If I (a woman) arrive at Shul on Shabbat during Torah reading, should I daven Shacharit or listen to Torah reading? - Matan - The Sadie Rennert

If I (a woman) arrive at Shul on Shabbat during Torah reading, should I daven Shacharit or listen to Torah reading? Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Adar 1 5782 | February 2022

Topic : Tfila and Brachot ,


If I (a woman) arrive at Shul on Shabbat during Torah reading, should I daven Shacharit or listen to Torah reading? Should I skip some parts of the davening or finish early so I can also hear Torah reading?


This is a question that many people, and particularly women, often face. The answer depends on which takes halakhic precedence, particularly for a woman – prayer or hearing Torah reading. This is dependent on several larger questions:

1. What is the nature of a woman’s obligation to hear Torah reading?
2. What is the nature of a woman’s obligation to daven?
3. Does it matter if waiting until after Torah reading would make a woman miss tefillah b’zmana (praying at the optimal time)?
Let’s summarize the central opinions on these topics.

What if any obligation does a woman have to hear Torah reading?

The Torah explicitly commands public Torah reading on one occasion – Hakhel. Once every seven years on Succot following the Sabbatical year all of Israel – women, men, and children – were commanded to gather at the Temple to hear the king read, to strengthen their dedication to fulfilling God’s Torah. (Rambam Hilkhot Chagiga 3:6)
General halakhic consensus is that Torah reading on Shabbat and Mondays and Thursdays is not a biblical commandment for men or women. The Talmud explains that weekly Torah reading was enacted shortly after the exodus by Moshe Rabbeinu. It was laterand adapted, in the early Second Temple Period, by Ezra so the people would not go three days without hearing words of Torah. (Talmud Yerushalmi Megillah, Talmud Bavli Bava Kama 82a) There is widespread halakhic consensus that these takanot (enactments) did not create an individual requirement, but rather a communal obligation to have Torah reading. (Milchamot Hashem Megillah 3a, Aruch Hashulchan OC 69:14)
Nevertheless, Massechet Sofrim (18:4) relates, “Women are obligated to hear reading of the Book (Torah), like men.” Magen Avraham (282:6) questions the nature of this obligation and explains that the root of communal Torah reading is similar to Hakhel, and therefore women and men have a similar mitzvah, even if there is no individual obligation. He also notes that women in his time tended to leave shul during Torah reading, though he does not condone it. This makes sense considering the many generations where the average Jewish woman could not read or understand Hebrew. Rav Eliashiv explains that in our time when women are capable of understanding Torah reading they should attend. (Sefer Halichos Bas Yisrael 2:49, note 104)
Based on the above we can conclude that although there is no individual obligation to hear Torah reading, it is still important for women to attend Torah reading as part of the community whenever possible, to strengthen our dedication to the Torah. (Note: there are specific obligations to hear special parshiyot such as Zachor.)

What if any obligation does a woman have to daven?
The Mishnah in Brachot (3:3) states women are obligated to pray, but the source and nature of the obligation is debated, just as the source of men’s obligation to pray is debated.
Mishnah Berura (106:4) states that most halakhic authorities accept Ramban’s opinion (Nachmanides) that there is a rabbinic obligation for all to pray shacharit and mincha daily. Ramban explains that because prayer is a request for mercy (bakashat rachamim) women have the same obligation as men to pray at the proper time.
There are also respected opinions that do not require women to pray twice a day. Rambam (Maimonides, Hilkhot Tefilla 1:1-2) explains that there is a Torah obligation for men and women to pray daily, but that obligation can be fulfilled by any prayer that directs praise, request, and thanksgiving to God (such as shmoneh esrei, birkat hamazon, morning blessings, or even a personal prayer). Magen Avraham (OC 106:2) explains that Rambam maintains that there is a rabbinic obligation for men to pray shacharit and mincha, but as this is considered a positive time bound mitzvot (mitzvat aseh she’hazman grama) and women are generally exempt from these mitzvot with some exceptions) women are not obligated beyond the biblical requirement.
We should also mention a third option that possibly originated as a response to the observed sociological reality. Several sources maintain that women are obligated to pray shacharit and mincha daily, but there are halakhic dispensations if a woman cannot find the time because she is busy with familial obligations. For example, Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul explains that caring for one’s children is a mitzvah, and osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah, one who is occupied with a mitzvah is exempt from another, in this case prayer. Therefore, he rules that a woman or a man who is preoccupied caring for their children is exempt from these prayers. (Responsa Or l’Tzion Vol. II Chapter 7 note 24)
In summary, while there is dispute as to how often a woman is obligated to pray and what fulfills that obligation, there is consensus that women are obligated to pray daily and the amidah prayer fulfills that obligation. One may be exempt under special circumstances, and those circumstances may last years, but if a woman is able to make the time she is obligated to pray.

