SAR Principal Explains Decision To Allow Girls To Wear Tefillin At School Minyanim


tefillinDear Parents,

The issue of women and tefillin resurfaced this week in light of the Boiling Point article recently published at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles and circulated on Facebook. It has since become an international topic of discussion. I imagine that many of you have read the articles and have had many conversations on the issue. Over the course of December, I spoke with students and faculty but I did not communicate directly with the parent body on the topic. Given the international publicity of this week, I would like to share my thoughts directly with you.

Two girls who have put on tefillin since their bat mitzvah approached me months ago to ask permission to put on tefillin in school. Both students, in their respective ways, have shown real commitment to this mitzvah. Since their bat mitzvah, they have been taught, in accordance with their family practice, to daven each day with tefillin. For me, this was a question of whether I could allow a young woman to practice as she had been taught – to daven each and every day in a meaningful way wearing tefillin as an expression of her עבודת השם. I felt that my responsibility was to consider the person before me and the halakha, before considering the political fallout of the decision.

In my opinion, the practice of these families has support in halakha. It has basis in the Rishonim (רמב״ם, רשב״א וספר החינוך) – and R. Yosef Karo, the מחבר שולחן ערוך, seems to follow that opinion. I felt it appropriate to see this as a legitimate practice albeit different than our communal practice – but one that has halakhic justification. As such, I granted the two girls permission in the context – in a tefilah setting – of a group of girls who were supportive of their practice. I felt it appropriate to create space at SAR for them to daven meaningfully. I explained this to our students in this way: it is a halakhically legitimate position despite it not being our common communal practice. But since there is support for it, I would be willing to create such space in the school. I did not, in so doing, create new policy nor invite any female student who wanted to don tefillin to do so. These are girls who, I believe, have been מוסר נפש (for a teen to get up at 6:20 each morning is meaningful commitment) for this מצוה. At its core, women donning Tefillin is a discretionary act in Jewish law. While our community has adopted as normative the view that women refrain from this act, I see the range of rishonim who allow women to don tefillin as support to give space to that practice within our community. One can disagree with this decision on halakhic and public policy grounds. But the position is a coherent one and deserves careful consideration.
But why? What was so important about this? As the weeks passed and I heard the various reactions and responses, my feelings on the issue became increasingly clear to me. Perhaps this is best expressed by way of a story. I daven in R. Yosef Adler’s shul, Congregation Rinat Yisrael, in Teaneck. Many of you know Rabbi Adler as the principal of TABC. On that day back in December when I emailed the faculty, I met Rabbi Adler at a community event. He crossed the room and came over to me, took my hand in his two hands and said, “yasher koach, you made the right decision. In a world where there are so many things that distract our teens from focusing on mitzvot, we should support teenagers who seek to strengthen their connection to Hashem and to a life of mitzvot. If I taught girls in my school, I would make the same decision.” In fact, as he subsequently shared with me, he had made the same decision. A few years back, a woman from the community asked if she could daven at the morning minyan at Rinat – but, she said, I wear tallis and tefillin when I daven. Rabbi Adler permitted her to daven in shul. A number of men in the community came over to him and said that they refused to daven in such a minyan. That story crystallized it all for me. I told my students (and I went to each of our four grades for a community meeting to explain the decision – as well as giving two faculty shiurim for staff) that I am not committed to the idea of SAR girls putting on tefillin. I am not encouraging our girls to do so. But I am committed to having our boys and girls be able to daven in the same shul where a woman might be doing so. That when they see something different, even controversial, before deciding in which denomination it belongs, they must first take a serious look at the halakha and ask their Rabbi whether there is basis for such practice. I suspect that I would not differ much regarding normative halakha with most people in our community. But I would differ strongly with someone who thought this was cause for that person to be removed from the community – or that such practice could not be supported within the community shul. I permitted our two female students to daven with tefillin because I believe that we should not be afraid of different forms of עבודת השם when there is halakhic argument to support it. I permitted the young women to daven with tefillin because we should be proud, as a Modern Orthodox community, that we recognize the sanctity and dignity of each person and we find ways to support their spiritual growth in different ways.
I am proud to say that many students have taken this as an opportunity to learn about their classmates and to learn the sources more carefully. They have engaged each other seriously and respectfully. They have helped shape an atmosphere of support, of care, of אהבת ישראל.

