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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q8.36 TOC Q8.38 >

Question 8.37:
What are all the observances that Orthodox Jewish women are commanded to participate in during the course of the year?


First, note that it's only mitzvos asei (commandments of the form 'thou shalt do…') obligations, that are included. In general, "positive time-bound mitzvos" sometimes seems to have more exceptions for women than compliances. The Torah Temimah says the actual criterion is so complicated, it would seem to simply be a gezeiras hakasuv, a law derived from the text, not reasoned out by people from principles.

In the cases of Pesach, Chanukah and Purim, this is because "they too were in the same miracle". However, the same could be said of Sukkot, but women are exempt from sitting in the sukkah or taking lulav and esrog. Rav Hirsch understands the rule to be "positive time-bound mitzvos that do not relate 'internally' to the establishment of the community or of family". Pesach would qualify as being internal, but Sukkot is pretty definitively external, about surviving outside the Jewish Home.

Thinking about it, the criterion of "time-bound" can be understood in terms of biology. Women are reminded about the value of time and the cycle of life by their bodies. It would therefore make sense that men would need to learn through rituals an idea that comes more naturally to women.

Rav Hirsch's second criterion has more to do with societal norm, and is therefore problematic. What about a "Mr. Mom", who still must observe these mitzvos, or the working mother, who still doesn't? Furthermore, this internal vs external split seems at times to be pretty subjective, driven more by the rule than usable in defining its applicability. To get to the point, the Talmud discusses the idea and its exceptions on Kiddushin 34a. Here's the list:

Reproduction is only mandatory for men, although obviously some women would have to be involved. But this isn't for the same reason as the rest. Rather, because G-d would never command something that painful and life-threatening.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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