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Thought for the Day: Women's Obligation Regarding ברכת התורה

A statement that should not be shocking nor controversial is: men and women are different.  There; I said it, and I stand by its eternal truth.  How are they different and how does that change their role, function, and challenges in this world?  For that you need to consult the Owner's manual; aka, our Holy Torah -- as faithfully and honestly transmitted to us generation after generation from the original reception at Mount Sinai down to today by our sages.

One more thing that (surprisingly/sadly/really?! people have to be reminded of this; are you kidding me?) must be noted:  It is an undeniable truth that men are taller than women.  It is also an undeniable truth that some women are taller than some men.  To put that into context of above: Ducks are better swimmers than squirrels.  I have no doubt that I could find a squirrel somewhere that is a better swimmer than some duck.  That does not mean in any way shape or form that I should encourage that squirrel in his olympic swimming aspiration.  It will not make him a better squirrel, it will not even make him feel more accomplished as an animal who just doesn't appreciate the traditional role of squirrels.  The only way for any critter -- man, woman, squirrel, duck, or what have you -- to feel truly accomplished is to measure his progress against his own personal goals.  Goals, of course, custom designed for him by His Creator.  המבין יבין

There is no disagreement that Jewish men have a mitzvah of learning Torah for its own sake.  Men are obligated, therefore, in ברכת התורה.  Unlike other mitzvos, however, there is no limit on the obligation.  Because of that, ברכת התורה are said once per day; even though one is often engaged in activities other than Torah learning.  That is, even though interrupting any other activity -- eating, sukkah, t'fillin, etc -- would require making a new bracha upon resumption of that activity; Torah learning is not like that.  There are different explanations, but that's the facts.

One more fact: it is forbidden to learn Torah before reciting ברכת התורה.  And one more fact; there is, actually, one exception to the rule that interruptions to Torah learning do not require a new recitation of ברכת התורה.  That exception is a good, sound sleep in bed at night.  This, of course, is the cause of lots of Torah itself and a beehive of activity on Shavuous morning when most of the congregation has been awake all night and now seeks a fit representative who "took one for the team" and slept.

Why?  What is that nature of ברכת התורה, that requires a daily (re)recital?  There are basically three explanations.  First, that it is bracha on the pleasure of my Torah learning this day.  Just as I make a bracha on vision, being able to move, stand, and perform natural bodily functions; I also make a bracha on Torah learning each day.  In fact, the L'vush says that that they first (or first two, depending on how you count) is really the ברכה אחרונה on yesterday's Torah learning, while the final (and most elite) of the ברכת התורה (ie, אשר בחר בנו) is the ברכה ראשונה on today's Torah learning.  Second, there are those who hold that ברכת התורה is for the pleasure brought to the world because Torah is being learned.  Not my personal learning, but the fact of the learning.  This is similar to why even a blind person can make the bracha for site in the morning.  Finally, a third opinion is that Torah learning only comes with ברכה, so the recital of ברכת התורה is a mitzvah itself; independent of, but not unrelated to, the mitzvah of Torah learning itself.

With that we can now address the question of a woman's obligation to recite ברכת התורה.  A woman is certainly not obligated in Torah learning for its own sake.  In fact, it is generally frowned upon for a women to learn certain elements of Torah -- such as gemara -- because it is damaging to her soul.  (Akin to forcing an eagle to climb a tree instead of soaring to the heights.)  However, a woman is certainly obligated to know those parts of Torah that apply to her life as a Jew.  Moreover, there is certainly a pleasure to learning that Torah just like any other Torah learning.  Hence, according to the first reason given above, she certainly may recite ברכת התורה; and she should before sitting down to learn something.  According to the second reason also, she certainly may ברכת התורה any day, even if she isn't planning to sit down to learn or review Torah that is relevant to her daily actions.  (Even according to the first reason, she is not obligated, of course, since learning to know what to do might not be included in the Torah learning for which ברכת התורה was established.)  According to the third reason, she certainly may -- and really probably should -- recite ברכת התורה in order to ensure that the Torah learning in the world today is given it's best chance.

That is, her ברכה adds to the בריכה/pool that serves as a receptacle to bring Torah into the world.

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