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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.

Footnotes
1.

Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim V, section 49.

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Discussion (40)
April 20, 2016
Women wearing male clothing
You typed before you thought--a common problem among people who get angry at what they read on the internet.

The Torah (not the author) clearly prohibits men from wearing feminine clothing and women from wearing masculine wear. Since the items you listed are (generally) neutral, they are fine for both men and women.

Any woman wishing to don a tallit will have to contend with the fact that it is a historically male piece of clothing.

This was not something "discovered" by some "biased" males in Brooklyn. Rather, it is recorded in the Targum, the oldest commentary on the Torah.

Don't shoot the messenger.

Think, think again, and then decide.
Michoel HaKohein
Here
April 20, 2016
Your logic is fundamentally flawed not to mention insulting to women. You pretend to "know" what motivates our desire to wear Tallit. I'll go into that later but first let me address the very first "wrong" thing you said.
Re: "women and men are Biblically forbidden to wear clothing normally associated with the other gender."
Shall I list all the clothes men and women wear that are "gender" neutral? socks, gloves, coats, hats, shirts, pants, shoes, n
Only the "style" and/or color of these outfits conveys gender. A type of clothing is worn by all.

Exempting someone from something is not the same as prohibiting someone from something. You don't seem to understand the distinction.

Re: "The inner workings of this mitzvah are male oriented and just don't "do it" for a woman. " - well neither do you but we can "do it'' for ourselves (and usually do)
Really? It does it for me! Anything I add to my observance by taking on a mitzvah, I am blessed greately.
Your reasons are pure bias
Anonymous
April 17, 2016
Thank you Rabbi for the way you explained this seeming malady. It has always mystified me why some of G-ds creation wants to change that creation. As men & women are joined in marriage and they become whole,the two parts engage in different activities so both are given credit for raising children etc. and doing tzadic life.
Gene
Hot Springs SD
February 16, 2016
Hashem checked
I thought about this for a while. I can accept that only men wear the Tzitzit. Us females are mostly checkers. check this, check that. We after a while do not even notice we do that. But when a man wears Tzitzit, he is Hashem-checked. This concept creates instant peace of mind to me that that particular individual is no threat to me and my loved ones and that the country is safer with him in it. Tzitzit on men makes a whole lot of sense.
Anonymous
South-Africa
November 16, 2015
Tzitzit
Torah says for Israel to wear tzitzit. While traditionally men have interpreted this to be limited to men, women have always figured prominently in the history of Israel. I wonder if Deborah wore tzitzit and how would she have judged the matter? Should men be the only ones reminded to pray during the day?
Shoshana
GA
September 18, 2015
As you end with a question, I recommend that you actually ask women who do wear a tallit or who wish to, and *listen* to their answers, rather than projecting your own biases on them.
Anonymous
PORTLAND
August 19, 2015
I was happier until I read Rabbi Posner's after thought, in which he feared women protesting inequality by wearing a tallit in protest. A mitzvah is always a mitzvah and Rabbi Zposner's screed expresses his superhuman ability to read the mind of others. Maimonides wrote about such assumptions. Posner's would have berated the Baal Shem Tov for his "protests".
Michael Scholar
Walla Walla, WA.
April 29, 2015
My comment is to Leah, Now Deborah, the wife of Lappidoth, a prophetess, she Judged Israel doing her time.
Anonymous
Brooklyn, NY
October 30, 2014
Katie
Women "shouldn't" or "don't have to". Does this preclude the deep spiritual yearning of the soul to go deeper? A woman is not forbidden to wear tallit but me thinks men doth protest too much. The exclusion of women from this commandment was determined in a male dominated world where women didn't attend shul, stayed home, cooked and took care of the children. We take on many demanding roles in our world now and need all the help we can get to attain a higher spiritual level. I wear Tallit. Since the other women in my shul wear Tallit, it does not draw attention to me. It is rich and satisfying. Try it.
Leah
October 28, 2014
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's opinion
For those who would like to read the responsum by Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt"l cited above, but their Hebrew is not up to par, an excerpt from it has been translated and posted online in English. Do a Google search for “Women and Tallits: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.” I found that although the responsum was written four decades ago, it still resonates today.
Ben Slobodkin
Jerusalem