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I have heard two reasons for women being exempt from time-bound mitzvot and both seem problematic, so either there are additional explanations or I am not properly understanding these two:

  1. Women have to spend time on maintaining the household and raising the children, so they do not have time for time-bound mitzvot. But if that's the reason, the rabbis could have said "those with child-care duties (etc) are exempt". As it stands, women with no children don't have the reason but are still excused, and men who have child-care duties are still obligated. (Granted that the rabbis of the talmud were probably not considering this latter case.) It seems odd to me that a stay-at-home dad is obligated while his teenage daughter is exempt.

  2. Women are on a higher spiritual plane and do not need as many mitzvot. It seems surprising to me that we could make that kind of statement about all women (and the converse about all men). Just looking around at the people I've met, there are wise men who seem not to need extra help and women who struggle and might need the help of more mitzvot.

What am I failing to understand about these two reasons? Or are there others?

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Who said they are? Women aren't exempt from time-bound commandments: kiddush on Shabbos, fasting on Yom Kippur, matza on Pesach, rejoicing on the festivals, assembling once in seven years (hakhel), sacrificing and eating the korban Pesach, lighting Chanukah candles, reading megilat Esther on Purim, drinking 4 cups of wine on Pesach, reciting Hallel on the night of Pesach. And, by the way, among non-time bound commandments, they are indeed exempt from procreation, from celebrating during the first year of marriage, from circumcision of their sons, from study of Torah, etc. – Curiouser Oct 6 '11 at 22:53
Good point. I've always been told that the reason women aren't obligated in t'filah, talit, t'fillin, and several others (most recently sukkah, according to another question today) is that these are time-bound. But clearly kiddush etc are also time-bound. I sense another question coming on. :-) – Monica Cellio Oct 6 '11 at 23:16
@Curiouser the Gemara says "We don't learn from general rules". There are always exceptions to general rules. – Shmuel Brin Oct 6 '11 at 23:23
@Curiouser, yes, but note that he's commenting on the statement that women are exempt from mitzvas ase shehaz'man garma. So Monica's question certainly has a good basis. "Who said they are?" you ask? The very mishna you linked to. – msh210 Oct 7 '11 at 13:46
Shabbat is different. Even though there is a positive commandment to Remember Shabbat, there is also a commandment to Guard the Shabbat (Shamor is considered a negative commandment - don't do anything to transgress the Shabbat) our sages say "whoever is obligated in Shamor (i.e. men and women) are also obligated in "Zachor". See here (and sources cited): jewishpress.com/printArticle.cfm?contentid=48952 – Menachem Oct 7 '11 at 15:34
up vote 9 down vote accepted

The technical reason is a Gemara in Kiddushin that says that since women are not obligated in Tfilin (which is mentioned in a verse near the verse that speaks about Torah learning, where it says (Vshinantem levanecha, you shall teach your son(and not your daughter))), which they are free from because , they are not obligated in any commandment similar to Tfillin. Since Tfillin is a positive commandment which is time-bound (one can't wear them on Shabbos/Yom Tov), so too women aren't obligated in all positive commandments which time-bound.

However, even after this technical answer (women are free from positive time-bound mitzvos) women could still ask: "Why should I lose out the benefits of Mitzvos? Mitzvos connect me to Hashem?" This is where the answers that you mentioned come in. Since women are not obligated in these mitzvos, it means that the connection one could accomplish with these mitzvos is accomplished on its own. (For a similar idea, when we aren't allowed to blow Shofar on Shabbos, Shabbos accomplishes what the shofar does, but on a higher level.)

