Skip to main content

A Woman's Obligation to Recite the Musaf Prayer

As we saw in the previous shiur, the Mishna in Berakhot 20a establishes that women are obligated in prayer. The Gemara there explains that their obligation stems from the fact that prayer involves supplication for Divine mercy. This may be understood in one of two ways: Either women are obligated in prayer because it is not a time-bound positive commandment; or alternatively, they are obligated in prayer because it involves supplication for mercy, despite the fact that prayer is a time-bound positive commandment.


            The posekim have raised the question whether the same applies to the Musaf prayer. Why should there be a difference between the Musaf service and the other prayers? In order to answer this question, we must examine the special nature of the Musaf prayer. Let us open with a general question regarding the nature of prayer.


            The Gemara records a disagreement concerning the source of the Amida prayer:


Rabbi Yose the son of Rabbi Chanina said: “The prayers were instituted by the Patriarchs.” Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: “The prayers were instituted based on the daily sacrifices.” (Berakhot 26b)


            It may be that the Gemara understands the root of the dispute to be a historical question: Were the daily prayers instituted by the Patriarchs or by Chazal in a much later period? It seems, however, that the issue in dispute is not a historical question – surely Chazal were not historians – but rather a question concerning the very essence of prayer. This is what follows from the Talmud Yerushalmi, which formulates the question differently: “The prayers are learned from the Patriarchs,” or “the prayers are learned from the daily offerings” (Yerushalmi, Berakhot 4:1). Here the formulation is not historical; no claim is made here that it was the Patriarchs who instituted the prayers, but only that Chazal derived the prayers from the actions of the Patriarchs.


            What is truly at the heart of the question here? We seem to be dealing with the tension that exists between prayer as a spiritual event and prayer as a halakhic institution. If the prayers were instituted by the Patriarchs, the emphasis is on the existential-spiritual side of prayer, whereas if the prayers were instituted based on the daily sacrifices, we are relating to prayer as a halakhic institution, a part of Jewish daily routine, a ritual that comes to replace the fixed sacrificial service in the Temple. The Gemara notes that even Rabbi Yose the son of Rabbi Chanina agrees that Chazal found a basis for the prayers in the daily offerings. That is to say, even though the fundamental nature of prayer is existential feeling, Chazal tied prayer to specific times of the day as a parallel to the daily sacrifices. The sacrifices fixed the temporal framework of the prayers, but (according to Rabbi Yose the son of Rabbi Chanina) the prayers are not, in their essence, an expression of those sacrifices, but rather that of a tormented heart.


            This question has a halakhic ramification that is spelled out in the Gemara. Halakha recognizes the institution of tashlumin (compensatory prayer). If a person missed a certain prayer, he can make up for his accidental omission by adding an additional Amida immediately following the next scheduled prayer. The Gemara (Berakhot 26a) raises the question whether one who missed the afternoon prayer should recite a tashlumin prayer in the evening. The uncertainty here stems from the fact that, halakhically speaking, by the evening a new day has already begun, and perhaps tashlumin can only be recited on the same day that the original prayer was missed.


The Gemara explains that this uncertainty depends on the question whether prayer comes to replace the daily offerings or whether it involves supplication for Divine mercy. If prayer is viewed as a substitute for the daily sacrifices, a sacrifice must be offered on a particular day, and it cannot be made up on another day. If this is true, the same reasoning should follow regarding tashlumin.But if prayer is supplication for Divine mercy, a burst of religious feeling, such feeling cannot be so rigidly restricted in time and place, and thus a compensatory prayer should be permitted even if it is not recited on the same day of the original omission.


In practice, the halakha is that if one did not recite the afternoon prayer, one should recite a tashlumin prayer in the evening, and we do not invoke the principle of “once a day has passed, its offering is cancelled” (Rambam, Hilkhot Tefilla 3:9).


The Tosafot argue that in this context the Musaf prayer is different from the other prayers. According to them, even if it is possible after the fact to make up a missed afternoon prayer in the evening, it is clear that a missed Musaf prayer cannot be made up in this manner. Why? Because “they only instituted the seven blessings of the Musaf prayer as a fulfillment of ‘We shall offer the words of our lips instead of calves’ (Hoshe’a 14:3)” (Tosafot, Berakhot 26a, s.v. iba’ya). In other words, while the fundamental nature of the three fixed prayers is supplication for mercy, and the daily sacrifices merely establish the general framework and the specific times for each of the prayers, the Musaf prayer is characterized solely by the Musaf sacrifice. The Tosafot make use of the verse “We shall offer the words of our lips instead of calves” to illustrate that not only was the Musaf prayer instituted based on the Musaf sacrifice, its entire purpose is to come in place of the Musaf sacrifice. Therefore, there is no room to recite the Musaf service after the time for the corresponding sacrifice has already passed.


Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona bring further proof in support of this principle by noting that the essential text of the Musaf prayer consists of the verses describing the relevant sacrifice. The other prayers, in contrast, do not even mention the verses relating to the daily morning and afternoon sacrifices (Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona, 18a in Alfasi, s.v. ta'a). This implies that while the daily offerings might determine the framework of the daily prayers, in their essence the prayers are supplications for mercy, and not substitutions for the daily sacrifices. In this regard, the Musaf prayer is different, for its entire essence consists of describing the Musaf sacrifice.


In light of the above, Rav Yechezkel Landau questioned a woman's obligation to recite the Musaf prayer (Tzelach, Berakhot 26a). Regarding a woman's general obligation in prayer, we saw that it is possible to say that while prayer is a time-bound positive commandment, women are nevertheless obligated because prayer consists of supplication for Divine mercy. On the other hand, it is possible to argue that since prayer consists of supplication for mercy, it is removed from the category of time-bound positivecommandments. The Musaf prayer, however, is not supplication for mercy, it contains no requests or supplications, and it is meant solely to replace the Musaf sacrifice – “We shall offer the words of our lips instead of calves.” If so, according to both of the aforementioned formulations, there is no reason to obligate women to recite the Musaf prayer.[1]


            Rav Landau adds that while women are exempt from the Musaf prayer, all agree that they are permitted to recite it if they so desire. Though the Shulchan Arukh rules that women may not recite a blessing over time-bound positive commandments, he too agrees that reciting a blessing is permitted when the recitation of the blessing is the mitzva itself, as in the case of prayer; for in such a case the blessing does not include the problematic words “who commanded us.” It should be noted that certain authorities write just the opposite: When the blessing itself is the mitzva, and they are not two separate entities, the Rema rules that women are forbidden to recite the blessing.[2] In practice, Ashkenazic women are accustomed to recite the Musaf prayer. Rav Ovadya Yosef ruled in Responsa Yabi'a Omer (no. 6) that Sephardic women should not recite the Musaf prayer at all. Later, however, he retracted this ruling and permitted even Sephardic women to recite the Musaf prayer (Chazon Ovadya al Hilkhot Shabbat, II, 204).


            Must we accept the position of Rav Landau regarding a woman's exemption from the Musaf prayer? Is it clear that women are exempt? It is possible to disagree on several counts. First, we can argue that even the Musaf prayer is essentially supplication for Divine mercy. Indeed, it is void of requests and supplications, but the same is true regarding the other three prayers recited on Shabbat. Rav Landau explained that though by strict law the Shabbat prayers lack the element of supplication for mercy, they are nevertheless treated like ordinary prayer (women are obligated to recite them, and if a person misses one of the Shabbat prayers, he can make it up by reciting tashlumin following the next scheduled prayer). This is because this is what Chazal established regarding weekday prayers, and they did not want to distinguish between weekdays and Shabbat.


            We may also suggest another explanation: It is possible that the expression “supplication for mercy” does not relate specifically to requests addressed to God, but rather to the general framework of turning to God and finding favor in His eyes. This is accomplished even through the Shabbat prayers, and perhaps even through the Musaf prayer. If so, even the Musaf prayer is not only a matter of “offering the words of our lips instead of calves,” but also fulfills the broader purpose of prayer in general. If we do not accept this assumption, we are faced with the difficulty of explaining the laws governing the Shabbat prayers, which (with respect to tashlumin and a woman's obligation) are similar to those governing weekday prayers. Rav Landau writes that Chazal did not want to distinguish between Shabbat and weekdays, even though the nature of their respective prayers is different. Perhaps it may be argued that according to that logic, Chazal would not want to distinguish between the Musaf prayer and the other prayers either. In light of this, we can suggest that even if Rav Landau is correct regarding the fundamental nature of the Musaf prayer, perhaps Chazal did not want to distinguish between it and the other prayers, so they decreed that women are obligated in it as well.


            Some have adduced proof that the Musaf prayer is not merely a matter of “offering the words of our lips instead of calves” from the following Gemara:


Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya said: “When we used to rejoice at the place of the Water-Drawing, our eyes saw no sleep. How was this? The first hour [was occupied with] the daily morning sacrifice; from there [we proceeded] to prayers; from there [we proceeded] to the musaf sacrifice, then the prayers of the musaf sacrifice, then to the study hall, then the eating and drinking, then the mincha prayer, then the daily evening sacrifice, and after that the Rejoicing at the place of the Water-Drawing [all night].” (Sukka 53a)


            Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya's remark indicates that the Musaf prayer was recited even during the Second Temple period immediately following the offering of the musaf sacrifice. This being the case, it is possible to say that the Musaf prayer was instituted based on the sacrifice, but not that it was ordained to replace it (Rav Betzalel Zolti, Mishnat Ya'avetz, Hilkhot Rosh Chodesh, no. 4). We may still argue that this prayer is not considered supplication for mercy, but at the very least this proof narrows the gap between the nature of the Musaf prayer and the other prayers.


            Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that women are exempt from the Musaf prayer for a different reason (Responsa Rabbi Akiva Eiger, mahadura kama, no. 9). The communal offerings were purchased from the annual tax of the half-shekel, which was not collected from women. Rabbi Akiva Eiger argues that since women did not have a part in the communal offerings, they are also not obligated in the Musaf prayer. He too assumes (implicitly) that in contrast to the other prayers, the essence of the Musaf prayer is “offering the words of our lips instead of calves,” so that one who is not obligated to bring the calves is also not obligated to replace them with prayer.


            Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spector rejected Rabbi Akiva Eiger's argument, insisting that women are obligated in the Musaf prayer (Responsa Be'er Yitzchak, Orach Chayyim, no. 20). Rav Yitzchak Elchanan argued that the obligation to recite the Musaf prayer does not depend on the obligation to give the half-shekel. He proved this in a most elegant manner: Priests, Levites and youths under the age of twenty are also exempt from the half-shekel. Would anyone suggest that priests, Levites and youths are exempt from the Musaf prayer? The Torah Temima (Shemot 30:22) writes that, according to this opinion, a young man under the age of twenty should not serve as sheli'ach tzibbur for the Musaf prayer. Would he say the same thing about priests and Levites?


            How is it possible to separate the obligation to give the half-shekel from the obligation to recite the Musaf prayer? The Acharonim suggest two alternatives to Rabbi Akiva Eiger's position. The Kehillot Ya’akov (Zevachim, no. 4) argues that the obligation to bring the communal offerings is cast upon the entire community as an organic entity. Though indeed the Torah exempted certain populations (e.g., the priests and the Levites) from the fixed taxation of the half-shekel, they still remain a part of the community that is obligated to bring the communal offerings. The Kehillot Ya’akov distinguishes between priests and Levites, who are part of the community that is obligated to see to the offering of the communal sacrifices, and women, who, in his opinion, are outside of that community. According to his logic, however, it is reasonable to expand the circle and include women. The Torah obligated all of the people of Israel to bring the daily and additional offerings, women included.


            Other Acharonim propose a different distinction. The Amudei Or (no. 7) argues that the scope of the obligation to recite the Musaf prayer does not depend on the question of who is obligated to bring the Musaf sacrifice, but rather on the question of who achieves atonement through it. The Musaf sacrifice achieves atonement for all of Israel, including the women. For this reason, women too are obligated in the Musaf prayer.


            Another factor, raised by Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathansohn (Responsa Sho'el U-meishiv, mahadura tinyana, II, no. 55), should be considered in the context of a woman's obligation in the Musaf prayer. Even if the prayer was fundamentally instituted based on the Musaf sacrifice, and for this reason we must debate whether it applies to women, surely the Musaf prayer has another level as well: It is the prayer of the day, relating specifically to the sanctity of the day. The Musaf sacrifice is the special sacrifice brought on Shabbat and the Festivals, and similarly, the Musaf prayer is the special prayer added on Shabbat and the Festivals. This prayer constitutes a special fulfillment of “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it” (Shemot 20:8), the source of the obligation of kiddush. In light of this, just as women are obligated in the unique kiddush of Shabbat or the Festival, so too are they obligated in the Musaf prayer, the unique prayer for that day.


(Translated by David Strauss)

[1] There are also two more formulations regarding the obligation of women in prayer, which totally disregard the aspect of supplication for mercy. 1) The Acharonim understand the position of the Rambam (apparently following the Rif) as follows: By Torah law, the obligation of prayer is to pray one time each day. This is a positive commandment that is not time-bound, and therefore it is binding upon women, irrespective of the factor of supplication for mercy. Chazal added an obligation to pray three times a day at fixed times, thereby creating a time-bound positive commandment from which women are exempt. According to this formulation as well, women should be exempt from the Musaf prayer. 2) Rashi maintains that the entire mitzva of prayer is mandated only by Rabbinic decree, and the distinction between time-bound positive commandments and those that are not time-bound does not apply to Rabbinic commandments – women are obligated in them all. According to this, women should be obligated in the the Musaf prayer.

[2] See, for example, Magen Avraham, Orach Chayyim 296.

This website is constantly being improved. We would appreciate hearing from you. Questions and comments on the classes are welcome, as is help in tagging, categorizing, and creating brief summaries of the classes. Thank you for being part of the Torat Har Etzion community!