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Jul 28, 1997 - 22:49 -

I have a question:
What is the position or function of women in the Orthodox Jewish Synagogue and what is the educational level of those women?

About me: Roger W. Mikel Gentile but not by choice
My e-mail address:
How I found this site: accident

Thank you for your question, Roger.

There is a separate entrance and seating area for men and women. A partition separates them during worship. At a women's prayer group, men are not ordinarily permitted to attend. (The exception is that there can be nine or fewer men, if all of them are close relatives of the woman leading the service). At ordinary congregational services, a man leads and anyone can attend.

Since thrice-daily *congregational* prayer is legally incumbent only on (free) (adult) male Jews, women usually don't come to synagogue in equal numbers to men except on those occaisions when women are similarly obligated to come, such as Purim, High Holidays, a few special Sabbath mornings when both sexes are commanded to hear the special Torah Readings, etc. etc.

In modern orthodox communities the women have similar education to the men, both in secular and Jewish studies.  

Other than those special times when the attendance is equal, the ratio of women to men is higher on Sabbath mornings than at any other time of the week.  In part this is because it is easier to come then, and in part because the kiddush after the service provides an opportunity for socialization.

--- Jordan


Hello Jordan,

While surfing the net for information about tapes of Jewish Liturgy, I came across your site. I'm very involved in a Shlomo Carlebach -style shul that just started in Raanana, Israel, and we have been attracting a lot of people new to observance. I think your site is terrific and will refer people to it. However, I was quite distressed to see in one of your answers the following without some qualification:

Since thrice-daily congregational prayer is legally incumbent only on (free) (adult) male Jews, women usually don't come to synagogue in equal numbers to men except on those occaisions when women are similarly obligated to come, such as Purim, High Holidays, a few special Sabbath mornings when both sexes are commanded to hear the special Torah Readings, etc. etc.

What I mean by qualification is that your statement makes it sound like women are not obligated in daily prayer. They are, in fact, as you probably well know, and many opinions today in Orthodox circles, at least in Israel, encourage girls to daven shacharit and mincha, though it needn't be in a minyan. I think statements like yours above are misleading, and the result of them is that most adult Orthodox women today do not fulfill their obligations of daily prayer. Many girls do it in school, but not when they are on vacation, because their mothers don't. There are a growing number of women who do say daily prayers, but I think, considering that other statements you make clearly show an open-minded and fair individual, that you should use every opportunity you have to encourage women to daven and know that they too have this connection with God.

There was a good email about women's obligation for prayer posted to the Women's Tefillah Network mailing list, and I'll repeat it here for you.

B'hatzlacha in your wonderful work,

Hi...some food for thought. I was on another e mail list and the question of women's obligation to pray was raised. My husband, (Rabbi) Elliot Schwartz, wrote a fairly thorough, if brief, response which seemed to summarize the issues pretty clearly, so I thought I'd pass it on to you. Shabbat Shalom u'mivorach. Bat Sheva Marcus


The critical passage regarding women's obligation to pray is the mishnah in the third chapter of Berachot: "

Women, slaves and children aare exempt fom reciting shema and tefillin, but obligated in prayer, mezuza and grace after meals."

Upon which the gemara (Berachot 20b) points out

" 'And they are obligated in prayer'--in order to beg G-d's mercy. One might have said that since it is written (Psalms 55:18) on the subject 'every evening, morning and afternoon I pray and G-d hears my voice,' prayer would be considered as a positive, time-bound commandment (from which women are generally exempt). Our mishnah teaches otherwise."

Hence it is the plain sense of this normative passage in the Babylonian Talmud that women, like men, are obligated to pray "evening, morning and afternoon." Any other position is laden with the burden of proof. In the next few paragraphs I will try to outline two of the more well-known attempts to limit the extent women's obligation in prayer.

The Approach of the Magen Avraham:

In order to understand the nature of a woman's obligation to pray, we must first understand the nature of this mitzvah for everyone. This is a famous dispute between Maimonides (Rambam) and Nachmanides (Ramban).

Ramban (articulated in his arguments to Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot, positive commandment #5) insists that the only torah obligation to pray is in times of war or national distress. Personal daily prayer is purely a rabbinic institution, defined as the obligation to recite shemoneh esreh three times each day. And although women are generally exempt from time bound obligations, whether of torah origin (e.g. lulav) or rabbinic origin(e.g. hallel on Hanukkah), here the rabbis made an exception because of the universal import of begging G-d's mercy.

Compare this with the Rambam's view, articulated in the Mishneh Torah in his first chapter on the laws of prayer: The original torah-ordained obligation to pray has no fixed schedule and no specific text. It is a continuous obligation, therefore women are included. General guidelines for how to compose a prayer are based upon biblical examples and tradition. It was only a later development (anshei knesset hagedolah--second temple period) that the eighteen blessings were composed and that the thrice daily prayer was ordained.

Magen Avraham (in the glosses to Shulchan Aruch, O.H. 106), uses Rambam's approach in an attempt to defend the practice of "most women, who do not pray regularly." Since women say some sort of informal prayer in the morning, he asserts, they have at least fulfilled the minimal torah obligation according to the Rambam. "And perhaps," he adds, the later rabbinic expansion to the prayer obligation never applied to women. Magen Avraham concludes, however, that most authorities hold like Ramban, that no such distinction between torah and rabbinic obligation even exists. And if that is the case, there is no basis to distinguish between men's and women's obligation.

It is important to note that the Rambam himself put no qualifications on his statement that women are obligated to pray. Any such limitation is hard to defend in light of the gemara in berachot. Nevertheless, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef has written accepting the lenient approach considered by Magen Avraham.(Yabia Omer vol. 6).

Shulchan Aruch HaRav is the source for the the most popular limitation on a woman's obligation to pray. In this view, women are obigated to pray just as men are. However, this applies only to shaharit and minha, not to arvit. This is because we hold that arvit is essentially an optional prayer for men as well. But while men have accepted arvit as a "voluntary obligation," historically women never did. This opinion is also adopted by the Mishneh Berurah, the most widely accepted authority in the yeshivishe velt.

In case any women (or men) out there are interested, the time for shemoneh esreh of shaharit is from dawn to approximately 10:00 am standard time. If one missed the deadline, some allow until noon. Minha is from 12:30 till sunset.

The discussion up to this point has been limited to tefilla per se, that is the amidah itself. It is clear from the mishnah that women are not obligated to recite shema in the evening or morning. According to most authorities, women are exempt from some or all of the blessings that immediately precede and follow shema as well. (Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef holds that women may not say these blessings, but this ruling is categorically rejected by all ashkenazi authorities.) Everyone agrees that it is fitting and proper for women to say all or part of shema.

The entire list of birchot hashahar is completely independent of the prior discussion. Women are obligated to say them all (except "shelo asani isha") no less then they are obligated to say hamotzi before they eat.

Tahanun is essentially optional for men as well as women. That's why we skip it so often.

Pesukei dezimra: According to Aruch HaSulhan, women don't have to say it, but they should. Mishnah Berurah rules that pesukei dezimra are esssentially an introduction to shemoneh esreh, and as such apply to women as well.

A personal comment: We live in a generation in which women are educated equally to men, and in a community in which so much freedom has been given to women to take up whatever roles they see fit in terms of home, career and community involvement. It seems to me that there may have once been a need to bend over backward to come up with lenient rulings on this issue. Kaf HaHayyim writes that "women who know how to learn" are accustomed to pray the entire order of prayers, from beginning to end. By adopting the more strict opinions, we are saying something about who we are.


Debby Koren