What takes precedence – Torah reading or Tefillah?
Since Torah reading is not an individual obligation and davening is, davening should take precedence. This applies to men and women alike.

What should I do when I arrive at shul late?
When arriving at shul after Shmoneh Esrei of shacharit one should evaluate if they can listen to Torah reading and still have time to complete shacharit before the end of zman tefillah (the end of the 4th halakhic hour of the day). Although one may still pray shacharit until halakhic noon the ideal mitzvah is to pray in the proper time. (Shulchan Aruch OC 89:1) If there is time one should listen to Torah reading and daven shacharit afterward – during mussaf if possible, otherwise during haftorah.
If listening to Torah reading will cause one to miss zman tefilla then the priority is to daven in the right time. (Minchat Yitzchak Vol. VII, 6, Yabia Omer Vol. VII OC 9) As tefillah is an individual obligation and best performed with kavana – proper concentration – one should not rush or shorten their prayers to listen to Torah reading and should prioritize the time they need to pray. Additionally, since it is considered disrespectful to the Torah to leave during Torah reading, if one finds it hard to concentrate one may find a quiet place to daven in another room before Torah reading has begun, and then join the community for the rest of Torah reading when finished. (Sefer Halichos Bas Yisrael 2:30, note 77 in the name of Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg)

If one is in the middle of praying when Torah reading starts the question of time is compounded by where they are in their prayers. If one is in the middle of pesukei d’zimra and has time to both listen and finish praying before sof zman tefillah, one should finish their current prayer and then pause for Torah reading. During kriyat shema and its blessings it preferable not to stop, but one does not have to start again at the beginning if one does. (Responsa Yabia Omer Vol. VII OC 9) One should not stop during the amidah.


Final thoughts
It’s important to note that when one is unable to get to shul before Torah reading, it is better to daven before going to shul and then listen to Torah reading upon arrival if this is possible. (Minchat Yitzchak Vol. VII, 6) This way one is able to fulfill their individual mitzvah to daven and join the community for Torah reading. However, for many people, particularly women in certain stages in life, davening at home is not an option and davening during Torah reading may be the best option available. In this case one should prioritize davening as much of shacharit (including amidah) as is possible before sof zman tefillah.
I know women who feel guilty that they often arrive late to shul. While this feeling may encourage them to try harder to be punctual in the future, it can also cast a pallor over what may be a unique weekly opportunity to join with community and connect with our Creator. Communal Torah reading is meant to strengthen our dedication to the Torah, guilty feelings may have an adverse effect. These women may take comfort knowing that they are not alone, that halakhic authorities acknowledge the challenges they face and offer understanding accommodations, while encouraging all Jews to fulfill the Torah to the best of their capabilities. Our obligation to pray is based on the reality that we are reliant on rachamim, God’s mercy. As we pray to connect to our Creator and evoke that mercy, we should also be merciful to ourselves, focus on the positive, the present – the time we do have to pray with intent and devotion, surrounded by our community.


Maariv was originally voluntary. Majority opinion is that men accepted maariv upon themselves and so it is now obligatory, however women did not and therefore it remains voluntary.

There are possible exceptions if a specific man is necessary to facilitate the communal Torah reading some maintain he should delay his prayers.

If one often finds oneself davening later in the morning then it’s a good idea to at least have a general when sof zman tefillah is. There are apps and websites that can tell you based on your location – google zmanim. The times vary based on the length of daylight, so it’s important to have a general idea in each season.

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.

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