And here is what we do not do: we do not loosely and without basis malign other Jews, call them names, disparage their motivations and their divine service in the name of…what? I am not sure. I have been reading social media (a new practice for me) and I have been appalled. I have read people maligning these two fine young women with insults and false characterizations based on…nothing. It is awful; it is abominable; it is unacceptable. Two girls who are שומרי שבת וכשרות, גומלי חסד,and בנות תורה. It has been awful to watch. It is מוציא שם רע at its worst (of kids, no less). We should be proud to be stringent in recognizing the dignity of others and valuing their divine service and stringent about how we talk about others, especially children.

I know that not everyone agrees with my decision. I expect that and I respect that. It is my hope that we can champion, together, ahavat yisrael, love for each Jew; that we can come together as a community even when we disagree; that we can deeply respect each other with pride as we create space for us to work together, as a community, to strengthen ourselves in our עבודת השם.

With respect and appreciation,

Rabbi Tully Harcsztark


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  1. Unfortunatly, this article just shows me that being a good writer, talking politically correct to look like the good guy, can make a very crum decision look like the right one.

  2. Would he also be so supportive of a man who had valid halachik basis to not give his wife a get, or would he publicly humiliate that person who is is not politicly correct?

  3. The issue with this letter is the line: “In my opinion, the practice of these families has support in halakha.” Issues like these should be decided by Poskei hador, not Rabbi Tully H.

  4. I would just like to say to the comments above me, Rabbi Tully Harcsztark is a very respected man. His grandfather was a very close man with the Rav who started the idea of Daf Yomi.

  5. Bnos Torah! a new term.

    The question is: Does Rabbi Harcztark really believe this is a Chumra? A good practice they just want to be close to Hashem.

    Are you kidding me?? In every other issue they’re Maikil and suddenly they’re Machmir??

    Are these girls Makpid on Tznius in dress according to the most stringent opinions??

    I’m willing to bet that when it comes to skirt length, married covering hair etc, they take the lenient view. If they wear stockings its not 100 denier.

    Don’t be fooled.

  6. Yes, it would be interesting to give more information about the “practice of these families”. When did it start? Who authorized them to start it? Was it kept up consistently, within the limits and strickness specified by posqim? Why was “al tifrosh atzm’cha” no issue? Did the community’s poseq specifically approve (if so,who was he?)

  7. he Rama says (OC 38:3) that one must protest a woman’s putting on Tefillin.

    The Aruch Hashulchan 38:6 writes that women are patur and if they want to we should protest

    Where is the proof that Rashi’s daughters put on tefillin? It seems to be a rumor.

  8. #13-
    You know of what you write about these girls how?
    My guess is you are wrong, very wrong on your assumptions about them.
    Let’s keep to the topic, and not disparage the person or people involved.
    Enough said!!!!!!!!

  9. #13-
    You know of what you write about these girls how?
    My guess is you are wrong, very wrong on your assumptions about them.
    Let’s keep to the topic, and not disparage the person or people involved.
    Enough said!!!!!!!!

  10. these matters have to be taken to the GUEDOILE HAPOSKIM and nobody has the right to change what we were MEKABEL from our past generations, I’M not comparing CHAS VESHLOM because I don´t even know this principal, but we have to keep in mind that the reform movment started with very small changes………………..

  11. Why is no one mentioning the obvious that the Rama writes that we actively stop women who wear Tefillin. To find certain Rishonim, or daughters of Rishonim who acted in certain ways is not how halacha works. You can’t just pick and choose. And the fact that the principle did not ask a Rav greater than himself is just not appropriate.

