Tempest in a Tefillin-Bag?

17

tefillinBy Rabbi Avi Shafran

Of the slew of recent articles celebrating the idea of girls wearing tefillin two were particularly notable. One, because of how revealing it is of its author’s attitude toward halacha; the second, because it holds the seeds of a worthy lesson.

In Haaretz, feminist Elana Sztokman (upcoming book: “The War on Women in Israel”) asserted that “the crude, sexist responses within Orthodoxy to girls wearing tefillin” only “reflect men’s fears and prejudices.” And that her brand of “religious feminism is not about… women who are angry or provocative.”

She dismisses those who have noted that the Shulchan Aruch (technically, the Rama) criticizes women’s wearing of tefillin as just “try[ing] to make their objections rooted in halakha,” and she cites in her favor the halachic authority of the founder of a school described elsewhere as representing the “co-ed, egalitarian ethos of liberal Conservative Judaism.” That authority, Ms. Sztokman announces, has “unravel[led] the halakhic myths… about women and tefillin.”

What’s more, she continues, fealty to the halachic sources about the issue only shows how “some men think about women’s bodies and their roles in society” and “how deeply rooted misogynistic perceptions are in Orthodox life.”

And to think that some people call feminists strident.

The second article of note was by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the spiritual leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (where he has permitted a woman to wear tallis and tefillin at services). Admirably and responsibly, he cites the halachic sources that oppose the practice, concedes that it isn’t “normative practice in Halachik Judaism” for women to wear tefillin, and even states that he doesn’t “want to encourage women” to do so.

He tries, though, to parse one of them, the Aruch Hashulchan, in order to make a case that the prohibition should no longer apply “in our day, when the expectations for women in general are basically the same as the expectations of men.”

I don’t think that Rabbi Lookstein, although he is greatly respected by many as a communal leader and educator, considers himself a recognized decisor of Jewish law. And so, I imagine that he would not criticize those of us who look to such decisors for rulings, and certainly would not rail against us for being “sexist” or “misogynistic.” His discomfort, moreover, with encouraging women to adopt the practice of wearing tefillin may even reflect a suspicion that, while the immediate motivations of individuals may be entirely sublime, some who are vocally pushing the practice may be more interested in prostrating themselves before an “egalitarian ethos” than in serving G-d.

En passant, though, Rabbi Lookstein raises a point that every observant Orthodox Jew would do well to consider.

The Aruch Hashulchan, he notes, writes that it is clear that only men are commanded to wear tefillin. Thus, men have no choice but to make the effort to achieve the state of physical and mental purity tefillin require – at least for a short while each day, during morning prayers. It is a risk, but the commandment makes it a necessary one. Women, however, who are not commanded to wear tefillin, do not have to undertake the choice; so why should they put themselves in the position of possibly, even inadvertently, disrespecting tefillin?

Seizing on that argument, Rabbi Lookstein asserts that since today “nobody really does it the right way… why are women any different from men in this respect? Just look at all the men who are consulting their… phones, or reading, during parts of the davening, while wearing tefillin…”

The validity of Rabbi Lookstein’s halachic suggestion regarding women wearing tefillin is, of course, highly arguable. That some people don’t properly execute a difficult but assigned personal responsibility cannot be an argument for others to unnecessarily undertake the responsibility and its challenges themselves.

But Rabbi Lookstein’s observation nevertheless holds great worth for all of us who hew to halacha, who disapprove of women laying tefillin and oppose acceptance of the same by Jewish schools.

Because we must wonder why this issue has suddenly been thrust upon us, begetting rants like Ms. Sztokman’s. We can’t just dismiss the controversy as a mere tempest in a tefillin-zekel. It has unleashed anger and hatred against halacha-committed Jews. We are taught by the Torah to examine unfortunate events for some message, some fodder for self-improvement. What might we have done to merit the introduction of yet another tool for divisiveness among Jews?

Rabbi Lookstein may have unintentionally supplied us with the answer.

There are certainly shuls where tefillin are entirely respected, where men don’t joke around or discuss business or politics or check their phones or daydream during services.

But then, sad to say, there are all too many… others too. Might what goes on in them be what is nourishing the new ill will?

© 2014 Rabbi Avi Shafran

RABBI SHAFRAN

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Mickey Mouse atonement.

    There is no functional reason for a woman to wear tefillin.

    The problem I think is that the underlying psychology today of some of these young women is that they have little example of good yiddishkeit in their existing conniving limits of change and thus they rationalize at a lesser level that they are well enough to be in the same sample population as the men who are clearly benefitting from tefillin. They see men benefit and they are not entirely happy in their female roles of home and safety and then they think that there is an axiom of better ideas for a better price that can improve their every day sampling of common indecision which they sample against the norm of common industrial good.

  2. the cases which brought this up were not Orthodox girls putting on tefillin, but rather Conservative girls, whose mothers also put on tefillin – these girls were,putting tefillin on at home before school and,wanted permission to do so at school – they are not making a statement, just minhag (even though wrong) imoseihen beyadeihen

  3. When the frum media started erasing frum women’s faces many frum women feel estranged
    A step further is the women who feel the need to,on their own,find ways to show devotion to the Eibisther either through burkas or tefillin. Just a thought.

  4. The author makes the following statement:

    “That some people don’t properly execute a difficult but assigned personal responsibility cannot be an argument for others to unnecessarily undertake the responsibility and its challenges themselves.”

    The above statement that the author makes shows how he has misunderstood Rabbi Lookstein’s point, or he is misinterpreting it. The fact, is that Rabbi Lookstein never made that argument at all as a reason to let women wear tefillin. On the contrary, Rabbi Lookstein is not encouraging women to don tefillin at all, and his quote follows:

    “We’re not encouraging this; we’re accommodating this,” That’s all.

