Sunday, September 03, 2006

On taking an obligation upon oneself voluntarily (and why I began wearing a tallit)

You might want to start here, then check out this guest post by Chana over at Serandez.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m swiping from my own comment to Chana's post:

"One of the hazards of participating in the Jewish blogosphere is that so many J-bloggers, particularly of the Orthodox persuasion, base what they write on the assumption that every reader had the good fortune to attend a Jewish day school.

For example, Anonymous said: "Is a man who chooses to wear tzitzit all day under his shirt looked down upon? Do we say he should focus on his obligations and not his right to perform more mitzvot?"

Whoa, back up! As recently as a few weeks ago, I myself, being among those not blessed with a yeshiva education, was unaware that a man is not, in theory, obligated to wear tzitzit unless he *chooses* to wear a garment with corners, thus voluntarily obligating himself. It does, occasionally, become distressing that you fortunate few just take it for granted that every J-blog reader knows what you're talking about.

Okay, now that I've cleared that up . . .

[. . . or not: Here's an explanation of tzitzit. ]

Anonymous pretty much "nails" the argument re ritual garments: "from where do we know a person who desires to perform a mitzvah, even though they are not necessarily obligated in it, is condemned? Is a man who chooses to wear tzitzit all day under his shirt looked down upon? Do we say he should focus on his obligations and not his right to perform more mitzvot? I understand the Mishna Berurah states regarding the mitzvah of tzitzit and women that a woman could technically put on a tallit and recite the beracha but more then likely they are doing it because of 'yuhura' roughly translated as religious arrogance and therefore should abstain. Is it truly out of the realm of possibilty that a woman would choose to wear tzitzit for anything else other than religious arrogance? Or do the realm of motivational options only apply to the male gender?"

I've been thinking about blogging about this, so maybe I will: The reason why I originally began wearing a tallit [here's an explanation] was that, as a member (at that time) of an egalitarian synagogue, I figured that rights came with obligations. The reason why I continued to wear a tallit after we moved and became members of a non-egalitarian synagogue was that it just didn't make sense for me to suddenly stop wearing a tallit when I'd been wearing one for roughly a decade. What's interesting about that is that I was working on pure logic: It wasn't until many years later that I heard that, once one has accepted a mitzvah upon oneself, one is not permitted to stop performing that mitzvah. Clearly, my motive was not halachic--how could it have been, when I didn't even know the halachah?! But was it "wrong?" Please think twice about assuming the worst regarding anyone's motives for accepting an obligation voluntarily.

9/01/2006 12:40:55 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this is yet another prime example of halakha being identical with common sense. I wouldn't call your intuitive sense that accepting an obligation upon oneself means that one cannot give up that obligation (except perhaps by some formal procedure, which itself has common sense reasons related to the human need for ritualizing major psychological/behavioral transitions) "non-halakhic" simply because you didn't know the technical halakhic terminology. Kol hakavod!

Mon Sep 04, 09:56:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Will, thanks for your kind words.

Hmm, let's take your approach and say that halachah is identical with common sense. If that's the case, maybe the common sense approach to obligation for a woman would be for her to make a formal declaration of acceptance of the exemption from positive time-bound mitzvot (commandments) at the time of the birth of her first child, and a declaration of a return to obligation after her youngest child became a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, at which point a child is old enough to be left unsupervised while Mom davvens Shacharit (prays the Morning Service).

If common sense governs the exemption of women, then this suggestion shouldn't raised eyebrows. On the other hand, if it's all a matter of faith and/or of following the traditional ways because, well, they're the traditional ways, well . . .

By the way, for those of my readers who are curious (and on the off chance that I haven't mentioned this in a previous post), I began wearing tefillin on a regular basis after my son became a Bar Mitzvah because I figured that I no longer had a good excuse not to do so.

Tue Sep 05, 12:35:00 AM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that following traditional ways/faith are also common sensical values. My point about common sense is that halakha is not based on a priori concepts divorced from reality; rather, that halakha itself attempts to balance human needs and values in an attempt to create a Good society. So while your suggestion is indeed common sensical (although predicated on a particular conception of why women are exempt from mitzvot aseh she-ha-zeman geraman), it is also common sensical for someone whose inclinations lie in traditional directions to raise eyebrows at it.

The problem with the idea of formally accepting the exemption is that to this point halakhic language presumes the exemption, for whatever combinations of reasons originally went into it. (Probably somewhat to do with child-rearing responsibilities, but also gender power dynamics, definition of who's in and who's out, etc.) We have our own values to balance when considering how to deal with this in our time -- those include the problem of child-rearing, but also how to handle continuity with tradition, textual authority, egalitarianism, etc. Real halakhic decision-making based on this model of balancing values can be quite richer and more complex than the simple invoking of formalistic technicalities.

Mon Sep 11, 09:35:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Will, I'd love to live long enough to see how "Real halakhic decision-making based on this model of balancing values" will deal with the issue of women's participation in public ritual. It would be fascinating to watch the halachic process work out the balancing of "continuity with tradition, textual authority, [and] egalitarianism."

Mon Sep 11, 11:40:00 PM 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you read "On the Ordination of Women" by Rabbi Joel Roth or "ReReading the Rabbis" by Rabbi Judith Hauptman? They both have discussions about women wearing tallit and other traditional women-exempted mitzvot

Fri Sep 15, 04:56:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Lillian, thanks for the tips. I haven't read that particular work by Rabbi Roth, but thank you for the suggestion. I'll go look up what Rabbi Hauptman says in her book re women wearing tallit and tefillin--I read "ReReading the Rabbis" a while back, and need to refresh my memory.

Fri Sep 15, 05:22:00 PM 2006  

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