Women and the Shma


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

One of the most confusing aspects of halacha regarding prayer lies in the nature of the obligation of Krias Shma for women.  What follows is a brief overview of this area of halacha.  Hopefully, it will clarify things – rather than confuse it.


Women are technically exempt from the Mitzvah of reciting the full Shma twice daily since it is considered a time bound Mitzvah.   The verse in the Shma itself has the timing of it with the words, “when you lie down and when you arise.” These words indicate that it is a time-bound Mitzvah.


However, many authorities are of the opinion that women are obligated in accepting upon themselves the yoke of the Kingdom of Shamayim.   This being the case, they should at least recite the first verse of the Shma – which declares this. This is the view of the Bach and the Magain Giborim.

One can perhaps conjecture that their view was perhaps influenced by what it states in Meseches Sofrim (18:4), “And similarly, they (women) are obligated in the recitation of the Shma.”  The Mishna Brurah (70:4) holds that other Poskim are of the opinion that women are technically exempt even from the first pasuk, but do recite it nonetheless – because it is a good and proper minhag.

Some say that the obligation is for women to recite the entire first paragraph (this is the view of the Pri Magaddim in his Aishel Avrohom 70:1, discussing the view of the the Mechaber).  The minhag, however, has already spread for women to recite all three paragraphs of the Shma.


The Gemorah in Psachim (56a) discusses the sentence that appears immediately after the first pasuk of the Shma.  The Gemorah asks:  What is the reason that we recite that passage – “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever” – even though it appears nowhere in the Torah? The Gemara answers: We recite it in accordance with that which Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish explained:

it is written: “And Yaakov called his sons and said, Gather around and I will tell you what will occur to you in the end of days” (Bereishis 49:1). Yaakov wanted to reveal to his sons when the complete redemption would arrive at the end of days (see Daniel 12:13), but the Shechina abandoned him, rendering him unable to prophesy. He said: Perhaps the Shechina has abandoned me because, Heaven forfend, one of my descendants is unfit.. His sons said to him: Hear O’ Israel, (our father) Hashem is our G-d – Hashem is One.  They said: Just as there is only one G-d in your heart, so too, there is only one in our hearts. At that moment Yaakov Avinu responded (in appreciation) – Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever, as all his children were righteous.

The Rabbis said: What should we do? Shall we recite this verse? But Moshe Rabbeinu did not say it in the Torah as part of Shema. Shall we not recite it? But Yaakov said it. In order to resolve this dilemma they established that this passage should be recited silently.

A woman must also recite the verse of Boruch Shaim Kvos Malchuso l’Olam Vo’ed as this part of the Mitzvah of unifying Hashem’s Name according to the Levush (See OC 66:1).  This author understands the Levush to mean that Yaakov Avinu expressed this as Hakaras HaTov in that Hashem is the ultimate Giver and that is part of our understanding of the Oneness of Hashem.


As far as the three words of Kel Melech Ne’eman, the reason it is generally said is to add 3 words to the Krias Shma that a man says so that it will correlate to the 248 limbs in a man (when there is a shliach tzibbur – the three words of Hashem Elokaichem Emes play this role). Seemingly, this would not apply to woman who has 252 limbs. However, they should recite the words Kel Melech Ne’eman when davening alone according to the Minchas Elazar (Vol. II Siman 28), because the extra three words are a tikkun for the Zeir Anpin. The Zeir Anpin represents the Six Sefiros of Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod which channel energy or light from the upper three Sefiros. Our connection to Zeir Anpin is through Yessod by studying the Torah on all levels.

Just as women are technically exempt from reciting Krias Shama, they are also exempt from the blessings that precede the Krias Shma.  They are, however, obligated in the blessings that come after the Shma.  Emes v’ytziv and Emes v’Emunah of the evening prayers.  Some exempt them from these as well.  An Ashkenazic woman who does wish to recite them may do so. There is a debate whether a Sefardic woman may do so.


A woman who did not recite the Shma and its blessings until after the fourth hour of the day has passed (Zman Krias Shma) may not recite these blessings afterward and it is considered a bracha levatalah.  If this occurred, she should recite the whole shmah (specifically for the third paragraph) which mentions the exodus from Mitzrayim.


A woman is also obligated in the Mitzvah of connecting the blessings of redemption to Tefillah – the prayer of Shmoneh Esreh according to the Mishna Brurah (70:2).

The author can be reached at [email protected]



  1. It is misleading to state, “many authorities are of the opinion that women are obligated in accepting upon themselves the yoke of the Kingdom of Shamayim.”


    The mishna is explicit:
    משנה ברכות ג:ג נשים … פטורין מקריאת שמע
    Mishna Berachot 3:3
    Women…are exempt from reciting Shema.

    The Shulchan Oruch slightly amends this as follows:
    שו”ע אורח חיים סימן ע:א נשים ועבדים פטורים מק”ש [מקריאת שמע] מפני שהיא מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא ונכון הוא ללמדם שיקבלו עליהן עול מלכות שמים: הגה ויקראו לפחות פסוק ראשון
    Shulchan Aruch OC 70:1
    Women and bondsmen are exempt from Keri’at Shema because it is a positive time-bound mitzva. It is correct to teach them to accept upon themselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. Rema: They should recite at least the first verse

    When the Shulchan Oruch writes “it is correct”, that is far from what the author wrote that “women are obligated”.

