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

Pushing your own barrow

Rabbi Ralph Genende issued an opinion (hat tip to Ezra May) about Di Tzeitung’s photoshopping of women in an uncelebrated manner.  There is a way to criticise this Satmar newspaper but Rabbi Genende has not simply sought to do that. Rabbi Genende has used this as an opportunity to trumpet modern orthodoxy and contrast it with ultra orthodoxy.

Let’s look at how he made his arguments, and ask some questions.

While modern Orthodoxy has long-championed the greater inclusion of women in Jewish public life, the Chareidi (ultra-Orthodox) world still struggles with, if not out rightly rejects.

In what way do Charedim struggle with the inclusion of women? My observation is that each group within the Charedi world has their own halachic interpretation which they pursue.

In what way are the modern Orthodox championing inclusion of women? The Rav forbade the inclusion of women on Synagogue boards and the RCA issued their displeasure with Rabbi Avi Weiss’ attempts to ordain women.

they don’t have the right to impose this on others as the “Torah-true way”

In context, only readers of their paper are ‘forced’ to see this picture through their lenses. Is that not their free choice?

 I do have a problem with their zealotry, their conviction that they have the G-d given right to make women sit at the back of the bus or pressure them to move out of their allotted seats on an El AL plane because they don’t want to sit next to them.

I agree that women on a public bus should not be forced to move, but is this because of a lack of respect for women per se? I would have thought it was all about separation of sexes. I suspect that they would drag a man from the women’s section if he wandered over there.

More to the point, what has this to do with Di Tzeitung’s editorial policy unless one is simply trying to make the facile point that if they are extreme with one thing they must be extreme with others. Is Rabbi Genende implying that all those who choose not to publish pictures of women push women to the back of buses? Clearly that’s not the case.

To airbrush out pictures of women (which is done regularly not only in Di Tzeitung but also in other Chareidi publications) is a distortion of the truth which in Halacha is called gneivat da’at (being deceitful) and midvar sheker tirchak (keep away from falsehood).

How so? It is Gneivas Daas or Sheker if there is an expectation that they do not airbrush woman out of pictures. Is Rabbi Genende seriously suggesting that the readership of these papers is not aware of the editorial policy to do so? Come now.

The readership of the Tzeitung believe that women should be appreciated for who they are and what they do, not for  what they look like”. I am not assured by this because the Tzeitung producers and readers are ‘fine-print’ shmekkers; they often focus on the most stringent minutiae of Halachik practise

So the implication is that anyone who aspires, as policy, to be a so-called בעל נפש must be telling a lie if they miss the fine print?  Maybe yes, maybe no, but how does Rabbi Genende know?

Equally, it is sciolistic to suppose that the difference between Charedim and  modern orthodox relates to the fine print. Is Rabbi Genende aware, for example, that the Rav, as scion of Brisk acted in Psak in a manner which tried to accommodate all opinions!  Is this the difference between Charedim and Modern Orthodox? I think not. Was Rav Hirsch dismissive of the fine print? What about the Sridei Eish?

And I am not assured by their reverence for what women do because this is usually restricted to a very narrow area

Is Rabbi Genende now questioning the appreciation of all Charedim for their wives because their lives are less outward and worldly (in his parlance narrow) than his? What sociological study is he leaning on to support this assertion?

More worrying is the attitude of a large segment of the Chareidi world towards women and modesty in general. A group of Chareidi women and girls in Bet Shemesh have begun to wear Muslim garb covering their whole body (including their heads and faces) with rabbinic approval.

We are all aware of this radical group. We are also all aware that they have also been condemned by Charedim. What license did Rabbi Genende use to define this phenomena as a large segment. Is he engaging in hyperbole to push his own barrow?

 There is an increasing tending in the Orthodox world to separate the sexes at schools, weddings, funerals and shule events. This was not the norm in the Orthodox world in the past.

Rabbi Genende has now moved from Charedi and Modern Orthodox to “Orthodox” in general. Do his claims stack up? Orthodox Schools were always segregated. Even the Rav who allowed it at Maimonides felt that once that community was able, that males and females should learn Torah in separate classes. On weddings, I’m not sure how this practice has increased in vacuo. Is Rabbi Genende also claiming that the level of immodesty has stayed constant during time? It has not. The levels of Tzniyus in clothing has greatly decreased over time. Indeed, the Rav refused to perform a wedding for a Chasan who was not wearing a hat, and did not perform weddings when the Kallah was wearing a plunging neck line  etc. Once when the Rav was caught out performing Siddur Kiddushin for a bride who was immodestly dressed, the story is related that he kept asking for a bigger  and biggur siddur until he was unable to see the Kallah past the siddur! There are also explicit sources which forbid the mingling of genders during funerals, including the Shura.

 While modest, respectful, appropriate behaviour between men and women is what the Torah expects, it does not expect a total separation of the sexes.

Rabbi Genende is entitled to his opinion, but I’m not sure why he thinks he is entitled and they are not entitled to follow a contrary view?

As the wise rabbis of Pirkei Avot advised long ago: “Be careful with your words”.

I agree with this 🙂

Let us in the modern-Orthodox world encourage them to be more inclusive in their ways and views. You need fences for protection but you also need gateways and openings so that you can grow and move freely in Hashem’s varied and colourful world.

I am not sure if Rabbi Genende speaks for modern Orthodoxy, but I don’t see his article as encouragement! Nay, he is playing to his audience; his congregation.

Disclaimer: Let me be clear that I do think that what Di Tzeitung did was careless and gross and lacked an awareness of the world, but I do not agree with using this as a platform to bash and/or push one’s own barrow; something I contend is what Rabbi Genende achieved with his article.