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Is it appropriate for a woman to wear a tallit?

Is it appropriate for a woman to wear a tallit?


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


Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim V, section 49.

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for
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Discussion (36)
November 16, 2015
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?
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.
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.
Brooklyn, NY
October 30, 2014
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.
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
October 27, 2014
This is to me a very meaninful and really purposed discussion. Many of the thoughts and sentiments expressed mirror my own ; I hope this discussion board comes more current since the last posting was in June 2014.

Israel having been directed to be a "light" to the nations" has certainly acted as a light for me - though singularly I am not a nation - I am one who collectively joins with all those who make up the nation I live in. The tzizit being a commandment of G-d to Israel acts as sort of light in that it guides the spiritual eye to remember G-ds laws which is the true light by which people are to live. It is great to see so many Jewish men wearing tzizit - it would be equally wonderful to see women do the same!
June 7, 2014
Back and forth
This is something I have been thinking on for a long time! I have studied and talked with many wise people but I just cannot come to a firm decision. I have such a desire to wear the tzitzit but I hear so many talk about how women shouldn't or don't have to, yet I want to but I still don't know. From what I have seen in my study the command was given to the "Children of Yisra'el" and I saw that this same wording is used many times, for many commands and events that would have included both men and women. But looking into the word more found it spoke often most specifically of sons. So really I am still not sure but I hope to find an answer and peace about it soon.
United States
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?
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.