    Indeed, although the Pri Migadem interprets it as a Rabbinical obligation – quoted below, that is NOT the concenus of other poskim, as quoted beliw.

    פרי מגדים אשל אברהם או”ח ע:א זהו שכתב [המחבר] “ונכון” היינו מדרבנן.
    Peri Megadim Eshel Avraham OC 70:1
    That which Shulchan Aruch wrote “and it is correct” means [it is obligatory] rabbinically.

    The other poskin disagree with this “rabbinical obligation”, see –
    ביאור הגר”א או”ח ע:א ונכון כו’ ויקראו כו’. לחומרא בעלמא דלא כאה”מ [כאוהל מועד] שכ'[שכתב] שחייבות שבגמ’ [שבגמרא] לא משמע כן …
    Bei’ur Ha-Gera OC 70:1
    “And it is correct”- As a mere stringency, not like Ohel Mo’ed who wrote that they are obligated, for the Talmud does not indicate thus…

    See also –
    לבוש אורח חיים סימן ע:א מ”מ נכון הוא ללמדם שיקראו פסוק ראשון עם ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד, כדי שיקבלו עליהם עול מלכות שמים:
    Levush OC 70:1
    In any case it is correct to teach them [women] to recite the first verse [of Shema]with Baruch shem kevod malchuto le-olam va-ed, so that they accept upon themselves the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven.

    Hence my objection when to calling ot an obligation.

  2. It is important to note:

    The Talmud Yerushalmi presents a different reason to exempt women from Shema:

    Shema contains the command to learn Torah, from which women are exempt, and we can even view reciting Shema as a form of learning Torah, one that includes accepting ol malchut shamayim. If so, perhaps the exemption from the mitzva to learn Torah extends to Shema.

    תלמוד ירושלמי ברכות ג:ג נשים מניין “ולמדתם אותם את בניכם” (דברים יא יט) את בניכם ולא את בנותיכם…
    Yerushalmi Berachot 3:3
    From where [do we learn that] women [are exempt]? “And you shall teach them to your children [beneichem]” (Devarim 11:19). Your sons [beneichem], and not your daughters [benoteichem].

  3. Regarding the Minchas Elozor on the topic, his response is that the 245 words in Shema plus the 3 words of Kel Melech Ne’eman OR Hashem Elokeichem Emet complete the 248 organs (Eivarim) of the Zer Anpin. And since women who recite Shema are doing it Kipshuto – implying that whatever Kavonos are involved, whether they know them or not, will be included, then they, too need to recite 248 words to complete the eivarim of Zeir Anpin. Limud Torah for men has nothing to do with this, as this pertains to the various Kavonos involved in Krias Shema. (See also Siddur Chemdas Yisroel from R’ Chaim Vital, which was printed through the work of the Minchas Elozor in Munkacz.)

    As to Kel Melech Ne’eman itself, the Minchas Elozor writes clearly in that same answer that one should NOT say Kel Melech Ne’eman but repeat the words Hashem Elokeichem Emet. This is based on what R’ Chaim Vital writes in the Siddur and in Sha’ar HaKavonos in the name of the Ar”i, is brought in the Sha’arei Teshuva and in Birkey Yosef, and is also the opinion of the Beit Yosef himself (though the RM”A disagrees with him). This would apply to both men and women when saying Shema where there is no minyan and chazzan to repeat the words, or when saying Shema before bed.

  4. Even if women are technically exempt, a woman who does read Shema will certainly get enormous reward in the Next World for doing so, יפה שעה אחת של קורת רוח בעולם הבא מכל חיי העולם הזה – and a woman who does say Shema will certainly influence her children to greater yiras Shamayim by doing so.
    Women are certainly required to learn those halachos that apply to them, kashrus, tevila, tznius, Shabbos, etc. etc. and are punished if through lack of knowledge they cause others to do wrong.
    The Gemara in Brochos says that women’s greater reward in the Next World comes primarily from encouraging and supporting their sons and husbands to learn Torah. As Rebbe Akiva said to his talmidim about his wife Rochel, שלי ושלכם שלה.
    The Chofetz Chaim strongly supported the Beis Yaakov movement where women are taught to say Shema and learn the halachos relevant to them.

  5. Thank you, Kvod HaRav for responding to my comment. A mystery I have is why the Torah only speaks of men davening and not women? Only the Avos are referred to as davening but not the Imahos? (Rivka is mentioned praying for children but not as a regular daily tefilah!)

    Likewise, the Torah refers to men saying Shema (as Yaakov when he met Yossef or when Yaakov gave the brachos and Moshe) but not women.

    Finally, when Yaakov said Shema and the Shevatim responded with Boruch Shem Kvod Malchuso L’Olom Va’ed, it sounds like ONLY those two sentences were recited and not the entire paragraph, kal v’chomer, not the latter 2 paragraphs.