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Women’s Exemption From Positive Time-Bound Mitzvot

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What are rules of thumb for gender and halachic obligation?

  • Prohibitions and their punishments, civil legislation and tort law, and legal ramifications of wrongful death apply equally to women and to men.

  • A father bears unique responsibility for his son’s berit mila (circumcision), pidyon ha-ben (redemption of the first born), and Torah study.

  • Sons and daughters have an obligation to honor and revere parents. Married women are obligated to honor parents unless it conflicts with obligations at home.

What is a time-bound mitzva?

A mitzva is time-bound if it applies at a given time and not at another.

From which positive time-bound mitzvot are women exempt?

On a Torah level: reciting Shema, donning tzitzit, laying tefillin, hearing shofar, shaking lulav, dwelling in a sukka, and counting the omer.

Women are also usually exempt from rabbinic-level positive time-bound mitzvot.

Is women’s exemption from positive time-bound mitzvot an absolute rule?

According to Rambam, the rule may be more of a rule of thumb than a source for Halacha.

פירוש המשניות לרמב”ם קידושין א: ז 

כבר ידעת שכלל הוא אצלינו אין למדים מן הכללות, ואמרו כל רוצה לומר על הרוב, אבל מצות עשה שהנשים חייבות ומה שאינן חייבות בכל הקפן אין להן כלל אלא נמסרים על פה והם דברים מקובלים

Rambam, Commentary to the Mishna, Kiddushin 1:7

For we have a rule that we do not learn [Halacha] from rules, and they say “all” to indicate “for the most part.” But positive mitzvot in which women are or are not obligated, in all of their scope, do not follow a rule but are transmitted orally and these are received traditions.

There are many exceptions. Other traditions often determine a woman’s obligation in a given mitzva, even if it’s time bound.

Why should women be exempt from positive-time bound mitzvot?

The Talmud provides a technical answer: Women are exempt from laying tefillin, and that is a paradigm for other positive time-bound mitzvot. Conceptually, exemption may simply be a decree of Divine will.

What other conceptual rationales have been suggested?

  • Rav S. R. Hirsch suggests that women have an enthusiasm for serving God that makes these specific mitzvotunnecessary.

  • According to Abudarham, a woman’s strict adherence to positive time-bound commandments may create a tension between her obligations to her husband and to God.

  • The Lubavitcher Rebbe suggests that a woman fulfills these mitzvot through her husband.

  • Rav Moshe Feinstein writes that the exemption protects women’s ability to raise children. Still, Halacha allows for each woman to choose for herself to what extent her life is centered on domestic activity and how to use the flexibility the exemption affords.

According to these last explanations, why aren’t unmarried women obligated?

Halacha often takes a law generated by concern for a particular case (e.g., married women) and applies it to a broader class of situations (e.g., all women).

Are these just apologetics?

While none of these possible explanations is definitive, our working assumption is that they reflect the deeply held beliefs of their authors. Different explanations resonate with different people. Regardless of which (or any) of them resonate with us, the relevant exemptions remain in place.

Click here to learn more about Positive Time-Bound Mitzvot, and women’s exemption from them. Read the full article to see the sources and further analysis at

Learn more about women’s overall halachic status here, the exemption from shofar here and from tefillin here.


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