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Peninei Halakha > Women's Prayer > Chapter 02: The Mitzva of Prayer for Women

Chapter 02: The Mitzva of Prayer for Women

01. A Brief Outline of Women’s Obligation

According to most poskim, women and men are equal regarding the obligation to pray, and therefore women are obligated to recite Shemoneh Esrei of Shaĥarit and Minĥa, while Ma’ariv remains voluntary. Others maintain that women are only obligated to recite the Amida (the term for the silent standing prayer, used interchangeably with “Shemoneh Esrei”), once a day, preferably Shaĥarit, so that the day begins with prayer. Still others maintain that women need only recite a brief prayer, and that Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah are sufficient to discharge this obligation.

Le-khatĥila, it is best for women to follow the opinion of most poskim and recite Shaĥarit and Minĥa every day. Still, a woman who only prays once fulfills her obligation, and in extenuating circumstances, just Birkhot Ha-Torah and Birkhot Ha-shaĥar suffice. A woman who is fully engrossed in caring for her children is permitted le-khatĥila to fulfill her obligation by reciting only Birkhot Ha-Torah and Birkhot Ha-shaĥar.

In any case, even a woman who prays Shemoneh Esrei must recite Birkhot Ha-Torah and Birkhot Ha-shaĥar (see below, 6:1 n. 1; 7:3 n. 3).

Some women are accustomed to recite the passages of the sacrificial offerings (Korbanot), and some poskim even say that women are required to recite the passage of the Tamid. Nevertheless, the halakha is that they are not obligated to do so (see below, ch. 15 n. 1).

Additionally, there are poskim who say that women must recite Pesukei De-zimra (verses, mainly from Tehilim, that praise God) in preparation for the Amida; however, in practice they are not required to recite them (see below, 15:4).

Women are exempt from the recitation of Shema and its berakhot, since these prayers are time-bound and women are exempt from positive time-bound mitzvot (see chapter 3). Nevertheless, a woman who recites these passages is praiseworthy. There is an opinion that women are obligated in the daytime and nighttime mitzvot of remembering the Exodus from Egypt, and according to this opinion it is best that they fulfill this mitzva by reciting Emet Ve-yatziv in Shaĥarit and Emet Ve-emuna in Ma’ariv. However, most poskim maintain that they are not obligated to do so. Although women are exempt from reciting Shema, it is good for every woman to recite the first two verses, “Shema Yisrael” and “Barukh Shem,” daily, so that she accepts upon herself the yoke of heaven (see below, 16:1).

Women are exempt from the recitation of all the prayers of supplication and the passages recited after the Amida.

Women must say the bedtime Shema and recite the Ha-mapil blessing (as explained below, chapter 19 n. 1).

Women are exempt from praying Musaf of Shabbat, festivals, and Rosh Ĥodesh. Some poskim say that just as women must pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa, so too they must pray Musaf, and although, le-khatĥila, it is proper to follow their opinion, the opinion of most poskim prevails, and women are exempt from Musaf. Regarding the recitation of Hallel, all opinions agree that women are exempt (see below, section 9).

Some poskim maintain that women have an obligation to fulfill the mitzva of Torah reading on Shabbat; however, in practice, the halakha follows most poskim who maintain that women are exempt from hearing the Shabbat Torah reading (below, section 10).

02. According to Most Poskim Women Are Obligated to Pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa

The Sages of the Mishna say that women are obligated in the mitzva of prayer (Berakhot 20b). According to most poskim, this mishna means the prayers instituted by the Sages apply to men and women alike. Of the three daily prayers enacted by the Sages, Shaĥarit and Minĥa are obligatory and Ma’ariv is voluntary. However, as time went on, men accepted upon themselves to pray Ma’ariv as an obligation. Women, on the other hand, did not, and therefore, for them, Ma’ariv remains voluntary.

It would seem, based on the rule that exempts women from positive time-bound mitzvot, that women should be exempt from prayer, since the obligation to pray is dependent upon time – Shaĥarit in the morning and Minĥa in the afternoon. However, because the purpose of the Amida is to request God’s mercy, and women need to request mercy just like men, the Sages instituted the Amida for men and women alike, and women are obligated to pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa.

Women must also pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa on Shabbatot and festivals. Even though the thirteen intermediate petitionary berakhot of the weekday, which constitute the essence of the supplication for mercy, are not recited, the Shabbat and festival Amidot nevertheless  include appeals for mercy like “kadsheinu be-mitzvotekha ve-ten ĥelkeinu be-Toratekha…” (“Sanctify us with Your mitzvot and grant us our share in Your Torah…”). 1

  1. According to Ramban, who maintains that the mitzva of prayer is a rabbinic decree, everything instituted by the Sages regarding prayer applies to men and women alike, and that is the meaning behind the Mishna’s statement in Berakhot 20b that women are obligated to pray. The Gemara explains that since women also need mercy, they are required to pray even though the obligation is time-bound. Likewise, Rashi, Rosh, and Ra’ah maintain that women must pray because the purpose of prayer is to request mercy; hence, women are required to pray both Shaĥarit and Minĥa. MA 106:2 and MB 106:4 state that this is the opinion of most poskim. SAH 106:2 rules this way as well. (According to Rashi, there is the additional reason that women are exempt from time-bound positive Torah mitzvot but obligated in time-bound positive rabbinic enactments.)

    According to Rambam, who maintains that the mitzva of prayer is biblical, women are obligated, since the Torah does not specify a particular time for prayer. According to Rif and Rambam, there is a version of the Gemara which explains women’s obligation to pray “because it is a positive mitzva that is not time-bound.” Based on this, many poskim have explained that women are obligated to recite one prayer, like the biblical command (see below, n. 2). In contrast, several prominent Aĥaronim maintain that Rambam obligates women to pray both Shaĥarit and Minĥa, but that Ma’ariv is voluntary. In their view, since the basis for the obligation of prayer is the same for both men and women, and the Sages established that the mitzva of prayer is fulfilled by reciting two obligatory prayers, women are also required to do so. See Maharam ben Ĥaviv in Kapot Temarim, Sha’agat Aryeh §14, Erekh Ha-shulĥan, Or Le-Tziyon 2:7:24, Yad Peshuta on MT, Laws of Prayer 1:1, and Maĥazeh Eliyahu §19. All these Aĥaronim maintain that, in practice, women must pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa, since both Rambam and Ramban agree on this matter.

    See Berur Halakha (Zilber) OĤ 2:106, which states that many Rishonim agree with Rambam and maintain that prayer is a biblical commandment. Presumably, this contradicts what MB 106:4 states, namely, that according to most poskim women are obligated to pray both prayers. However, in keeping with what we have seen, many poskim maintain that even according to Rambam, women are obligated in both prayers.

03. The Poskim Who Maintain that Women Are Obligated to Pray One Daily Prayer

Some poskim say that according to Rambam, women are only obligated to pray once daily because in Rambam’s opinion, the mitzva of prayer is rooted in the biblical commandment to turn to God in prayer daily. Since this mitzva is not dependent on time, women are obligated to fulfill it. Women are only exempt from time-bound positive mitzvot, but are required to fulfill mitzvot that are independent of time. Although every day brings with it a new mitzva to pray, nevertheless, prayer is not considered a time-bound mitzva as all days are equal, without exception for festivals, Shabbat, and weekdays. Additionally, within the 24-hour period itself, the Torah did not fix a specific time for prayer; hence the biblical commandment to pray is a daily mitzva that is not dependent on time.

It follows, then, that the rabbinic enactment that men pray three times daily does not apply to women; rather, women are biblically obligated to pray only one prayer daily. However, since the Sages established a fixed prayer formula, women must fulfill their biblical commandment to pray by reciting the Shemoneh Esrei instituted by the Sages. Additionally, since the Sages set fixed times for prayer, women must pray during one of those times, be it during the time for Shaĥarit, Minĥa, or Ma’ariv. 1

  1. As we saw in the previous note, according to the interpretation of Rif and Rambam, the Gemara states that women are obligated in prayer because it is a mitzva that is not time-bound. Biblically, there is an obligation to pray every day and the whole day is valid for prayer; therefore it is not bound by time. Many Aĥaronim, among them Baĥ and Pri Ĥadash, understand Rambam’s and Rif’s opinion to mean that women must pray once a day. Many poskim (such as Pri Megadim) maintain that SA also rules accordingly. This is the ruling and explanation given in Yabi’a Omer 6:17 and Yeĥaveh Da’at 3:7, where other Rishonim and Aĥaronim who also take this stance are mentioned.

04. The Poskim Who Maintain that Women Fulfill Their Obligation with Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah

There are lenient poskim who maintain that according to Rambam’s opinion women are only bound by the biblical command, that is, they are required to recite some sort of prayer every day. They fulfill this mitzva with any petition to God. Therefore, when the Sages instituted the recitation of three prayers in the specific wording of eighteen berakhot, the enactment applied to men but not to women.

Some poskim question how is it possible to fulfill one’s obligation with any sort of petition, for according to Rambam (MT, Laws of Prayer 1:2) even the sequence of the prayers is biblically mandated; one must begin by praising God, then beseechingly and imploringly make requests, and conclude by giving praise and thanks to God. This indicates that when the prayer is not recited in this order, one’s obligation is not fulfilled. So how is it possible for women to fulfill their biblical obligation with any kind of request (Pri Megadim, Magen Giborim)? A few Aĥaronim explain that women may fulfill their obligation of prayer by reciting Birkhot Ha-Torah and Birkhot Ha-shaĥar, for Birkhot Ha-Torah open with praise, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His mitzvot,” continue with words of request, “Please Lord, our God, make pleasant the words of Your Torah in our mouths…and may we and our offspring…know Your Name and study Your Torah…,” and end with thanksgiving, “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who selected us from among all the nations and gave us His Torah.”

The same is true of Birkhot Ha-shaĥar. In all of the blessings there is praise, followed by request in Ha-ma’avir Sheina, “May it be Your will…that You accustom us to [study] Your Torah and attach us to Your mitzvot, and do not bring to error…,” and at the conclusion, thanks, “Blessed are you God, Who bestows beneficial kindnesses upon His people Israel.” 1

  1. MA 106:2 states that perhaps according to Rambam it is possible to fulfill the mitzva with any kind of a request, noting that it is upon this assumption that women who suffice with some sort of request in the morning, rely. (It is noteworthy that also in Birkat Ha-mazon and in Me-ein Shalosh there is praise, request, and thanks, and women who recite those berakhot during the day fulfill their biblical obligation of prayer.) However, MA adds that according to most poskim, women must pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa. Likewise, MB 106:4 concurs that although many women rely on the reasoning that it is possible to fulfill the mitzva with any kind of a request, it is best that they pray two prayers, as in the opinion of most poskim. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach also states that women customarily practice leniently by fulfilling their obligation with a brief prayer (Halikhot Shlomo 2, n. 5). However, it can be inferred from all of the above-mentioned poskim that le-khatĥila one should not rely on a brief prayer.

05. The Practical Halakha

Le- khatĥila it is best for women to recite the Amida of both Shaĥarit and Minĥa every day. If they pray only once a day, they have fulfilled their obligation. Even though, according to most poskim, women are obligated to pray both Shaĥarit and Minĥa, since this is a rabbinic ruling, women who wish to act leniently are permitted le-khatĥila to rely upon the poskim who maintain that women must pray only one daily prayer. It is best that the one prayer recited be Shaĥarit, so that one begins the day with prayer. A woman who missed Shaĥarit may recite Minĥa, and be-di’avad, if she missed Minĥa, she may pray Ma’ariv.

Women accustomed to recite only Birkhot Ha-shaĥar and Birkhot Ha-Torah have on whom to rely if necessary; however this is not proper practice, because according to the vast majority of poskim, women have an obligation to pray the Amida at least once a day.

06. Women Occupied with the Care of Their Children

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.

07. The Rules Governing Which Mitzvot are Incumbent upon Women

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.

08. Are Women Permitted to Recite Blessings on Time-Bound Mitzvot?

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

09. Musaf and Hallel

It is a biblical commandment to bring additional communal korbanot (sacrificial offerings) on specific special occasions to honor the sanctity of those times. These offerings are called “musafim” (additions). To correspond to these offerings, the Sages instituted the recitation of the Musaf prayer on those days: Shabbat, Rosh Ĥodesh, festivals, and Ĥol Ha-mo’ed.

The poskim disagree about whether women must pray Musaf. Some say that since in Musaf a request for mercy is made, it is therefore similar to the other obligatory prayers, which are obligatory for women as well according to Ramban. Furthermore, since these prayers were instituted in honor of the sanctity of the day, just like women are commanded to say kiddush on Shabbat, so too they must pray Musaf (Magen Giborim). Others say that because the Musaf prayer is time-dependent, women are exempt (Tzlaĥ). In practice, because this is a rabbinic mitzva, the halakha follows the lenient opinion, and women are not obligated to pray Musaf, although one who wishes to may do so and it is to her credit. On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, it is proper that every woman prays Musaf, since the primary request for mercy on the Days of Awe is made in the Musaf prayer. 1

The Sages instituted the recitation of Hallel for men on holidays and on Ĥanuka. It is also customary to recite Hallel on Rosh Ĥodesh. Because the recitation of Hallel is dependent on time, women are exempt, although one who wishes to recite it is praised. As noted, Sephardic women do not make a berakha on the Hallel, whereas Ashkenazic women do. 2

  1. The crux of this disagreement may hinge on the dispute between Ramban and Rambam. According to Ramban, women must recite all prayers instituted by the Sages, including Musaf, whereas according to Rambam, they are only obligated in one daily prayer but exempt from Musaf, for which time is a determinative factor. One may argue that even according to Ramban women are exempt from praying Musaf because women are only obligated to recite prayers whose essence is for mercy, and the essence of the Musaf prayer is the fact that it corresponds to the korban musaf and not that it is a request for mercy. Moreover, since the korban musaf was taken from the half-shekel that was given as a donation to the Temple (maĥatzit ha-shekel), and women are exempt from the mitzva to give half a shekel, they are therefore also exempt from praying Musaf. Conversely, one might argue that in Musaf a request for mercy is made and therefore it pertains to women just like men. Furthermore, women also were granted atonement by bringing the musaf offering, and therefore they too must pray Musaf. As a rule we are lenient regarding rabbinic uncertainties, and therefore women are exempt from praying Musaf; however, if they wish to recite it, they may. (Still, Yalkut Yosef part 1, p.187, states that it is best that they fulfill their obligation by hearing the ĥazan recite the prayer, because these berakhot are dependent on time, and according to him, even though they are not technically considered berakhot recited upon mitzvot, it is necessary in this case to be cautious not to recite a berakha le-vatala. Nonetheless, he agrees that if they pray by themselves, they have on whom to rely, especially concerning Musaf of the Days of Awe and  Ne’ila. Kaf Ha-ĥayim 286:7 states that the custom is that women pray Musaf just as they pray Shaĥarit.)
  2. See above n. 9. As noted, even among the Sephardic poskim there are those who maintain that women are permitted to recite a blessing, whereas some Ashkenazic poskim say that it is preferable not to recite a blessing. So state Yaavetz and Yeshu’ot Yaakov 422:6. See below, ch. 23 n. 9.

10. Torah Reading

All agree that women are exempt from Torah reading on weekdays and holidays; however, on Shabbat, according to MA 282:6, women must hear the Torah reading, for the Sages instituted that the whole Torah must be heard through the course of the year. Nevertheless, according to the overwhelming majority of poskim, women are exempt from Torah reading on Shabbat, since this is a time-dependent mitzva. This is indeed the practical halakha. Still, if she is able, it is good that a woman hear the Torah reading on Shabbat, since all poskim agree that although she is exempt, if she hears it, she fulfills a mitzva and receives credit for it. 1 (The disagreement about whether a woman must hear Parshat Zakhor will be addressed in 23:5 below.)

During hagbaha (the lifting of the Torah) it is a mitzva for both men and women to see the script, bow, and recite “Ve-zot ha-Torah…” (“This is the Torah…”) (SA 144:2). Some women are accustomed to acting stringently and refrain from looking at the Torah scroll when menstruating, while others are lenient. Those who wish to be lenient are permitted, since technically there is no prohibition against this. 2


  1. Megilla 23a states: “Every Jew can be counted among the seven people called up to the Torah, even a minor and even a woman, but the Sages say that a woman does not read the Torah out of consideration for the dignity of the congregation (kevod ha-tzibur).” MA 282:7 states that from the fact that women can be included in principle among the seven people called up to the Torah, it can be inferred that they are also obligated in Torah reading. This is explained in Sofrim 18:4, where it is implied that they are even obligated to hear the haftara. Even though women are not obligated in the mitzva of Torah study, MA maintains that the Sages also instituted the reading for women so that they will hear the whole Torah, just like they are obligated in the mitzva of hak’hel. However, most poskim disagree, and some reinterpret MA to mean that it is advisable for women to hear the reading but not compulsory. This can be inferred from Tosafot and Rosh, as well as other Rishonim. See also Mor U-ketzi’a and AHS 282:11. MB 12 adds that there are places where women customarily leave the synagogue at the time of Torah reading.
  2. Rema 88:1 writes that some women customarily do not enter the synagogue during menstruation (yet once the blood ceases, although they have not yet immersed in the mikveh, this stringency does not apply). Some poskim permit everything, and this is the accepted position. Nevertheless, people are stringent in practice, and only on the Days of Awe does everyone customarily attend the synagogue. MB 88:7 states that women customarily attend the synagogue but do not gaze at the Torah scroll while it is being lifted. It is clear that in principle it is permitted for a woman who is menstruating to look at the Torah scroll, SA YD 282:9 states that all people in a state of impurity, even nidot, may hold the Torah scroll and read from it. Many women practice this le-khatĥila and even at the time of their menstrual cycles look at the Torah while it is being lifted. See Yalkut Yosef part 1, p. 135, and below 9:7 n. 5.

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