Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Finally, I've met Mark/PT's tefillin challenge

I've been trying to find a good solution to this problem ever since Mark/PT wrote this comment to this post:
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 [modesty] patrol. (:

Wed Mar 09, 10:09:00 PM 2005

Okay, here's the story:

1. My understanding is that halachah (Jewish religious law) requires that the tied-together strap of the shel rosh/head tefillin (singular: tefillah?) be worn directly on the head. Therefore, it would not be permissible to wear the head tefillin over a shaitel/sheitel/wig (or one of those partial wigs called a fall).

2. At the other extreme, a kippah/yarmulke/skullcap, though frequently worn by non-Orthodox women and easy to wear with head tefillin, would probably be considered a man's garment (beged ish), and, therefore, a no-no, by most Orthodox women, since halachah forbids either gender from wearing a garment of the other gender.

3. Trust me on this one: It's not physically possible to shift a hat around on, or just above, one's head (to keep one's head covered) with one hand while putting on the head tefillin with the other hand. I know, because I've tried it many times, without much success. One really does need two hands to put on head tefillin. I'll have to save my new "lampshade" hat for Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (Festival), when one does not wear tefillin.

4. While it's actually fairly easy to put the head tefillin on over a snood--all one has to do is to readjust the snood afterward to ensure that no part of the snood is underneath the tied-together tefillin strap, which must lie directly against the head--I'm not bonkers about wearing a snood in public because, personally, I find most snoods rather unattractive. See these examples of snoods, and judge for yourself.

The solution, and my response to Mark's challenge, is to wear a pre-tied tichel/mitpachat/scarf. The elastic on a pre-tied scarf keeps the scarf from falling off while one is putting the tefillin on over one's head, thus enabling one to use two hands to put on the shel rosh while still keeping part of one's head covered. As with a snood, one must readjust the scarf to ensure that the tefillin strap lies directly against the head, with none of the fabric caught underneath the strap.

Don't bother trying to tie the loose ends, if any, of your pre-tied scarf in any fancy manner, whether by bringing them around to the top of the head in front and tying a loose knot (or winding them together, turban-style) or by tying them in a bun in back, as is the current fashion. They'll get in the way and/or unravel while you're shifting the scarf around to get it out from under the tied-together tefillin strap. Just take the ends and tuck them under the elastic in the back of the scarf, to get them out of the way.

Once you've gotten the scarf's loose ends tucked away, make the brachah (blessing) over the head tefillin, place the bayit (box containing the biblical quote hand-written on parchment) at the front of the head, use both hands to put the tied-together part of the strap around the head--that's the part that's impossible to do one-handed, while wearing, and trying not to remove, a hat--and pull one untied part around each side of the neck and to the front. Then, holding the front of the scarf so that it won't fall off, move the tied-together part of the strap and the sides and back of the scarf as necessary to ensure that none of the scarf is caught under the strap, which must rest directly against the head. Finally, make sure that the bayit is in its proper place, centered, with the front lower edge above the hairline, and that the knot at the back of the head tefillin is centered at the back of the neck, just below the skull. (To the best of my knowledge, this is the halachically-required positioning of the head tefillin. Please do correct me if I'm wrong!) I believe that it's permissible to pull the scarf back over the straps, if you'd like to keep more of your head covered. (Again, corrections requested, if necessary.)

Here's the way it looks on me. (Nice photo of the shel rosh and scarf. Not such a good photo of the woman wearing them. Oh, well.)

An Orthodox married woman who believes that a married woman must cover some, but not necessarily all, of her hair in public may find this an acceptable solution for putting on tefillin in public while maintaining her tzniut (modesty), assuming that she is interested in putting on tefillin. As far as I can determine, an Orthodox married woman who believes that all of her hair must be covered in public would not be able to lay tefillin in public at all, but could do so in private, if she chose. (In addition, there's the upper-arm issue: Since nothing is permitting to come between the shel yad/hand tefillin and the arm and hand themselves, a woman whose interpretation of the laws of tzniut includes a prohibition against revealing her arm above the elbow would have to lay tefillin in a private place, since the bayit (box containing the biblical quote hand-written on parchment) of the shel yad/hand tefillin must be placed above the elbow.)

