Sunday, March 06, 2005

Nothing to help us pray: Women and the Sh’ma—davvenning in the abstract

In her January 17, 2005 post, “Something to help me pray,” (, FluffyKneidle said, referring to tefillin “I, as a woman, also want that special, special privilege of being able to use G-d given prayer aids. . . . But I’ve been branded a traitor. For wanting to daven better, I’ve be [sic] ridiculed and shunned. Apikores, they’ve called me, Conservative apikores.” Her post has been bothering me ever since.

FluffyKneidle seems to be writing from the perspective of a woman who left, then rejoined, charedi/fervently-Orthodox Judaism. I, on the other, speak as what her friends so delicately describe as a “Conservative apikores (heretic).” But we’re dealing with the same issue from different perspectives.

What’s a woman supposed to do when the Sh’ma says, in no uncertain terms, to bind HaShem’s words on your hand and between your eyes? And when the Sh’ma says that you will see the fringe and remember all HaShem’s mitzot, what’s a woman supposed to look at? Why should we be condemned to pray in the abstract just because we’re female?

Sigh—I asked a question, so now I have to try to answer it.

Chiyuv (obligation):
The rabbis exempted women from most mitzvot (commandments) that must be performed at specific times. But that hasn’t stopped many women from taking upon themselves the obligation to bentsch lulav (say the brachah/blessing over and wave the lulav and etrog), and nobody condemns them for doing so, to the best of my admittedly-limited knowledge. So why should a woman be condemned as an apikorus (heretic) for taking upon herself the obligation to wear tzitzit (ritual fringes on the corners of a garment) and/or to lay tefillin (wear phylacteries)?

Beged Ish (a man’s garment):
The Torah sheBiCh’tav (Written Law) specifically forbids crossdressing. But what does that have to do with this? The Sh’ma says, referring to the ritual fringes on the corners, “Daber el B’nei Yisrael v’amarta alehem v’asu lahem tzitzit al kanfei vigdeihem. . . ,” Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them to make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments . . . “ Of what relevance is it that B’nei Yisrael can be legitimately translated either Children of Israel or Sons of Israel? If we insist that B’nei Yisrael refers only to men, then women don’t have to observe the Sabbath—the text says, after all, “V’shomru V’nei Yisrael et haShabbat . . . “ Would anyone be crazy enough to translate that, “And the Sons of Israel will observe the Sabbath?!” So the fact that the word “B’nei” appears in the quote cannot be used as proof that a tallit (ritual garment bearing fringes on the corners), be it the over-the-clothing or the under-the-clothing (tallit katan) version, is beged ish (a man’s garment). And the quote telling us to bind HaShem’s words on our hands and between our eyes says nothing whatsoever about gender.

Tzniut (Modesty)
Ouch—okay, I’ll admit that there’s a problem with tefillin for those Orthodox women who believe that it’s not tzanua (modest), and, therefore, forbidden, for a woman’s elbows to be visible. I am not aware of any method of laying tefillin that does not require the bayit (“house,” or box housing the parchments) to be placed above the elbow. So any woman who follows this particular interpretation of the laws of tzniut would always have to davven with no males present.

And, last but not least, there’s . . .

The “Looking Over Your Shoulder” problem:
FluffyKneidle’s friends hit the nail right on the head—as with so many issues of how strictly one wishes to interpret the mitzvot, there’s always the problem that anyone perceived of as following a more lenient interpretation is seen as a “Conservative apikores,” a non-Orthodox heretic. Any woman who doesn’t follow the party line concerning tallit and tefillin risks being shunned by her community.

Therefore, no fervently Orthodox woman will ever be able to look at her non-existent tzitzit while she’s reciting the Sh’ma. And I think that’s a shame.


Blogger Simon said...

Could you wear something with wide sleeves and put tefillin on underneath them?

Mon Mar 07, 11:34:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Noam S said...

Good questions. You can start with the assumption that it is ok for women to put on tzitzit and tefillin, and then ask, why is it forbidden, or, is it forbidden? I think it is the Rabbenu Bechaya that first identifies the issue of beged ish. The tzniut issue behind a mechitza is a non-issue, you can daven by yourself. The issue of chiyuv only applies to making a bracha, if you have no chiyuv then maybe you dont make a bracha. So.... what is the problem?
The answer depends on where in the orthodox spectrum you sit. Obviously those on the right would dismiss it out of hand, citing beged ish, and myriads of other objections. However, those of the MO persuasion may object on the beged ish grounds, or on more complex hashkafa/policy grounds:
1. What is the purpose of a woman putting on tefillin/tzitzit? Is it to be like a man? is it to be closer to God? There is a story(I think is true) of a woman who asked R. Soloveichik if she could put on a Tallit. He told her to try wearing a pasul one(one fringe cut off). After a few weeks, he asked her how she felt wearing the Tallit, and she responded that she felt closer to God. He told her she could not wear it anymore and could not wear a tallit, because a pasul tallit should not have any effect on how she felt.(she was not fulfilling any commandment with a known pasul tallit, and any benefit she felt would have come from just the act of wearing the cloth and being like a guy.) So motivation is a prime issue.

