Rabbis such as Abudraham have explained a woman's exemption from positive time-bound commandments (mitzvot shehazman grama) in terms of a woman's ongoing and preliminary role in supporting her children/husband in the home (see here).

I'm wondering about single-parent fathers, in which for whatever reason, the father is alone in raising his children. Certainly, the constant mitzvah of infant-care, coupled with the burden of providing an income, must be overwhelming. I suspect this is becoming more prevalent in modern times, and I am familiar with a single-parent father who works from home in order to take care of his little children.

In such a scenario, would there be any leniency to exempt the father from certain time-bound mitzvot that might be near impossible to fulfill (i.e., praying shacharit while needing to supervise an infant)? Until such a father finds a new wife or some kind of other support system, could he be exempt like a woman in certain mitzvot?

Also, has this ever come up in rabbinic literature?

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    Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/q/10540/472 – Monica Cellio Apr 21 '13 at 18:08
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    Ein Dorshim Taamah Dekra – Shmuel Brin Apr 21 '13 at 19:36
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    if you read the abudraham quoted in the answer you linked to, you'll see that it is not about the woman's role, but rather her obligation to her husband, which could cause issues when the husband and G-d both expect her to do something. This would not apply to the man. – Menachem Apr 21 '13 at 22:12
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    If this assumption is true, then why aren't unmarried women obligated in the positive, time-bound mitzvot? – Daniel Apr 22 '13 at 14:51
  • @Mordechai Thanks. I can find the first one, but do you have a link to תפילה כהלכה, or a picture of the page? – magicker72 Nov 8 '19 at 23:37

Basically, we don't have the power to declare someone categorically exempt. Abudraham suggested one explanation, but our system of laws categorically says "all men are obligated", "all women are not."

If a person is truly in a situation beyond their control, halacha recognize that. If it's five minutes before sunset and a single dad who hasn't yet prayed mincha has to take his child to the emergency room, then well he must miss mincha; he should say amida that night twice to make up for it.

A broader question, and more complicated one, is that there are all sorts of things that are "proper religious practice" that are not all-out obligations. For instance, praying at a synagogue on a regular weekday morning is "strongly preferred" over praying at home, but not required. A competent rabbi might very well feel that the single dad who is truly knee-high in caring for young children should focus only on absolute halachic requirements and nothing else is expected of him. On the other hand, we should consider overall spiritual wellbeing -- a person can probably stay alive on water and nutrient concentrates for several weeks, but that's unlikely to be good for them; similarly, there's nothing absolutely requiring a Jewish man to appear in synagogue1 (other than maybe a few special occasions a year), but I think generally we should try to arrange things that he can do so at least twice a month, for the sake of his emotional, social, and spiritual health. As we're in the realm of balancing halachic preferences, there won't be a one-size-fits-all-answer here.

[1] The general language is "one should strive very much" to pray with a minyan; to push the point a bit further Shulchan Aruch YD239:6 says an oath to eat pork is immediately null and void, but an oath to passively omit a rabbinic commandment or avoid spiritually-healthy behavior is still binding - as expanded by Pischei Teshuva #2 citing Aishel Avraham and Rashba, this applies if someone swore to never attend synagogue.

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    That "praying at a synagogue on a regular weekday morning is... not required" of a man and that "there's nothing absolutely requiring a Jewish man to appear in synagogue (other than maybe a few special occasions a year)" surprised me and, I think, will surprise many. A source would be valuable. (But +1 for the first paragraph.) – msh210 Apr 22 '13 at 16:25
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    @msh210 -- yes it's surprising. Shulchan Aruch YD239 says if someone swears to eat pork, that's immediately null and void; if someone swears to never attend synagogue that's binding. (Though they should get it annulled asap.) – Shalom Apr 22 '13 at 16:31
  • @Shalom But couldn't that be because he can always get his own minyan in another building? – Double AA Apr 22 '13 at 17:06
  • What about the principle of עוסק במצוה applying to full blown obligations? – Double AA Apr 22 '13 at 17:29
  • @DoubleAA, see the commentaries there. Praying with a minyan is a "yishtadel me'od" in shulchan aruch ("one should strive very much"); there's definitely an obligation for the community to have a weekly Torah reading, but some say it's not on the individual to hear it. And yes there could occasionally be osek b'mitzva, but not categorically. – Shalom Apr 22 '13 at 17:45

As someone in this category, I would like to remind everyone that this is what psak is for. One cannot be exempted from commandments, a competent rabbi familiar with a single-parent father's circumstances and obligations can extend leniencies as necessary- perhaps the father should strive to have dinner with his children first and then daven Maariv at home after they've gone to bed, for example. CYLOR, every case stands on its own merits, this is not a halachic category.

