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By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:

2. [following Halakhah 1, where Rambam defined the Toraic obligation of T’fillah as being unbound by time…] Therefore, women and [non-Jewish] slaves are obligated in T’fillah, since it is a Mitzvat ‘Aseh (Mitzvah of commission) which is not time-bound. Rather, the obligation of this Mitzvah is as follows: that a person should *mit’hanen* (plead) and *mitpalel* every day and tell the praise of haKadosh Barukh Hu (the Holy One, Who is Blessed), then ask for his needs which he needs by requesting and pleading and then give praise and thanks to God for the good which He has granted him, each person according to his ability.

Women’s T’fillah Obligation

by Yitzchak Etshalom



The Mishnah in Berakhot (3:3) states: “Women, slaves and minors are exempt from K’riat Sh’ma and from Tefillin and are obligated in Tefillah, Mezuzah and Birkat haMazon (blessings after meals)”.


Before analyzing the ruling of the Mishnah in regard to T’fillah & women, an introductory note is in order: Why are women and slaves thrown into one category?

[There is a significant debate among the Rishonim about the “minors” mentioned in this Mishnah. It could be referring to minors who are of an educable age (Rashi), who are, nevertheless, exempt from these Mitzvot – or it could be specifically referring to younger children (Rabbenu Tam); in which case the second clause of the Mishnah only refers to women and slaves. See the Rishonim here (Berakhot 20) for the various approaches.]


Before proceeding, it is important to note that there are two types of *’avadim* (slaves) in the Halakhic universe. An *’eved ‘ivri* (lit. Hebrew slave) is a fellow Jew who is either sold into indentured servitude because he stole and cannot pay back, or who was so poor that he sold himself into such servitude. This is the slave who goes free after 6 years, whose ear is pierced if he chooses to stay after 6 years and who, in any case, goes free at the Yovel (Jubilee year). An ‘eved ‘ivri is a 100% Jew and is bound by all of the Mitzvot – with the exception of one law within the realm of marriage and procreation. (You can read up on the ‘eved ‘ivri at Shemot [Exodus] 21:1-6, Vayyikra [Leviticus] 25:8-24,39-43, Devarim [Deuteronomy] 15:12-18 and in MT, Hilkhot Avadim, Chapters 1-3). The institution of ‘eved ‘ivri went the way of the Yovel, with the destruction of the first Temple (586 BCE) and has been “out of practice” since then.

On the other hand, a non-Jew who becomes enslaved to a Jew is called an *’eved k’na’ani*. Such an ‘eved, when he/she enters the master’s house (whether through purchase or through conquest), goes through a phase of conversion which gives him/her the status of a member of B’nai Yisra’el – albeit without *Kedushat Yisra’el* (the sanctity of Yisra’el). After being freed, the ‘eved k’na’ani goes through another conversion (just ablution) process (the nature of this second ablution is subject to a debate among the Rishonim – see MT Issurei Bi’ah 13:12 and Magid Mishneh ad loc.).

An ‘eved k’na’ani is obligated to refrain from all Halakhic violations and to fulfill some Mitzvot ‘Aseh – the same ones which women are obligated to do. This is argued as follows: There is a corollary between some rules affecting the bill of emancipation of an ‘eved k’na’ani and a divorce write, based upon the common word “lah” used in both contexts in the Torah (*gamar lah-lah me’ishah* – Kiddushin 23a). The Gemara in Hagigah (4a) extends this comparison to obligations of Mitzvot – that any Mitzvah which is obligatory for women is incumbent on slaves. Rambam (MT Hagigah 2:1) rules this way.

