace of her prayer is not dictated by that of the communal prayer. It thus emerges that the personal, petitionary element is more prominent in a woman’s prayer. Furthermore, the Sages instituted that men who do not know how to pray may come to synagogue and fulfill their obligation by hearing the ĥazan‘s repetition of the Amida (Ĥazarat Ha-shatz), whereas women who do not know how to pray need not hear Ĥazarat Ha-shatz. The simple explanation for this is that it is impossible to burden women with this, but perhaps in women’s prayer, kavana is more prominent and halakhic details less so. Thus, a woman who does not know how to recite the fixed liturgy may pray in her own words as best as she can, for the essence of women’s prayer is to ask God for mercy. 1


  1. According to Ramban, women must pray daily to request mercy on behalf of themselves. Some say, based on a different version of the Gemara, that Rambam agrees. However, the general, public element, corresponding to the Tamid offerings and the sanctity of the Temple (of which the synagogue is a miniature version) is more prominent in the Sages’ enactments for men. Additionally, men must recite the Shema and its berakhot. In contrast, for women, the first principle of prayer – praise, petition, and thanksgiving – remain. We also saw (2:4 above) that women who are preoccupied with raising their children are exempt from prayer, as they cannot have the proper kavana, though for men in the same situation, the poskim are not lenient. Again we find that regarding women there is more of an emphasis on kavana and the request for mercy, whereas concerning men, preservation of the framework for expression of the divine Presence in prayer is preserved.

    This is consistent with what we explained in n. 2, namely, that from an intellectual standpoint, women are more private, but from the aspect of accepting faith, she is more general. The institution of prayer services with a minyan corresponding to the korbanot offers greater expression to the intellectual aspect, imparting the fundamentals of faith in the world, to which men are more suited. In contrast, kavana is more prominent among women and expressed more in personal prayer. This is the mitzva of prayer for women, in which the voluntary element is more prominent. For this reason, many basic principles of prayer were learned from the prayer of Ĥana. For further study see Peninei Halakha: Prayer 2:2, 5 as well as below, ch. 15 n. 1, which notes that women are exempt from reciting the Tamid passage because the obligation of women to pray stems from the need to request mercy, not as a replacement of the Tamid. Mabit (Beit Elokim, Sha’ar He-yesodot ch. 39) explains that until the destruction of the Temple, the divine Presence was revealed through the Temple service, and the individual’s prayer was also heard. After the destruction of the First Temple, the Men of the Great Assembly instituted prayer with a minyan so that the divine Presence would dwell among them, thereby allowing their prayer to be accepted.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman