01. Women with Regard to the Mitzva of Keri’at Shema and Its Berakhot
It is a positive biblical commandment to recite Shema at night and in the morning, as it is written: “And you shall speak them…when you lie down and when you rise” (Devarim 6:7). “When you lie down” means at night, and “when you rise” refers to morning. Since it is a positive time-bound commandment, men are obligated and women are exempt.
The Sages ordained that three berakhot are recited together with the morning recitation of Shema, two berakhot before Shema and one after. They also ordained that four berakhot are recited along with the evening Shema – two before and two after (m. Berakhot 1:4). These berakhot complement and supplement the themes of the Shema, and they praise and thank God for creating and governing the world. Women are also exempt from reciting these berakhot, since they too are time-dependent: Birkhot Keri’at Shema of Shaĥarit can only be recited until the end of the first four hours of the day, and of Ma’ariv can be recited all night.
Some poskim maintain that women must mention the Exodus daily and nightly because the mitzva is continuous and not time-bound. However, as explained below (section 3), most poskim maintain that since the daytime and nighttime commemoration of the Exodus are distinct, the mitzva is considered time-bound, and women are exempt from it (Sha’agat Aryeh §13; MB 70:2).
Although women are exempt from reciting Shema, they are still obligated in the mitzva of emuna (faith in God), and therefore it is proper that they accept the yoke of heaven daily by reciting the two verses “Shema Yisrael” and “Barukh Shem” (SA 70:1; MB 5; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 5). One who wishes to enhance the mitzva recites all three paragraphs of Shema as well as Emet Ve-yatziv, which mentions the Exodus and adjoins redemption to prayer (see above, ch. 8 n. 4, where it states that Emet Ve-yatziv takes priority over the three paragraphs of the Shema).
Another two time-bound mitzvot are mentioned in Shema – tzitzit and tefillin. We already learned (in chapter 3) that women absorb the light of time-bound mitzvot even without performing them; however a woman who wishes to fulfill a time-bound mitzva receives credit for doing so. For various reasons, women customarily do not fulfill the mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin (Rema 17:2 and 38:3; below 21:5-6). However, every woman recites Shema and its berakhot sometimes, and some even do so daily. This is the practice in many schools as well (see above, 2:8 n. 10; 8:3 n. 4). Therefore, in the ensuing sections we will study the meaning and halakhot of this mitzva.