The Mishnah in Kiddushin (1:7) teaches that women are exempt from all *Mitzvot ‘Aseh shehaZ’man G’rama* – Mitzvot of commission which are time-oriented. (Examples: shaking Lulav on the first day of Sukkot, hearing the Shofar on Rosh haShanah, residing in the Sukkah, T’fillin, Tzitzit). It follows that an ‘eved k’na’ani is also exempt from these Mitzvot. In spite of this rule, our Mishnah clearly states that women (and slaves) are obligated to fulfill the Mitzvah of T’fillah. Why is this the case? Is T’fillah an exception to the rule of “time-bound Mitzvot” or is it, for some reason, not properly in that category to start with?



A) T’fillah may not be time-bound at all. This may sound surprising, however, once we review the two-tiered obligation of T’fillah, it will be “easier to hear”. If, as Rambam posits, the Torah obligates us to say T’fillah at some point each day (with not set time to it), then it is not time-bound on its fundamental level of obligation. Once the Rabbis enacted three daily T’fillot – with a time structure – that did not erase the more essential obligation of the Torah. In other words, if the Torah obligates everyone to say T’fillah, the Rabbis certainly would not be coming along to _lessen_ that obligation by building the number and time structure of daily T’fillot!

B) The rule may not apply to T’fillah. If we take Ramban’s approach, that regular (daily) T’fillah is solely a Rabbinic obligation, the rule of “time-boundedness” may not apply. There are Rishonim (cf. e.g. Tosafot Pesahim 108b s.v. she-Af) who imply that the exemption of women (and slaves) from time-bound Mitzvot only applies to Mitzvot from the Torah. If T’fillah is a Rabbinic obligation, T’fillah is unaffected.

C) T’fillah may be an exception on its own “merits”. The rule of “time-bound” exemptions is not hard and fast; there are several Mitzvot ‘Aseh (Mitzvot of commission) which are _not_ time-bound, yet women are exempt (e.g. reproduction, Talmud Torah) and there are several time-bound Mitzvot which, for various reasons, women must perform (e.g. Matzah, Kiddush on Shabbat). Perhaps T’fillah is another exception. In other words, even though it is time-bound (in its Rabbinic form) and even though the time-bound exemption may apply to Rabbinic obligations – we may not apply it to T’fillah due to other considerations.



[Preface: the Babylonian Talmud, although remarkably well-preserved throughout the ages, does have various, conflicting manuscripts. The Vilna edition, which is the conventional printing we use, is only one (and not necessarily the “best”) of several significant manuscripts. The Rishonim had several different versions – (*girsa’ot* [sing. *girsa*] which literally means “reading”) available and sometimes based their understanding of the Halakhah on the “preferred” version. In other cases, they “preferred” one version because it fit better with their understanding of the sugya in question.]

The Bavli (Berakhot 20b), commenting on the Halakhah in our Mishnah about T’fillah, states (this is the version as it is printed in the conventional Gemara):

“*d’rachamei ninhu* (it is *bakashat rahamim* – a plea for God’s compassion). What might you have thought? (in other words, why did the Mishnah have to teach us this [seemingly] obvious Halakhah?). Since the verse (T’hillim [Psalms] 55:18) says: ‘Evening, morning and noon [I will speak (i.e. pray)]’ that [T’fillah] is like a *Mitzvat ‘Aseh shehaZ’man G’rama*, therefore [the Mishnah] teaches us [that this is not the case].”

[mark/highlight this section, as I will refer to it several times later on in the shiur.]

YERUSHALMI The Yerushalmi, commenting on our Mishnah, has a (possibly) different explanation for women’s obligation to say T’fillah. “It is reasonable [that they are obligated to say T’fillah] – so that every individual will ask for God’s compassion for him/herself.” In other words, even though we might have reason to exempt women from T’fillah (time-boundedness?), they are still obligated, in order to promote their personal relationship with God. This is likely the intent of the phrase *d’rachamei ninhu* in the Bavli.



Rashi rejects the *girsa* of our Gemara, based on one simple consideration. Commenting on the Mishnah (ad loc. s.v. v’Hayyavin baT’fillah), he explains: “Because T’fillah is *rachamei* (see above) and it is d’rabanan (Rabbinically mandated) and they [the Rabbis] ordained that women should also be obligated.”

