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Beit Midrash Jewish Laws and Thoughts Various Subjects

A Woman's Obligation to Pray

According to most authorities, women are no less obligated to pray than men. Therefore, they must pray “Amida” in the morning and the afternoon (“Shacharit” and “Mincha”). The evening Amida prayer (“Maariv”), on the other hand, is voluntary.
Dedicated to the memory of
Hana Bat Haim
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1. The Obligation - An Overview
2. Prevailing View: Shacharit and Mincha
3. Is One Prayer a Day Enough?
4. Are Morning Blessings and Torah Blessings Enough?
5. The Law in Practice
6. Child-rearing Mothers

The Obligation - An Overview
According to most authorities, women are no less obligated to pray than men. Therefore, they must pray "Amida" in the morning and afternoon ("Shacharit" and "Mincha"). The evening Amida prayer ("Maariv"), on the other hand, is voluntary. Some authorities are of the opinion that women are obligated to pray Amida only once a day and that this is best done in the morning so as to open the day with prayer. Still others hold that it is possible for a woman to fulfill her prayer obligation with a short prayer and that she can do this by merely reciting the morning blessings and the blessings over the Torah.

Ideally, a woman should pray both Shacharit and Mincha every day in accordance with the majority opinion. Nonetheless, if she prays only once, she has fulfilled her obligation. In a time of pressing need, she can fulfill her obligation by merely reciting the morning blessings and the blessings over the Torah. At any rate, even a woman who prays Amida must recite the morning blessings and the blessings over the Torah.

Some women are accustomed to reciting "Korbanot" (Torah passages describing the Temple sacrifices), and there are authorities who maintain that women must recite the passages describing the daily Tamid offering. Jewish law, however, does not require this. Some hold that women must recite Psukei D'zimra (verses of praise which precede the reading of the Shema), for they act as a preparation for the Amida, but Jewish law does not deem this binding.

Women are exempt from reciting Shema and its blessings because this is a time-bound positive commandment. However, if a woman does recite them she makes herself worthy of a blessing. Some authorities hold that women are bound by the commandment to remember the Egyptian exodus once during the day and once at night. They add that it is best for women to fulfill this commandment in the framework of the morning and evening Shema blessings ("emet veyatziv" and "emet ve'emunah"). However, the majority opinion is that this commandment in fact does not apply to women. Even though women are exempt from the Shema reading it is good for every woman to recite the first two verses every day ("Shema Yisrael" and "Baruch Shem") in order accept the Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven upon themselves.

Women are exempt from reciting all of the supplications and readings which follow Amida.

Women must recite the Bedtime Shema and the "Mapil" blessing.

Women are exempt from the Musaf prayer recited on Sabbath, Festivals, and New Moons. There are, however, authorities who hold that just as women are obligated in the morning and afternoon prayers, so are they enjoined to recite Musaf - and it is best to be stringent in this matter. However, most authorities hold that women are exempt from Mussaf and this is the normative position. All agree that women are exempt from the Hallel prayer.

Some authorities hold that women must hear the Torah reading on Sabbath, but, in practice, the law follows the predominant view which says that women are not obligated in this respect.

Prevailing View: Shacharit and Mincha
The Sages of the Mishna state that women are obligated to pray (Berakhot 20b), and most authorities believe that this means that the rabbinic decree to pray applies to men and women alike. Regarding the three daily payers instituted by the Sages, the morning and afternoon prayers are obligatory and the evening prayer, Maariv, is optional. Over the course of time Jewish men have accepted the evening prayer as binding. Women, however, never took Maariv upon themselves. Therefore, Maariv retains the status of an optional prayer for women.

Ostensibly, according to the principle that "women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments," they should also be exempt from prayer. After all, prayer is contingent upon time - Shacharit in the morning and Mincha in the afternoon. However, because the purpose of prayer is to invoke God's compassion - and women need to request Divine mercy just like men - the Sages enacted prayer for men and women alike, and women are therefore obligated to pray Shacharit and Mincha.

On Sabbaths and Holidays too, women must pray Shacharit and Mincha. On these occasions we do not recite the thirteen blessings of request which are recited during the weekday Amida prayer and which constitute the essence of our invocation of God's compassion. Nonetheless, they too contain supplications such as "Sanctify us with Your commandments and give us our share in Your Torah; satisfy us from Your goodness and gladden us with Your deliverance, and purify our hearts to serve you in truth, etc."

Is One Prayer a Day Enough?
Some authorities claim that according to Rambam women are obligated to pray only once each day. This is because according to Rambam the commandment to pray derives from the Torah, which requires each Jew to turn to God in prayer every day. Because this commandment is not time-bound, women are likewise obligated. Women are only exempt from positive time-bound commandments, but they are obligated by commandments which are not contingent on time. Though each day there is a new commandment to pray, it is not considered a time-bound commandment because all days are equal, regardless of whether they are holidays, Sabbaths, or weekdays, and within the 24-hour day the Torah did not designate any specific time for prayer. The commandment to pray, then, is a daily commandment which is unrelated to time.

