Reasons Why Women Should Be Allowed To Wear Tefillin

Okay, perhaps that title is a little misleading. I’m not so much advocating for it as much as I am simply playing devil’s advocate. The goal of this post is something more along the lines of: “Why it’s not prohibited for women to wear tefillin”. Indeed, far too many people reject the entire proposition out of hand because it’s “assur”. Well, I don’t think that’s fair or accurate, and when discussing the subject, the following is the cheat-sheet, so to speak, for the “it’s not that big a deal” camp. We’ll save my opinion on the matter for another time. For this post, I’m just playing one side (the side that, unfortunately, is not well represented or known).

There are a plethora of sources that absolutely permit women to wear tefillin, no problem:

  • Rashba (Shu”t Ha-Rashba 1:123)
  • Sefer Ha-Chinuch (Mitzvah 421)
  • Orchot Chaim (Hilchos Tefillin 3)
  • Shulchan Aruch itself allows it in OC 38:3
  • The Rambam allows it as well in his Hilchos Tefillin
  • Rabbi Avigdor Ha-Tzarfati even notes that a few pious women in his time period wore tefillin — so this was something that was actually done in certain times and places, even if it wasn’t common, per se.

The truthfulness of the stories about the daughters of Shaul or Rashi wearing tefillin might not be totally accurate (although the former is far more likely than the latter), but that shouldn’t affect this discussion at all, really.

The fact of the matter is that Rama, who is the one major authority that opposes women wearing tefillin in his gloss to the Shulchan Aruch (although in truth he more just points out that it just isn't something that is done), really seems to be in the minority.

But what does that matter, you say? We hold like the Rama (at least Ashkenazim do)! He is the final word on how we should hold!

Not so at all, really. We don’t follow the Rama all of the time! Common practice contradicts his explicit rulings when it comes to: Tashlich, Bameh Madlikin, sitting for Kiddush, the third parsha break in tefillin, zmanim for Shabbos, laws of glatt, giving terumah to a kohein, breaking the kos of eirusin, responding “Amen” to the leader's blessing of Ga’al Yisrael, and the list goes on and on and on. This is extremely incomplete.

Now, far from suggesting here that we are allowed to disregard Rama as we choose, I am simply pointing out that the simple, black-and-white perspective of women wearing tefillin being assur is patently false and inaccurate, to say the least.

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