Tuesday, July 17, 2007

on eating before daving and women's obligation in tefilah

My eldest daughter’s birthday was erev Rosh Chodesh Av, making her bas mitzvah, and with that came the requirement to keep halacha as an adult. One of the challenges this presents is dealing with the bias against females keeping halacha meticulously. One example that immediately came up relates to hilchos tefilah. The Rambam’s opinion is that tefilah is a Biblical obligation, but the Torah does not impose a set time or text to fulfill the mitzvah – a minimal supplication is sufficient. On the other hand, the Ramban (and other Rishonim) hold that tefilah is a Rabbinic enactment and the same takanah, with all its details, which applies to men applies equally to women. Even according to the Rambam's view, many opine that once the text and time of tefilah was formalized, there is little difference between the obligation of women and men. Finally, it is also worth mentioning that according to some opinions even the Biblical obligation of tefiah cannot be fulfilled with any supplication, but requires a prayer which has components of shevach, bakasha, and hoda’ah like our shmoneh esrei.

I am not going to discuss popular psak here – I am speaking of my personal situation, and everyone has their own choices to make when it comes to how to keep halacha. The Ramban seems to be the view adopted by most Rishonim, and a good case can be made that even according to the Rambam’s view women are obligated in tefila the same way men are, which is why many achronim (R’ Chaim Brisker among them) hold that women should daven a full davening each morning. This is what I think my daughers should do (and it is what my wife does).

What should follow is that just like a man cannot eat before he fulfills his obligation to daven, a women may not eat before she fulfills her obligation to daven. Until her bas mitzvah, we sort of let my daughter do her own thing when it came to this area, but now we feel she should daven first and eat later.

Problem: while my son’s school has a breakfast time for the boys after davening, my daughter’s school does not. My daughter explained in camp that she was going to daven at home so she could eat breakfast, but this got no more than a begrudging OK. Same halacha for boys and girls, different attitude.

Have any of you faced this issue before and how have you dealt with it?

One other note: before anyone comments quoting me tshuvos that allow women to eat, let me just say that unless you are willing to defend such a position (and not just name drop), don’t bother. This psak you have in mind in very difficult to understand, and ask yourself this – would you be comfortable putting yourself into a situation where you l’chatchila relied on such a chiddush (where the tshuvah itself leaves off “tzarich iyun l’dina”), or would you strive to be yotzei without looking for hetereim? More on this to come bl”n…

UPDATE: My wife posted on the same topic from a slightly different angle; her thoughts here.


  1. Tal Benschar10:22 AM

    Q: What do you mean by a "full davening" for women? Every last thing that men daven? Or simply berachos and shemone esreh?

  2. The Halichos Beisa quotes a range of views - birchos kriyas shema and shmoneh esrei at a minimum, but including psukei d'zimra would obviously be better (even if a man omits psukei d'zimra he is yotzei tefilah, so women are certainly yotzei as well).

  3. Rael Levinsohn10:51 AM

    On eating before davening, there is a vort I heard in the name of the Tzemech Tzedek (3rd Rebbe Of Lubavitch) with regard to the topic of his daughter eating before davening (I am not sure of the exact details or the source for this vort, but I am pretty sure I read it somewhere). He told his daughter "Better that you eat to daven, than daven to eat" ie it is better that you eat and have better kavvanah when you daven than to daven while the whole time thinking of your grumbling stomach.

  4. Actually, the story in context has a very different meaning. From haYom Yom 10 Shevat (http://www.chabad.org/dailystudy/hayomyom.asp?tDate=1/29/2007)

    "When my grandmother, Rebbetzin Rivka, was eighteen (in 5611, 1851) she fell ill and the physician ordered her to eat immediately upon awakening. She, however, did not wish to eat before davening; so she davened very early, then ate breakfast. When her father-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek, learned of this he said to her: "A Jew must be healthy and strong. The Torah says about mitzvot, 'Live in them,' meaning bring vitality into the mitzvot. To be able to infuse mitzvot with vitality, one must be strong and joyful." Then he concluded: "You should not be without food. Better to eat for the sake of davening rather than to daven for the sake of eating;" he then blessed her with long life. [She was born in 5593 (1833) and passed away on Sh'vat 10, 5674 (1914)]."