There are, of course, many women in the Jewish community who are of the opinion that a woman's traditional role in Judaism is quite honorable as it is, and feel no need for externals. That role has been the way of our mothers for generations, and has my respect, though it is not a role that I, myself, am comfortable following.

On a related note, you may be surprised to know that Jen Taylor, a soferet (scribe) and designer of Tefillin Barbie, does not think that all Jewish women should wear tefillin--and you may be even more surprised to know that I agree with her. I think she makes a compelling case.


Blogger rivkayael said...

I like!!!!

In an Orthodox shul, a woman is behind a mechitza anyway so her hair is not visible to anyone.

A friend of mine is very makpid against beged ish, so she makes her own kippot which are intended specifically for her.

Tue Jul 08, 10:43:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

That depends on the height and/or opacity of the mechitza. Some Orthodox synagogues at which I've davvened (prayed) have mechitzot low enough not to hide a woman's head, or made of glass (smoked or not), or not necessarily solid. In general, any mechitza that makes it possible for a woman to see the Torah-reading (and not feel like a prisoner or unwelcome guest) is preferable. But, except for one-way-mesh or one-way-mirror mechitzot, such mechitzot do leave a woman's head visible.

Your friend is fortunate to be skilled at needlecraft. Wish I could say the same for me.

Wed Jul 09, 07:52:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Also, come to think of it, some of the lower or more see-through mechitzot leave a woman's upper arm visible, as well, which might be problematic for those who would like to wear tefillin in synagogue but who hold that their arms must be covered above the elbow.

(For those not acquainted with Orthodox synagogue architecture, the mechitza, a barrier separating men and women, is generally opaque for the bottom three feet or so, but the upper part may be see-through.)

Wed Jul 09, 08:00:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Wed Jul 09, 04:13:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon., I copied your comment into Word and did a Word Count. Your comment contained 980 words. My entire post contains 1074. I believe the usual term for posting a comment this long and this incomprehensible is “hijacking a comment thread.” In case you haven't noticed, this is *my* blog, so you'll have to (yes, you'll *have to*!) excuse me while I reclaim the comment section by deleting your comment.

I will reply only to those parts of your comment that I understand and find relevant.

“Torah 101. The mitzvah [commandment] of tzitzit [fringes] aint a four cornered garment with tzitzit. A garment is a tool, and no tool has an oath/brit relationship with the Creator - Torah 101. The mitzvah of tzitzit involves remembering the redemption from Egypt.”

Oh, so remembering the redemption from Egypt is for men only?

“The mitzvah of tzitzit entails a bnai brit man, this is a positive time related commandment specifically made for male weakness and arrogance, woman need not concern themselves with this mitzvah.”

Sigh. Are *all* positive time-related mitzvot intended as a treatment for “male weakness and arrogance”? Surely there’s a better explanation for women’s exemption from the obligation to observe positive time-bound mitzvot.

“The Torah mitzvah of tzitzit entails that a man takes a 4 cornered garment which have tzitzit and covers his head. . ."

Where in the text of the Sh’ma does it say anything whatsoever about either a man or a woman covering his or her head?

[continuing the quote] ". . . and recalls the redemption from Egypt because we learn redemption from galut from Passover. A man has an obligation to subdue his arrogance and aknowledge Torat Moshe Emet, . . . ."

So women have no obligation to “aknowledge [sic] Torat Moshe Emet [the Torah of Moses is True]”?

[continuing the quote] ". . . that's the essence of bnai brit dignity commonly refered to as Tzinu'ah. As a man covers his head when he prays, hence we learn the kippah custom from the Torah din, . . . ."