Why does Rashi have to bring up the issue of the source for the Mitzvah of T’fillah? What is the relevance of it being d’rabanan to our Mishnah? Before answering, let’s see how Rashi deals with the Gemara.

Commenting on the Gemara (s.v. hakhi garsinan), he states: “[this is how we should read the Gemara] – ‘T’fillah – d’rachamei ninhu [see above]’ and we do not read *peshitta*, since it is not d’orayta [from the Torah].”

What is Rashi talking about?

Evidently there was another girsa (besides ours and Rashi’s preferred reading) in which the Gemara, commenting on the Mishna’s statement that women are obligated to say T’fillah, protests “*peshitta*” – it is obvious! ” But there must be more to this other reading that Rashi does not tell us. If we look across the page to Tosefot (s.v. baT’fillah), we see the full reading to which Rashi was referring:

“*peshitta* – it is obvious [that women are obligated to say T’fillah]; since the verse says: ‘Evening, morning and noon…’ that [T’fillah] is like a *Mitzvat ‘Aseh shehaZ’man G’rama*, therefore [the Mishnah] teaches us [that this is not the case]., because it is *rachamei*.”

In other words, the reading that we have in our Gemara (see above) is very close to the one Rashi rejects – with two differences, one of them significant. Besides the introduction of the word *peshitta* (the insignificant difference), the placement of the terms of the argument are different.

In Rashi’s rejected reading (if it is the same as the one suggested by Tosafot), *d’rachamei ninhu* is the reason that we don’t consider T’fillah to be time-bound – or, perhaps, why we “override” the time-bound rule.

In our reading, there are two separate issues presented. First of all, T’fillah is an obligation on everyone because it is *rachamei*; plus, I might have thought that women are exempt because of the time-bound consideration, therefore the Mishnah has to teach us that they are, indeed, obligated.

Truth to tell, as both Rashi (and Bach – see ad loc.) indicate, our girsa is very hard to comprehend. The one rejected by Rashi is a bit clearer, as follows. The Gemara comments that women’s obligation should be obvious, since T’fillah is not time-bound. Then the Gemara suggests why someone would not have assumed that, since T’fillah is practically done (by Rabbinic mandate) at specific times and we would have considered T’fillah to be time-bound; therefore, the Mishnah teaches us that it is not the case, since *rachamei ninhu* and we don’t take the time-boundedness into account.

Rashi feels that this reading would only make sense if T’fillah were d’orayta. I believe that Rashi is referring to Rambam’s understanding of T’fillah (which he rejects). If T’fillah were d’orayta, it would have no set time (since the Tosefta [Berakhot 3:1] explicitly credits the times of T’fillah to the Rabbis) – and then it would be “obvious” that women are obligated.

Since Rashi maintains that T’fillah is d’rabanan – that the Rabbis created both the basic obligation of T’fillah and its times – there is nothing obvious about women’s obligation in T’fillah. The reason for this is quite clear: the rule about women’s obligations applies exclusively to Mitzvot from the Torah; regarding laws mandated by the Rabbis, we have to see which group they were addressing when they formulated the law.

Since Rashi maintains that T’fillah is d’rabanan, there is nothing obvious about who is obligated. Therefore, the *peshitta* challenge is out of place. According to Rashi, *rachamei ninhu* explains why the rabbis, when creating the obligation of T’fillah, included women in that obligation.

Two final notes about Rashi.

A) The implication of his comment is that the rule which exempts women from time-bound Mitzvot only applies to Mitzvot d’orayta. This works well with the second proposal suggested above (II “Three approaches…”).

B) Since Rashi maintains that T’fillah is d’rabanan and (following the Mishnah) women are obligated in T’fillah, it follows that women are obligated in T’fillah as defined by the Rabbis. In other words, women are obligated to say T’fillah, with the liturgical model established by the Rabbis (i.e. the 19 Berakhot during the week, 7 on Shabbat and Yom Tov), two or three times a day (see below).



