Halacha Date: 13 Adar 5776 February 22 2016
Question: Are women obligated to recite Keri’at Shema every day?
Answer: In the previous Halacha, we have mentioned the words of our Sages in Masechet Kiddushin (34a as well as in Berachot 20b and other places) that women are exempt from positive, time-bound Mitzvot, i.e. Mitzvot which need to be fulfilled actively such as the Mitzvot of Lulav, Sukkah, Tefillin, etc. and can only be fulfilled during a specific time, such as the Mitzvah of Lulav which can only be performed during Sukkot. Our Sages derive this from verses in the Torah.
Certainly then, Keri’at Shema is considered a positive, time-bound Mitzvah, for the Torah limits the Mitzvah of Keri’at Shema to the morning and nighttime hours, as the verse states, “And you shall speak of them etc. and when you lie down and when you arise.” Our Sages (Berachot 10b) understood that one must recite Keri’at Shema at the time when people lie down (to sleep) and at the time when people wake up in the morning. It is for this reason that the Mishnah (Berachot 20a) states that women are exempt from the Mitzvah of Keri’at Shema.
Nevertheless, the Sefer Ohel Mo’ed (one of the great Rishonim) writes (in Sha’ar Keri’at Shema) that although women are exempt from reciting Keri’at Shema in a general manner, they are nevertheless obligated to read the first verse of Keri’at Shema, for they are also obligated in the most basic Mitzvah that every Jew is commanded to fulfill, which is to believe that Hashem is the one and only G-d. Reciting the first verse of Keri’at Shema is an acceptance of Hashem’s absolute oneness.
Although Maran Ha’Bet Yosef (Chapter 70) quotes the opinion of the Ohel Mo’ed, it seems that from the words of other Poskim that they did not accept the position of the Ohel Mo’ed and in their opinion, women are not halachically obligated to read even the first verse of Keri’at Shema (although women are most certainly obligated in the belief of Hashem’s oneness).
Halachically speaking, Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules that women are exempt from reciting Keri’at Shema, however, it is proper for them to read the first verse of Keri’at Shema every day in order for them to accept the yoke of Heaven upon themselves.
We have already established in the previous Halacha that according to Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch and the Sephardic tradition, women may not recite a blessing with Hashem’s name before performing a Mitzvah they are exempt from. According to the Rama’s ruling and the Ashkenazi custom, however, women may recite a blessing before performing even Mitzvot that they are exempt from.
Based on this, we can infer that women may not recite any of the blessings of Keri’at Shema, i.e. the “Yotzer Ohr”, “Ahavat Olam”, and “Emet Ve’Yatziv” blessings in the Shacharit prayer and the “Ha’Ma’ariv Aravim”, “Ahavat Olam”, “Emet Ve’Emunah”, and “Hashkivenu” blessings in the Arvit prayer. Nevertheless, according to the Ashkenazi custom, women may recite these blessings as well.
Summary: Women are halachically exempt from reciting Keri’at Shema. It is nevertheless preferable for them to recite at least the first verse of Keri’at Shema on a daily basis. If they decide to read the entire prayer service, they may not conclude (or begin) the blessings of Keri’at Shema with Hashem’s name (i.e. by reciting “Baruch Yotzer Ha’Me’orot” etc.). On the other hand, the Ashkenazi custom is that women recite the entire prayer service while including Hashem’s name.