What are korbanot and pesukei de-zimra? Should women say them?
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Amelia Ray and Morris Ray
by their children Patti Ray and Allen Ray
on the occasion of their twelfth yahrtzeits
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By Laurie Novick
Rav Ezra Bick, Ilana Elzufon, and Shayna Goldberg, eds.
After Birchot Ha-shachar, many people recite portions of the Torah, Mishna, and Talmud describing some of the sacrifices offered in the Beit Ha-mikdash. This section of tefilla is known as “korbanot,” sacrifices. Should women recite it?
The Talmud teaches that engaging in Torah study about a sacrificial offering can stand in place of making that offering:
Rabbi Yitzchak said: What is written, "This is the Torah of the sin offering" and "This is the Torah of the guilt offering?" Whoever occupies himself with the Torah of the sin offering, it is as though he has sacrificed a sin offering, and whoever occupies himself with the Torah of the guilt offering, it is as though he has sacrificed a guilt offering.
Today, when we do not have Beit Ha-mikdash (the Temple) and it is impossible to offer sacrifices, the closest we can come to this holy endeavor is engaging in learning about them. Another talmudic passage has God saying making this point to Avraham Avinu:
He [God] said to him [Avraham]: I already established for them [the children of Israel to recite] the order of sacrifices. At the time when they read them before Me, I count it for them as though they have sacrificed before Me, and I forgive them for all their sins.
It is particularly fitting to do this in the context of prayer, since some aspects of our formal prayer, such as the timing of the daily tefillot, were enacted to correspond with the korban tamid (the daily morning and afternoon offering) and other sacrifices and, in the absence of sacrifices, also replace them.
Additionally, it makes sense to recite the korbanot
at the beginning of shacharit
because reciting these passages of korbanot
is also an act of learning Torah, appropriate on the heels of saying the birchot ha-Torah
Tur singles out reciting the portion of korban tamid (Bemidbar 28:1-8) as an "established" recitation, perhaps because of the tamid's connection to daily tefilla:
Tur OC 48
They established reading the portion about the korban tamid, as is found in the midrash, "At the time when there is no Temple, what will become of them [the children of Israel]? He [God] said to him [Avraham]: I already provided for them in advance [reading] the order of korbanot. Any time that they occupy themselves with them, I count it for them as though they have sacrificed before Me."
Although this source makes it sound as though reciting the portion of the tamid
is obligatory, Tur's
treatment of the other korbanot
passages is closer to encouragement (as we also find in Shulchan Aruch).
Tur OC Laws of Morning Practice 1
It is good to say the portion of the akeida … and the portion of the korbanot, such as the portion of the burnt offering and the meal offering and the peace offering and the sin offering and the guilt offering. Indeed, it is better to say the korbanot passages in the daytime, because they are in place of offering a sacrifice, whose time is during the day.
Tur writes that "It is good to say" these passages, including the Torah's description of the binding of Isaac, the akeida. His choice of language implies that we are not bound to recite the korbanot passages other than korban tamid. Tur also adds another point here. "It is better" to recite korbanot during the daytime, when offerings were made. However, since this timing is only preferable and not strictly obligatory, reciting korbanot is not time-bound.
Women Reciting Korbanot
In fourteenth-century Ashkenaz, Maharil writes that women should recite korbanot as part of the general obligation to pray.
New Responsa Maharil, 45
And are women not obligated in the morning tamid offering and sacrificial offerings like men? For they are obligated in prayer which they [the Men of the Great Assembly] enacted to correspond with the korban tamid, and if so they are also obligated to recite the matters of the sacrifices.…
Maharil sees korbanot as part of the customary prayer service. Women, like men, are subject to this custom and therefore recite korbanot as well.
Although Maharil refers to "the morning tamid offering and [other verses of] sacrificial offerings," Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Ba'al Ha-Tanya, rules that women need only recite the verses about the korban tamid.
Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav OC 47
In reciting the portion of the tamid they [women] are equal to men, for tefilla [in which women are obligated] was enacted in place of the tamid.
Why only the verses about the tamid? Women are obligated in tefillot whose timing is based on that of the tamid. Additionally, we have seen that Tur treats the tamid portion with more stringency than the rest of korbanot. It stands to reason, then, that women should recite the tamid verses regularly.
Other halachic authorities, however, maintain that reciting korbanot is not obligatory for women or men.