Tosafot (ibid), following Rashi’s lead that T’fillah is d’rabanan, sets out to “defend” the girsa which Rashi rejected. The gist of their defense is that the rule of time-bound exemptions seem to apply to Mitzvot d’rabanan. Their proof-text is from Hallel [the festive recitation of T’hillim 113-118 on holidays]. Hallel is a Mitzvah d’Rabanan which is time-bound. It is recited on certain days – and only during the daytime – hence the “time-bound” status. If the time-bound exemption didn’t apply due to its status as d’rabanan, women would be obligated in the Mitzvah of Hallel. However, the Mishnah in Sukkah seems to indicate that women are exempt from Hallel. Clarifying this issue and the various approaches to it is well beyond the scope of this shiur. In any case, Tosafot more or less adopt Rashi’s position – and *rachamei ninhu* explains why the Rabbis chose to include women in this Mitzvah. The Rosh (Berakhot 3:13) clearly takes this approach.


The commentary attributed to the students of Rabbenu Yonah (printed with the RIF on Berakhot), suggests a different reason for the obligation of women in T’fillah. Even though T’fillah does have a set time (which would be cause for exemption – following Tosafot’s suggestion that the time-bound exemption also applies to Rabbinic laws), since R. Yohanan b. Zakai said “Ideally a person should say TÕfillah all day” (see our shiur, titled T’fillah: Header, for a discussion about this statement) , it is considered like a Mitzvah which is not time-bound. This seems to accord with the third approach suggested above – that even though T’fillah should follow the rule of time-boundedness and women should be exempt, since it has a unique feature, they are obligated. What is that feature? That it is something which a person would ideally be doing constantly, hence it loses some of the edge off of its time-boundedness. Another way of understanding it is that a Mitzvah which is so important and central to our spiritual life that the Rabbis encouraged people to be involved in it at all times is not something from which it is appropriate to exempt anyone.



What is clear from the Rambam is that women are obligated in T’fillah. What remains to clarify is – how intense is their obligation? There are several possibilities here:

A) They are obligated to say T’fillah following the structure created by the Rabbis – two or three times a day (yet to be discussed – see below), at the times set for those T’fillot, using the words found in the Siddur.

B) They are obligated to say T’fillah once a day at the proper time for that T’fillah (whichever one they choose – perhaps), again using the Siddur.

C) They are obligated to say T’fillah once a day – at any time, again, from the Siddur.

D) They are obligated to say some sort of prayer to God which follows the pattern which Rambam claims is d’orayta (praise, request, thanks) – at any time of day, once a day.

E) They are obligated to say some sort of prayer to God once a day, at any time.

There is no direct help from the Rambam, although the last possibility doesn’t seem to be possible, considering that Rambam himself defines the d’orayta structure of T’fillah as praise, request and thanks – if women are obligated in the “d’orayta level” of T’fillah, it follows that they must at least fulfill the d’orayta mandate. Nevertheless, Magen Avraham (Orach Hayyim 106:2) suggests that the common custom (at his time) for women not to “daven” might be defended along those exact lines! They are following the Rambam and, since they say some sort of prayer upon waking up (e.g. Modeh Ani), that is sufficient. Many Aharonim take exception to this approach, on two accounts. First of all, most Rishonim maintain that T’fillah is d’rabanan and, according to them, women must certainly say a full T’fillah in the morning and the evening. Second, even following the Rambam, it is clear that “just any prayer” doesn’t fit the Torah’s basic structure, in which they are obligated.

However, there is good reason to argue that even according to Rambam, women are obligated in T’fillah twice (or thrice) daily, at the proper time and with the conventional liturgy.

