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Peninei Halakha > Women's Prayer > Chapter 18: Minĥa and Ma’ariv

Chapter 18: Minĥa and Ma’ariv

01. The Time for Minĥa

As we learned, some poskim maintain that women must pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa every day (above, 2:2). Other poskim say that women are only obligated to pray one daily prayer, be it Shaĥarit or Minĥa, and although it is preferable to pray Shaĥarit, one who has difficulty praying in the morning may pray Minĥa (above, 2:3). In practice, it is best to pray both Shaĥarit and Minĥa in accordance with the opinion of most poskim, but a woman who prays one prayer fulfills her obligation (above, 2:5).

Minĥa consists of Shemoneh Esrei. Although men recite Ashrei before it and Taĥanun and Aleinu after it, women are not obligated to recite those passages. Still, a woman who does not recite Ashrei beforehand must wait a few seconds, the amount of time it takes to walk a distance of four amot (as explained above, 10:11), before starting the Amida.

The time for Minĥa was established based on the time that the afternoon Tamid was offered – from half an hour after midday (six and a half seasonal hours into the day). Although, in principle, the time for offering the afternoon Tamid begins at midday, the Sages were concerned that people would err in estimating the position of the sun and cause the offering to be brought before midday; therefore, they fixed the earliest time for the afternoon Tamid at half an hour after midday.

The time for Minĥa lasts until evening; however, the poskim disagree about Minĥa’s precise final time. The disagreement hinges on the deadline for bringing the afternoon Tamid. Some say only until sunset (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, Gra, MB 233:14), but most poskim say until nightfall (SA Rema 233:1). In practice, one must try to finish reciting Minĥa before sunset. However, be-di’avad, one may rely on the opinion of most poskim and pray within another 13.5 minutes after sunset, for all agree that in every season night does not begin before then (Peninei Halakha: Prayer 24:4). 1

  1. To ensure that no one will forget to pray Minĥa, the Sages instituted that from the time of ĥatzot onward, one must be careful not to begin actions that will likely cause him to be so distracted that he will forget to pray, as explained in SA 232:2 and Peninei Halakha: Prayer 24:5-6. The poskim do not say that these prohibitions pertain to women, and it seems that even women who regularly pray Minĥa need not take these precautions. Possibly because women may fulfill their obligation of prayer by reciting only Shaĥarit and possibly because women were at home and were not preoccupied work or preparations for long meals, the Sages did not institute these safeguard because they Sages did not make enactments about uncommon occurrences. Based on this, even according to the poskim who maintain that women must pray Minĥa, the precautionary prohibitions do not apply. As with other mitzvot, one must simply plan her time properly.

02. Keri’at Shema of Ma’ariv and its Berakhot

It is a biblical commandment to recite Shema at night and in the morning, as the Torah states in the paragraphs of Shema and Ve-haya im Shamo’a: “When you lie down and when you rise.” It is also a mitzva to mention the Exodus during the day and at night, as the Torah states: “So that you remember the day you left Egypt every day of your life” (Devarim 16:3). The Torah seems to add a superfluous word (“kol yemei ĥayekha” instead of just “yemei ĥayekha”), from which the Sages derive that the mitzva to remember the Exodus is performed both during the day and at night (Berakhot 12b). For that reason, Va-yomer is also recited at night, since it mentions the Exodus at the end. Va-yomer, which discusses the mitzva of tzitzit, primarily applies to the day, and although one can fulfill the nighttime mitzva of mentioning the Exodus with other verses, common practice is to recall it by reciting Va-yomer, since it is familiar to all (Tosafot Yom Tov ad loc.). Combined with the first two paragraphs, it contains 248 words (above, 16:11), and by reciting all three paragraphs, one fully accepts the yoke of heaven (above, 16:4-5).

The Men of the Great Assembly added two berakhot before and two after the recitation of Shema. The first, Ha-ma’ariv Aravim, praises God for the changing times. The second, Ahavat Olam, praises God for loving Israel and giving us the Torah. The third, Emet Ve-emuna, praises God as our Redeemer. In the fourth berakha, Hashkiveinu, we ask God to protect us at night and watch over us when we sleep. Hence, Birkhot Keri’at Shema are comprised of seven blessings, three in Shaĥarit and four in Ma’ariv. Y. Berakhot 1:5 states that they were instituted based on the verse “Sheva ba-yom hilaltikha” (“I praise You seven times daily”) (Tehilim 119:164; see above, 16:12).

Since the mitzvot of Keri’at Shema, the recitation of its berakhot, and mentioning the Exodus are all time-bound commandments, women are exempt from them (see above, 16:3). The time for Shema begins at tzeit ha-kokhavim and lasts until ĥatzot (halakhic midnight). Be-di’avad, Shema may be recited with its berakhot until dawn. 1

Although women are exempt from positive time-bound commandments, one who wishes to voluntarily fulfill them is credited for it. Since women regularly recite the first paragraph of Shema before going to sleep as part of a prayer for protection, it is best that while saying it she has in mind to fulfill the mitzva of Keri’at Shema as well, thus performing the nighttime mitzva of Shema.