Chida, Responsa Yosef Ometz 67
For women are obligated in all the sacrifices…but they have no obligation to learn the laws of the sacrifices, this is the truth… For even men have no obligation to read the korbanot.
Chida teaches us that women are obligated in offering sacrifices when relevant, but not in learning about them. (He suggests women need not learn about them at all!)
Many women and men, skip korbanot during tefilla. Reciting them is still praiseworthy, though, especially the tamid.
Rav Eliezer Melamed suggests that if time is short, a woman can choose to recite the verses about the tamid
right after birchot ha-Torah,
instead of birkat kohanim
. This position goes back to treating korbanot
as a form of Torah learning following recitation of the berachot
Why say Pesukei De-zimra?
The Talmud teaches us that we should always praise God before praying:
Rabbi Simlai expounded: A person should always set out praise of God and afterwards, pray.
We could understand this as referring to the structure of the Shemoneh Esrei, where praise precedes request. However, another Talmudic passage suggests that one should aspire to recite some verses in praise of God every day:
Rabbi Yosei said: May my portion be among those who complete hallel [lit., praise] every day. Really? But Master said: One who recites Hallel every day, is blaspheming and reviling! When we said this [wishing to be among the reciters of hallel daily] it was about Pesukei De-zimra [verses of praise].
In this passage, the Talmud concludes that we should not recite Hallel every day, because that would drastically dilute its impact. Rather, we should say verses of song that praise God daily, and these are called "Pesukei De-zimra."
Piecing these two talmudic passages together, we can deduce that we should recite verses of praise every day as a preliminary to prayer, even before we begin Shemoneh Esrei.
Tosafot write explicitly that Pesukei De-zimra serve as a preparation for prayer:
Tosafot Berachot 31a, s.v. Rabbanan
We do not pray from [a mind frame of] levity and mirth, but rather from [a mind frame of] gravity and the joy of mitzva, as if one were occupied with words of Torah. Therefore, it is customary to recite Pesukei De-zimra and Ashrei prior to prayer.
Tosafot understand Pesukei De-zimra
as a means to achieve the serious, yet joyful, state of mind appropriate for prayer. One can enter a similar mind frame by studying Torah.
Perhaps because Pesukei De-zimra
really belong prior to prayer, Shulchan Aruch rules that a person who omits Pesukei De-zimra
can recite the verses after shacharit
, but without the berachot
, since they are meant to be said prior to shacharit
Which verses of praise should we say?
Rashi tells us that the Pesukei De-Zimra to which the Talmud refers are Tehillim 148 and 150.
Rashi Shabbat 118b, s.v. Pesukei De-zimra
Two tehillim of praise: Hallelu et Hashem min ha-shamayim (148), Hallelu E-l be-kodesh (150).
These individual tehillim are particularly broad in scope, a kind of grand finale to the book of Tehillim. The first urges praise of God from all corners of the cosmos, and the second concludes Tehillim with a call to every living soul to praise God in song.
What else should we recite? A third Talmudic passage teaches that we should make an effort to say Tehilla le-David (Tehillim 145, known as Ashrei for the final verse of Tehillim 144 with which we open it) three times a day:
Rabbi Eliezer said in the name of Rabbi Avina: Whoever says "Tehilla le-David" three times every day, is assured a place in the world to come.
is significant because it both includes a comprehensive list of praise to God, running acrostically from aleph to tav, and also makes special reference to God's role as our sustainer, "You open Your hands and satisfy all living creatures according to [Your] will."
According to Rif
and Rambam, Ashrei
and the five chapters of Tehillim
that follow it (which include the two chapters Rashi mentioned above) are the centerpiece of Pesukei De-zimra.
Mishneh Torah, Laws of Prayer 7:12
The sages praised one who recites songs from Tehillim every day, from Tehilla le-David to the end of the book, and they have already become accustomed to reciting verses before and after them. They have established a beracha before the songs, which is Baruch She-amar, and a beracha after them, which is Yishtabach. Afterwards, one makes the beracha on reciting Shema and recites Shema.
As Rambam notes, we frame our recitation of these chapters of Tehillim with berachot of praise: Baruch She-amar and Yishtabach, and then go on to recite Shema and its berachot. Over time, recitation of additional verses of praise has been added to the beginning of prayer, including Hodu, Mizmor Le-todah, Az Yashir, and Vayvarech David, each of which teaches about a different praiseworthy facet of God.
