Thursday, March 13, 2014

Expanding the Conversation on Women, Tefillin, and Tzitzit

This is a guest post by Avigayil Halpern, a fabulous teenage Jewish feminist blogger and tefillin-wearer. She recently founded V'Tzivanu: Women, Tefillin, and Tzitzit.

A few years ago, I began to think about the possibility of wearing tzitzit and laying tefillin. As a curious fourteen-year-old, naturally the first place I went to explore this idea was the internet. But when I searched for "women and tefillin," I found only articles explaining why women do not wear tefillin, and "women and tzitzit" turned up "tzitzit belts" marketed by messianic Christians. In the past few months, the Jewish news and blogosphere has exploded with stories of young women laying tefillin. It has been my great joy to be a part of these stories, and I hope that now, when some young woman Googles "women and tefillin," she is met with more than explanations of why we do not perform this mitzvah (commandment).

This press coverage, however, is not enough. The driving force behind my decision to finally begin observing these mitzvot was my female role models. Conversations with female teachers solidified my beliefs and strengthened my resolve, and when I finally screwed up the courage to lay tefillin, it was a woman who taught me. The number of women interested in tzitzit and tefillin, however, is small (but growing!) and not concentrated in one place. Many women, including myself, often feel alone, and this makes it even harder to muster up the courage to stand out by doing mitzvot.

It is for this reason that I have founded V’Tzivanu: Women, Tefillin, and Tzitzit. V’Tzivanu is a forum for the publication of women’s writing about their experiences with tefillin and tzitzit. Our first post, from Jen Talyor Friedman, a soferet who writes tefillin, went up yesterday, and upcoming posts explore women’s relationship to tzitzit and tefillin in light of motherhood, veganism, family custom, and more. It is my great hope that V’Tzivanu will be a resource for girls and women who fear that they are alone, and for the broader Jewish community. There can never be too many women's stories in the world, nor mitzvot.

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