Women and Tefillah

Women and Tefillah

[NOTE: The word “tefilah” here connotes the silent meditative prayer, also called “Shemoneh Esreh” or “Amidah,” that forms the core of all Jewish prayer services.]

Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), Orach Chayim 106:1:

“Women… even though they are exempt from reciting the Sh’ma, are obligated in tefillah, because it is a positive commandment that is not time-bound.”

Mishnah Berurah, ad loc, 4:

“All this is according to the Rambam (Maimonides), that only the times for tefillah are from the Sages, but the principle commandment of tefillah is from the Torah, as it says, ”and to serve Him with all your heart’ — What is the service that is with the heart? This is tefillah,’ but that there is no known formula (i.e. wording) from the Torah, and one may pray with any wording that one desires and at any time that one desires. And once one prays, either by day or by night, one has fulfilled one’s obligation from the Torah. And Magen Avraham wrote that according to this reasoning it is the practice of the majority of women that they do not pray Shemoneh Esreh consistently by day or night, since they say in the morning, immediately after washing, some request (‘bakashah’), and they fulfill their obligation from the Torah with this, and it is possible that even the Sages did not obligate more. But the opinion of the Ramban (Nachmanides) is that the principle obligation of tefillah is from the Sages, that is, the Men of the Great Assembly, who established the eighteen blessings in their order, as obligatory to pray them morning (‘Shacharith’) and afternoon (‘Minchah’), and as optional in the evening (‘Arvith’). And even though this is a positive commandment from the Sages that is time-bound, and women are exempt from all positive time-bound commandments, even those from the Sages… even so [the Sages] obligated them to pray Shacharith and Minchah like men, since tefillah is a request for mercy, and this is the principle opinion, for this is the opinion of the majority of authorities… therefore it is correct to instruct the women to pray Shemoneh Esreh… All this is as regards Shacharith and Minchah, but the tefillah of Arvith which is optional, even though now all Israel has accepted it upon themselves as obligatory, nevertheless, the women did not accept it upon themselves, and the majority of them do not pray Arvith.”

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