Rambam also teaches that "the sages praise one who reads songs from Tehillim." We can infer that recitation of Pesukei De-zimra merits praise, yet is not fully obligatory. Nowadays, it has the status of a binding custom.
When Time is Short
If someone arrives late to synagogue in the morning, Pesukei De-zimra can and should be shortened in order to enable one to recite Shemoneh Esrei together with the congregation. Shulchan Aruch and Rema present a system for cutting the recitation down, depending on how much time is available.
Shulchan Aruch OC 52:1
If one arrived at synagogue and found the congregation at the end of Pesukei De-zimra, he says: Baruch She-amar until mehulal ba-tishbachot, and then Tehilla Le-David until me-ata ve-ad olam halleluya, and then Hallelu et Hashem min ha-shamayim until li-vnei Yisrael am kerovo halleluya. If there is not enough time, he should also skip hallelu et Hashem min ha-shamayim. Rema: If there is even less time, he should only say Baruch She-amar, Tehilla Le-David, and Yishtabach.
A person who might miss Shemoneh Esrei with the congregation can catch up by skipping part of Pesukei De-zimra. We can also recite an abbreviated Pesukei De-zimra when time is short for other reasons. The minimum is to recite the two berachot of Baruch She-amar and Yishtabach with Ashrei in the middle. If there is more time, we add in the two tehillim mentioned by Rashi (the 3rd and 5thHalleluyas). If there is more time, we can begin with Ashrei, as Rambam describes, and recite the rest of the tehillim straight through.
In practice, many men and women, when they are in a rush, rarely manage to recite more than Ashrei between the berachot.
Women Reciting Pesukei De-zimra
In general, reciting Pesukei De-zimra is a binding custom and not a full-fledged obligation. Does this custom apply equally to women and men?
Halachic authorities line up on both sides of this question.
Binding Custom We saw above that Maharil maintains that women are obligated in korbanot. He mentions Pesukei De-zimra in the same passage.
New Responsa Maharil 45
For women accept upon themselves [the obligation] of reciting Shema and are also obligated in Pesukei De-zimra.
Maharil understands Pesukei De-zimra as a standard part of a woman's tefilla, in which women "are also obligated."
So too, when Aruch Ha-shulchan discusses Pesukei De-zimra, he uses wording that indicates that women have accepted it as a binding custom.
Aruch Ha-shulchan OC 47:25
They [women] have also accepted upon themselves as an obligation Keri'at Shema and Pesukei De-zimra and Shirat Ha-yam.
We can understand why it is considered customary for women to recite Pesukei De-zimra. If Pesukei De-zimra are a preparation for prayer, women have every reason to recite them. After all, women have an obligation to pray and therefore also need to prepare for prayer. Mishna Berura says this.
Mishna Berura 70:2
Pesukei De-zimra… was enacted primarily for the sake of tefilla. If so, they [women] are obviously obligated….
Optional Not everyone agrees that women need say Pesukei De-zimra. Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi writes, without explanation, that recitation is fully optional:
Shulchan Aruch Ha-Rav ,OC 70
If they [women] also want to recite Pesukei De-zimra and its blessings, they are permitted.
If a woman so desires, she is "permitted" to recite Pesukei De-zimra
. In his Sha'ar Ha-tziyun
, Mishna Berura quotes this opinion and notes that the question requires further investigation.
Surprisingly, Aruch Ha-shulchan, too, writes in one place that Pesukei De-zimra is optional for women:
Aruch Ha-shulchan OC 70
Baruch She-amar and Yishtabach are not obligatory upon them [women] and they may say them. Why shouldn't they be able to sing to God as Miriam and all the women of Israel did at the splitting of the sea?
Saying women "can say" Pesukei De-zimra" is difficult to reconcile with the statement we quoted earlier in which Aruch ha-Shulchan himself referred to Pesukei De-zimra as a binding custom.
Why would it be merely optional for women?
Perhaps Ba'al Ha-Tanya and Aruch ha-Shulchan were influenced here by the fact that women's obligation to recite a full Shemoneh Esrei
was called into question by Magen Avraham.
Given that many women do not recite Shemoneh Esrei
to start with, it is difficult to require all women to recite more than that.
