Responsa: The Real Question Is, Why Can’t Women Wear Tefillin?

May Women Wear Tefillin?
David Golinkin

A recent discussion of our question concludes as follows:

In conclusion, women are not permitted under any circumstances to wear tefillin. In view of the fact that the Rema, the authoritative codifier of law for Ashkenazic Jewry and virtually all other authorities, forbid the wearing of tefillin by women, there is very little basis for a contemporary to permit the wearing of tefillin by women. The Rema . . . views the prohibition as rabbinic in origin. The optional wearing of tefillin is prohibited lest it lead to the desecration of their sanctity. This is a typical rabbinic enactment, and its purpose is the establishment of “a fence around the Torah”; i.e., to ensure the proper performance of Torah-based laws. As is the case with all such rabbinic enactments, the law is binding on everyone, whether or not he feels that he needs the fence.2

In the following paper we shall disprove every one of these assertions. We shall show that the Talmud and “virtually all other authorities” before the Rema permit women to wear tefillin, that there is ample halakhic basis to permit women to wear tefillin, and that no such “rabbinic enactment” was ever enacted by the sages. Rather, almost all opposition to women wearing tefillin stems from one thirteenth-century Ashkenazic rabbi.

Rabbeinu Tamís opinion is quoted in many places. He says:

And they may recite the blessings over a PTBC [Positive Time-Bound Commandment -BF] even though they are exempt from that mitzvah and they may occupy themselves with that mitzvah like Mikhal bat Cushi who [it can be assumed (mistama)], also recited the bírakhah.37

And the Rashba replies in one of his responsa:

You already know the disagreement of the rishonim and their proofs and I agree with he who says that if they desire they can perform all positive commandments and recite the blessings [which we learn] from Mikhal bat Shaul who used to wear tefillin and they did not protest; rather she did so with the approval of the sages (kirtzon hakhamim) and it is obvious (stama dímilta) that since she puts on tefillin, she blesses.38

via The Rabbinical Assembly: CJ Mag.: Fa. ’97 May Women Wear Tefillin?.

A fascinating find on the way back machine of an article I once read forcefully arguing that the majority opinion of Halakha should be that women may wear tefillin, only that some hold they bless the blessings and some hold that they do not.† R’ David Golinkin writes very convincingly.† Of interest, as well, is the tidbit that he finds no evidence that R’ Itshaki (Rashi)’s daughter wore tefillin beyond the legend.

The article PDF’d for posterity: May Women Wear Tefillin? by R' David Golinkin (370)

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1 comment to Responsa: The Real Question Is, Why Can’t Women Wear Tefillin?

  • Nelly

    Thanks for posting Golinkin’s article! I was looking for it for an adult ed class.

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