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Feb 9, 2014

Women in tefillin shouldnt surprise or upset us

I heard an interesting point on Shabbos and it struck me as relevant to a number of issues the frum world has been fighting about in recent months, and I took it a step further.

Up until 100 years ago, most people in religious communities (not just, but let's only talk about them) were not educated. The men weren't so educated, with exceptions, as they had to go out to work at an early age, and the women were completely uneducated, also with exception, though rarer.

About 100 years ago Sara Shnerir revolutionized the religious world by starting schools for girls in Poland - the Beis Yaakov school network. With time, it became more and more standard, and today girls and women are extremely educated, often more than their male counterparts, in both general studies and Jewish studies.

So, we have educated our daughters. They are more studious and diligent than ever before. they deal with spirituality, they go to seminary, they study Jewish studies from nursery school until at least into their 20s and then continue to go to shiurim and lectures throughout their life. We increasingly demand and expect more of them, both academically and spiritually.

Yet, somehow, we are surprised, shocked, and some even angered, when we find some of these women demanding to take on more.

If a man would do so, if after studying for years he would accept upon himself more customs and stringencies he is not obligated in, we would be impressed, we would praise him, we would encourage him. Somehow, when a woman does precisely that, we are surprised, upset, disturbed, and agitated.

Women putting on tallit and tefillin, learning daf yomi, making minyanim, is perhaps the natural result of all the education that women have today, that they never had before. We should not be surprised or shocked when they decide to take on more than they are obligated to. The community teaches them, encourages them, to do more and more, just like the men to a certain extent, and naturally some will take it even further.

I am willing to bet that Sara Shnerir never expected this to be the result of the education she decided to provide for bnos yisrael in Eastern Europe, but it is, even though it took a long time to get to this point.

I don't know if it is bad or good, but it should definitely not be surprising or upsetting.


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10 comments:

  1. Good point. But I think it goes way beyond Sara Shnirer and the Beis Yaakov movement. The place of women in the general world around us has changed radically in the past 100 or so years. Women rarely went to university 100 years ago, rarely worked in professions (other than teaching), and often did not work out of the house at all. Today, I believe that women outnumber men in universities and law schools, and are well established in other professions. It's natural that when women are treated entirely as equals in the rest of their lives, at least some women should strive to break out of the traditional roles and limitations that a part of their spiritual lives.

    Somehow, at least for the men, this has all gotten tied up with our attitudes to feminism and modernity, and it seems to be threatening to at least some men in a way that I think seems to go way beyond whatever halachic issues may or may not be raised. I think we should at least try to understand why this is happening, as the post does a nice job of explaining, leave the rest to the women and the poskim, and find something more useful to obsess about.

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    Replies
    1. I agree, it happens everywhere and is true in many aspects of society, but I only wanted to address the issue of religious Judaism

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  2. Another point that I think is important: The Gemara "paskens" that the reward is greater for one who is commanded and performs than for one who is not commanded and performs. However, no proof is brought for either opinion, and as we are often taught as children, only Hashem knows which "mitzvah" is most dear to him.

    There is logic to both sides in that debate, but no one at all says that the one who performs when not commanded does not receive any reward at all.

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  3. If the trend continues and the fringe becomes the mainstream, then women donning talit and tefillin will become halacha. Women who then choose not, will be doing an avera. The pluralists don't really seem to care about women's rights, and if you bring it up, then the women who choose not to 'fight' are subservient to the male halacha.

    I recall a women who lived in our neighbourhood but became a member of the reform temple not nearby. When her father passed away, she was hounded by that temple to come be part of the minyan and say kaddish.

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    1. I dont think they will ever become mainstream. too much work. I cant see it becoming the norm.

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  4. Rafi,

    Interesting theory but not supported by the facts. The Beis Yaakov movement started in the early 1900's in Poland and didn't come to the USA until much later (post war era). The girls in question are from Conservative homes which took roots in the USA in the 1880's. It is more plausible that the "trend" (if you can call 2 girls a trend) stems from Conservative Judaism and not Beis Yaakov.

    This is also likely the reason behind much of the opposition. Even if there is nothing wrong per'se with girls putting on tefillin the fact that a Conservative influence is being allowed in an Orthodox institution is what is unacceptable. This this is really nothing new as we find many examples of Orthodoxy staying away from practices that may have come from Conservative or Reform influences.

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  5. You have bought into the Sara Shnirer / BY myth.
    100 years before Shnirer thought about it, JFS in London was admitting girls.
    50 years before BY opened its doors, JFS was the largest Jewish school in Europe, probably the world with thousands of students.
    There were similar, but smaller, schools in Germany, France etc.

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    Replies
    1. I admit to knowing nothing about that, but it makes no difference to the point of the post.. so it started before BY, though it is still recent history.

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  6. I would venture that the ladies that are doing this are not the ones with a a full knowledge of torah nor a high level of religious observance. These ladies may be educated, but are by and large lacking in all-encompassing torah knowledge and are looking to adopt externalities as a 'feel-good' measure. This cannot be compared to a man who has extensively studied all branches of torah shebichtav and be'al peh and is looking to grow even further in his *already full* mitzvah observance.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But we are in a generation where the young new PC and liberal is more acceptable. Need to proceed and not stay in the past. I think a lot of this new attitude is also getting rabbinical approval at some level, and if the conservative feminists do not strengthen, than for sure more of these new traditions will spread around.

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