Rav Ovadya Yosef gives further insight into why Pesukei De-zimra might not be necessary for women. He maintains that Pesukei De-zimra are time-bound, because one may recite them with their berachot only within the time frame before shacharit. Someone who has already prayed shacharit can no longer say the berachot. The Talmud teaches us that women have an obligation in tefilla because tefilla is rachamei, seeking mercy. Since the nature of Pesukei De-zimra is praise and "not rachamei," there is no reason to obligate women.
Responsa Yabi'a Omer II OC 6:10
Women should not recite the berachot of Pesukei De-zimra, since Pesukei De-zimra also have a specific time, for they were enacted [to be recited] specifically before shacharit…. Since they are not rachamei [seeking mercy], even though they are for the sake of tefilla, women are exempt, as Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi and Aruch Ha-shulchan wrote in the name of later authorities, and see what Mishna Berura wrote about this. In any case, if women wish to say them, they should recite the berachot of Pesukei De-zimra…without mentioning God’s name.
Berachot Beyond explaining why women might be exempt, Rav Ovadya writes that a woman who wishes to recite Pesukei De-zimra should omit the name of God from the framing berachot, so as not to say a beracha le-vatala, a beracha in vain.
As we saw in our discussion
of the topic, Rav Ovadya opposes making berachot
on voluntary mitzva performance. He rules against making a beracha
on voluntary recitation of Peseukei De-zimra
out of the same concern. As we noted there, others, including some Sefardi authorities, disagree.
Here too, Rav Ben Tziyon Abba Sha'ul permits a woman to make the berachot:
Responsa Or Le-Tziyon II:5
Although women are not obligated in Pesukei De-zimra, in any event, they are permitted to recite Pesukei De-Zimra with the berachot, Baruch She'amar at the beginning and Yishtabach at the end, with mention of God's name and kingship.
Those who permit women to recite berachot on voluntary performance should have no objection to women reciting berachot here – especially since Pesukei De-zimra may be binding for women.
Furthermore, these are berachot
of praise to God, not berachot
on a mitzva. Even Rav Yosef Karo, who objects to women saying berachot
on voluntary mitzva performance, may only object to women saying a beracha
that includes the word "ve-tzivanu."
This leaves open the possibility of reciting the berachot
on Pesukei De-zimra
even for a woman who does not usually recite berachot
on voluntary mitzva performance, since neither the opening nor the closing beracha
includes the word "ve-tzivanu."
Rav Ovadya Yosef himself concedes that Ashkenazi women may recite these berachot.
Summary On the one hand, Pesukei De-zimra may be considered time-bound because they are said as preparation for prayer, and the time-bound element therefore might lead to their being fully optional for women. On the other hand, if Pesukei De-zimra are part and parcel of preparing for prayer, then women should say Pesukei De-zimra, since women are fully obligated to pray.
Since there are opinions that women have a binding custom to recite Pesukei De-zimra, and since even those who hold that women are exempt still permit women to recite them, there is good reason for women to say them whenever possible, at least in abbreviated form, berachot included. Women who follow the halachic rulings of Rav Ovadya Yosef should simply omit the name of God from the “Baruch Ata Hashem” line of the berachot.
● Why do many women recite Tehillim, but not Pesukei De-zimra?
It is fascinating to compare Pesukei De-zimra with the custom to recite Tehillim. Recitation of Tehillim was considered particularly praiseworthy for those who could not engage in more formal Torah study, so it comes as no surprise that women in particular are known for reciting Tehillim at any opportunity and for making efforts to complete the full book on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, sometimes in groups.
The main texts of Pesukei De-zimra are chapters of Tehillim. However, while the recitation of Pesukei De-zimra takes place before Shema and Shemoneh Esrei, women reading other chapters of Tehillim can recite them at any point during the day. Pesukei de-zimra is a binding custom, while reciting Tehillim is fully optional. The berachot Baruch She-amar and Yishtabach bookend Pesukei De-zimra, while the recitation of Tehillim has optional supplicatory prayers before and afterwards. Because berachot come before and after them, Pesukei De-zimra cannot be easily interrupted. Tehillim recitation, however can be interrupted at will, making it more flexible and particularly suited to the lives of women whose time to pray may be unpredictable
Pesukei De-zimra helps prepare us to address God in prayer with proper knowledge of before Whom we stand. Recitation of Tehillim, however, is generally an independent act of prayer. When reciting Tehillim, we express and connect to the poetic, emotional, and personal meaning of David Ha-melech's words. Since saying Tehillim is framed as a plea, it presumably does not violate the caution that one who recites Hallel each day is as one who "reviles and blasphemes."