Torah sheh B’Al Peh (Oral Law), maybe. Again, it’s certainly not written in the Sh’ma that a man covers his head when he prays. If anything is written anywhere else in the Torah sheh BiTav (Written Torah, or, roughly, Bible) about any man, aside from the Cohanim (Priests) when officiating, covering his head, kindly tell me where. Please be specific, and don’t toss around such terms as “Torah din” (Torah law) lightly.

[continuing the quote] ". . . so too women cover their heads when they get married.”

So only married women “aknowledge [sic] Torat Moshe Emet”? Are Jewish single women exempt from Judaism?

Last but not least:

"“Confusing a specific for a general term ... pathetic ignorance!”

Roughly 30 years ago, when I was even more of an am haaretz (Jewishly-illiterate Jew) than I am now, I was visiting friends when one of them happened to say something about Michal, and I asked her who Michal was. I've never forgotten her reply: "Am haaretz! You don't know who Michal is?!" I left the apartment in tears.

(It wasn't until years later that I learned that Michal was King Saul's daughter and one of King David's wives.)

You mention derech eretz (often translated as “common courtesy”) repeatedly in your comment, yet you yourself show precious little of it. Just because I never had the privilege of attending a yeshiva and am an am haaretz (Jewishly-illiterate person) doesn’t mean that I appreciate have my nose rubbed in my ignorance on my own blog. Aren’t you capable of saying the same thing in polite terms? Where’s your tact, your diplomacy, *your* derech eretz? Being obnoxious and insulting a person for being ignorant is not only rude, it's also counterproductive, as a person who's been insulted for being ignorant is going to feel discouraged from learning, or, at least, is certainly not going to want to learn *from you*!

If you can't find a more "derech eretz-dik" (polite, courteous) way to express yourself than to insult me, get the bleep off my blog and don't ever come back!

Wed Jul 09, 10:17:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry about the rant, folks. Um, is anyone still here?

Wed Jul 09, 10:35:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shalom Shira!

Yes, some of us are still here (though I wasn't patient enough to read all through that last comment).

First off, I do not want anyone to mistakenly think that I advocate woman putting on tefillin. I do not.

Having said that, if a woman will put on tefillin, she should be sure that all the halachot are followed. That includes, but is not limited to, placing the front edge of the bayit at the hairline or where the hairline used to be, placing the knot on the proper place at the back of the neck, etc.

In that context, I would raise another issue. Putting them on in public or not. A slightly off analogy might be tefillin of Rabbenu Tam. After the Shulhan Aruch suggests wearing tefillin of Rabbenu Tam, he then writes that only a person who is well known for his piety should do so. The Mishnah B'rurah explains that otherwise it may appear arrogant. I might suggest that if a woman thinks she really should put on tefillin, that maybe she should do so privately. After all, this is definately not the norm in any community. What's more, it is inarguable that she is not obligated to put on tefillin (unless one is actually changing the established halachic definition of the mitzvah; then I have nothing further to say). There are many instances where we suggest that if a person feels a need to do an act of extra piety, it should be done modestly (privately).

Maybe an example will help. When I was a young man in yeshiva, I went to Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (may Hashem send him a complete recovery!)and told him I wanted to wear tefillin during the day in the beit hamidrash. Although not completely unusual, this is not the norm for most men. A few fellows in the yeshiva did it back then, but they were a minority. He told me that I was allowed to do so, but that I must do so subtly. So I changed my seat for the morning learning to the upstairs women's section (unused by women during the day) so that I wouldn't be in plain sight of the entire beit midrash while I sat and learned with tefillin on through the morning. I also invested in a small pair of tefillin, so that the shel yad was indiscernable under my sleeve. If I left my spot, I took off the shel rosh. You get the idea.

