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Why can't women wear Tefillin?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

Library » Women & Judaism » Women's Mitzvot » Obligations/ Exemptions | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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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 Tefillin1, 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!2

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.

Footnotes

  • 1. Talmud tractate Kiddushin 34 a. See also "Why are women exempt from time-related Mitzvot?"(http://www.askmoses.com/article/576,2131955/Why-are-women-exempt-from-time-related-Mitzvot.html).
  • 2. It is said of Rashi's daughters that they put on Tefillin. Needless to say, they adhered to all the Mitzvot they were obligated to fulfill, such as Shabbat, Kosher, family purity, etc. See next section

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RELATED CATEGORIES

Mitzvot » Tefillin
Life Cycle » Bar/Bat Mitzvah » Tefillin

Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Tefillin
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.
Arizal
Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 15th Century founder of Modern Kabbalah.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.