  12. ???”?

    ??? ????? ???? ?? ?? ??? ?? ???? ??????? ???? ????? ???????? ???? ??????? ???? ????? ?????? ???? ?? ?????? ????? ???’

    ??? ??? ???? (?????) “????

    ??? ???? ????? ?”? ??? ?’ ?’ ?’ ……??? ???? ??????? ????? ?????? ??? ?????…..???? ????? ??? ????…?????? ??? ????.. ???? ?????? ?????? ????? ???? ?? ???? ???’

    ??’ ??? ??? ???? ????? ?”? ??? ?’ ?’ ?’ “?????? ???? ????????” ???’

    ???? ??? ????? ??? ???? – ???? ?”?- ?”? ???? ???? ???? ?? ????
    ?????? ????? ??? ????? ???-???? ?? ?? ????? “???? ??? ????? ????? ????? ?? ?? ??????? ????? ??? ?????? ???? , ???? ??? ???? ??? ?????.

    ?????? ??”? “?????? ?? ?? ?? ????? ?????, ?????? ??? ????? ?????? ????? ?????, ???'”

    ??? ??? ?? ?? ?????? ??? ????? ???’ ?? ?? ?? ?”? ?????? ??? ????? ??????? ????? ????? ?”?.

  13. It’s nothing more than extension of women’s lib not that they’re dying to an extra mitzva. Let’s see how they are machmir to do the mizvas that they are mechuiv to do

  14. Who would like to invest with me in a new business.

    Shaitels that have a square cut out on top where the “she’ll rosh” fits. Left sleeveless for “shell yad”

  15. I wonder if he told these girls that they cannot make a brocha on the tefillin and Tallis.

    According to the shitos who he says would say it is mutar for these girls to wear tefillin, a woman cannot make a brocha on a mitzva they are not commanded.

    How will the feminists deal with that?

  16. Even if Rashi’s daughters put on tefillin they were on a very high spiritual level and they did it in private. These girls are doing it in public and it made headlines immediately. “Rabbi” has no real gedolie Torah to back him up.

  17. I would like to know if these girls come from a Modern Orthodox family or Conservative family? There has been some discussion that due to the influx of kids from different backgrounds in Orthodox schools that the true reason for this decision is to placate these families so the schools don’t lose money. Rabbi Harcsztark words were “Since their bat mitzvah, they have been taught, in accordance with their family practice, to daven each day with tefillin”. This makes me somewhat suspicious of what the true intent is here.

  18. While we must turn to the Rishonim and Acharonim for guidance, we must turn to our Gedolim to see how and when to apply these psakim. No one assumes we live in the same times as when they gave their psakim and if there is someone to rely on and a posek of zman hazeh who gives the green light we are entitled to follow suit. Additionally we should not hate and speak ill of our fellow brothers and sisters just becasue they have other psakim

  19. #3 & #13 excellent comments….
    my opinion: at least the girls are….(uhm, wearing Tefillin;-)…
    absolutely disgraceful;
    SAR: Stand Against Rabbonim

  20. One wonders what percentage of boys at SAR and Ramaz wear Tzitzis to school or put on Tefillin on Sundays… There is something sad and desperate to Rabbi Lookstein’s “Me too” declarations to the media. For an appropriate donation, the Open Orthodox of Riverdale and East Side will convert you (or overlook questionable aspects of your conversion), will tacitly accept your Non-Orthodox Lifestyle, and NOW, will allow Non-Orthodox practices in their schools. The attention now turns to the parents of 8th graders: do you want the best of Modern Orthodoxy – or Solomon Schechter. I hope Frisch, Flatbush, Maayanot, MTA exercise better discretion — One can be a paragon of Ahavat Yisrael, Rabbi H., without obsequiousness to JOFA.

