Throughout Jewish tradition, although within the framework of a male-dominated religious tradition, men and women have shared the obligation for prayer. In the Torah, the commandment to pray arises from Exodus’ command to “serve the Lord your God.” In Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah, in the beginning of the section on prayer he also notes that “women and men are obligation in the mitzvah of prayer.”
There are certainly traditions of excluding women from public prayer, and while I believe you can find basis in the halahic tradition for that it is also clear to me that those pieces of Jewish law reflect a time in our history when women were considered less capable or worthy than men. Although arguments are made that women have a different relationship with God or that their vocal prayer may distract the prayers of men, I personally find those arguments flawed and without much merit.
Outside of the orthodox world, the Jewish community now treats men and women equally with regard to prayer. Even in the orthodox world there are significant strides being made toward this inclusion. Although it is by no means the majority of the orthodox world, I am hopeful that it will offer opportunities for Jewish women who want to participate in an orthodox Jewish community to do so in meaningful and significant ways.
You wrote to ask whether women have the same obligation in daily prayer as men according to Judaism. This is actually a more complex question than it might seem, because there is disagreement among authorities how to understand anyone’s obligation for daily prayer.
Jewish law obligations are divided broadly between those that have the authority of the Torah (biblical commandments) and those that have the authority of later enactment by the rabbis (rabbinic commandments). Understanding this is key to understanding the debate that unfolds about women’s prayer.
Maimonides leads a group of early authorities who think that there is a biblical obligation for all Jews to pray to God at least once a day, in whatever language or format and at whatever time they choose (See his Hilkhot Tefillah 1:1-2). According to the Torah, in other words, a person can pray in whatever manner they choose, though their prayers should include words of praise, request and thanks. This obligation applies to both men and women equally. However, the later rabbis, according to Maimonides, added specifications. For men, they specified a fixed, Hebrew liturgy (preserved in the traditional prayer book) as well as fixed times for prayer in the morning, afternoon and evening. Thus, the rabbinic obligation to pray is a “time bound positive commandment” from which women are typically exempt. This is the approach adopted by Rabbi Joseph Caro’s Shulchan Arukh (Orah Hayyim 106:1), according to which women need to pray once a day in whatever language they choose, whereas men must pray three times a day from a fixed liturgy. There are many contemporary women who follow this view.
There was however also a completely different view of prayer articulated by another group of early authorities, including Nahmanides, Rashi and others. They argued that there is no biblical commandment to pray every day (though when you do pray there is a commandment to pray only to God) but only a rabbinic one. Some authorities who held to this view felt that women’s exemption from time-bound, positive commandments does not apply at all to rabbinic enactments and that women should therefore be obligated in daily prayer just like men. Others held that the exemption does apply to rabbinic enactments, but that prayer is exceptional because of the sheer importance of begging God for mercy. In this latter view, women are obligated to pray each day from the fixed liturgy, though not exactly in the same way as men are. They may, for instance, only be obligated once or possibly twice a day—both customs that are also well represented among contemporary women (See Arukh Ha-Shulchan OH 106:7).
I am sure that this is more detail than you sought when you asked the question, but it is important to understand that there are many different practices in this area of Jewish law and that this stems to some extent from a legitimate diversity of opinion among scholars. Some women pray at home in their own language, others follow the set liturgy once or twice (more rarely three times) a day and some make a point of attending daily public services. Sometimes, women have also gathered to pray together separately from men, as many do today in all-female school settings. It is wise to consult the custom and halakhic authority of your own community.
Chava Weissler’s book Voices of the Matriarchs (Beacon Press, 1998) contains an excellent historical account of vernacular Yiddish prayers or techines that were composed by East European Jewish women for different occasions and some of these have also recently been translated into English.
You asked about legal obligations but at the end of the day, prayer is also about finding ways to draw close to our creator, our community, and our heritage. Cultivating a prayerful life is a fundamental challenge in our society no matter what your gender, and I wish you every blessing and success in doing so.
Do women have the same obligation as men in regards to daily prayer in Judaism?
The short answer is unequivocally yes. The long answer is maybe.
In the Conservative Movement, numerous conversations have been had about the role and status of women in Judaism. These conversations have followed trends in feminist thought, modern society and a careful consideration of Jewish sources. Many of these conversations were had as a part of the discussion of could women be rabbis. While the traditional function of rabbi was as religious decisor, the modern function frequently includes leading prayer. Thus within Conservative Judaism, there was a concern of ordaining women as rabbis, if they could not perform the modern functions of a rabbi. Many conversations, papers, and rabbinic responsa (tshuvot), were written to discuss this matter. While in many Orthodox circles, women are not considered to have identical obligations as men to daily prayer, they are STILL obligated to pray daily. Today MOST Conservative rabbis would argue that women ARE obligated to pray thrice daily in the same manner as men.
In the Bible, there are few conversations explicitly about prayer, per se, but one of our first examples of prayer is with Hannah praying for the birth of a son. The High Priest, Eli, seems to have been confused by this type of prayer and wonders if she is drunk (Samuel chapter 1). Thus, women are essential in our thoughts about the power of prayer.
Women, slaves and minors are exempt from reciting Shema and from Tefillin, AND ARE obligated to prayer (the Amidah), hanging Mezuzot, and saying Grace After Meals.
There are rabbinic debates in the Talmud and later sources about the levels of obligations as determined by these verses. A major question is about which of these things are “time-bound commandments” and which are not. In traditional understandings of Halacha, women are not required to do “time-bound commandments”, while men are.
As I mentioned before, this question does not have a straightforward answer. Below are many sources that can help you continue the discussion.
From the Jewish Women’s Archive: “Despite later misunderstandings, Maimonides states clearly that women are obligated in both biblical and rabbinic prayer forms (MT Prayer 1:1–2, 6:10, commentary Mishnah Kiddushin 1:7). He states that women are obligated to say grace after meals,and are therefore alsoobligated to make a Zimmun (the joint invitation to recite grace whenever three or more people have eaten bread together). However, since Maimonides is unsure if women’s obligation in grace is biblical, he rules that women can only invite other women to say grace but not men.“ http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/maimonides
To investigate further into women’s obligation to pray, be ordained as rabbis, and serve in other liturgical roles, one might consider reading:
For about a decade, Rabbi Joel’s Roth’s position was the accepted position of JTS, saying that women were obligated to prayer, but not to the same level as men. For them to have the same level, they needed to make a vow saying that they wanted to be equally obligated. His position can be found in the book above and at: http://www.jtsa.edu/prebuilt/women/roth.pdf In the mid-90s, Chancellor Schorsch began following the position of Rabbi Judith Hauptman and others who felt that women were equally obligated and did not need to make such a vow. Rabbi Judith Hauptman: “Women and Prayer: An Attempt to Dispel Some Fallacies” Judaism 42 (1993): 94-103. Available at: http://www.ohelayalah.org/wp-content/uploads/article.pdf
Women do not have the same obligation for daily prayer as men. According to Halacha (Jewish Law), women are not obligated to observe positive, time-bound mitzvot (commandments). Because men are commanded to pray 3 times a day at specific times (you shall...morning, afternoon, & evening) women are exempt. However, there is nothing that says they are not able to pray if they desire to do so.
Depending on the congregation, women may or may not be counted in a minyan (the group of ten Jews needed for communal worship). In most liberal congregations women do count in a minyan; they do not in an Orthodox community. The reason women are not obligated to positive, time-bound mitzvot is traditionally they were the ones who cared for the home & had the responsibility of teaching and raising their children making it difficult to be bound to specific obligations at specific times each day.
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