  5. One more source regarding the above http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/sefer-hatoldos-admur-maharash/18.htm

    [Another example]: During her nineteenth year[14] a very grave illness befell my saintly grandmother. Her situation caused much alarm, for the physicians stated that her condition was critical. After a short time, when the crisis was over, her father-in-law the Rebbe commanded and cautioned her always to eat breakfast before she davened Shacharis. Immediately upon awaking from sleep she should wash her hands. This was actually a twofold washing: the regular morning hand-washing and the hand-washing before a meal. Then, she was to eat bread with butter. He said to her, "Eat bread with butter, and this will bring about your cure."

    She did this for some time, and her health indeed improved. "But when I began to feel better," she related, "I concluded that it is not proper to eat before davening."

    She therefore resumed her former practice of davening first and eating something afterward. When this became known to the Rebbe, he summoned her to his room and reprimanded her, saying:

    Your davening is very dear to me. But it is preferable to eat in order to be able to daven than to daven in order to be able to eat. If you will listen to me and do that, I will say two chapters of Tehillim for you every day. I also bless you with long life.

    She followed this practice for quite some time until her medical condition became truly excellent. Only then did he permit her to resume her original practice of not eating anything before davening. She was now in perfect health, like any normal person. The physicians were amazed by all this and they perceived clearly that this was truly a supernatural phenomenon. They could offer no explanation other than that it had been accomplished through the powers of the Rebbe.[15]

  6. The Halichos Beisa quotes a range of views - birchos kriyas shema and shmoneh esrei at a minimum, but including psukei d'zimra would obviously be better (even if a man omits psukei d'zimra he is yotzei tefilah, so women are certainly yotzei as well).

    IIRC, I think R'Akiva Eiger places a higher value on psukei dzimra than birchos krias shma for women. PD is viewed as an introduction to tefilah, i.e., shmoneh esray. Women are clearly patur from kriyas shma, and therefore, birchos kriyas shma as well (notwithstanding that it is good for them to be mekabel ol malchus shamayim by saying shma -- that does not need that they are chayav in birchos kriyas shma).

  7. IIRC R' Akiva Eiger assumes that if you make a mistake in shmoneh esrei (e.g. you forgot ya'aleh v'yavo) and need to repeat, you must also repeat all of pesukei d'zimra because (as you wrote) they are linked. I know of no one who accepts this psak l'ma'aseh.

    With respect to birchos k"s, what about smichas geulah l'tefila (assuming that it is a kiyum in tefila and not k"s)?

    These are just technical details to work out once you assume you need more than a "bakasha b'alma" (as the MG"A writes to justify women not davening). So should girls' schools serve breakfast as well?

  8. anon11:32 PM

    I hear re R'AE -- though the sentiment that PD is an introduction to SE I think is accepted. Re: geulah le-tefilah, even if it is a kiyum in tefilah and not KS, I would think that it presupposes a chiyuv in both. Hard to think women are chayav to be masmich geulah le-tefilah if they are not chayavos in the geulah part.

    But you are right that once you assume more than the MGA all of these are details. Re: your fundamental point, it is a good one and I would agree girls should have time from breakfast. I say this with a 10 1/2 year old daughter who until now we did not make sure that she davenned before eating but on becoming 12 we presumably would. And I know that the girls in her school daven and never thought to ask whether there is time for breakfast. Very good point.

    Your wife I think raises the fundamental issue -- all of us make choices in life and specifically in our keeping of halacha. We are not all machmir on all chumros, so which chumros/more lechatchilah way of doing mitzvos we do keep generally reflects our values. I think that where girls/women doing any ritual that boys/men do as well (e.g. here davenning), there seems to be a default that we are not machmir/lechatchilah with the women/girls (e.g., not requiring them to wait to eat until after davenning). That seems to be the tzad ha-shaveh for the other issues your wife raised a while back (why challah baking and amen groups are ok -- not male activities, while tefilah groups and iyun learning are not).

