Modern Orthodox High School in New York Allows Girls to Wear Tefillin

[Hat tip from Krakover]

This is from the forward.

Two SAR Students Break Ritual Barriers

Published January 20, 2014.

SAR High School, a Modern Orthodox institution in Riverdale, New York, is now allowing girls to wear tefillin.
Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, head of the school, sent out an email explaining that two girls were granted permission to wrap tefillin at the school’s daily all-girls meeting,reports the Boiling Pot, the online student newspaper of Shalhevet High School in LA.
“I have given permission to two female students… to put on tefillin during tefilah,” Rabbi Harcsztark wrote Dec. 8, in an email to the school’s faculty, obtained by The Boiling Point. “They do so every day and have not been permitted to do so in school until now. “I believe that it is halachically permissible although it is a communally complicated issue.”
Ronit Morris (‘15) and Yael Marans (‘16) will now be wearing tefillin every day, the SAR Buzz reported.

“(This mitzvah) has been very important to me for a very long time and I’m really glad to be doing it at SAR,” Morris (‘15 told the Buzz. “I started putting on tefillin after my bat mitzvah. I lay tefillin for three years straight at [Solomon] Schechter every morning, and then I came to SAR and it did not seem like that was a thing that the school was going to go for at the time, and we put it off for a while.”
Marans (‘16) told a similar story, adding that her mother also wore tefillin every day. “Just before my bat mitzvah, I began putting on tefillin. It was just what my mom did, and, of course, what my brothers did,” she explained. “But I was one of a few girls in my grade that did. It made me think a lot about individuality, and eventually, when I wasn’t so overwhelmed by this new ritual, I realized it was making me think about God. I’m not going to say that every time I lay tefillin I feel a renewed awe of God, but sometimes it really makes me think. It’s just something in my day that makes me really conscious and concentrated.”
According to a Ricki Heicklin, a senior at SAR, meetings with every grade were held to address the reasoning behind the controversial decision.
“There were a handful of students who saw tefillin as something strongly correlated with the Conservative movement.” Heicklen told The Boiling Point, adding: “I strongly support the girls and I think it’s absurd that anybody would be upset about Rabbi Harcsztark’s decision.”
“Regardless of my personal choices, I think everyone at SAR should be allowed to connect to Hashem in whatever way they find meaningful, as long as it falls within the scope of halacha, which this clearly does,” Heicklen said.
Praying with tefillin — boxes containing the Shema prayer that are wrapped around the head and arm — is an obligatory mitzvah for boys. 
Girls are not forbidden to do so by halacha, but rabbis from different streams of Judaism disagree as to whether or not they should.
My opinion on this and similar matters has remained steadfast over many years. It is greatly influenced by the views of the Rav and R’ Moshe Feinstein.
There will always be people who do things which are permitted according to Jewish Law, when performed in earnest, not as a temporal manifestation of a Jerusalem Syndrome or the like, and most certainly not motivated in any shape of form by the populist egalitarianism and equality arguments bandied about by the left, as if they are the two missing links of the ten commandments.
Let’s call it as it is. Men and Women are existentially different. Period. The Torah  also provides for different roles and responsibilities. This is a legally grounded Mesora.
There are degrees of freedom. They are applied, also based on Mesora, to those who have attained a certain level of kedusha. That’s not the same as saying that every man already has that kedusha when they are born, of course. They do not.
There have been female Rebbes. Read about it. There have been and are women who put on Tefillin. Maybe some want to wear Tzitzis etc. Those who are at that level, consult a Rav, and act accordingly. Judaism hasn’t censored these acts or hidden them. It is condoned, but it is controlled.
What I do object to, is the institutionalisation of such practices. No school or similar should allow these things to be done with the style of pomp and ceremony implied by the article above. Those girls are quite capable of doing these things, in a modest way, without their school or they advertising their predispositions.
I don’t say Tikun Chatzos. If I did, frankly, I’d be a complete joke. Why? I’m simply not at a level that I could meaningfully sit and cry each night at midnight about the Churban. Those who do, do so in private. Sure, some of their family will know, but they do not make it known, nor do they announce a Tikun Chatzos evening.
One of my daughters who attended Lindenbaum (Brovenders) started to get sick and tired of her Halacha class. I asked her why. She said, because they were learning the laws of Tzniyus and most of the girls (from the USA) who are extremely bright, were attempting every which way to argue with the Rav, about sleeve lengths, hem lines, and neck lines. They started with the premise that the lines (sic) were too long, and then tried to argue their way through the sources to find support for their views. The Rav who taught, engaged them, quite correctly, explaining the various views etc. Eventually, my daughter stood up in the class (as an Aussie would) and said
“Hey, I came to learn Halacha. I didn’t come to spend months arguing about skirt length and pants etc. Many of you don’t keep these Dinim anyway, and you argue. Just accept what the Halacha is, and if you can’t/don’t keep it, then it’s your business with Hashem. Can we move onto other topics please.”
I was proud of her. That’s not to imply that my daughter was a paragon of Tzniyus etc. Rather, her balance was there, and she was more comfortable knowing what Halacha and Mesora were, and their parameters, than trying to somehow stretch and play with it so that they matched her parameters of comfort.
Ten females will never be considered a Minyan. That’s another halachic axiom. If you have Yiras Shomayim, you accept it. If your religion is egalitarianism/equality, you won’t.
It reminds me of words my father ע’’ה used to say in Yiddish when I asked him a question he didn’t think he should answer:
Do you have to know, or do you need to know

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

7 thoughts on “Modern Orthodox High School in New York Allows Girls to Wear Tefillin”

  1. I agree with you that a school should not have a general policy that all girls can put on tefillin in public if they like. But that’s not what has been reported to have happened at SAR. What the article says is that the principal has given permission to two specific girls, who have already been putting on tefillin every day for several years, and who mean it with an emes, to do so at the school minyan. It seems to me that, given the circumstances as described in the article, the principal’s shikul hada’as in this case was correct. It’s not as if he’s permitting something that is forbidden; technically it is permitted, but it is strongly discouraged, and in this case there are strong reasons why an exception should be made. If it becomes a whole thing, and a lot of girls start demanding the same treatment, then it may be time to revisit the issue and revoke these girls’ permission, but hopefully by then they will have absorbed enough correct hashkofoh that they will voluntarily stop.


