Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Ritual Uber Alles - Part 3 - Ladies and Tefillin

I was going to make this a more halachic piece but I'm on call in the local ER right now, it's an obscenely early hour in the morning and I don't have my seforim with me so my usual stylistic ranting will have to do.
Recently two Modern Orthodox schools, SAR Academy in Riverdale and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein's Ramaz school made waves within the Jewish world by announcing that girls who wished to wear tefillin during davening would be allowed to do so.
Naturally this has resulted in waves of outrage from the right side of Orthodoxy and waves of outrage at the outrage from the left side.  On the right folks like Rav Steven Pruzansky and others like him can see nothing good in this.  They note the lack of approval for this practice amongst the halachic sources and remain concerned that letting young women wear tefillin is a first step towards Reformativism and a meddling with the mesorah.  For folks on the left any opposition to these girls is unacceptable and presents an exclusionary Judaism that they don't want to be part of.
Let's cut through a few things.  Technically there's no issur to prevent these young ladies from putting on tefillin whenever they want.  There is an issue over whether or not they can make a beracha since they are not obligated but these kinds of things have been argued about for years when women decided they wanted to start waving a lulav at Sukkos but nowhere does it say in Shulchan Aruch that women are outright forbidden to put on tefillin.
That doesn't mean the classical codes have nothing to say on the matter.  While acknowledging the technical lack of an issur the Rem"a clearly states his discomfort with the idea.  There are, in fact, no sources I could find while reviewing the subject over Shabbos that are comfortable with the idea or even say "Well, if she really, really wants to..."  In other words, while the lack of prohibition exists the concept of women putting on tefillin is not recommended by the authorities.
Now for many on the left this is no barrier.  They will point out that Michal, the daughter Shaul wore tefillin.  They rarely point out the next part of the Gemara where Chazal said that the contemporary authorities protested against her.  They'll point out that Rashi's daughters wore tefillin.  Well, once your father knows as much as Rashi...
In fact there is no answer to give a woman determined to wear tefillin.  She's going to do it and if a Rav pushes back she might use the rebuf to jump ship to the local Conservative synagogue.  Certainly the Rav will be roudnly criticized by the relevant folks for daring to deny the young lady her "right" to get closer to God through the tefillin.
Leaving this aside one must then ask: why does a young lady want to wear tefillin in the first place?
Let me point out that there is one reason why men wear tefillin: because God said to.  When I get up in the morning, before I daven Shacharis I put on my tefillin because I have to.  If I decide one morning that the tefillin aren't doing anything for me it doesn't matter.  I still have to put them on.
What's more, despite popular appearances tefillin aren't tied to the daily prayers.  If one wakes up on a desert island one morning bereft of one's possessions one still must daven, even without any tefillin in sight.  And in the reverse, if I decide I don't want to pray one morning I still have the obligation to put my tefillin on.  Yes, we make a connection between the two because nowadays that's the only time we wear them but really one does not depend on the other.
Which brings us back to these young ladies.  I have no doubt that they pray every morning with great sincerity and conviction.  As far as their actual obligations go al pi halacha they fulfill them. So why the need to put on tefillin?  They are not chayav in the mitzvah.  They don't get the same reward as if they fulfilled something they are obligated to do.  They annoy many people by doing it.  So why the urge?
I will suggest that there is a simple reason: because the boys do it.  Remember what I've been saying about the role of ritual in Judaism nowadays: it's everything.  The more rituals you do, the more Judaism you're doing.  When a boy goes to pray he puts on his tefillin.  When a girl goes to pray she just gets to open a siddur.  In a ritual-centred model of Judaism why wouldn't the young lady get the impression that the boy is doing more than her?  If she sincerely desires to have the best prayer experience possible why wouldn't she see adding tefillin to her prayers to bring them up to the same level as the boy's?
The actual halachic position is simple: a girl without tefillin and a boy wearing them are both in the optimal position for davening.
The perceived ritual position is also simple: the more you do, the frummer you are.  Until that perception is changed one cannot argue against the "Morethodoxy" folks and their desire to change Judaism to suit their underlying secular liberal values.
Once again ritual has taken over reason and become the defining feature of our practice of Judaism.  That doesn't mean it's correct.


Chaim B. said...

>>>While acknowledging the technical lack of an issur the Rem"a clearly states his discomfort with the idea.

What Rama are you reading? The Rama says "mochim b'yadam" -- not only should it not be done, but we should protest against it.

Rabbi Pruzansky from Teaneck, NJ is now part of the "right-wing?" I guess compared to R' Avi Weiss and R' Lookstein he is, but if that's your yardstick then just about everyone is on the right.

SJ said...

I would say that breaking down gender roles creates a slippery slope that allows faggots to say they can have families of 2 fathers or 2 mothers and it's perfectly fine for the kids.

Of course we straight people know that men and women bring different things to the table in a marriage.

DrJeff said...

It is pretty clear that facts really have nothing to do with people's positions here. Nobody is really honest. It all depends on your outlook--how you look at the world. Do you embrace change or do your look backwards? Do you fear new things? Do you have empathy for other people or are you tribal, protecting your "own", be it gender, religious group or whatever.

SJ said...

is this same Jeff from FM? Sounds like it. said...

There might be 2 problems that I have never heard discussed.Both
would also apply to tzitzit.

Aleph; al titgodedu. Example on Chol Hamoed those Ashkenazim who are noheg to lay Tephillin without a bracha must refrain from doing so in a place where people are noheg not to. Rather they should do it at home before they go to shul.

Bet; Beged ish.

Now everyone can start throwing tomatoes at my assertion. said...

I just wanted to add that the former reason that I mentioned would only apply in public. The weakness of my second reason is that great authorities who have discussed the issue have never brought up beged Ish.

Chaim B. said...

1) Lo Tisgodedu - the minhag in many shuls is for those who are wearing tefillin to go into the ezras nashim, as there is a mechitza that seperates them from the rest of the tzibur to avoid lo tisgodedu.

2) Targum Yonasan Devarim 22:5 says tefillin is kli gever. The question Achronim discuss is how to fit that with the Chazal that Michal bas Shaul wore tefillin.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

I raised both your objections over at DovBear and got plenty of tomatoes thrown at me.
Chaim, that minhag is an excellent solution for the schools in quesiton since then both the men and women wearing tefillin will be in the ezras nashim! 8-)

Chaim B. said...

On the topic of kli gever, see Shu"T Bnei Banim from R' Yehudah Herzl Henkin, vol 2 siman 3.