As we follow Rambam’s treatment of the historical development of T’fillah through the rest of the first chapter, we never find that the Rabbis established some other level of T’fillah – beyond that which is mandated by the Torah – for some extraneous reason. Unlike, for example, the laws of Muktzeh (not moving certain items on Shabbat), which were ordained by the Rabbis in order to strengthen and protect the spirit and laws of Shabbat (see MT Shabbat 24:12), the Rabbinic “version” of T’fillah was created in order to make the T’fillah itself more “successful” (read ahead in our chapter and you’ll see what I mean). It was not meant as a protection or “fence” for T’fillah – it became T’fillah itself. Following that reasoning, once women are obligated to say T’fillah (from the Torah law) – and once T’fillah becomes “refined” by the Rabbis, the refinement becomes the “new” definition of T’fillah – and women are obligated to say T’fillah according to that new model.

The Shulhan ‘Arukh (Orach Hayyim 106:2), who patterns his ruling here after our Rambam, seems to indicate that women are fully obligated to say T’fillah in the conventional manner (i.e. the right times, liturgy etc.).



In our sugya (Berakhot 20b), in the Gemara’s explanation for the inclusion of “T’fillah” in the Mishnah,

Rashi reads: “*d’rachamei ninhu*” – and that’s it. In other words, the Gemara is explaining why the Rabbis chose to obligate women in T’fillah. (See Sh’agat Aryeh #12 at the end)

Tosafot reads: “*peshitta* – it is obvious [that women are obligated to say T’fillah]; since the verse says: ‘Evening, morning and noon…’ that [T’fillah] is like a *Mitzvat ‘Aseh shehaZ’man G’rama*, therefore [the Mishnah] teaches us [that this is not the case]., because it is *rachamei*.” Tosafot defend this girsa on grounds that rabbinic laws are also subject to the time-bound exemption.

Rabbenu Yonah (likely) reads like Tosafot.

Rambam likely reads like Rashi, since the time-bound factor never enters into his approach.



Several times in the shiur, I alluded to the notion that women may only be obligated to say T’fillah twice a day – even according to Rashi (, Ramban) and Tosafot. The full treatment of the subject belongs to Halakhah 6 in our chapter; but a few words are in order here.

Once the Rabbis established a fixed number of daily T’fillot, they did so in concert with the daily offerings in the Mikdash. There was a morning offering and an afternoon offering – and, complementing these, the Rabbis established a morning T’fillah (“Shacharit”) and an afternoon T’fillah (“Minchah”). Although the evening is an especially auspicious time for reflection, meditation and prayer, there is no corresponding offering in the Mikdash. A debate raged both through Tannaitic times and during the period of the Amoraim as to whether the nighttime T’fillah (“Arvit”) with which they were all familiar was obligatory or voluntary.

Surprisingly, the Halakhah is that Arvit is voluntary; however, since the Jewish people accepted it upon themselves as an obligation, it has the force of law. Some of the Aharonim (e.g. Mishnah B’rurah, OC 106:4, Arukh haShulhan OC 106:7) debate whether this “acceptance” affects women, who did not actively accept Arvit as an obligation. Therefore, some authorities maintain that even according to Rashi (et al), women are not obligated in Arvit.

now, to the questions:

Q1: What is the relationship between the quality of being “time-bound” and women’s obligation to say T’fillah?

YE (Yitz Etshalom ): See shiur above.

Q2: Why are women and non-Jewish slaves included in one Halakhah here?

YE: See shiur above.

Q3: Why are these three components (praise, request, thanks) the basics of T’fillah?

YE: See the response to the next question.

Q4: Following the previous question, why is the order of these three significant (Rambam seems to indicate – “and then…”; impliying that the order matters)?

YE: The next shiur will focus on this issue; it will be titled “T’fillah 1:02b” and will come out next week.

Q5: In practical terms, what is the obligation of T’fillah for women?

YE: See shiur above. Please keep in mind that this shiur is not intended to serve as practical Halakhic instruction. In case of a question, contact your local Halakhic authority.