Kiddushin, Chapter One, Mishnah Seven
This mishnah deals with the distinction between commandments obligatory for men and those obligatory for women. The mishnah can be divided into two subjects: 1) mutual obligations between parents and children; 2) general commandments both negative and positive. It is not entirely clear why this mishnah is in this chapter. Inside my commentary, I have not delved into the ramifications of these rules in our day, when many women wish to be more involved in Jewish ritual life.
1) All obligations of the son upon the father, men are obligated, but women are exempt.
2) But all obligations of the father upon the son, both men and women are obligated.
3) All positive, time-bound commandments, men are obligated and women are exempt.
4) But all positive non-time-bound commandments both men and women are obligated.
5) And all negative commandments, whether time-bound or not time-bound, both men and women are obligated, except for, the prohibition against rounding [the corners of the head], and the prohibition against marring [the corner of the beard], and the prohibition [for a priest] to become impure through contact with the dead.
Section one: This refers to obligations that the father has in raising his son. They include circumcising him, redeeming him from a priest if the son is a first-born, teaching him Torah, teaching him a profession and finding him a wife. The father and not the mother is responsible to fulfill these commandments.
Section two: When it comes to obligations that a child has to his/her parent both men and women are obligated, and they are obligated equally to both their mother and father. This includes fear and respect. According to the rabbis respect means providing financially for the parent in his/her old age.
Section three: Only men are obligated in positive time-bound commandments. This includes the reading of the Shema, blowing the shofar, sitting in the Sukkah and several other commandments. Note that the mishnah does not state that women are forbidden from fulfilling these commandmentsit says only that they are not obligated to do so.
Section four: Positive commandments which are not time-bound are obligatory upon both men and women. This would include such mitzvoth as mezuzah, charity and returning lost objects.
Section five: Nearly all negative commandments are equally obligatory upon men and women. The mishnah notes a few exceptions. The prohibitions of rounding the corners of the head and marring the beard (Leviticus 19:27) are obligatory only upon men. Since most women dont have beards the beard prohibition would not apply to themthe prohibition of rounding the corners of the head is an accompanying prohibition appearing in the same verse and hence women are exempt from it as well. In addition, women do not act as priests and therefore the prohibition of a priest from coming into contact with a dead body applies only to male priests and not to daughters of priests. .