2. Is the person willing to take on a permanent and ongoing obligation to put on tallit/tfillin? this again speaks to motivation, but on a long term basis. Many who theoretically do not have a problem with women wearing tallit tfillin feel that they can only do so if they accept the obligation to do so, and not on a intermittant basis.

3. Is this acting too much like non-Jews or the non-orthodox? Although my fence is probably lower than that of others, you do lose points by imitating non orthodox custom for no reason.

4. Are new things ipso facto forbidden until there is proof that they are allowed? ? or are new things allowed until there is proof that they are forbidden? You can go both ways on this.

Conclusion: Some MO authorities(I think R. Eliezer Berkowitz among them) are at least theoretically ok with women putting on tfillin and tallit, but there has to be a good reason, good intentions, and not just doing it because the guys are.

Mon Mar 07, 06:44:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Simon, clothing is, in fact, an issue for a woman wearing tefillin. I’m Conservative, and don’t consider it immodest to expose my elbows, but, on the other hand, when I began laying tefillin, I stopped buying long-sleeved tops and long-sleeved dresses that had sleeves that couldn’t be rolled up.

Rachel, the mechitzah is not always high enough to hide a woman literally up to her neck, which is certainly for the better in general, but somewhat problematic for tzniut purposes in the case of a woman laying tefillin in public.

Haviva Ner-David’s book sounds interesting.

Dilbert, I’m afraid my am-ha-aretz-keit (Jewish illiteracy) is a problem here—on what grounds did the rabbi(s) declare the tallit and/or tefillin beged ish? Please clarify.

“1. What is the purpose of a woman putting on tefillin/tzitzit?” I suppose the obvious answer would be, “because the Torah says so,” which is the same reason why *men* put on tefillin/tzitzit. In addition, the Shma just plain makes more sense when you actually do what the Shma tells you to do. How can you be reminded of all HaShem’s mitzot by looking upon a non-existent fringe?

“2. Is the person willing to take on a permanent and ongoing obligation to put on tallit/tfillin?” Okay, I haven’t quite gotten to that point yet, but I would think that any Orthodox or halachically-observant Conservative woman who chose to lay tefillin would accept the obligation.

“3. Is this acting too much like non-Jews or the non-orthodox? Although my fence is probably lower than that of others, you do lose points by imitating non orthodox custom for no reason.” This is what I meant when I mentioned the “Looking Over Your Shoulder” problem. On the other hand, I must respectfully object to the idea that those women who chose to wear a tallit and/or lay tefillin are doing so “for no reason.” As I said, we do it “’because the Torah says so,’” which is the same reason why *men* put on tefillin/tzitzit.”

“4. Are new things ipso facto forbidden until there is proof that they are allowed? ? or are new things allowed until there is proof that they are forbidden? You can go both ways on this.” As a reasonable semblance of a Conservative Jew, I’m of the opinion that “new things [are] allowed until there is proof that they are forbidden.”

It is my strongly-held personal opinion that tefillin and tzitzit are not beged ish. Another prooftext supporting that opinion can be found in Parshat Re’eh, Deuteronomy, chapter 16, verse: “Shalosh p’amim ba-shanah yera-eh kol *z’churcha* et p’nei HaShem kelokecha . . . “Three times a year will all your *males* appear before HaShem your G-d . . . When the Torah wishes to specify that it is speaking only about males, it is perfectly capable of doing so. It does not do so in the case of tefillin or tzitzit.

However, I understand that many people who are more traditional believe that a minhag (custom) observed for three generations attains the force of halacha (Jewish religious law). That interpretation would lead to the conclusion that any garment traditionally worn only by men is a man’s garment. For traditionalists, I make this suggestion: Women who wish to wear tzitzit can now buy, make, or have made for them tzitzit that are specifically designed to be women’s garments. I’ve seen tallitot with pink stripes or with the names of the Imahot (the [four] Mothers) embroidered on the four corners. I also seen tallitot made of eyelet and lace, two fabrics that most men wouldn’t be caught dead in.

The real problem is tefillin. There is simply no rabbinically-sanctioned way to bind the words of the Shma on one’s hand and head other than the way that men have been doing so for roughly the last 2,000 years, give or take a few centuries. So either we women don’t use tefillin, we use the same type of tefillin that the men use and risk being accused of wearing beged ish, or we design something different and risk being accused of creating “davar chadash,” something new that hasn’t been sanctioned by the rabbis.