  1. Tzeit ha-kokhavim is the time when three medium-sized stars are visible. An uncertainty arises: Does this mean the time when people with good eyesight, who are experts on the positions of the stars, can see them or the time when people with normal vision can see them? In practice, according to the widespread custom, one may begin Ma’ariv twenty minutes after sunset. The time to recite the nighttime Shema, according to the Torah, is all night, but the Sages created a safeguard and required people to recite it by ĥatzot. Be-di’avad, one who did not pray in time has until dawn to recite. Peninei Halakha: Prayer 25:5 and 8 discusses this issue at length.

03. The Ma’ariv Amida

As we learned (above, 1:7), the Yaakov ordained Ma’ariv, and on this basis, the Men of the Great Assembly established praying Shemoneh Esrei at night. They fixed the time for Ma’ariv to correspond to the burning of the limbs and suet of the sacrifices, for whatever was not offered during the day was burned throughout the night (Berakhot 26b). In essence, however, Ma’ariv is voluntary (reshut), that is, a mitzva but not an obligation. Shaĥarit and Minĥa are different from Ma’ariv because they were instituted to correspond to the Tamid offerings, that is, corresponding to the sprinkling of their blood. Just as one who does not sprinkle the blood does not fulfill his obligation of bringing the offering, so too, one is obligated to pray Shaĥarit and Minĥa. However, Ma’ariv was instituted to correspond to the offering of the limbs and suet upon the altar. Although it is a mitzva to bring them, if they were not brought, the offering still remained valid. Therefore, Ma’ariv is voluntary. That is, one who was interested in engaging in a different mitzva, had already gone to sleep in bed, or found it difficult to pray Ma’ariv for any other reason, was not required to do so.

Nevertheless, throughout the generations, all Jewish men regularly prayed Ma’ariv, and by the time of the Rishonim it was already established as an obligation. Even so, because of Ma’ariv’s voluntary character, as the Sages did not institute Ĥazarat Ha-shatz for it, as it is designed to help the uneducated fulfill their obligations (SA 237:1).

Women are exempt from Ma’ariv even according to those who maintain that women must pray all the prayers instituted by the Sages. A woman’s obligation pertains to Shaĥarit and Minĥa, which were established as obligatory. She is exempt from Ma’ariv, which is voluntary, and the men’s acceptance of the practice as an obligation does not extend to her. A woman who wants to pray Ma’ariv is praiseworthy, and this is the practice of some righteous women. 1


  1. There are several opinions about the status of men vis-à-vis Ma’ariv. According to most Rishonim, including Tosafot, Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, and Rosh, the mitzva to pray Ma’ariv should not be skipped for no reason but may be skipped for a slight reason. This is my ruling above. However, Behag maintains that it is truly voluntary and may be skipped for no reason. See Peninei Halakha: Prayer 25:2.

    Based on this, it seems that according to the majority of poskim who maintain that women must pray all the prayers, as cited above, chapter 2 n. 1, women may not skip Ma’ariv without cause. This is implied in Kaf Ha-ĥayim 299:62, which states that women who know how to pray regularly pray Ma’ariv. Halikhot Beitah 6:3 nn. 1 and 4 state that this is also implicit in the words of Rabbeinu Yona and Shlah. Indeed, there are righteous women who pray three times a day. However, it seems that even Rabbeinu Yona and Shlah would concede that women did not accept Ma’ariv as an obligation; the most one can say is that according to their opinion Ma’ariv is voluntary for women and may not be skipped without cause. However, in practice, the accepted ruling and practice is that women are exempt from Ma’ariv because: a) according to many poskim women are only obligated to pray once daily, as explained above, 2:3; b) the prevailing interpretation of the majority view, that women must pray all the prayers, is that it only refers to obligatory prayers; c) even if this view extends to voluntary prayers, according to Behag, men, too, may skip Ma’ariv for no reason; d) even according to Tosafot, who maintain that Ma’ariv should not be skipped without reason, women may be completely exempt from Ma’ariv since they are often preoccupied with childcare.

    The time for Ma’ariv, according to the Sages, begins at tzeit ha-kokhavim, and that is the prevailing practice. R. Yehuda maintains that the time for Ma’ariv begins at plag ha-minĥa (one and one-quarter seasonal hour before the end of the day). Those who wish to follow R. Yehuda may do so, on condition that they pray Minĥa before plag ha-minĥa. The prevalent custom today is to follow the Sages. This is explained at length in Peninei Halakha: Prayer 25:6-7. Regarding the latest time to pray, Derekh Ha-ĥayim states that le-khatĥila it is until ĥatzot, whereas according to Pri Megadim, even le-khatĥila it is all night.

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