Aug 30, 2013

Women and Tefilla

A question I've long had goes like this:

Women are exempt from the same tefilla requirements as men because they are exempt from mitzvos asei she'hazman grama (positive, time-bound mitzvos).  Women have household obligations, specifically, children to care for, and they cannot be obligated to daven as a man does. 

But if a woman takes a job which requires her to be at a certain place for set hours, then that would seem to demonstrate that she can do time-bound activities.  If so, why should she be exempt from tefilla like a man?

I was reminded of this question when I read an article in which a woman says davening used to be the focus of her day.  Even when she had a baby, she davened three times a day.  When she had a second baby, the demands of the newborn and the toddler did not allow her to daven much at all.  The way she put it, "Every weekday morning, I faced a marathon consisting of nurse-the-baby-feed-the-toddler-throw-on-some-clothes-change-and-dress-two-children-pack-up-the-diaper-bags-daven-fly-out-the-door ... all by 8:10."

She said she couldn't do everything and so, she gave up on davening.  She goes on to say how she learned that she could daven an abbreviated davening. 

So I don't get it.  She can work six hours a day, a time-bound activity, despite her childcare and household obligations which she delegates to others, and this exempts her from davening, a time-bound activity.  Why?


  1. It is probably like many of our laws that are rabbinic in nature and came from a period of time when life was very different. For example, the laws of divorce have created many agunot but these laws were formulated to prevent the mistreatment of women. The laws of cholov Yisroel were formulated at a time when farmers milked all types of animals and in modern countries today, only cows are milked.
    At one time, most, if not all babies were breast fed and the demands of life gave women little chance to daven. Then there were rabbonim who said that women were obligated to daven and at that point in history, people probably lived in multi generation families where someone in the family was available to care for children.
    Many laws about the lending of money were for a day when Jews relied upon each other more than they rely on MasterCard and Visa.
    We now have schools for girls and all the tuition involved and this was not the original intent of the laws of chinuch. Times change and rabbonim need to be on top of these changes to adequately guide people.

  2. That women have exemption from commandments that are time-related DOES NOT MEAN the reason for this exemption is because they cannot abide by the schedule, as you suggest. Maybe Hashem just wants to do them this favor because they have so many other chores to consider. Just as we know not the rewards we get for most Mitzvot, and we know not the divine reasons for giving them in the first place, neither is it for us to calculate why exemptions have been given - I think.

  3. Rosie: It is difficult to say that rabbinic mitzvos are merely a product of their times. Changing circumstances are not a reason to say a mitzvah d'rabbanan is outdated, ch'v. Each example you give is another "story," i.e. with details and rationales. (P.S. the mitzva of lending money is Biblical.)

    in the vanguard: My post questions the prevalent reason offered (by great people) to explain the exemption. But as you say, the principle that they are exempt from time-bound mitzvos stands regardless as to a woman's circumstances.

  4. I did not meant to imply that mitzvahs are outdated. For example, we learn that there are reasons even today to keep cholov yisroel but had the rabbonim who enacted that law lived today, there would have been no need for the law. With regards to money lending, although the commandment to lend is biblical, some of the dinim, such as heter iska must be rabbinic if it is indeed a heter.
    We have many other circumstances that require halachic decisions that have almost no precedence in halacha such as IVF, surrogate pregnancy, organ donors, genetic testing leading to prophylactic surgery, etc. Most of our food is factory produced and may not be what anyone thinks it is due to genetic modification.
    Halacha is not outdated but every generation has situations that have to be defined within halacha.

  5. "had the rabbonim who enacted that law lived today, there would have been no need for the law" - I don't know why you say that when you say there are reasons even today for the laws of chalav Yisrael.

    Re modern day halachic questions, from what I understand, precedents are always found in Torah to apply to current situations. There is no "making it up." Whether it was electricity on Shabbos and whether turning on a light falls under the category of kindling a fire or construction, there is a precedent.
    I agree with your final sentence.

  6. I thought that cholov yisroel came about when farmers were found to be mixing treif milk with kosher and that prior to that discovery, Jews routinely bought milk from non-Jews. Now we are told that by keeping the law, which was rabbinic, we increase and protect our yiras shamayim.
    Although there is a precedent for everything, I am not sure what precedent was used for one human to gestate a child for another.