A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
WOMEN AND PRAYER: OBLIGATIONS AND EXEMPTIONS
The Halachah obligates men to daven three times every single day -
Shacharis, Minchah and Ma'ariv. The degree to which women are obligated to
daven, however, is a subject debated by the early poskim. There are halachic
authorities who exempt women from formal davening altogether as long as they
recite a simple supplication in the morning1. Other poskim maintain that
women are rabbinically obligated to daven twice a day - Shacharis and
Minchah(2) - just like men(3). Although most poskim agree with the second
view that women are obligated to daven(4), it was a rare woman who davened
in the olden days. Running a household was an all-consuming task(5), and
many women were illiterate to boot(6).
Nowadays, we are witnessing a remarkable turnaround in regard to women and
tefillah. Many women, especially single girls and older women, have assumed
the obligation of davening regularly, as the halachah dictates. Even busy
mothers attempt to daven as often as they possibly can.
Nevertheless, women are still not as free to daven as men and the demands
on their time may legitimately conflict with the halachic times for
davening. We will therefore list, in order of importance, the parts of
davening which take priority for a woman whose time is limited(7). Depending
on how much time she has she should recite as many as she can, and recite
them in the order in which they appear in the siddur:
1. Reciting a simple supplication is the very least a woman must do
according to all the poskim. Any supplication that opens with praise of G-d
(shevach) and ends with thanksgiving for His benevolence (hoda'ah), such as
Birkas ha-Torah(8) is sufficient(9).
2. Shemoneh Esrei of Shacharis and Minchah. This is the minimum requirement
according to most poskim(10).
3. The first verse of Shema(11) and Baruch Shem(12). Although women are
technically exempt from Shema since it is a time-based mitzvah, the poskim
recommend that at the very least they recite the first verse, which is the
declaration of accepting Hashem's sovereignty upon oneself(13).
4. Birchos ha-Shachar(14), including Birchos ha-Torah(15). [If a woman has
already davened Shemoneh Esrei, she should not say the blessing of Al
netilas yadayim, since that blessing can be said only before davening(16).]
5. The blessing of Emes v'yatziv until Ga'al Yisrael(17), followed
immediately, without any break, by Shemoneh Esrei, so that they fulfill the
mitzvah of semichas geulah l'tefillah - the halachic requirement that no
break take place between Shemoneh Esrei and the blessing that precedes it.
6. Pesukei d'Zimrah(18).
7. The entire Shema(19) prefaced by Kel melech ne'eman(20).
8. The blessings of Yotzer ohr and Ahavah rabbah(21).
As mentioned earlier, a woman who has the time to do so, should daven all
of the parts of the davening that we have listed, in the right order and at
the right time.
Some additional notes:
1. Birchos Kerias Shema and Shemoneh Esrei should be recited l'chatchilah
before the fourth hour of the day has elapsed. If a woman is unable to daven
before then, she may recite Shemoneh Esrei until midday (chatzos)(22), but
she should not recite Birchos Kerias Shema(23).
2. Since it is prohibited to eat before davening Shacharis(24), women also
should not eat before davening. Women who exempt their obligation to daven
by reciting a supplication, as explained earlier, may eat after doing
3. Women are exempt from Tachanun, Ashrei, U'va l'tziyon and the Shir shel
yom(26). It has become customary for them to recite Aleinu after Shemoneh
4. Women are exempt from Hallel on Rosh Chodesh, Pesach(28), Sukkos and
Shavous, because it is a time-based mitzvah(29). Some poskim require women
to recite Hallel on Chanukah(30), while others exempt them(31).
5. The poskim debate whether women are obligated to daven Musaf or not(32).
It is customary that they do(33).
Note that in all cases in which women may be exempt, such as the daily
Ma'ariv, Hallel, Musaf, Ashrei and U'va l'tziyon, they are still permitted
to daven those tefillos.
1 Magen Avraham 106:1 based on the view of the Rambam.
2 All the authorities agree that women are not obligated in Ma'ariv, since
Ma'ariv was initially established as a voluntary prayer even for men.
Although eventually men accepted Ma'ariv as an obligation, women did not.
