Jewish Women Through Halakhic Sources
Mishnah: Kiddushin 1:7 (3rd Century CE)
כָּל מִצְוֹת הַבֵּן עַל הָאָב, אֲנָשִׁים חַיָּבִין וְנָשִׁים פְּטוּרוֹת. וְכָל מִצְוֹת הָאָב עַל הַבֵּן, אֶחָד אֲנָשִׁים וְאֶחָד נָשִׁים חַיָּבִין. וְכָל מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁהַזְּמָן גְּרָמָהּ, אֲנָשִׁים חַיָּבִין וְנָשִׁים פְּטוּרוֹת. וְכָל מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁלֹּא הַזְּמָן גְּרָמָהּ, אֶחָד אֲנָשִׁים וְאֶחָד נָשִׁים חַיָּבִין. וְכָל מִצְוַת לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה, בֵּין שֶׁהַזְּמָן גְּרָמָהּ בֵּין שֶׁלֹּא הַזְּמָן גְּרָמָהּ, אֶחָד אֲנָשִׁים וְאֶחָד נָשִׁים חַיָּבִין, חוּץ מִבַּל תַּשְׁחִית וּבַל תַּקִּיף וּבַל תִּטַּמָּא לְמֵתִים:
The observance of all mitzvot of the son upon the father is obligatory for men, but women are exempt; the observance of all mitzvot of the father upon the son is obligatory for men and women. The observance of all time-bound positive mitzvot is obligatory for men, but women are exempt; the observance of all positive mitzvot that are not time-bound is obligatory for men and women.
The observance of all the negative mitzvot, whether they are time-bound or not, is obligatory for both men and women, with the exception of not marring (the corners of your beard), not rounding off (the corners of your hair), and not becoming defiled through contact with the dead.
Mishnah: Brachot 3:3 (3rd Century CE)
נָשִׁים וַעֲבָדִים וּקְטַנִּים פְּטוּרִין מִקְּרִיאַת שְׁמַע וּמִן הַתְּפִלִּין, וְחַיָּבִין בִּתְפִלָּה וּבִמְזוּזָה וּבְבִרְכַּת הַמָּזוֹן:
Women, slaves, and minors are exempt from reciting Sh’ma and from tefillin, and are obligated in tefillah [reciting the Amidah] and in mezuzah and in Birkat HaMazon.
Tosefta: Kiddushin 1:8 (3rd Century CE)
איזו היא מצות הבן על האב? מאכיל ומשקה מלביש ומכסה מוציא ומכניס ומרחיץ את פניו ידיו ורגליו. אחד האיש ואחד האשה אלא שהאיש סיפק בידו לעשות ואשה אין סיפק בידה לעשות מפני שיש רשות אחרים עליה. ה
What is the obligation of the son to the father? He must feed him, give him drink, clothe him, help him out and in, and wash his face, hands and feet. (It should be that) the same obligation applies to both men and women, except that a man has the means at his disposal, but a woman does not because she is under the control of others.
Maimonides: Mishneh Torah, ‘Fringes’ 3:9 (12th Century)
וְנָשִׁים וַעֲבָדִים שֶׁרָצוּ לְהִתְעַטֵּף בְּצִיצִית מִתְעַטְּפִים בְּלֹא בְּרָכָה. וְכֵן שְׁאָר מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה שֶׁהַנָּשִׁים פְּטוּרוֹת מֵהֶן אִם רָצוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָן בְּלֹא בְּרָכָה אֵין מְמַחִין בְּיָדָן. טֻמְטוּם וְאַנְדְּרוֹגִינוּס חַיָּבִין בְּכֻלָּן מִסָּפֵק לְפִיכָךְ אֵין מְבָרְכִין אֶלָּא עוֹשִׂין בְּלֹא בְּרָכָה:
If women or bondsmen desire to wear garments with fringes, no objection is raised, but they do not recite the blessing. The same is the rule with respect to other affirmative precepts from the obligation of which women are exempt. If they wish to fulfill them without reciting the blessing, no objection is raised. Persons of doubtful sex and a hermaphrodite, because of the doubt, are under the obligation to fulfill all the precepts. Hence, they do not recite the blessing, but fulfill the duty without pronouncing the benediction.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (19th Century CE)
The Torah did not impose those mitzvot on women because it did not consider women in need of them. All time-bound positive mitzvot are meant by symbolic procedures to bring certain facts, principles, ideas, and resolutions fresh to our minds from time to time in order to spur us on and to fortify us to realize them and keep them. God’s Torah takes it for granted that our women have greater fervor and more faithful enthusiasm for their God-serving calling (taking care of the home) and that their calling runs less danger in their case than in that of men from the temptations which occur in the course of business and professional life. Accordingly, it does not find necessary to give women those repeated goading reminders to remain true to their calling and warnings against weakness in their business lives.
Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, in Granot 3 (21st Century CE)
Most women in our day are independent/liberated [b’not ḥorin] … and they bear no resemblance to slaves, because there is no higher power over them. Therefore, anyone who cites the rulings of the Sages, which are based on the notion that a woman is similar to a slave in all arenas, fails to understand that he is transferring a halakhah from one reality to another without any basis whatsoever. “Our women” are not only all ‘important’ - as the Rema already said - but they are independent … it is obvious that we are not speaking about the same category of ‘nashim’.
Rabbi Pamela Barmash, ‘Women and Mitzvot’ (21st Century CE)
The involvement of women in Jewish religious and liturgical life has changed significantly
in the past century and even more in the past few decades. Jewish women are aspiring to the
privileges and responsibilities enjoyed by Jewish men through the millennia. The halakhah has recognized that when social customs change significantly, the new social reality requires a reappraisal of halakhic practices. The historical circumstances in which women were exempted from time-bound positive mitzvot are no longer operative, and the Conservative movement has for almost a century moved toward greater and greater inclusion of women in mitzvot. In Jewish thought and practice, the highest rank and esteem is for those who are required to fulfill mitzvot. We rule therefore that women and men are equally obligated to observe the mitzvot.