Menachem Mendel

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NY Times Gets it Wrong on Women and Jewish Prayer

A recent article in the NYT on prayer at the Kotel included the followed statement.

Jewish law requires only men to pray daily, though many women have taken on the obligation voluntarily.

This statement is simply incorrect. While there are disagreements about the extant and frequency of a woman’s obligation to pray, almost every Jewish legal authority says that women are obligated to pray daily. A good summary of the sources can be found in this article by Judith Hauptman. Hauptman also addresses the issue of counting women in a minyan, which is a related issue, and there was some interesting discussion in a subsequent issue of Judaism 42:4, Fall, 1993, in reaction to her article.

For a more in-depth discussion of the question of women and prayer that includes many of the primary sources, see this article by Ethan Tucker and Micha’el Rosenberg. If you want to just see a source sheet, it can be found here. Also see these two discussions in Hebrew. The classic article from an Orthodox perspective on women in a minyan can be found here. I think that the distinction found there between the obligation of public and private prayer is very weak.

5 Responses to “NY Times Gets it Wrong on Women and Jewish Prayer”

  1. 1
    Bob Abrams:

    Hi — It seems that NYT posted a correction on the 26th. I suspect a lot of folks contacted the NYT with this correction.

    Correction: December 26, 2012

    An earlier version of this article described imprecisely the relevant Jewish law regarding prayer by men and women. Most rabbis agree that men and women are supposed to pray in some fashion every day, although only men are required to do so in a group and at specific times; it is not the case that only men are required to pray daily.

  2. 2
    Menachem Mendel (Michael P.):


    Thanks for pointing out the correction. When I wrote the blog post no correction was posted, so maybe it was in the print edition of Dec. 26 and only added online later.


  3. 3

    “The classic article from an Orthodox perspective on women in a minyan can be found . . .”

    By definition, there can be nothing “classic” about a recent and limited-interest topic such as “orthodox persepctives on women in a minyan.”

    You are (were) technically correct about women being required to pray, but honestly, it’s just a technicality. Perhaps in the fringes its different, but the vast majority of orthodox women do not pray daily within the ordinary meaning of the term.

  4. 4
    Menachem Mendel (Michael P.):


    I used the term classic, b/c everyone refers to it. Maybe the “go to” article would have been more appropriate. I am not sure if the following statement is correct:

    “the vast majority of orthodox women do not pray daily within the ordinary meaning of the term”

    Do they daven Shaharit every day? Mincha? If they don’t daven, is it b/c they don’t think that they have to?

    What’s the “ordinary meaning of the term”?

  5. 5

    When people think of prayer, it seems to me, they think of settling down for some amount of time, to pray from a prayerbook. Most women, though, do not do this. Rather, they “rely” upon the opinion of the Magen Avraham and others that they can fulfill their obligation of prayer in any way, even so much as uttering “God Help me”.

    I have no empirical evidence, of course, to support my contention that most orthodox women only pray, if at all, in the matter above described. There’s no data available. But I’m lived in the heartland of orthodoxy in several major cities, have been part of it my whole life, and reality is reality. Whenever one reads about some particularly pious woman, attention is invariably called to the fact that she prayed. Whereas no allegedly great man was ever eulogized in the same manner. It’s because when a woman prays, it stands out. It’s not common. Naturally they are plenty of exceptions, as always. [My own late grandmother being one.]

    Interestingly, one thing you will often see are girls praying when they are in upper high school or fresh out of seminary. This is the female version of the “flipping out” phenomenon among the guys, described by others. (In other words, it’s the aging, changing, experimenting process common to all peoples between the ages of 18-25) On the whole, it usually lasts till the first kid comes.

    [This should be perfectly obvious, but of course let me say that this is not an “indictment” against women. The very idea is riddiculous. It is simply not expected of women to pray in any formalized manner. They dont have the time for it.]




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