The Gemara in Berachos 21a derives from the pasuk in Parshas Ha’azinu, “Ki shem Hashem ekra havu godel l’elokeinu,” that we must recite a berachah on the mitzvah of learning Torah. There is a machlokes whether birchas haTorah is m’d’Oraisa or m’d’Rabanan.
There is a machlokes Rishonim whether in general women may recite a berachah on performing a mitzvah from which they are exempt. For example women are exempt from hearing shofar, shaking the daled minim or sitting in a sukkah. Should they chose to perform one of these mitzvos, may they recite a berachah or not?
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 47:14) says that women should recite birchas hatorah. According to the Rishonim who opine that they can recite a berachah, we understand that they can recite the berachah on learning Torah as well. However, 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, since they are exempt from it?
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 korbanos, just as they are obligated to daven. Thus they may recite the berachah on Torah. The Magen Avraham also explains that it is for this reason that women can mention 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 suggested answer, since the Gemaraderives from the pasuk, “v’limadetem osam es beneichem” – v’lo benoseichem – that women are exempt from the mitzvah entirely. This pertains even to learning about the mitzvos that they are obligated to perform. The Vilna Gaon understands that women have no mitzvah to learn even about these things. Granted they must know how to do certain things, however learning how to do these things does not fall under the mitzvah of learning Torah.
The Brisker Rav, in his sefer on the Rambam (Hilchos Berachos), quotes his father, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik zt”l, who suggests an alternative p’shat. He explains that the berachah that is recited on the Torah is different from the brachos that are recited on all other mitzvos. For all other mitzvos,the berachah is on the fulfillment of the mitzvah, while the berachah on the Torah is not recited on the fulfillment of the mitzvah but rather on the Torah itself. That is to say that the actual learning requires a berachah regardless of any mitzvah to learn. Therefore, women who are not commanded to learn may recite a berachah, since when they learn it is Torah that is being learned – even though it is lacking the mitzvah.
I want to suggest another reason why women would be permitted to recite a berachah on learning Torah. The Gemara in Berachos 17a says that one only merits techiyas hamesim in the merit of the mitzvah of learning Torah. The Gemara asks, “How then will women merit this?” The Gemara answers that women merit techiyas hamesim when they send their sons to learn in yeshiva and their husbands to learn Torah and wait for them to return.
Apparently, by acting as the moral support and encouraging their husbands and sons to learn they have a part of the mitzvah. While women are exempt from actually learning Torah, they are obligated in a different aspect of the mitzvah. This is similar to the obligation that women have to partake in a milchemes mitzvah. The Acharonim explain that although women are not “bnos melchama” nevertheless they partake in other noncombat aspects of the war, such as bringing supplies.