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Why I Don't Put On Tefillin

Why I Don't Put On Tefillin

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The man "goes out" in search of G‑dliness, the woman cultivates G‑dliness.
The man provides the seed to create life; the woman bears life.
The man teaches his children how to live; the woman is life.
-The Chassidic Masters

I had always been fascinated with tefillin (phylacteries), the two black leather boxes with Torah verses of parchment inside, worn on the head and wrapped around the arm. The basic explanation is that it is a way of connecting to our Creator and it is the binding of head, heart and deed. But it wasn't until I began learning all the wonderful mental, emotional, and physical health benefits of donning tefillin, that I felt a strong desire to partake in the commandment. I investigated the Scripture but could not find any specific prohibitions of why I shouldn't do so. Being a woman, I was discouraged from putting on tefillin by the rabbis with whom I consulted, but I couldn't get a satisfactory answer as to why.

I thought this was a clear sign One of the rabbis I spoke with mentioned to me that the daughters of the great Torah commentator, Rashi, wore tefillin. I thought this was a clear sign— that, if the daughters of such a renowned sage wore tefillin, it must not be prohibited for women. I figured, if Rashi himself couldn't (or wouldn't) talk his daughters out of doing it, how could it be wrong?

When I confronted another rabbi about my conclusion, he said that Rashi's daughters were on a much higher level than probably any rabbi in this generation. His answer in a nutshell was essentially, "You're not Rashi's daughter. You are not holy enough to do it." This answer didn't sit well with me. I thought, "Who are you to judge me?"

Then I read about the sons of Aaron the High Priest: Nadav and Avihu. These were great men driven by a deep desire for closeness to G‑d. They were inspired to serve G‑d and made an offering that was not asked for and died. They were consumed by a fire—their passion—because they did what they wanted instead of just doing what G‑d asked. Now the picture was getting clearer. This was something I could relate to.

I could see that my great spiritual desire to connect with G‑d was in fact egotistical. It was about me, me, me. I wanted to put on tefillin as a way of reaching my potential. I wanted to be closer to G‑d, and thought tefillin would take me there. But this is not what G‑d asks of me. My spiritual desire was in fact self-centered and not G‑d centered. I didn't stop to think what would make G‑d happy.

The antenna in this case is redundantWhen I learned about the power of the Jewish woman, what is unique to her alone, it then became clear that tefillin are unnecessary for me. Jewish philosophy teaches that women have a much more direct connection to G‑d then men, it is an internal connection. (Read "I am Woman" for more on this.) It is as if I already have an instant satellite connection with the best reception possible, and I am thinking that maybe putting an antenna on top will help to beam me up. This thinking is clearly flawed. The antenna in this case is redundant and will not do anything for me, and in fact may be detrimental. In fact, this redundancy may be displeasing to G‑d because it is doing an act in vain, even if the intentions are great— like Nadav and Avihu.

In the morning prayers, men thank G‑d for giving them the opportunity to earn their connection through the very commandments that women are not obligated to perform. While it must be greatly satisfying to earn a relationship and close bond through a set series of actions, I have the ability to rejoice and celebrate that my reality is that I was born with a more direct connection to my Creator (which I can deepen through my prayer and commandments) and also with the ability to be G‑dlike through the creation of children. Just like G‑d created a space for humanity to exist and to bestow His love upon them, I, too, have the ability to do the same through procreation. I have been gifted with co-creating with G‑d, in a way that man does not experience: my microcosm reflecting His macrocosm. I can emanate G‑d's ways in a deep way that man cannot. And that is priceless.

I had my uncle mail my grandfather's tefillin and tallit (prayer shawl) from Israel to me, with the intention to use them. But according to my humble understanding and research, it would not be wise to wear them. So until I get married and my husband can use them, my Sabba's tefillin and tallit sit in my house, unused. And me, I am woman, and I am whole with that.

Ahuva Gamliel, ND, AP is a licensed acupuncture physician and naturopathic doctor trained in Jewish Energy Healing. She practices in North Miami Beach, Florida.
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Yisrael Beit Shemesh October 30, 2015

According to your logic a woman's role is less spiritual than a man's. If he must catch up to her than his day must be more spiritual. If he doesn't catch up, then why are the men the rabbis? Reply

Sarah Masha West Bloomfield MI, USA May 8, 2015

Anon 7 May 15 If your employer gives you a top of the line tool to do your job, do you take pride in it? No. It isn't yours, you are given it only so you can do your job. But when that tool is intelligence, a physical attribute, or other talent, we speak of it as yours, and avoiding egotism in it is hard. But those attributes are tools G-d gave you so you can do your tasks in this world.