    Not only that, there is no girl currently at RAMAZ who has made that request, and when it has happened in the past, it seems Rabbi Lookstein has handled the situation quite admirably with great care and sensitivity.
    It behooves the author (and anyone else who cares) to read/research what Rabbi Looksteins’s ACTUAL position is and what his words really were.

    As for his credentials, Rabbi Lookstein is a scholar par excellence, with decades of experience as a leader and activist on behalf of Yidden. Not to mention all his degrees and academic accolades. While he may not consider himself an active ‘posek’, he certainly has credibility and enough knowledge and experience to make fundamental decisions for his school/community. you might even call it ‘daas torah’

  5. “En passant, though, Rabbi Lookstein raises a point that every observant Orthodox Jew would do well to consider.”
    the rantings of an apikorus. Maybe next we will have lessons for life from the New Testament.

  6. the unlikely desire of females to wear tefillin generally emanates from an unconscious need/truth which is part and parcel of the feminine psyche to subjugate themselves.the feminist movement which subverts their very nature has boomeranged to create this subterranean need to return to a state of subservience. they are not far off the mark. their subservience is well heeded to and in fact it should be to Hashem. they just lack the insight to digest the reality that subservience to Hashem must manifest itself in internal work and not in tying their arms physically.oh but the distance from the arm to the arm is not far physically but light years away spiritually.

  7. #1 – you lost me, what are you trying to say? English please!
    Rabbi Shafran, please don’t think everyone here listens with one ear and leaks it out the other.

  8. there is a very simple reason for the seemingly bizarre onslaught of behavior regarding phemale phylactery donning.it relates at a very deep subconscious level to the systemic truth undeniable and perfect in its farreaching manifestations of a woman’s subservience . it is both a truth and an inborn need and desire of the psyche. as a rebound effect to the feminist movement which has unvaliantly attempted to loosen the shackles,now there is a push to subservience manifest physically in the tying of the arm . instead of spiritual subservience it takes on the odd show of tefillin donning. the arm may be physically close to the heart but alas it is light years away spiritually .

  9. there is a very simple reason for the seemingly bizarre onslaught of behavior regarding phemale phylactery donning.it relates at a very deep subconscious level to the systemic truth undeniable and perfect in its farreaching manifestations of a woman’s subservience . it is both a truth and an inborn need and desire of the psyche. as a rebound effect to the feminist movement which has unvaliantly attempted to loosen the shackles,now there is a push to subservience manifest physically in the tying of the arm . instead of spiritual subservience it takes on the odd show of tefillin donning. the arm may be physically close to the heart but alas it is light years away spiritually .

  10. An excellent point. One of the nicest things about Shabbos davening is that the cell phones are left home. Of course, some people will talk anyway, but during the week it’s much worse. If you’re wearing tefillin you think about tefillin, not your IMs or the stock market. Midah k’neged middah. HKB’H is giving us a heads-up on a real problem.

  11. We can perhaps extend Rabbi Shafran’s idea to other areas that are, unfortunately affecting
    the Orthodox World.
    We are experiencing a similar vis-a-vis our Mekomos Hakedoshim (Women of the Wall; attempts
    to take over the administration of Meron by the secularists; a push for mixed genders at batei chaim etc.)
    I have seen unfortunately, on many occassions,
    charedi looking people standing by the Kosel (with their backs to it) and talking on cell phone. When I made a comment to them, they looked at me as if I was from Mars!
    I saw a gabbai in Kever Rachel Imeinu sitting at a desk (with his feet on it) talking aloud on his cell phone, while Tzebrochene people were crying their hearts out to Hashem before Rochel Imeinu.
    Which led me to think: do we really (chas V’shalom) have a right to sit in these mekomos ha kedoshim?
    Perhaps that is why we are being beset by so much of these apikorsishe challenges!
    Do we really deserve better when we behave as such?

  12. As a Jewish woman, and a feminist who believes in the female contribution to Jewish continuity and to our planet, I find it highly ironic that women try to celebrate their femininity by trying to be like men!

    Its crazy!!

    In doing so, they show disrespect and no value to the female contributions to the Mesorah and to the Jewish people.

    You do not have to wear tefillin to count. You do not have to be a rabbi to make a difference! Goodness gracious! Hashem gave us our own voice, our own path and our own gifts with which He states that we matter!

    Why run to male mitzvahs when we are blessed with the most spiritually beautiful mitzvahs for women?

    I just don’t get it.

  13. “the scholar par excellence” who “converted” Ivanka Trump because her then fiance Jared Kushner’s mother didn’t want her son to marry a shiksa.

    As for me, I’ll let the rabbis who study Torah lishma 16-20 hours per day tell me what’s right and what’s wrong. You know the rabbis I mean, the ones whose Torah learning is pure because they haven’t been exposed to the kefira of academia or the politically correct mishugassen of today’s upside down world. They are the true rabbanim of Klal Yisrael and their word is law.

    Hashem gave me, a Jewish mother, the job of educating my children to be yorei shamayim and ovdei Hashem. It’s the most important job in Judaism and I wouldn’t trade it for all the tefillin and taleisim in the world.

  14. Its all because they are Aino Metzuveh that they want to be Oseh this Mitzvoh.
    Instead of the Orthordox getting all wound up in arms about it, they should actually put out a kol koreh that ALL women HAVE to put on tallis & tefillin EVERY day! That would unleash a huge backlash from the liberal left & conservative about how could the rabbis force women to do anything!

    First these should perform the mitzvos that apply to them & learn the gemorah, rashi, tosfos, rishonim & achronim, Shulchan oruch & rambam about all the mitzvos that they should do (not only tznius & nidda, but even shabbos), and then let them learn about the mitzvos they dont have to do, before they go & do them without understanding it.

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