How did it come to pass that that from which we women were originally exempted is now considered forbidden to us? What did we do to deserve to be treated like onlookers at our own prayers?

Wed Mar 09, 12:48:00 AM 2005  
Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Look, Shira, you're never going to get the tfillin to fit over your big-hair shaitel anyway, so let's just drop the whole thing.

Wed Mar 09, 04:35:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ouch! Truth to tell, I never even thought about how traditional married women who cover (at least part of) their hair in public were supposed to fit tefillin over a wig, hat, or scarf. Score another point for the tzniut patrol. (:

Wed Mar 09, 10:09:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wed Mar 09, 10:15:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Thu Mar 10, 11:46:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry about the deleted comments. I posted the same comment 3 times over 2 days before the darn thing finally showed up on the blog.

"Conclusion: Some MO authorities(I think R. Eliezer Berkowitz among them) are at least theoretically ok with women putting on tfillin and tallit, but there has to be a good reason, good intentions, and not just doing it because the guys are."

We aren't wearing tallit and tefillin to be like the guys, we're doing it because that's the way the words of the Shma are to be observed, according to the rabbis.

How did it come to pass that every single ritual garment that marks an individual as a Jew has become, by tradition, restricted to men? Men have the tallit, tefillin, and kippah. What do women have to mark us as Jews when we pray? What's so Jewish about a hat, a scarf, a wig? Any woman can wear them. What's so exclusively Jewish about tzniut--aren't traditional Muslim women and nuns dressed at least as modestly as traditional Jewish women? Just because our reproductive organs are internal, must our Judaism be exclusively internal, as well? Is anatomy destiny in Jewish tradition? I would happily wear a pair of tefillin designed specifically for women, or any other rabbinically-sanctioned garment intended for women that would fulfill the words of the Shma, if such a thing existed. But the rabbis have never given any thought to the need of Jewish women to have ritual garments of our own.

Fri Mar 11, 12:52:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well...a lot of shuls have a cloakroom of some sort, so you can get your arm out, get tefillin on it, and then pull your sleeve back down over it. Score one.

If you're willing to put up with a lot of faff, you can fit your tefillin under a baseball cap turned backwards (for the daring) or under a tichel. Score two.

Finally, let's make the assumption that a tallit and a tallit katan are both bigdei ish. Very well. So make your own tallit - intent counts for a lot, and if you make it from the outset with a woman in mind, it's no way beged ish. A tallit katan? I cannibalise camisole tops, personally. No-one's going to tell me that a camisole top is beged ish. Never liked the men's ones, they bunch up under my clothes.

For further disguise, one can utilise the halacha that says your tzitzit should match your beged - black tzitzit are more or less invisible against black jeans.

I got good at all this stuff in Jerusalem when my nearest shul was the stieblach. Can you tell? :) They still thought I was weird for even being there, but at least they didn't throw things.

Sun Mar 27, 05:08:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Making your own tallit is certainly a good way to get around the "beged ish" issue. I just love the idea of turning a camisole into a tallit katan. :)

The tefillin pose an additonal problem, though--my understanding of tradition is that they must be worn directly against the skin, and I'm pretty sure that the head tefillah (spelling for singular?) is supposed to be visible. That pretty much rules out the possibility of literally going undercover--you're not supposed to cover them with a hat, kippah, or anything else.

On a completely unrelated note, blackherring, apparently, we don't speak English with exactly the same accent. I'm unacquainted with the word "faff." Kindly enlighten me.

Sun Mar 27, 07:22:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

On the off chance that a few people are still catching up with this post, here's some recommended reading: Check out this post on laying tefillin by Barefoot Jewess

Thu Mar 31, 11:56:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I put on tallit and tefillin every morning in the privacy of my own room. If I'm going to minyan, I just put on the tallit and tefillin to say shema, and take them off. Then I go to shul. This is the advice I received from my rav, a modern Orthodox scholar of the Rav Soloveitchik variety. Granted, part of the reason at the time was self-protection: I was dealing with some problems that had a political aspect, and I was quite terrified to be seen as doing anything remotely "rebellious" or "feminist." But his advice was as much for the community's sake as for my own: why should my improved davening experience be at the expense of making others uncomfortable?

If I put on my tefillin in private, then there is no issue of tzniut, no issue of wrongful motivation, and no issue of upsetting other community members. In twenty-five years, if many members of a shul remember seeing their mothers' tefillin at home, then perhaps it will be appropriate to re-evaluate then.

Wed May 04, 11:25:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Drew Kaplan said...