A woman may start out at a higher level. This is a gift, a tool, given to her so she can so her job. Thus it is not something to be proud of, nor should men be embarrassed at being male. If she does not use that gift, a man who is using his attributes (mitzvot) correctly is going to surpass her quickly.

Maybe the balance is that women start higher, but don't get direct instruction about how to advance. Men start lower, but do have direct instructions.

Wanting to be at a higher level is not egotistical. Getting there, through your own work, is hard. Humility after getting there is a challenge. (So I've been told.) Reply

Anonymous May 7, 2015

Theological simplification You mention Rashi's daughters wore Tefillin and that your rabbi suggested they were at a higher spiritual level. If that is true, then they had some reason for doing so that is not understood.

Being a vessel of creation is very different from being a creator. Just as men hold a seed, the woman holds a womb and one doesn't work without the other. I don't think it's fair to believe that woman have a more direct connection with God. We do have two X chromosomes and other biological differences that make us unique, but there is a ying and yang involved in all life.

Tefillin seems to be mostly a symbolic ritual and I would be interested in understanding why it has been relegated to men, but I don't think your argument makes any sense. If it is egotistical to desire a higher connection to God, then is it not egotistical to believe women already have a higher connection to God than men? Perhaps Tefillin have nothing to do with elevating a connection to God... Reply

Anonymous January 1, 2015

A matter of choice Women should be allowed to wear both tallit and tefilin if she does it for the right reasons, so my rebbi says also. Reply

Anonymous July 29, 2014

Renee, you're quite right - within the Jewish community, as elsewhere, there are a large number of single parents. And each of us wants to provide our children with everything they're entitled to - all that comes with having two parents as role models in their life. Sadly, it's not always possible. Indeed your desire to enable your son to connect to the spirituality of tefillin is understandable and laudable; not always, though, are we in a position to model every value we hold dear. Every mitzvah is precious; what you'll impart most of all, though, is your sincere, deep and honest connection to that which is precious to all Jews. This can't help but impact your child. Reply

Renee Dallas July 1, 2014

Single mothers I appreciate your decision, Ahuva, but I would put forth that there are many single mothers out there that are heads of households. I personally have only boys, but either way, I believe that when there is no father involved, the boys especially miss out on many traditions such as the Tefillin. My boys did not want to sit in the Chabad shul separate from me and so, we have attended conservative shuls. With that said, leading by example is the best way to teach a child, and I have asked my cousin who is Chabad and he said that absolutely, if I want to don Tefillin, it is good and go right ahead. If I do it because it makes me feel more "tied" to my faith, and my son sees and appreciates the gesture, and feels comfortable to do it as well, then to me, maybe I have shown an example to introduce my son to something so spiritual as Tefillin whereas he rejects all outside influences. Reply

Anonymous May 13, 2014

Um the rashis daughters thing is a myth, there is no proof of it occurring and to say that a response is that they were on a higher level is so demeaning. We need to get this fact straight that rashis daughters never wore tfillin!
Also I've noticed that a lot of people have commented that they wear tefillin (women that is) because the laws in the Torah are for everyone. Keep in mind that this Torah says that a man and a women cannot wear the same garments and a Tallis and tefillin are male garments Reply

Anonymous May 1, 2014

G-d's word and commandments are there for everyone. Male and female. I'm a female and therefore I wear my shawl and tefillin and (try to) follow all of the commandments. Just my take. Reply

Angela Miriam April 27, 2014

Respectfully disagree While I honour your decision, Ahuva, my own conclusions were different. I wear a tallit and lay tefillin and have found the significant mental, emotional and physical benefits quite startling in their power. This is something I do in the privacy of my own home and have found it to be of immeasurable benefit in all aspects of my life.

May all of us be blessed in our journeys and look with open hearts and minds upon those whose observance diffesr from our own. Reply

Larry Rosen potomac January 21, 2014

Teffilin I love your article. I live in a community where a nearby Modern Orthodox Shul is heading in this direction. I very much appreciate your writing. My mother a"h was the leader of our home, the one who kept us frum and who made sure we went to Jewish schools back in the 60's. Reply

Anonymous San Francisco CA December 18, 2013

I think it is good that woman are getting more involved my buddy says the torah states woman can't be rabbis. If this is the case can someone post it. Reply