The ideal would be for women and men to recite Pesukei De-zimra daily before shacharit and additionally to recite Tehillim at any appropriate opportunity. Since the timing of Pesukei De-zimra is more limited, since interrupting them is more complicated, and since they really belong to the formal world of prayer, it is no surprise that, in parallel, many women have seized on the more fluid, flexible, and emotional framework of Tehillim as an opportunity to address God. Some may also feel that Pesukei De-zimra, when recited as a group of chapters from Tehillim, belongs specifically to the synagogue, where men take the lead. Women can recite Tehillim together in any location, defining it as a space for women's prayers.
In his early version of the siddur
, Rav Amram Gaon explains korbanot
Seder Rav Amram Ga'on, Birchot Ha-shachar
The order that we wrote to read from [parashat] Tzav [the tamid offering] and to learn Eizehu Mekoman [a mishnaic chapter on sacrifice] and to expound with Rabbi Yishmael, thus is found in responsa, and so is the custom of all Israel in Mesopotamia. Proof is from where? That Rav Safra said in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua son of Chananya: What is it that is written "And you should repeat them"? Don't read “repeat them” but "triple them."
Note that Rav also Amram describes reciting korbanot as a matter of custom.
 Shulchan Aruch OC 1:9
Some have the custom to recite the portion of the laver (Shemot 30:17-21), and afterwards the portion of the removal of the ashes (Vayikra 6:1-6) and afterwards the portion of the tamid (Bemidbar 28:1-8) and afterwards the portion of the altar, the offering of incense (Shemot 30:7-10) and the portion of the ingredients of the incense and its preparation (Shemot 30:34-36).
Rabbeinu Yona maintains that reciting korbanot is a full-fledged obligation, though by writing "parashat ha-korbanot" the portion of korbanot in the singular, he may refer specifically to the tamid portion.
Talmidei Rabbeinu Yona Berachot 5a
They established one could recite the portion of korbanot by heart every day, because [saying] it is obligatory.
Rav Eliezer Melamed, "Korbanot U-psukei De-zimra
," Tefillat Nashim
In his Jahrzeit lectures, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik goes a step farther, defining Pesukei De-zimra
as a form of Torah study to get us in the correct frame of mind for prayer. See "Be-inyan Pesukei De-Zimra
," Shi'urim Le-zecher Abba Mari Za"l
, vol. II, pp. 17-34.
 Shulchan Aruch OC 52:1
If the congregation has already begun “Yotzer” and there is no time to recite even an abbreviated Pesukei De-zimra, one should recite Keri’at Shema and its berachot with the congregation and pray [Shmoneh Esrei] with them, and afterwards one should recite all of Pesukei De-zimra without a beracha before or after.
What is the reason? If you say that it is because comes with the aleph-bet – let us say “Ashrei Temimei derech” (Tehillim 119), which comes with eight aspects [of the aleph-bet]. Rather, because it includes “Open up Your hand.” So let us say the great Hallel (Tehillim 136) in which it is written “He gives bread to all flesh!” Rather, because it includes both.
As we say in Pesukei De-zimra. And what are they? From Tehilla Le-David until “kol ha-neshama tehallel Y-h.”
 Sha'ar Ha-Tziyyun
But Rav Schneuer Zalman of Liadi wrote the opposite and this requires investigation.
Aruch Ha-shulchan's position on this is unclear. When discussing Birchot Ha-Torah
, he seems to accept Maharil, understanding him as saying women have obligated themselves:
Aruch Ha-shulchan 47:25
And they established upon themselves as an obligation also Keri’at Shema and Pesukei De-zimra and Shirat Ha-yam, and there are also those who maintain that they are required to learn their laws, and thus they are accustomed to recite berachot upon all the positive time-bound mitzvot and also in Birkat Ha-mazon they say “and on Your Torah that You taught us.” And therefore, for all these reasons, they are permitted to recite a beracha.
However, when discussing Pesukei De-zimra, he says that women have no obligation.
 Yechaveh Da'at III:3
But Ashkenazi women, if they recite berachot on Pesukei De-zimra, Baruch She-amar and Yishtabach, one should not protest, because they have [authorities] on whom to rely.