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With regards to the first reason, I think you've fallen victim to explanations that have been cleaned up for political correctness. The Abudraham gives the following reason why women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments:

‫והטעם שנפטרו הנשים מהמצות עשה שהזמן‬ ‫גרמא לפי שהאשה משועבדת לבעלה לעשות צרכיו.‬ ‫ואם היחה מחוייבת במצות עשה שהזמן גרמא אפשר‬ ‫שבשעת עשיית המצוה יצוה אותה הבעל לעשות מצותו‬ ‫ואם תעשה מצות הבורא ותניח מצותו אוי לה מבעלה‬ ‫ואם תעשה מצותו ותניח מצות הבורא אוי לה מיוצרה‬ ‫לפיכך פטרה הבורא ממצותיו כדי להיות לה שלום עם‬ ‫בעלה . וגדולה מזו מצינו שהשם הגדול הנכתב‬ ‫בקדושה ובטהרה נמחה על המיס כדי להטיל שלום‬ ‫בין היש לאשתו‬

Women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments because a women is subjugated(?) to her husband to fulfill his needs.

If she was obilgated in a time-bound positive commandment it is possible that while she is doing the commandment her husband will command her to do something. If she puts aside her husbands command to do G-d's command, Woe unto her from her husband.

If she puts aside G-d's command to fulfill her husbands command, Woe to her from her creator.

Therefore G-d exempted her from time-bound positive commandments, so she can have peace with her husband.

[Don't be astonished by this, since] We see G-d is even willing to have his name erased in order to have peace between a man and his wife (in the case of a Sotah).

The only question that remains is why are unmarried women exempt from time-bound positive commandment? I would have to answer Lo Plug, G-d didn't make this distinction, but made a blanket exemption.

[the Abudraham then brings 7 time-bound positive commandment that women are obligated to do and explains why those are the exceptions]

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1) I don't know how you know why her version differs from yours. 2) Changing the focus from the children to the husband doesn't answer her underlying question. Your claim of Lo Plug does, and that is not sourced. – Double AA Apr 22 '13 at 0:44
@DoubleAA: From the question "Women have to spend time on maintaining the household and raising the children, so they do not have time for time-bound mitzvot." From the Abudraham "Women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments because a women is subjugated(?) to her husband to fulfill his needs...If she was obilgated in a time-bound positive commandment it is possible that while she is doing the commandment her husband will command her to do something..." - this difference is what is glossed over when explaining it these days, which is why the question existed. – Menachem Apr 22 '13 at 2:07
@DoubleAA: It is more than just changing the focus from children to husband. It is saying that the women is Subjugated to the husband, which can lead to issues. ---- This left me with a question, "what about unmarried women?". I offered an answer of Lo Plug because I couldn't find it discussed anywhere (although I'm sure it is). – Menachem Apr 22 '13 at 2:10

I do not know the source of this answer, but it is the answer that I have grown up with and makes sense to me.

The answer actually combines the 2 answers you list in your question, and explains them a bit more.

Women are not obligated for positive time bound mitzvot because of their monthly cycle. Since women have a monthly cycle, they are already given an internal way to mark the time and seasons thus accomplishing what many of the positive time bound mitzvot are intended to accomplish for men. (They are also given ways to make this cycle more dedicated to Hashem)

This can also give greater meaning to the positive time bound mitzvot that women are supposed to do, such as Rosh Chodesh, or the more national oriented mitzvot such as Simcha during Sukkot, or Matza on Pesach.

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I've heard R' Akiva Tatz quote this in shiurim. I think the real meaning is not that they are exempt because they have the cycle, but rather, the presence of the cycle hints that they have an internal connection to time, which results in the cycle. Hence, they are free from external obligations, whose goal is to make us connected to time. – gt6989b Apr 22 '13 at 13:12

As mentioned in the other answer, women are not obligated in time bound positive mitsvot and also mila, pidion haben and peot.

It is not a matter of higher or lower spiritual level, but different roles. A neshama is divided in two bodies: with one you fulfill the mitsva of mila, with the other the mitsva of nida: it is not a matter of better or worse.

The same way you can't say your left arm is better/worse than your right arm. With one arm you put your tefilin, the other should accept it.

Similar thought in tsedaka: there are two sides of it, the giver and the recipient.

As mentioned in the comment to the question, why women are obligated on kidush is a big question: in a first look one may say that she is not since it is a time bound mitsva. If you really want, I may try to look where I saw this (I believe hazon ovadia). And btw, learning is considered time bound.

