02. Women are Exempt from Praying in a Synagogue and with a Minyan

As we learned (above, 11:1), a woman need not pray with a minyan or in a synagogue, because the prayer in a synagogue is time-dependent, and women are exempt from positive time-bound mitzvot. Although we learned that communal prayer (tefila be-tzibur) is of great quality, women have other roles, no less important (as explained above, in chapter 3), and therefore they need not pray in a synagogue and with a minyan.

Still, it is clear that a woman who prays with a minyan and in a synagogue earns merit, because she prays in a holy place where the Shekhina dwells and because she has the privilege of answering “amen” to Kaddish and Ĥazarat Ha-shatz, reciting Kedusha and Modim, and hearing Birkat Kohanim.

The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Ekev 871) relates a story about a woman who became so aged that she no longer wished to live. She came before R. Yossi b. Ĥalafta and said to him, “My master, I have grown too old. My life has become dismal; I can taste neither food nor drink, and I want to be done with this world.” He replied, “What mitzva are you careful to perform every day?” She answered, “Even if there is something dear to me, I always put it aside and go early to the synagogue every day.” He said to her, “Stay away from the synagogue for three consecutive days.” So she did, and on the third day she became ill and died. We infer from here that one’s diligence in going to the synagogue daily causes long life, and that this advantage applies to women as well.

The Sages also tell of a woman who had a synagogue in her neighborhood but who would walk every day to R. Yoĥanan’s more distant synagogue. He asked her: “My daughter, isn’t there a synagogue in your neighborhood? Why do you come all the way here?” She replied, “Master, do I not receive more reward for each stride?” (Sota 22a). We learn a law from here: when a more distant synagogue is superior, one who walks there is rewarded for each pace (MA 90:22; Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 3 n. 3). 1

Nevertheless, it is clear that the mitzva for a woman to pray with a minyan is of secondary importance to caring for her family. Whenever there is a conflict between prayer in a synagogue and care for the children and family, family comes first. However, unmarried women, girls, and women with adult children and no grandchildren at home should make an effort to attend the synagogue on Shabbat and Yom Tov. It is therefore appropriate that we study some rules and laws concerning prayer with a minyan.

  1. See Halikhot Beitah 6:13 and Petaĥ Ha-bayit 24-25 ad loc. Clearly, a woman praying in the women’s section accrues the merit of praying in a synagogue. Even those who maintain that the sanctity of the women’s section is not the same as the sanctity of the synagogue (Ĥokhmat Adam 86:15) would presumably agree that during prayer services the sanctity of the minyan extends to the women’s section, which is subordinate to the synagogue. AHS 154:7 rules that the women’s section is just as holy as the synagogue itself, and this is the opinion of most poskim, as cited in Tzedaka U-mishpat 12:21.
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