BTW, anytime someone tells me they want to take on some new, additional religious behaviour I tell them they should learn everything about it, starting with the fundamental halachot. If one wishes to do something they aren't obligated to do, then it should be especially well-informed in order to invest that act with true meaning.

Just my $.05.

Thu Jul 10, 12:01:00 AM 2008  
Blogger B.BarNavi said...


A Hasidic or Sephardic woman should NOT make a bracha on the head tefillin UNLESS there was an unauthorized interruption between hand and head. Therefore, the issue of bracha l'vatala is less severe for women (and men!) of these communities.

Thu Jul 10, 12:19:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

B. Barnavi, thank you so much for mentioning that. I had heard that the Sefardi tradition is that one does *not* make a separate brachah over the head tefillin because Sefardi hold that the brachah that one recites before putting on the head tefillin is actually recited for both head and hand tefillin, and, therefore, a second brachah (blessing) would be l'vatalah (wasted, and therefore, taking G-d's name in vain).

Mordechai, if I ever either became or prayed with the Orthodox, I would not wear tefillin in public unless I knew that it was accepted in that community. If not, I'd davven (pray) at least the Sh'ma at home, wearing tallit and tefillin, then take them off before going to minyan. A commenter on an ancient post of mine told me that that was what her (Orthodox) rabbi advised her to do.

Thu Jul 10, 12:35:00 AM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So if you are following community standards, there's really no reason you should cover your head [except maybe with a kippah or hat] in a C shul.

And it further follows that you can wear tefillin [if anywhere in public] in a C shul, and wear your shaitel but no tefillin in the O shul.

Any scenarios i am missing?

Sun Jul 13, 01:15:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Nu, did I ever say that I was consistent? :)

" . . . your shaitel . . . " I've never owned one. That's one scenario that I can't imagine.

Sun Jul 13, 08:57:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

a few disconnected comments...

1. the Sefardic tradition says that making a brakha on a mitzva that you're not obligated in is a brakha levatala. therefore, Sefardic women generally don't even bother taking on optional-for-them mitzvot such as lulav which are common among Ashkenazic women.

2. it was reported to me by a rabbi i know, that one of my and his mutual rebbeim described the area of a married woman's head that she is obligated to cover as (paraphrased) "where the tefillin straps go"; any hair that sticks out below the place of the knot in the back no longer counts as "head hair" that must be covered. in that case, a large kippa-like headcovering that covers the head to the point of the tefillin straps' circle would be enough. however, from my own experience, larger yarmulka-like headgear like "bukharian kippot" or the Yekkish käppchen can be comfortably placed on a head even though they are larger than the tefillin straps' ring. in fact, it's also possible to wear a fedora while wearing head-tefillin.

3. tefillin barbie wears a beret. that looks like it works pretty well.

Sun Jul 13, 09:38:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

1. I hope that Sefardi women take the lulav and etrog, even though their tradition does not allow them to make a brachah. It's a beautiful thing, to hold a lulav and etrog in one's hands, especially while reciting Hallel.

2. Good luck trying to Google "käppchen." The one I finally found looks like a Bukharian kippah without the fancy needlework.

The problem with the hat ("fedora") is not that one can't wear tefillin underneath, but that one must remove the hat initially in order to place the tefillin scrap around the head. This would be a no-no for a woman who wants to davven (pray) with a minyan but who follows the halachic opinion that she's not permitted uncover her hair in public, if she davvens in a place in which the mechitzah doesn't hide her head.

"it was reported to me by a rabbi i know, that one of my and his mutual rebbeim described the area of a married woman's head that she is obligated to cover as (paraphrased) "where the tefillin straps go" Thanks for the information, not to mention the description. Considering the lack of enthusiasm with which the idea of a woman wearing tefillin is usually greeted, the description is rather ironic, but that's why I like it.

3. Yes, a beret works just as well as a snood. I just plain forgot about that one. (Oops.) Hey, it's July--it's been a while since I've worn a beret. :)

Mon Jul 14, 06:46:00 AM 2008  
Blogger rivkayael said...