      1. I’m surprised to find myself in agreement, although my initial reaction was the same as Milhouse’s. The school is an educational institution and it shouldn’t just allow its students to do things: it should take a stance, one way or the other. Contemporary Judaism doesn’t encourage pietistic displays. For instance, men don’t walk around with tefilin all day, even though at one point people did exactly that. These girls can put on tefilin privately and say the Shema and they will be accomplishing the mitzva just as fully as if they did it at the school minyan. The only reason to do it publicly is to make a statement – and that’s usurping the school’s privilege.


        1. My great great grandmother who was a cook for a YEshivah in Galicia in early 1900s laid tefilin daily and wore arbeh kanfes. She was from a frum family, raising a frum family and living above a shule, she cut a hole in her floor to be able to answer Kaddish and kedusha at all minyomim. My grandmother a’h saw this as a young girl in her grandmothers home and told me about it.


          1. And nobody should ever have a problem with this type of Tzidkus. I don’t. But these were Tzniyusdik women in the full sense.

            It could well be that the two girls in question are very very sincere and again I have no problem with that. My issue is with institutionalising such practices formally and visibly.

            Plainly it’s not the Mesora.


  2. Isaac

    I know only about one female rebbe-the “maiden of Ludmir”‘, who were the other women?

    עירובין דף צו עמוד א

    מיכל בת כושי היתה מנחת תפילין ולא מיחו בה חכמים

    However, she was un exception, see שו”ת צמח צדק (לובאוויטש) אורח חיים סימן ג

    אך קשה על הא דפסק המ”א בסי’ ש”א ס”ק נ”ד דאשה אסורה להכניסם אע”ג דאנן קי”ל נשים סומכות רשות ואפ”ל משום שנהגו שאין הנשים לובשות תפילין בחול א”כ אינו דרך מלבוש להן מאחר שאין זה דרך מלבושן בחול. מיהו א”כ ודאי גם מימות עולם נהגו כן רק מיכל בת שאול היתה מנחת תפילין. הרי פרטו אשה א’ לבד מאלפי אלפים ואעפ”כ פסק ר’ מאיר דהאשה רשאי להכניסם בשבת

    It is “known” that Rashi’s daughters put on Tefilin, is an Urban myth, as there isn’t or an historical faft?

    Read here:

    chapter V. Did Jewish Women Ever Wear Tefillin?

    Since we are examining the permissibility of this practice, it is worth investigating whether Jewish women ever actually wore tefillin.

    1. There is a widespread story that Rashi’s daughters wore tefillin, but I have been unable to find any written proof of this assertion.

    2. Hasar Micoucy (R. Samson ben Samson of Coucy) seems to indicate that women in thirteenth-century France wore tefillin. After allowing the recitation of the blessing over Hallel on Rosh Hodesh, even though such a recitation is only a custom, he adds:

    And it is not a blessing in vain since a person wants to obligate himself to do it, like the case of lulav and tefillin that these women bless (de-hanei nashei mevarkhot) even though they are not obligated [to perform the Mitzvah] and we do not protest.66

    Since Hasar Micoucy uses the present tense and since he mentions the lulav which women clearly did bless in his day, it could very well be that women in his day actually wore tefillin. If so, they undoubtedly relied on Rabbeinu Tam or on some of the other rishonim cited above.

    3. There is a cryptic reference from ca. 1546 to two Italian Jewish women “who wear tefillin like Mikhal.”66a

    4. Many written sources relate that Fatzonia, R. Hayim ben Attar’s first wife, “used to wrap herself in a tallit and wear tefillin.”67 R. Ya’akov Moshe Toledano, one of those who transmitted this story, even raises the halakhic question: “How could a great rabbi like the author of Or Hahayim not have protested to his wife about this?”68 One late source even expanded the legend to both wives of R. Hayim ben Attar!69 However, in truth, this story is nothing more than a legend. It appears in print for the first time in 1889 over 145 years after R. Hayim’s death. Furthermore, Ma’ase Tzadikim, which is the primary source of this legend, contains quite a few fanciful stories about R. Hayim ben Attar which have no factual basis whatsoever.70

    5. Rebbetzin Shlomtze wore tallit and tefillin in the beginning of the twentieth century in Eastern Europe and, later on, in Eretz Yisrael.70a

    6. The only well-documented case of a woman wearing tefillin before our time is the case of Hannah Rachel Werbermacher, a “woman-tzaddik” of the nineteenth century who became famous as the “Maid of Ludomir.” During a serious illness, she awoke and told her father: “Abba, I was just in the heavenly court and they gave me a new neshamah, a great and exalted neshamah.” After recovering, she began to act like a man. She put on tefillin, wrapped herself in a tallit, and spent all day studying Torah and praying.71 Needless to say, the Maid of Ludomir cannot serve as an example for Jewish women today. She wore tallit and tefillin because she viewed herself as a man.72 Many Jewish women today want to wear tefillin as women, just as women have performed PTBC such as lulav and sukkah for many centuries.73



    Do you realize that it is only 100 years ago Jewish women didn’t going to school?


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