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Thought for the Day: When a Woman Should Daven Ma'ariv

Generally speaking, women do not daven ma'ariv.  Many women do, however, regularly daven mincha.  Halichos Shlomo (chapter 13, halacha 8) says that such a woman who misses a mincha because of circumstances (ie, not simply because she decided to forego mincha for no good reason) is obligated to daven ma'ariv that night in order to daven a tashlumin (make up) t'fila afterwards.  Understanding this p'sak will bring more clarity to the concept of conditional exemptions.

First, though, what's tashlumin?  The idea is that since t'fila is so very important, Chazal gave us a chance to make up for missed t'filos.  If a person misses a t'fila (ie, sh'mone esrei), he has an opportunity immediately after the next obligatory t'fila to daven a make up t'fila.  This can only be done at the next obligatory prayer service, not before and not later.  There are all sorts of cool halachos for tashlumin, but that is for another time.  For now, the important thing to note is that our lady who missed her regular mincha needs to daven her tashlumin at ma'ariv, not the next shacharis.  At first glance, that seems odd, since she never davens ma'ariv; she is exempt!

Let's examine her exemption.  One might think that this is regular case of a woman's exemption from all positive time-bound mitzvos.  The Ramban, however, says that the prayer services are d'rabanan and that Chazal instituted prayer services equally for men and women.  Shacharis and mincha correspond to the morning and afternoon daily offering in the Beis HaMikdash and so are obligatory.  Ma'ariv corresponds to the burning of certain leftovers; since those leftovers didn't accrue every day, Chazal left ma'ariv as "r'shus".  R'shus does not mean optional, however.  Rather, it means that if there are other obligations, then one is exempt from ma'ariv.  Men at some point accepted ma'ariv as an obligation, but women never did.

Now we can understand the p'sak of the Halichos Shlomo.  Women are obligated in ma'ariv, but other factors (notably the demands of child rearing, among others) allow them to skip.  However, if a woman (who usually davens mincha) misses mincha, she now has another reason to daven ma'ariv.  Namely, to be able to daven a tashlumin.  That's the difference between conditionally and unconditionally exempt.  When the exemption depends on other factors, then then the when the situation changes, the exemption may fall away; as it does in this case.

This is yet another reason that you need a rav.  Halacha is not a dry, static list of rules.  Halacha (as its name implies, "the way") depends on the person, his (or her) circumstances, the community, etc.

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