The Rambam begins Hilchos Talmud Torah with the following halacha: Women and slaves are exempt from Talmud Torah. A man is obligated to teach his son Torah, as it says, “v’limaditem osam es beneichem ledaber bam.” However, a woman is not obligated to teach her son Torah because whoever is obligated to learn is obligated to teach – and since a woman is not obligated to learn, she is not obligated to teach.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 47:14) says that women should recite birchas haTorah. There is a machlokes Rishonim whether women can recite a berachah on a mitzvah from which they are exempt from performing. According to the Rishonim who opine that they can recite a berachah, it makes sense that they can recite the berachah on learning Torah as well. But the Mechaber rules in favor of those Rishonim who do not permit women to recite a berachah on a mitzvah from which they are exempt. How then can he rule that they should recite a berachah on the mitzvah of learning Torah?
The Magen Avraham quotes the Beis Yosef, in the name of the Agur, and explains that women are obligated to learn the halachos that pertain to them and are obligated to say the pesukim of korbanos, just as they are obligated to daven. Thus, they may recite the berachah on learning Torah. The Magen Avraham also explains that it is for this reason that women can say in the second berachah of bentching, “v’al Torasecha she’limaditanu,” since they are obligated to learn the halachos that pertain to them.
The Vilna Gaon does not agree with the Magen Avraham’s answer since the Gemara derives from the pasuk, “v’limadetem osam es beneichem” – v’lo benoseichem – that women are exempt from the mitzvah entirely. This exemption applies even to learning about the mitzvos that they are obligated to perform.
HaRav Shach, in his sefer on the Rambam, explains that there are two obligations to learn Torah. One is a general obligation to learn the entire Torah. This obligation is derived from the pesukim of “v’shinantam” or “v’limadetam.” It is from this obligation that women are exempt.
However, there is another obligation to learn Torah that is a component of every specific mitzvah, demanding that one learn how to perform it. In other words, included in the commandment to perform each mitzvah is an obligation to learn how to properly perform that mitzvah. And this obligation is also a mitzvah of learning Torah.
Women are exempt only from the first general obligation to learn Torah, not the second, more specific one. Thus, they may recite the berachah on the mitzvah of talmud Torah, even according to the opinion that women may not recite a berachah on a mitzvah from which they are exempt.
Rav Shach brings a proof from a Tosefos in Avodah Zarah (3a) that this obligation (to learn how to perform the mitzvos that one is obligated to do) is considered a mitzvah of talmud Torah. The Gemara says that a non-Jew who learns Torah is comparable to a kohen gadol, and he is rewarded just as one who is not obligated to perform the mitzvah (which is a lesser reward than the reward received by a person who performs a mitzvah he is obligated to carry out). Tosafos explains that the Gemara is referring to a non-Jew who learns Torah that pertains to the seven mitzvos that non-Jews are required to perform. (A non-Jew is not allowed to learn any other part of the Torah.) If learning the halachos of how to properly perform a mitzvah is not considered a mitzvah of Talmud Torah, why does the Gemara make reference to a non-Jew who learns Torah? The Gemara should have said: “A non-Jew involved in preparing for a mitzvah he is obligated to do.” By using the language that it does, one can infer that there is an obligation to learn the halachos of each mitzvah, and that that is a mitzvah of talmud Torah.Rabbi Raphael Fuchs