Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Former Rosh Kollel in Detroit
I. The Letter of the Law
Mishnah Kiddushin 1:7
When it comes to time-bound positive commandments, men are obligated in them while women are exempt. Women and men are equally obligated to perform positive commandments that are not time-bound. Men and women are equally obligated in all negative commandments, whether or not they are time-bound, except for the prohibition of using a razor and rounding the corners of the head (i.e., removing the payot).
Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim, 589:3
A woman is exempt [from the obligation of shofar] because it is a time-bound positive commandment.
II. The Custom
Maharil, Hilkhot Shofar
Women are exempt from shofar because it is a time-bound positive commandment, but they have accepted the obligation upon themselves. Since they have done so, they must make sure to get dressed up and finish the cooking [in time] so that they will be able to go to shul and hear the shofar. They must avoid inconveniencing the congregation by making everybody wait for them.
Responsa of Rabbi Akiva Eger, Mahadura Kamma, #1
Most women today have taken upon themselves to perform most of the positive time-bound commandments such as shofar, sukkah, and lulav, as well as kiddush on Yom Tov. They are considered to have accepted it upon themselves.
Ben Ish Chai, Parashat Nitzavim, # 17
Women are exempt from hearing the shofar, but most women have accepted this mitzvah upon themselves, as if it were an obligation. They attend shul in order to hear the shofar. Therefore, a woman who has behaved this way for a number of years has obligated herself. If, for whatever reason, she is unable to go to shul, the shofar-blower should come to her home to blow shofar for her.
Responsa Salmat Chaim, 1:88
She did not accept it upon herself in a situation where she would be unable to do it.
III. When She is Unable to Fulfill the Custom
Ben Ish Chai, Ibid.
If a woman was accustomed to fulfill this mitzvah, but was unable to go to shul or have someone blow for her at home, she should be matir neder (nullify her vow) on Erev Rosh HaShanah.
Responsa Yabia Omer, Vol. 2, Orach Chaim #30
I was asked about the case of a woman who was accustomed to hear the shofar on Rosh HaShanah and to fulfill other positive time-bound commandments (like sitting in the sukkah and taking a lulav), but who is currently unable to do so because of illness and the like. She cannot go to shul to hear the shofar or to perform other time-bound commandments. Does she need to be matir neder, since she did not explicitly state that she was undertaking these practices b’li neder (not as a vow)?
It is reasonable to posit that in the case of illness and the like, women have not accepted positive time-bound commandments upon themselves. Their intention in accepting them was to fulfill them only where it would be possible. However, in a case where it is impossible, they do not need to be matir neder.
IV. Practical Halakhah