What is the significance of Tefillin? Seemingly they are mere cow hides that underwent a variety of processes, transformed into hard or soft leather, formed into different shapes, and dyed black.
Ah, but they are the object of a G-dly commandment.
It is obviously this last factor that makes them what they are: sacred. And as sacred objects their use is very restricted.
The Torah does not require women to don Tefillin, so let us analyze why a woman would want to put them on:
She wants to be "just as Jewish as men":
Problem: she already IS just as Jewish as men! (If not more so. After all it is she who transmits the Jewish lineage; not her husband.) Furthermore, since Tefillin are an object of a G-dly commandment they are sacred and cannot be used to make a personal point.
She wants to fulfill a G-dly commandment:
Problem: No problem. There is no problem with wanting to fulfill a G-dly commandment. As a matter of fact, that is an excellent objective. So, does she already fulfill all the commandments which G-d actually commanded her? If not, why not begin with those!
When you are given a daunting task by someone who knows you won't be able to do it perfectly, you must nonetheless do it
She already fulfils all her Divine Duties and wishes to take on this auxiliary commandment as well:
Problem: Fantastic! She may put on Tefillin. First she must study the laws of Tefillin, which have very strict requirements: constant focus on the Tefillin; perfectly clean body; entirely pure mind etc. Upon studying these laws and meeting these requirements she may certainly put on Tefillin.
Now you may ask: "are you telling me that all men who wear Tefillin live up to all the above conditions?"
The answer is: No! As a matter of fact most men don't live up to half of those conditions. However, men have an "obligation" to don Tefillin.
When you are given a daunting task by someone who knows you won't be able to do it perfectly, you must nonetheless do it. However, if you were not asked to take on a daunting task, you must make certain that you are completely capable before undertaking this responsibility.
In other words, this doesn't mean that men are more capable than women. This says that men are commanded to do so, and by virtue of the commandment, capability is rendered irrelevant. Women, however, are not obligated to put on Tefillin, capability suddenly becomes a major issue.
Parenthetically, the Arizal states that women DO put on Tefillin. What does he mean?
Well, does a man put on Tefillin or does his hand put on Tefillin? Technically it is his hand that is donning the Tefillin, but of course it is he, in his entirety, that is fulfilling the Mitzvah. Take that a step further: man and woman are two halves of one soul; two components of a single entity. Thus when a masculine left hand wears Tefillin, the Mitzvah is being fulfilled on behalf of one complete Jew = man and woman.
Donning Tallit and Tefillin I am ready each weekday morning to stand before my creator. As clothes make the man or woman; Tallit and Tefillin make me a davener (worshipper). Wrapping myself in the fabric of the Tallit; I feel enveloped by God’s presence. Looking upon the tzizzit, the fringes of the Tallit, I am reminded of the mitzvot; my responsibilities as a Jew. Binding the Tefillin upon my arm and around my head, I sense how my destiny is bound to my people and to God. I am reminded that my relationship with God is a loving caring partnership when I wrap the Tefillin strap around my hand and fingers reciting the ancient words of Hosea: “I betroth myself to you forever, I betroth myself to you in Righteousness, in Justice, in Kindness and in Mercy; I betroth myself to you forever, and in that way I come to Know You.”
With Tallit and Tefillin I am dressed for my conversation with God and with the words of the Siddur. I cannot imagine morning prayers without them.
Should only men have this experience? Absolutely not!
The Talmud states, "Mikhal the daughter of King Saul used to wear Tefillin, and the sages did not protest" (Eruvin 96a). Many important sages of later periods including Rabbenu Tam (1100-1171) and Rabbi Zerahia haLevi (12th c. Provence) teach that women may wear Tallit and Tefillin and recite the blessings. The Rashba (1235-1310 Spain) states in a teshuva (responsum): "I agree with those who say that if they desire they can do all such mitzvot and recite the blessings, on the basis of Mikhal bat Shaul who used to wear Tefillin and they did not protest; indeed she did so with the approval of the sages and by the nature of the matter since she puts on Tefillin she blesses" (Teshuva 123).
Yes, of course, one can find the opposite opinion in the sources, but in our day, in communities where men and women participate equally in prayer I encourage women to enjoy the blessing of being wrapped by the Tallit and bound by the Tefillin.
Egalitarianism is one of the fundamental beliefs of Reform Judaism. There is no mitzvah, ritual, or custom which is closed to one gender or the other. In the last 100+ years the Reform Movement has been in existence in the United States, it has issued several official documents, called Platforms, which lay out the core beliefs and values of the Movement.
In 1976, at the Centenary anniversary of the American Reform Movement, one such platform was issued (
http://ccarnet.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=41&pge_prg_id=4687&pge_id=1656). In laying out the fundamental teachings of Reform Judaism, this document said, in part, “that women have full rights to practice Judaism; and that Jewish obligation begins with the informed will of every individual.” The two points mentioned in this passage both speak to the question of women wearing talit and t’filin. On the one hand, women are fully equal with men and have every right to practice any and all rites and rituals of Judaism. Therefore, women as well as men are fully enabled to wear any ritual garb they desire.
On the other hand, for every individual, male and female, the adoption of any ritual practice is dependent upon the “informed will” of every person. What this means is, it is incumbent upon every Reform Jew to learn as much as possible about our history and traditions, and then to decide for him/herself what rituals, practices, and customs are meaningful to him/her. That which is meaningful and relevant in our lives, we should observe. That which has lost its relevance in modern times (such as laws or customs which bar women from full participation in Jewish life) should be abandoned.
Throughout the first hundred years of American Reform Jewry, the majority of ritual practices, including the wearing of talit and t’filin, were abandoned as no longer relevant or meaningful in the modern world. The first platform of American Reform Jewry, issued in 1885 and known as the Pittsburgh Platform (
“3. We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.
4. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.”
However, by the late 20th century, many Reform Jews felt a need to return to some of the traditions and rituals earlier Reformers had abandoned. Some of these traditions were re-imagined, modern rationales were found for them, but in any case, for many Reform Jews, this return to tradition brought a renewed sense of spirituality to their lives. As the 1999 Statement of Principles says (http://ccarnet.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=44&pge_prg_id=4687&pge_id=1656), “We are committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of (mitzvot) and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community. Some of these (mitzvot), sacred obligations, have long been observed by Reform Jews; others, both ancient and modern, demand renewed attention as the result of the unique context of our own times.”
In short, for Reform Jews, there is no barrier to women wearing talit and t’filin. It is, for both men and women, a matter of what practice is most meaningful to them.
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