Eliana Aaron’s opinion piece, Chasing shadows: Why wearing tefillin is bad for feminism,” is just that: an opinion. However in many areas, I feel she’s grossly underestimating many women’s desire to wear tefillin.
Aaron first states correctly that women can perform time-dependent commandments though they are not obligated. She then continues to state reasons why she believes this mitzvah is unacceptable. Didn’t she just agree that within traditional halachah (Jewish law) women may take on this obligation? If, as Aaron claims, men find that it is “belligerent, inappropriate, and distracting,” then the onus is on the men. Not on women. Questioning someone’s religious motivations is arrogant. If tefillin-wearing women are “distracting,” it’s not incumbent upon women to make men comfortable.
Aaron writes, “Women are considered to be more spiritual than men, hence we do not need” male religious garb. Aaron may not feel she needs “external reminders of time-dependent things,” but other women do feel closer to God when a tallit and tefillin are used. So what is Aaron’s point of telling others how they must find their spiritual fulfillment? Aaron asks, why add more obligations on what women already have to do. My response: Again, that’s telling someone else what they ought to do and how to feel. If there is something we want to do, we find a way to fit it into our lives. If a woman has a deep desire to connect to God through Jewish religious ritual items, isn’t that a good thing? Leave her be.
Aaron also feels that some women who want to wear tefillin are making a political feminist statement. In the same issue of the Jewish Standard we read about women who have taken on the tefillin obligation with great commitment, love, and devotion. No one’s discarding the tefillin “when the cameras are not around,” or at home. I wonder if Aaron ever has taken the opportunity to speak to observant committed women who have dug deep to take this obligation upon themselves. If so, she can ask them if they feel there’s any truth to her statement that “Tefillin does not help women feel good about being women.”
Women who have been donning tefillin for years, privately, in their homes, and in their synagogues, are doing so for spiritual fulfillment; if not, no one would keep up the ruse that long.
Lastly, tefillin may have recently surfaced as an issue, but in my opinion, the seemingly irresolvable problem is our community’s poor relationship with one another.
Sadly, we shame each other if we don’t agree. We are quick to judge, and most tragically, we have lost our ability for compassion, opting instead to put our need to be right above all else. I’m so very tired of all the in-fighting. Our community asks for respect from outsiders. Are we practicing it enough within?
I’m happy Aaron is satisfied with her path. Let’s allow others to find theirs.