Are women obligated in the blessings before and after Shema? Can you say the after blessings without saying the before blessings?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The obligations for women in prayer are interesting, and your question is a good one. Firstly, let me point out that the blessings before and after the Shema are not quite what their name implies. One would think that they are a “before” and “after” blessing over the mitzvah of saying Shema. This is not the case. They are blessings of the prayer service that are recited around the Shema, but they are not blessings on the mitzvah of Shema – they are an independent part of the prayer service. The prayer before Shema consists of two (long) blessings (Yotzer Or and Ahavah Raba). The prayer after the Shema is one (long) blessing (Emet v'yatziv - Ga'al Yisrael). Women are exempt from saying the blessings before the shema, because they are a time-bound mitzvah (see Mishna Brurah 70, 2). Like all time-bound positive commands, that women are exempt from, a woman may choose to say these parts of prayer even though she is not obligated. However the blessing after the shema - "Emet v'yatziv" - which was written in order to fulfill the mitzvah of recalling the exodus from Egypt daily, must be recited by women, according to the Magen Avraham (ibid). This opinion is widely quoted, although there are those that argue this point, and say that either a woman can (or should) fulfill this mitzvah by reciting the third paragraph of shema, or shirat haYam etc., or that this is a time-bound mitzvah that only applies in the daytime and not at night. The practice today is for women to say this blessing. (For the Sephardi ruling concerning the brachah, see below). So, in short – the blessings before the Shema are an option for women, while the blessing after the Shema is considered as an obligation by some opinions, while others believe that this too is a non obligatory option. If one is already saying this blessing, there are two important points to be taken into consideration. Firstly, there is a rule that one should connect "geulah" , redemption (the end of the blessing after Shema), with tefillah (the saying of the Amidah). Therefore, one should make sure that the blessing after shema is said without any interruptions between it and the Shmonah-Esrei Amidah. (It is even more important not to interrupt the recitation of shema itself). Secondly, even though women do not have to be particular to recite the shema by any particular time, the blessing must be recited before the end of the first third of the day (Mishna Brurah 58, 25). This is called “Sof Zman Teffilah” (Last Time for Prayer). To determine the exact hour, one needs to consult a Jewish calendar with the last time for tefillah marked on it [one takes the daylight hours, divides by 12, then multiplies that number by 4, the result being the length of4 halachic hours]. (This time can be found online on our website). In cases where circumstances beyond the woman's control prevented her from praying on time, such as feeling ill, caring of children, etc, then there is an opinion that can be relied upon to recite this blessing, and the Shmonah-Esrei, up until half the day has passed (Bi'ur Halacha 58,6). There is a major difference between the rulings of the Shulchan Aruch as opposed to the Rema in the question of whether one can say a blessing over a mitzvah that one is not obligated in. A woman is not obligated to hear the shofar, for example. Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch rules that she cannot recite the blessing over the mitzvah, in line with the rishonim who say that one cannot say "vetzivanu", "who has commanded us", when there is no obligating command. However the Rema rules in line with Rabbenu Tam, who holds that one can recite a blessing over a mitzvah even if the mitzvah isn't obligatory (see Orach Chaim 589, 6). To this day, most Sephardi women do not say blessings over mitzvot they are not commanded in (such as shofar, lulav etc), whereas Ashkenazi women do pronounce the blessing. [Though there are Sephardic communities where the women do say the blessings, and they should continue with their custom, see Birchei Yosef, Orach Chaim 654,2] In connection to prayer then, it is clear that an Ashkenazi women who does say these parts of the service, should pronounce all the blessings, even over the sections of the service that they are not obligated in. However in the Sephardic community, there are two common practices. Rav Ovadya Yosef (zt”l) is of the opinion that women cannot say the blessings over the parts of the service that they are not clearly obligated in. Therefore, he rules that women do not recite the blessing with G-d's name in "baruch she'amar" nor in "yishtabach". They should also refrain from saying the blessing ("baruch ata Hashem ...") in the blessings before and after the shema. He has had a siddur for women printed with these blessings excluded from the prayer service. According to this ruling, a Sephardi woman would say the blessings before and after the Shema leaving out the name of G-d from the blessings opening and conclusion (“Baruch ata --- ---- Melech HaOlam Yotzer Or...” and “Baruch atah --- Yotzer HaMaorot”. And again “Baruch Atah ---- HaBocher B'Amo Yisrael Be'Ahava” and lastly “Baruch Ataj ----- Ga'al Yisrael”). Ther other custom for Sephardic women allows women to say all the blessings of prayer (except for those before and after hallel), because they are not referring to being commanded in anything, and do not include the wording "vetzivanu", "who commanded us". This opinion is held by Rav Aba Shaul zt"l, and the Tzitz Eliezer (Vol. 9, 2). In practice, one should follow one's family tradition, or that of the local community. I hope this is of some help. Blessings.