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Isn't the mitzva of nida incumbent on both men ("v'el isha...") and women? – msh210 Oct 7 '11 at 13:48
@msh: for men it's just that negative mitzvah; for women there's the positive mitzvah of going to the mikvah (plus the one - I'd assume it's miderabanan - of performing the bedikos). – Alex Oct 7 '11 at 16:08
The positive mitzvot (if they exist) of a niddah and zavah going to the mikva are balanced by the positive mitzvot of a baal keri and zav going to the mikva. – Double AA Jan 17 '13 at 23:54
Learning is time bound??? והגית בו יומם ולילה!!! – Double AA Apr 21 '13 at 18:06

The exemption is a chok, a decree of the posuk. Neither the Chumash nor the Gemara give any other reason.

Amongst the Rishonim, the Abudraham gives the reasons of family duties.

It is not correct to say that women are on a higher plane than men. There is no Torah source that says this. Generally we have mitzvos because of our holiness (See Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim IV #49).

See http://belovedcompanions.blogspot.com/

The Magen Avraham says it's because their yetzer tov is smaller and if commanded they wouldn't do those mitzvos.

See http://belovedcompanions.blogspot.com/2013/05/magen-avraham.html

Zi'es Ra'anan, Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel 1:1

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Thank you for this information, and welcome to Mi Yodeya. Did you mean for the first link to be more specific (like the second)? – Monica Cellio Jan 15 '14 at 14:18
There is no Torah source that says this. You must be incredibly well read. – mevaqesh Jul 3 '15 at 13:20

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichos 31 page 97-98) says, based on the Mechilta on Shemos 19:3, that women have a stronger relationship to serving Hashem through faith (whereas men are more philosophical) therefore their relationship to Torah is at the more general level. Thus women were given the general principles of Torah, and the men the specific details (according to the Mechilta - unlike the Medrash Rabbah).

This connection to the general relationship with Hashem and Torah is the reason that 1) Jewishness follows the mother, but specific tribal relationships follow the father, 2) Women are exempt from time bound positive commandments, because time bound commandments are specifically connected with the details of time.

He then connects this with the reason of the Arizal - that the male and female are two parts of a single larger soul and it is enough that the male half do those Mitzvos - by saying that the reason the male half specifically gets those Mitzvos is its connection to the detailed aspects of time.

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The Avudraham translation of "משועבת" as "subjugated" meaning "dominated by" is where the problem lays.

The appropriate translation would be "subject to", meaning "under the authority of" her husband, to meet his needs.

Since this new requirement was placed upon women as a tikkun, meaning a means of correcting some deficiency that occurred in connection with the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, it must be viewed in the context of the original intention for the formation of the first woman.

As the Torah states explicitly, the first woman was created to be "עזר כנגדו", "a helper in complement to him", meaning according to what he requires in order to be a complete creation.

In other words, husband and wife together form a complete, exclusive and perfect creation which leads to an increase in life. The concept of "good" in the Torah is that which leads to life.

In the case of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the wife accepted the influence of an outside party, the serpent, and brought this influence into her relationship with her husband. She forgot or lost sight of the purpose of her existence. Thus, the nature of the tikkun.

And as the Avudraham says, G-d, being consistent with that tikkun emphasizes for a wife that even He is not to come between husband and wife, to divide them. When there is a possible conflict between the needs of her husband to help make him complete and what she believes G-d requires of her, G-d sets the first priority as being the exclusive and holy relationship of husband and wife.

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Welcome to Mi Yodeya, Yaacov. I'm not quite sure how this answers the question; could you edit in a clarification? – Scimonster Oct 27 '14 at 18:05
@Scimonster It seems the answer is a variation of option one of the OP, with the caveat that it is for women and not for anyone with childcare needs because it is specifically related to women to forgo serving Hashem in order to assist their husband. The teenage daughter bit is still left hanging. – Y ez Oct 28 '14 at 2:52

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