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I would assume that once the Torah commands men to do time bound mitzvot, then all men are obligated to to these mitzvot. Obviusly if it's impossible to do it then they are considered an "Oines".

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    But then, this begs the question to what degree childcare form "Oines." Do I need to pay for shabbat-morning childcare if that allows me to go to tfila? If I have friends/family who offer help, but I feel it's logistically difficult and/or wearing on them, am I still under "Oines"? – Ziv Apr 22 '13 at 5:58

Background: According to the basic halacha in Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 106), women are obligated in praying Shchris and Mincha like men. There are poskim who say that they do not have to say the full prayers, just some request with praise before and afterwards (Magen Avraham ibid.).

In Halicos Bas Yisrael, chapter 2 note 2, Rav Yitzchok Fucs brings in the name of Rav Yaakov Kaminetzki zt"l that a woman who is involved in watching young children is like someone taking care of the ill who is exempt from praying. (Rav Fucs says that this could be either because she is considered anusa or osek bamitzva.) In that author's Tefila KiHalacha, chapter 1 halacha 26, he explains that someone carrying for the ill is osek bimitzvah, and while he is activity busy with that he is exempt from all other mitzvos. He brings as his source the Biur Halacha in siman 38:

דכל העוסק וכו': עיין בסוכה כ"ו דשלוחי מצוה כגון שהולך להקביל פני רבו או לפדות שבויים הוא ג"כ בכלל עוסק במצוה ופטור מכל המצות

According to this, also a single father who is so busy watching his children that he can not leave them for even a few minutes is exempt from all other mitzvos, such as shema, tefila and tefilin, (the examples in the gemara there).

In the notes there Rav Fucs brings from Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg tz"l that a father whose wife is ill and unable to care for their children, if there is no one else to care for them, may stay back from shul at least, according to what his Rav sees fit (והכל לפי ראות עיני המורה). In other words, CYLOR.

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  • @magicker72, what's this answer missing? – Mordechai Nov 11 '19 at 14:40
  • It's helpful, although it doesn't fulfill "sources that explicitly link a father's childcare to עוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה or אונס (or similar)", since that inference is one you made (albeit pretty logically). In fact, the fact that your last paragraph does not make that explicit link is interesting. // I'd rather wait out the bounty timer, just in case. – magicker72 Nov 11 '19 at 22:00

The reason for the woman's exemption is basically for the husband not the children. I consider this obvious because the Torah is made for the majority and the majority of men have time to do the mitzvot or can make time whereas women can't. One can add perhaps like one sees today, woman trying to even overdo the men with davenning when she is not obligated. How much more so if she was and would never find time to do anything else. There are other reasons why she shouldnt be davenning and perhaps doing other mitsvot. Since she is at times a niddah. This can hardly apply to a man. As has been mentioned if the man finds certain mitvot difficult or perhaps impossible would be a better word, then of course he is free from doing them.

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    Your answer would be more valuable if you backed it up with sources. Especially since your answer implies that it should be obvious, it would be useful for the asker, who apparently did not think it was so obvious, if you made it obvious. – Seth J Apr 21 '13 at 20:23
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    A man can be a Niddah if he has Biah with a Niddah-woman. (What is the masculine form of Niddah anyway: Neid?) – Double AA Apr 23 '13 at 17:18
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    Since she is a Niddah she shouldn't be doing Mitzvot??? Um....why not? – Double AA Apr 23 '13 at 17:19
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    @meir I think this post would be better (and less controversial) if it didn't focus on reasons that women aren't obligated to daven and instead answered the question about whether single-parent men must daven, ideally citing sources that back up that answer. – Charles Koppelman Apr 23 '13 at 21:28
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    @meir Neither does urinating. – Double AA Apr 23 '13 at 21:49

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