Wednesday 3 June 2015

051) Women, Tefillin And Cars

51) Women, Tefillin And Cars

After R Shmuel Wosner, the Belzer Rebbe and R Amnon Yitzchak have decreed that women should not drive motor cars, it is refreshing to find another rabbinic authority who adopts a very different approach with regard to women.

In Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s Peninei Halacha, the author presents a most daring approach to women and Tefillin.

He begins by explaining that the reason why women do not wear Teffillin, is because of a fundamental principle in Jewish law – that women are exempt from positive commandments that are bound by time constraints. Tefillin falls neatly into that category because it is a positive (or ‘thou shalt’, as opposed to a ‘thou shalt not’) mitzvah, and it is limited only to weekdays (Tefillin are not worn on Shabbos, Yomtov or at night).

So far so good.

Then he goes on to explain that because of the Tefillin’s extraordinary holiness, over time, we have minimalised its usage because we are no longer as spiritual as we used to be. This is why nowadays men no longer wear Tefillin for the entire duration of the day as they used to. And this is also why women do not wear Tefillin at all (as some may have in the past). Thus across the board, both men and women have been marginalised to a degree from its performance.

The wording, however, is very interesting. He never says women cannot wear Tefillin. Instead he says[1] that the custom is for women to desist from wearing them[2].

Now for the bombshell.

He continues: “If a woman asks if it would benefit her to wear Tefillin, she should be discouraged from doing so. But, if she persists, and wants to do so modestly (i.e. not make a show out of it) - it would not be correct to deny her that right. Even though many would disagree, this holds true because there does exist a basis for this expediency. And the principle is that whenever we have ‘al mah lismoch’ (i.e. a precedent or basis), we can never reject it outright.”


He does, however, object to women abusing the privilege as a means for social protest.

Women wearing Tefillin is a very emotive issue, which will evoke all sorts of responses by people on all sides of the halachik spectrum. This is understandable and to be expected.

However, what I love about Rabbi Melamed is his unwavering commitment to the principle of Halachik precedent which he is not scared to make constant use of. He sticks steadfastly to the idea that any and all legitimate Torah views are exactly that: legitimate Torah views. And he is fearless in his reliance on them if and when a need arises.

This is why I consider him to be an honest, sensible, practical, relevant and 'Ethical Halachacist'[3]

[1] Quoting the Magen Avraham and the Aruch HaShulchan.
[2] Here are some of the views for and against:
·      The Mishna in Berachot 20a says that women are Patur (exempt) from Tefillin, but it does not address the issue of a woman who may want to wear them (like the case of women who may want to observe other time bound mitzvos like Lulav and Shofar, which they may do).
·       A Braita in Eruvin 96a, records how Shaul’s daughter Michal, used to wear Tefillin, and the sages did not oppose it. (Tosafot, however says they did oppose it, because of ‘guf naki’. The challenge to this is the fact that the reason given is ‘zeman grama’ not ‘guf naki’. Even those who are lenient, agree that Tefillin should never be worn during menstruation, and that is why the directive is for her to wear Tefillin modestly and privately.)
·      Some say that Michal knew she possessed a reincarnated male soul.
·      There is much discussion as to the truth behind the common perception that Rashi’s daughters wore Tefillin.
·      The Ramo writes that the reason women should not wear Tefillin is because they would not be sufficiently well versed in laws that generally do not apply to them.
·      The Shulchan Aruch YD 38,3, says clearly that women should not wear Tefillin, even if they want to.
·      The Kabbalah also bring reasons to discourage women from wearing Tefillin.
·      There is evidence that some women during the early and latter generations did wear Tefillin, such as the wife of R Chaim ben Attar.
·      The Orchot Chaim and the Olat Tamid say that if a woman persists, she may wear Tefillin.
·      The Aruch HaShulchan writes that if a woman is known to be righteous she may wear Tefillin.

[3] See post 50.

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