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Is it appropriate for a woman to wear a tallit?

Is it appropriate for a woman to wear a tallit?

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Women are not obligated to wear a tallit. This is because they are exempt from fulfilling almost all time-bound positive commandments (such as reciting the Shema, which is done morning and night, or taking the Four Kinds on the holiday of Sukkot). Nonetheless, women do fulfill many of these mitzvot if they so desire.

Yet the prevailing custom is that women do not wear tallitot. A number of reasons for this reticence are found in Halachic works:

A. Both women and men are Biblically forbidden to wear clothing normally associated with the other gender. For example, men may not wear skirts. Since a tallit is traditionally a male garment, for a woman to wear one would constitute a violation of this statute.

B. Although women observe many time-bound mitzvot though they are not obligated to do so – an admirable practice for which they are certainly greatly rewarded – a tallit is different because there is no obligation whatsoever to wear a tallit—even for a man. Rather, in the event that he wears a four-cornered garment, a man must attach fringes to its corners. Since a man is not obligated to seek out such a garment, women who are entirely exempt from this mitzvah (i.e. they may wear fringeless four-cornered garments) do not wear them at all.

C. A woman who fulfills this mitzvah, which she is not obligated in doing and is not performed by the vast majority of her gender, draws undue attention to her excessive piety in an inappropriately ostentatious manner. [The concept of abstaining from a particular activity because it is deemed to be ostentatious is a general rule in Jewish law, applied both to men and women in various cases.]

D. On a mystical level, the inner workings of this mitzvah are male oriented and just don't "do it" for a woman.

So what is a woman who wishes to wear a tallit to do?

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, eminent 20th century halachic authority, writes1 that a woman who desires to wear a tallit may do so, provided that she wears a distinctively feminine tallit, to avoid the problem mentioned above. He cautions, however, that this applies only to women whose desire to wear a tallit stems from a yearning to fulfill this mitzvah, though recognizing that they are not required to do so, and not to individuals who don a tallit as a "protest," a means of challenging what they perceive to be a gender bias in Jewish law. Such an individual is not fulfilling a mitzvah, and to the contrary.


While the above addresses the practical aspect of this question, I would be remiss if I did not address the deeper issue this question involves. While altogether the feminist movement is to be commended for the equal rights it has secured for women, and the elevation of the woman's social, legal and economic status, a certain aspect of this movement's aims is questionable at best. I refer to the desire to make women masculine, rather than accentuate their feminine qualities. To evaluate a woman based on her ability to "do whatever a man can," is to dishonor womanhood, and all the unique qualities it brings to the table. A true feminist is someone who believes and is committed to making others understand the equality and importance of a women and the natural feminine role, not someone who believes that women should forsake their femininity in favor of becoming more man-like.

The same is true in the religious arena. There is a certain element that wishes to see equality between man and woman in all areas of religious ritual—i.e. that women should do whatever men do. The apparent premise of this movement is the belief that the woman's role in Judaism is less important and noble than the man's, and thus the need to right this perceived wrong.

But the One who created both man and woman thinks otherwise. He is aware that He endowed man and woman with equally valuable but fundamentally different qualities and talents—and then in His Torah advised both man and woman how to maximize these unique strengths.

So the larger question is: why would a woman want to wear a tallit if the Torah does not encourage her to do so?

For more on this topic, see Women in the Synagogue, or browse the articles in our Women, Femininity & Feminism section.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner

FOOTNOTES
1.

Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim V, section 49.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org. He lives with his family in Montreal, QC.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
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Discussion (28)
January 5, 2014
Please explain the mystical level.
On a mystical level, the inner workings of this mitzvah are male oriented and just don't "do it" for a woman.
How do you know it is male oriented?
Leah
Seattle
January 2, 2014
Traditionally, Jewish women in Spain as well as women in Russia and other Eastern Europe countries have already worn Shawls, some triangular but some rectangle, thus with 4 corners. Men were rarely seen wearing shawls, doesn't that make a shawls and wraps women garments?

Also, women wearing Tallitot usually wear a kind that has nothing to do with the Tallit Gadol (traditionally worn by the Sefardim) quite colorful and silky, the kind a man would never wear because very feminine looking, Can those still be considered to be men garments?

Thank you.
Elisheva
April 30, 2013
As the article pointed out, the oral tradition explains that the Mitzvah of tzitzit is a daytime Mitzvah. Therefore, like most time-dependent positive obligations, it is not something women are obligated in.