In sum, the rabbinic ordinance to pray three times a day does not apply to women, but the Torah commandment to pray once each day does. However, because the Sages instituted a fixed version of prayer, women must fulfill the Torah commandment by reciting the Amida's "eighteen blessings" in accordance with the rabbinic ordinance. And because the Sages instituted fixed times for prayer, women must voice their single prayer at one of these times - Shacharit, Mincha, or Maariv.

Are Morning Blessings and Torah Blessings Enough?
Some authorities adopt a lenient position, ruling that women are bound only by the Torah commandment but not by the rabbinic ordinance. The Torah commands us to pray one time a day any sort of prayer, and this alone, they say, is incumbent upon women. The rabbinic institution to pray an eighteen-blessing prayer three times a day was directed at men alone - women, however, are exempt from this.

Other authorities (Pri Megidim) contest this position, pointing out that according to Rambam (Hilkhot Tefillah 1:2) prayer, according to the Torah, must consist of 1) praise for God, 2) request and supplication, and 3) praise and thanksgiving. The implication is that if this specific formula has not been followed the obligation to pray has not been fulfilled. This being so, how is it possible to claim that woman can fulfill their Torah obligation to pray by voicing any kind of request?

A number of later authorities, however, explain that women can indeed fulfill their obligation to pray by reciting the morning blessings and the blessings over the Torah. After all, the blessing over the Torah begins with words of praise, "Blessed are you...King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments..." followed by a request, "Please make pleasant the words of Your Torah in our mouths...and may we and our descendants and the descendants of Your people the House of Israel, all be perceivers of Your Name and students of Your Torah for its own sake," and closing with thanks, "Blessed are you...King of the universe Who chose us from among all the peoples and gave us His Torah."

Similarly, in the morning blessings we find praise ("Blessed are you...King of the universe...") followed by requests ("And may it be Your will...to make us study Torah regularly, and hold fast to Your commandments. Do not bring us into the grasp of sin..."), closing with thanks ("Blessed are You...Who bestows bountiful kindness upon His people Israel").

The Law in Practice
Ideally, women should pray the Shacharit and Mincha Amida prayers every day, however, they fulfill their obligation even if only one of these is recited. Though most authorities hold that women must pray both Shacharit and Mincha, it is permissible to follow the lenient position which says that one of these prayers is enough. This is because prayer is a rabbinic law. If a woman only prays once a day, it is best that this prayer be Shacharit in order to open the day with prayer. If Shacharit was missed she should pray Mincha. If a woman was unable to pray both Shacharit and Mincha she should nonetheless pray Maariv.

Women who are accustomed to praying only the morning blessings and the blessings of the Torah are not entirely unjustified in their behavior, but it is best not to adopt such a practice because the overwhelming majority of authorities hold that a woman must pray Amida at least once a day.

Child-rearing Mothers
Women who are busy raising children and running the house are unquestionably permitted to fulfill the commandment of prayer by reciting the morning blessings and the blessings of the Torah alone. This is because, as noted, there are authorities who hold that women can fulfill their obligation by reciting the morning blessings and the blessings of the Torah. Though it is best not to rely on this position if one does not have to, a woman who is busy caring for children is certainly permitted to discharge her prayer obligation in this manner. Rabbi Aryeh Leib, son of the renowned Rabbi Yisrael Meir, better known as the "Chafetz Chaim," testified that his mother rarely prayed during the child-rearing years. She informed him that his father had told her that she was exempt from prayer because she was busy raising the children.

Even if a woman leaves the house in order to help support her family by working, or sends her children to day care, kindergarten, or grammar school, and remains at home to organize the house and rest a bit, she is permitted to fulfill her obligation by reciting the morning blessings and the blessings of the Torah alone. This is because, in general, she is tired and busy as a result of caring for the children. If she is able to focus her thoughts enough to pray Amida, it is best that she do so. Each woman is permitted to decide for herself whether or not her housework and childcare make prayer unworkable. If a woman finds it difficult to decide on her own she may consult a Rabbi or a Rabbi's wife.

However, a woman who goes to work because she has free time on her hands, not for financial reasons, should not rely on the lenient position. She should rather be careful to pray Amida each day, in addition to the the morning blessings and the blessings of the Torah.

A woman who because of child rearing and housework decides to follow the lenient ruling must be careful to resume praying Amida on a daily basis when the children grow up and her workload lightens.

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Translated prayer book passages in the above article were taken from the Metsudah Siddur (Metsudah).

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