A Woman’s Obligation to Daven

I am a mother, but I have some time each day to daven. What should my order of priority be?

By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin, Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah.

It is a given that women are obligated to daven, yet the question arises as to what the parameters of their obligation are. Women are generally exempted from positive mitzvos that have fixed times (zman grama) and davening has fixed times.

One view is that the essential obligation of prayer—for both men and women—is biblical in nature and lacks any fixed times; any form of prayer once during the 24 hours of each day fulfills this obligation.2 Chazal instituted times and a specific nusach of shmoneh esrei and it is this aspect that women are exempt from. In this approach, a woman can utter a request to Hashem every morning and thereby fulfill her obligation of prayer. Many Jewish women throughout history relied on this opinion.

A second view is that the essential mitzva of prayer is an institution of the Anshei Knesses Hagedola, along with its fixed times and nusach. Although women are generally exempt from time-bound mitzvos, Chazal established this obligation also for women since they too must ask for mercy from Hashem. In this approach, a woman is obligated to daven shmoneh esrei of shacharis and mincha every day (maariv, however, is not included).

The Alter Rebbe prefers the second opinion, and it is recommended if practical. It follows that they should also recite the passage concerning the daily sacrifice (tamid) for the tefilos were ordained in place of the daily burnt-offerings.

Shema is time bound and women are therefore exempt. However, since the first pasuk speaks of acceptance of Hashem’s Kingship, they should say it. Women are obligated to remember yetzias mitzrayim, as the mitzva always applies and it is not time bound. They should therefore recite emes veyatziv—the bracha commemorating yetzias Mitzrayim—preferably adjacent to shemoneh esrei, in order to join geula with tefila. The remainder of birchos krias shema and pesukei d’zimra is optional for them but recommended based on their ability.

Women recite birchas haTorah since they are obligated in many mitzvos and they must learn how to fulfill them (and also because they are obligated to recite parshas hatamid). Poskim also obligate women in the remaining birchos hashachar, as they are daily brachos not connected to any fixed time, and furthermore, they should express thanks to Hashem for their benefit from the world.

Some poskim point out that a woman who is busy taking care of little children may rely on the first opinion. In addition, she has the status of one who is taking care of a sick person, which exempts one from tefila.

In conclusion, their obligation includes: birchos haTorah, parshas hatamid, the first pasuk of shema, emes veyatziv, shmoneh esrei of shacharis and mincha. Optional but recommended (in this order) are: the rest of shema, birchos krias shema, and pesukei d’zimra (at least baruch she’amar, ashrei and yishtabach).

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