3 View of the Ramban (Sefer ha-Mitzvos 5).
4 Mishnah Berurah 106:4.
5 The Chafetz Chayim's son reported (Sichos Chafetz Chayim, pg. 13) that his
mother rarely davened when her children were young. She said that the
Chafetz Chayim exempted her from davening during that period in her life.
6 Harav M. Feinstein (quoted in Ko Somar l'Beis Yaakov, pg. 29) once
remarked that the fact the many women were illiterate and were not required
by the rabbanim to learn how to read is proof that they relied on the poskim
who did not require women to daven Shacharis and Minchah, although women
certainly recited supplications. See below.
7 The list is formulated for Ashkenazic women only, since some Sephardic
poksim (see Yechaveh Da'as 1:68; 3:3) rule that women are not allowed to
daven certain parts of the davening from which they are exempt.
8 Machazeh Eliyahu 19:5-15. If she has intention to fulfill her obligation
of tefillah through the recitation of Birkas ha-Mazon she may do so - ibid.
9 See Emes le-Yaakov O.C. 106:1 and Halichos Shelomo 2:4.
10 Mishnah Berurah 106:4. See also Mishnah Berurah 263:43.
11 Rama O.C. 70:1
12 Kaf ha-Chayim 70:1 quoting the Levush.
13 Mishnah Berurah 70:4; 106:4. It is not, however, required that the Shema
be said within the time frame allotted to men - Eishel Avraham (Butchach)
70:1. See also Aruch ha-Shulchan 70:2.
14 Mishnah Berurah 70:1; Aruch ha-Shulchan 70:1.
15 O.C. 47:14. See Beiur Halachah that according to the Gr"a women are
exempt from Birchos ha-Torah. Accordingly, a woman who is short of time
should give priority to the other blessings.
16 Mishnah Berurah 4:1.
17 This blessing is given priority in order to satisfy the view of some
poskim who hold that women are obligated to fulfill the daily mitzvah of
Zecher l'Yetzias Mitzrayim (the daily mitzvah to remember the Exodus) -
Magen Avraham 70:1. Many other poksim do not agree with this obligation.
18 The poskim disagree about whether women are exempt from Pesukei
d'Zimrah - see Mishnah Berurah 70:1; Sha'ar ha-Tziyon 4; Aruch ha-Shulchan
47:25; 70:1; Yechaveh Da'as 3:3. [Contemporary poskim also disagree about
whether women who come late to shul should skip Pesukei d'Zimrah in order to
daven b'tzibur, since women are not considered as part of the tzibur - see
Avnei Yashfei, 2nd edition, pg. 202-203.]
19 Although clearly exempt from reciting Kerias Shema, it has become
customary for women to try to recite the entire Shema, so that they, too,
accept Hashem's sovereignty and commandments upon themselves.
20 Minchas Elazar 2:28.
21 Aruch ha-Shulchan 70:1.
22 Harav M. Feinstein (quoted in Ko Somar l'Beis Yaakov, pg. 34); Machazeh
Eliyahu 19:5-14. [Logically, women should not daven Shacharis earlier than
alos amud ha-shachar. A woman who is unable to daven at a later time, may
daven Shemoneh Esrei then, although that Shemoneh Esrei may count for
Ma'ariv and not for Shacharis.]
23 Halichos Beisa 5:5 quoting several poskim.
24 O.C. 89:3.
25 See Kaf ha-Chayim 286:30. See Igros Moshe O.C. 4:101-2 who questions if
women are prohibited to eat after reciting a supplication even if they are
planning to daven later.
26 See Machazeh Eliyahu 20, Halichos Beisa, pg. 51-52 and Halichos Bas
Yisrael, pg. 44 who offer various reasons for this.
27 Machazeh Eliyahu 20.
28 Except for the Hallel said at the Seder, which they are obligated to
29 Beiur Halachah 423:2.
30 Toras Refael O.C. 75; Minchas Pitim 683; Moadim u'Zemanim 2:146. See also
Igros Moshe O.C. 1:190.
31 Beis She'arim O.C. 359; Machazeh Eliyahu 22.
32 Both views are quoted in Mishnah Berurah 106:4 without a decision.
33 Kaf ha-Chayim O.C. 286:7. See also R' Akiva Eiger, O.C. 106.