What Steg said--I put on tallit and hold the arba minim without a bracha. I also don't say birkat haTorah in the morning.

I agree with you Shira, the sensory experience is meaningful even without saying brachot!

Mon Jul 14, 08:35:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Elie said...

If you can stand a somewhat sexist, but not mean-spirited joke on the subject:

Q: What don't women wear tefillin?

A: They could never afford all the pairs they would need to match all their different outfits!

Sorry about that, chief! :-}

Mon Jul 14, 11:02:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Now, now, Elie, behave yourself. (Insert roll-eyes emoticon here.)

RivkaYael, I guess I hadn't given too much thought to the idea that one might only say birkat (birchot?) [blessing(s)? over] haTorah if one accepted the obligation to study Torah. I haven't yet gotten to the point of being willing to devote serious time to Torah study, but I do both say the brachot over Torah study and recite those three passages (from Torah, Mishna, and Gemara) that follow immediately after those brachot, so, according to the ArtScroll siddur [prayer book], at least, I fulfill the halachic minimum for daily Torah study.

I don't always agree with ArtScroll, but, in this case, I, personally, can't argue with their logic. They say that one is not permitted to read/study (?) any Torah text without saying those brachot first, so how could I say Sh'ma without reciting them? This makes sense to me, personally, as a non-Orthodox Jew who has accepted upon myself the obligation to recite the Sh'ma. But, given the Orthodox perspective that woman are not obligated either to study Torah or to recite the Sh'ma, although they may, and often do, choose to do so, I can see how an Orthodox woman might think otherwise, and abstain from reciting these brachot (blessings).

Mon Jul 14, 02:01:00 PM 2008  
Blogger rivkayael said...

Firstly, am quasi-sephardi which is why I abstain from birkat haTorah (p. 16 in the Artscroll--"asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu la'asok b'divrei Torah"). But there is an opinion in Tosafot (regarding leaning on sacrificial animals) that women may say brachot for mitzvot in which they are not obligated.

However, there are various issues here.
--v'tzvivanu type brachot: probably a bracha levatala (for me, who generally holds by Sephardic psak halacha).

--therefore, the blessings on the Shema are not (levatala), because one does not say "who has commanded us to read the Shema"--which means that a woman can also recite these brachot.

--ironically, reciting birkat haTorah when a woman (Sephardic or not) recieves an aliya is not an issue at all with regards to reciting brachot levatala because there is not blessing for the commandment, rather one blesses the One who gave the Torah.

Mon Jul 14, 03:47:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oh, got it. I thought you meant that you skip *all* of the brachot (blessings) concerning Torah in Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings), which didn't make much sense to me. But you only skip the one that includes the word "v'tzivanu" ( . . . Who has commanded us . . . )

So you don't say "Blessed . . . Who has commanded us to study/engross ourselves in (depending on your translation) words of Torah" because woman aren't commanded/required to study Torah, and, according to Sefardi interpretation, reciting a brachah/blessing that says that you're commanded/required when you're not commanded/required consitutes making a brachah l'vatalah (a "wasted" blessing, which is a form of taking G-d's name in vain).

But you *do* say "Blessed . . . Who teaches Torah to His People Israel" and "Blessed . . . the Giver of the Torah."

*That* makes sense. Rav Todot--thanks so much for the clarification!

Mon Jul 14, 06:30:00 PM 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Women should just wear there talit over their head and then put on the tefilin.

Tue Jul 15, 05:38:00 AM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Hmm, I hadn't thought of that. Truth to tell, I only put my tallit over my head when I first make the brachah (blessing). I'm a bit concerned about appearing to be "holier than thou." (It could be argued that, as a woman in tallit and tefillin, I *already* look "holier than thou,* so I don't want to add to that impression.)

Tue Jul 15, 10:49:00 AM 2008  

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