  21. This is what happens when you don’t have a mesora, how nebuch, that a manhig of the school should give a shtemple to anyone doing this. From a halachic and hashhkofic standpoint. look in Sefer piske teshuvos siman 38 os gimmel, for different mareh mekomos

  22. Rshis daugghters did not wear tefilin. the source for that only dates back 40 years or so to a femenist reform book, and it has become a legend and people think its real. there is no source for that its a lie.

  23. “in a meaningful way wearing tefillin as an expression of her ????? ???” Men have time-bound positive mitzvos and say “shelo asani isha”. The avodah of a woman is different from a man. These girls should be taught that they do not need to copy males to feel that they are serving Hashem and that they can have a meaningful way of serving Hashem without needing to feel jealous of men who have to wear tefillin. Females shouldn’t feel that their service of Hashem is inferior because they are not allowed to wear tefillin. The schools should be teaching girls what their role is.

  24. Assuming this is a bonafide custom, which I truly am having trouble believing, I have two issues with this from a halachic perspective:
    If you look at the targum yonasan ben uziel on the pasuk of lo yilbash gever, you will see he interprets the prohibition as being against women wearing tefilin.
    If that became the generally accepted custom, then it could be a geder of devarim hamutarim sheachairim nohagu bohem issur. Something permitted that others treat as a prohibition.
    If that is the case, then there cannot be a place for that in shul or in school. It could only be done in a private setting.
    Women putting on a tefilah shel yad would need a private area where they would not be seen putting on the tefilin so men would not see their upper arms exposed as they put on the shel yad. If they are married and cover their hair kdas ukadin, then you have issues with the shel rosh as well.
    If I had to guess, this might very well play into the many reasons, no doubt, that it is not our custom to do this.
    You and I well know that even though Rinat (a large shul) may have a place designated for such an activity, but many, if not most, shuls are not large enough to accomodate such a need.
    I respect your courage and trust your judgement that the girls are lshaim shomayim. I have no reason to question either one of those items.
    But in light of these two very real halachic considerations, I would urge you to please reconsider. Either one alone would be enough to overturn any halchic considerations you have presented.
    On a gut level, when the custom is not to put on tefilin on chol hamoaid in a shul, the advice of the poskim is to put it on privately at home.
    Why would this remote custom have any more weight than the rishonim who say you are mechuyav to wear tefilin.
    But if the custom is not to do so then you dont do it in public!

  25. Are we forgetting the problem of ???? ???????
    If I can’t wear Rabbenu Tam, where the custom is not to. Why is this different? If these girls want to be moser nefesh to wake up early to wear them at home, why rob them of this opportunity?

  26. Rabbi Harcsztark writes that women putting on tefilin has the support of the Shulchan Aruch. He writes “and R. Yosef Karo, the ???? ????? ????, seems to follow that opinion.” Seems to? If you’re not sure, how dare you quote him to support your argument. All the Shulchan Aruch writes is that women are exempt from putting on tefillin. He says nothing about women voluntarily putting on tefillin. Rabbi Harcsztark is being very disingenuous in quoting the Shulchan Aruch. The Rama on the Shulchan Aruch, who is the posek for the Ashkenazi world to which SARS belongs, is quite clear on this. He says that even if women want to be machmir and wear tefillin, we protest this! It “seems to” me that Rabbi Harcsztark is not much of a posek. For shame!

  27. This is a dangerous practice. ???? ????? ????. One mitzva leads to another. If this fad takes off you will find people of all ages performing all kinds of non-obligatory mitzvos. This is completely out of line with normal communal practice. Where will it end ? Moshiach may have to come earlier than expected !

  28. Even if the principal can show that his yeshivah practices all chumras like girls putting on tefillin, I still say it should be protested. Also it’s not being moser nefesh to put tefillin on at 6:20 if it’s widely known that girls putting on tefillin is accepted as forbidden!absolutely outrageous!

  29. why are SAR girls putting on tefillin? women are patur to do mitzvos that have to do with time. so how are they putting on tefillin if they need to work on mitzvos they are chayiv for in the first place???