I just want to point out a problem with Black Herring's suggestion of black tzitzis - that's fine according to Rabbi Karo, who says that they must match (and thus the beged must also be black), that for Ashkenazim, the tzitzis must be white.

Sat Jan 28, 11:00:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Drew, thanks for the information.

As long as you went to all the effort of reading a post that's almost a year old (thanks!), you might just as well keep going and read my two posts called "Men and Halachah: Shirking their responsibilities (parts 1 & 2)." Part one deals with kol isha, part two deals with women and aliyot. Just start here and work your way up.

Sun Jan 29, 03:28:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michal the wife of King David is said to have worn tefillin; and the daughters of Rashi were known to wear them. Presumably Michal was frum, and Rashis daughters were "Orthrodox." However, because of Jewish social values such as tzniut (I'm not talking about elbows but something more ephemeral), and the division between normative male and female practice in the public sphere it is likely that they did so in private. Also, it is perfectly possible to wear your sleeve all the way down with tefillin on - I know several men who do so, myself included. Personally (and I am an Orthodox male) I have no issues if a woman chooses to don tefillin in private, or chooses to wear tzitzit under her dress. If she is moved to don tefillin and tzitzit out of a deep rooted sense of ahavat Hashem, and not out of modern western values and ideologies, or a desire to show away and buck the system, then may the crown of God be upon her head and the word of His Law upon her arm. My wife, however, ferverently disagrees. She is of the opinion that women need these things not, and that donning tefillin and tzitzit, for all but the most holy of women, is pure hubris.

Thu Oct 26, 03:31:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

OrthodoxGuy, I appreciate the traditional stories that Michal and Rashi's daughters wore (tallit and?) tefillin, but, sadly, those stories are very controversial and/or disputed, and can't be relied on to help a woman be accepted when trying to do likewise. If I were davvening/praying in an Orthodox synagogue, I would put in my tallit (and tefillin, if it were a weekday) and say Sh'ma at home, then take them off and go to shul. I have no interest in distracting others from their tefillah/prayer by causing a scene.

One of the more interesting aspects of egalitarian practice is that so many *woman* object to it. I've never entirely understood that, but I'm not going to force my hashkafah/religious viewpoint down someone else's throat. Let every woman follow her own hashkafah. I ask only for mutual respect. I would prefer not to be thought of as committing the sin of excessive pride just because I'm a woman following the same practice that's considered laudable for a man.

Fri Oct 27, 09:04:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Laura said...

How did it come to pass that every single ritual garment that marks an individual as a Jew has become, by tradition, restricted to men? Men have the tallit, tefillin, and kippah.

Yes! Thank you!
I know this post is from four years ago, but I really thought I was alone on this. I'm nineteen and I'm very close to telling my rabbi that I want to convert—and I absolutely hate running across these twenty-page manuals in "beginner's Judaism" books on tefillin, which usually end with "oh, by the way, women are prohibited because it's beged ish." It's really upsetting to read about more and more things from which you're so "graciously exempt". (I sometimes wonder...if the only mitzvot left are tzinus and lighting Shabbat candles...why am I even converting?)

Mon Sep 13, 11:50:00 PM 2010  
Blogger Unknown said...

Israel is right place make your own tallit on your designs and colors. From here you can get all variety of designs, and colors in different sizes at affordable prices.

Tue Oct 01, 08:10:00 AM 2013  
Blogger Unknown said...

شركة تنظيف منازل بالرياض
شركة عزل خزانات بالرياض
شركة مكافحة حشرات بالرياض
شركة تخزين اثاث بالرياض
شركة رش مبيدات بالرياض
شركة نقل اثاث الرياض
شركة تنظيف خزانات بالرياض
شركات نقل وتغليف اثاث
شركة تنظيف واجهات زجاج بالرياض
شركة تنظيف بالدمام
شركة تنظيف فلل بالدمام
شركة تنظيف منازل بالدمام
شركة تنظيف شقق بالدمام
شركة مكافحة حشرات بالدمام
شركة تسليك مجاري بالدمام
شركة تنظيف موكيت بالدمام
شركة تنظيف بيارات بالدمام

Tue May 06, 06:11:00 PM 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

نقل اثاث بالدمام
شركة كشف تسرب المياه بالرياض
شركة عزل خزانات بالرياض
شركة رش مبيدات بالدمام
شركة عزل خزانات بالدمام
شركة عزل اسطح بالدمام
شركة تخزين اثاث بالدمام
شركة عزل مائي بالرياض

شركة تخزين عفش بالرياض
شحن عفش داخل السعودية
شركة نقل اثاث مكة
شركة كشف تسربات المياه بالدمام
شركة تنظيف خزانات بجدة
شركات تنظيف فى جدة

Tue May 06, 06:13:00 PM 2014  

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