    What the answer is to this issue -- I don't know.

  9. why is there an issur to eat before davening? there seem to be 2 reasons offered in the Gemara- one is 'kodem she-titpalel al dimchem', and the other is so that you're not lightheaded during davening.
    i think that the first answer would allow more leeway to women - by saying birchot ha-shachar, one has arguably fulfilled the biblical obligation to daven. this of course, assumes much - like that women have only the biblical obligation, that we follow the first reason (which seems to be the case since we have no problem eating before mincha), and that the birchot ha-shachar are a kiyum of tefilla mi-d'orayta.
    it's not terribly far-fetched, though.

  10. btw- regarding the difference between the two reasons, conceptualized briskly and briskwise:
    is there an issur to daven having just eaten, or is davening a 'matir' for eating?

  11. The issur does not seem to be eating per se, but eating is a siman of ga'avah which is misplaced, so I would not call tefilah a matir. Needs more thought.

    As for the main point you raise, as I wrote, I assume l'halacha (this is how the Mishna Berurah, R' Chaim Brisker, and others pasken) like the Ramban that a bakasha b'alma (like brachos) does not suffice and that women are as obligated in the same formal takanah of tefila as men. According to these Rishonim, just like a man cannot eat before tefilah, so too women cannot eat.

    I won't argue that b'sha'as hadechak perhaps you can rely on the view that tefilah is a d'oraysa and some d'oraysa kiyum suffices to remove the issur of mitpalel al dimchem, but I very strongly disagree with presenting this approach as an ideal. Teach kids the halachic "best practices" - if there is a situation of special needs, then lets talk about kulos, but don't institutionalize a b'dieved.

  12. I understand the Rambam as holding that women are obligated in all 3 tefillot, since he implies that, once the Hachamim formulated the text and times of the prayers to reflect the structure and format of qorbanot, they redefined the Biblical obligation in toto, and that anyone who was initially required to pray on a Biblical level should now be required to pray the shemoneh esreh 3 times a day.

    I think a careful reading of the Rambam bears this out, contra Aruch Hashulhan and R' Ovadiah Yosef.

    As such, I heartily agree with your perspective on this issue.

  13. Mike S.3:59 PM

    I have a different question. Why are kids davening in shacharit in school at all? If they davened in shul, they could have breakfast at home, and we wouldn't have to pay someone to supervise davening or serve breakfast. In my experience, schools rarely use davening to teach either dinim or meaning of prayer, and the decorum is no better (and often worse) than at shul. I guess I can understand Mincha during the Winter, but not other occasions.

  14. Tal Benschar4:11 PM

    The reason I asked the question before about how much you expect the woman to say is that perhaps your daughter can simply daven shemoneh esreh (and maybe also birkhos ha shachar) at home, then eat, then say the rest of the davening at school.

    When my wife was in the hospital and could not daven a long davening she did a similar thing --davened only shemoneh esreh and then ate. Later she said more Tehillim, etc.

  15. tal, I recall that Rabbi Sacks delivered a lecture on women's chiyuv in tefila. It was a long time ago, so I may not recall everything clearly. But he wanted to dispel the notion that women are patur from davening. Lechatchila, I think, he said that they should say pesukei dezimra, as well as birchos kriyas shema and then shemone esre. I don't think he said korbanos or tachanun must be said. The thing is not to have to rely on a bedieved. If my daughter could just get up a few minutes earlier to daven al pi seder, then she should do so rather than claim she has no time and so chop things up.

  16. Anonymous4:30 AM

    this is a good article on women's tefila obligations

  17. Thank you Chaim for pulling the Chabad sources. We used to live in an area that was heavily Chabad and we heard the conclusion numerous times (eat to daven, not daven to eat), but never the background which undermines the prevelant (and pushed) practice of eating before davening.

    I'll duck out of this conversation now since I have nothing of substance to add.

  18. Anonymous1:58 PM

    I wish to kill myself. :(

    I too live in a heavily chabad area but at least I heard the 'hayom yom' here.