As for this only being mentioned in the oral tradition:

Let's take a step back:

How do we know what that the "Tzitzit" mentioned in the Torah mean? The fact that it has a certain number of strings, the knots, etc.

All of these are ideas passed down through the oral tradition!

People often don't take note how much we "rely" upon the oral tradition for our understanding of the very basics of Mitzvot. From the very vowels and punctuation in the Torah (which changes so much) to the many details of the Mitzvos we all take for granted but are not specifically written in the Chumash, these oral traditions are the way we have understood this since Sinai.

It is this same oral Tradition that outlines the obligations of a particular Mitzvah.
Yisroel Cotlar
Cary, NC
April 30, 2013
"Doesn't say 'women only' "
That's right, thank you, Shoshana! I often feel as though the women are looked down upon, as though we aren't 'good enough' to do some of the mitzvot. We're children of Yisrael and I look forward to fullfilling the mitzvot, I don't look for being excused out of them. Obviously if it's something for the kohanim or husbands, etc, then I can't do them but if it's for "the children of Yisrael" then I'm in. I also believe I will receive the protection of the tzitziot from unclean spirits; why wouldn't a women need that? Oh my. Especially me.
Citrine
US
April 27, 2013
Wearing tzit tzit
Torah commands us to wear tzit tzit on a four corner garment. It does not say men only. To claim otherwise is adding to Torah something we are not to do. This has nothing to do with piety but with obedience, to be reminded of the mitzvot.
Shoshana
GA
April 14, 2013
The wearing of tzitzit (and by implication wearing any 4 cornered garment for the purpose of putting tzitzit on) is one of the few commandments whose purpose is expressly given, "so that you may look upon them and be reminded of the commandments". No one has yet given me an adequate explanation for why men would need to remember the commandments and women would not. Though men are not commanded to seek a four cornered garment, it hardly seems possible that such an important commandment would be given to place tzitzit on a garment not likely to be worn, but would be given to be placed on a garment commonly worn so that people would be liable to wear it every day and be reminded.

The tzitzit (and tallit) don't signify piety, even though pious people certainly take care to wear them, they signify that as humans we all falter and need reminding of our duty. When did humility become "ostentatious piety" just because it's a woman involved?
And no, I don't like feminism much myself.
Anonymous
February 27, 2013
Four corners at night: According to kabbalah, men should wear their tzitzit at night as well, to protect them from the evil spirits of the night (reason why we wash our hands in the morning is to remove the impurity from this evil, as a simple explanation).

Women in tallitot: It's appropriate to note that Rav Moshe's tshuva should not be taken totally literally. Remember that this should not be done in public (as one poster wrote, she wears her distinctly female tallit at home only) and only by one with true intentions--meaning not one who wishes to rebel against the "traditional way".
It's also worthwhile to note that a woman should not take on extra commandments until she has fulfilled all of her own commandments properly, including modesty (according to halacha), Shabbat, mikvah, etc. Otherwise it just makes no sense. It's like doing the extra credit assignment before finishing your own piles of homework.
Anon
Toronto
February 11, 2013
בני ישראל
Michoel, the meaning of בני ישראל is "children of Israel," i.e. including women. Else nearly all commandments (kashrut, etc.) would apply to men but not women.
Anonymous
January 27, 2013
Wearing a tallit
Mrs. Bayla Singer said it best. It's not about gender; it's about being a Jew. That's why I am against separate seating in the synagogue for men and women. God cares about souls, not about seating arrangements. There is no reason for women to refrain from doing anything men do, for all are Jews. The day of my bat mitzvah at age 54, I put on my tallit and chanted from the Torah. It was the most beautiful, transforming day of my life.
Michal Hyman
Calgary, Canada
January 16, 2013
Wearing Tzitzis
While I agree with what has been said about the wearing of tzitzis, i fail to understand that it is time bound. If a man today had a four cornered garment, I do not believe he would be permitted to wear it at night. You are more apt to find four cornered garments for women. When I have one, I either cut a corner (making it five corners) or round off a corner. I do not believe that women should wear a four cornered garment without fringes.
Anonymous
Michigan
Show all comments
This is no fringe mitzvah! The tallit and tzitzit serves as constant reminders of our obligations to G-d and our fellows.

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