Aliza BasMenachem Rockland County, NY July 30, 2013

VERY VALUABLE - THANKS! Excellent article. Very valuable to me at this time. The ruckus that the Women of the Wall are making, is something that disturbs me, and I try to reason with them on FaceBook. I have also posted an article on websites, including Jerusalem Post. As a reference, I found a page posted by sichosinenglish that gives very good advice. The pure words of the Rebbe... BUT - this is the first I have learned about the comparison with Aaron's sons. It is a very good point and you deliver it very skillfully. THANK YOU! Reply

Maribell Caban April 17, 2013

I thought the same as you.... I too rec'd Tefillin from Israel out of the blue after a heavy debate with many Rabbis as you mentioned above and felt the way you did and this confirms it. My son, Joshua, whom is autistic will wear this Ashkenazi Tefillin which I rec'd for myself, will now be his. How fortunate are we to be women! Daughters of a Mighty King! Toda raba for this article....it's beautiful :) Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, MI/USA September 4, 2012

Hilda Zeigler The instance I think you are trying to bring in here is the request that we be taught the Torah by Moshe, rather than receiving it all directly from HaShem. Nobody turned down the connection, what they felt they could not incorporate was the experience of direct communication. During the expression of The 10 Sayings, when each word was received (not just heard, but seen, smelled, tasted and felt.) each Jew died from the experience, was revived and then another word was sent, and the cycle repeated. At the end of what we now call The Ten Commandments, the Jews asked Moshe to be an intermediary, because they just could not handle the experience of direct communication. They still wanted The Torah, and the connection, they only turned down the experience of full direct communication. Some people cannot turn the experience down, those are prophets. Aharon and Miriam are among them, showing that in this there is no difference between men and women. Reply

Hilda Zeigler September 1, 2012

Was there a time in Jewish history when all Jews were offered a personal and intimate connection with G-d but rejected the offer and chose one man, Moses, instead to have that direct connection with G-d? I wonder if abdicating individual responsibility for ones' connection with the Creator fostered development and acceptance of rules for behavior including those for men and those for women because there was no longer a direct personal experience of G-d? Reply

Anonymous Rockledge, Fl via jewishbrevard.com May 4, 2012

The Mitzvot of Tefillin I am a Lady, and I lay on Tefillin and wear a Tallis. I do this not out of arrogance or false pride, but because the Laws of Torah were given to All People...Men and Women. I do it because it is so special to be wrapped in the Tallis and the beautiful Mitzvot of Tefillin. All of the Mitzvot were given to all People by HaShem. We cannot pick and choose and we cannot Give or Deny the laws of HaShem. Reply

Ana London , Canada March 31, 2012

G-ds blessing be up you.
I love been a women. that what want it be to be. Reply

ahuva gamliel miami, fl August 29, 2011

Thank you from the author Shalom Chevre,

I am just reading all these wonderful comments for the first time. Thank you for taking the time to enter the discussion, I leanred a lot from all of you! Wow, there is certainly a lot of contoversy in this arena. It seems there are many questions and sometimes the answers are unsettling. I just want to wish everyone to reach a place of peace in their spiritual journey of discovery & closeness to the Creator and human-kind.

Peace & blessings to all! Reply

Rivkah Columbus, ohio June 21, 2011

Interesting discussion Eruvin 96a-b states that Shaul's daughter did don tefillin and the sages did not object. Rabbi Yossi rules that women can participate in mitzvot voluntarily, even though not obligated in them. Rambam, Hilkhot Tsitsit 3:9 states if a woman wants to do a mitzvah from which she is exempt we do not protest.The Talmud in Menachot 43a reports that Reb Yehudah attached fringes to the aprons of women in his household and there it reads: "All must observe the law of tzitzit, Cohanim, Levites and Israelites, converts, women and slaves.Sefer HaChinukh (Positive Commandment 421) is another source. I see both arguements.I do lay tefillin in private no one sees but Hashem, there is no political motive, ego or other people who might be offended or distracted from their prayers.Just me trying to get closer to the Holy One. If you consider it consult your Rav and examine why you want to.There are many rules and procedures for doing it properly. Also bodily issues women must be careful about. Reply

Sarah Masha W Bloomfield, Mi/USA June 15, 2011

I love the Torah Why do you find yourself so drawn to something that is not needed? It seems you have a lot to lean. Much can be learned and accomplished in your current state, as a non-Jew. Please, go back to that rabbi who showed you the door, and ask to learn how to be an observant non-Jew. Ask to learn more. If then you feel you simply must be a Jew, then you can explain your position again. Becoming a Jew is a one way trip, and we try to make sure that nobody makes this decision without fully knowing what they are getting into. Reply

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