Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Rashi's Daughters

Hol HaMo'ed Sukkoth 5772

*If you do not identify as frum/religious/orthodox, please read the note at the bottom of this post first.

An extremely loud and gaivadike, "frum" woman approached me, in order to interrupt a private conversation I was having with another Jewish man.

"Rashi's daughters wore tefillin!" was her claim.

It was so important to her to say that, she must have found it necessary to interrupt our private conversation, after eavesdropping on our private conversation to stick her nose into our business, and tell us her unsolicited, two cents (leHavdil), whether we wanted to hear it or not.

This is what I would like to have told her:

Rash"i's daughters may have worn tefillin.

Rash"i's daughters really knew halakhah, what they were obligated to do, and what they were not obligated to do.

They knew the a woman's most important misswah was tzeni'uth (modesty).

They wore tefillin in private, to aid them in prayer, not to make a political statement.

I will also be so bold as to suggest that they also did not rudely interrupt other people's conversations, let alone conversations between men. Modesty, remember?

Furthermore, Rash"i's daughters were the mothers of Ba'alei HaTosefoth.
Yocheved was the mother of the Riva"m, the Rashba"m, and Rabbeinu Tam.

Miriam was the mother of Yom Tov, a Rosh Yeshiva in Paris.

Of Rachel, little is known.
You, on the other hand, who simply wants to do what you want to do, and pick and choose so-called "sources" to justify what you want to do, ain't no Rash"i's daughter.

So, the next time you want to throw out some random piece of history, in order to justify the assertion of your will,...

1. Be intellectually honest, by presenting that historical piece of information in proper context when you convey it,...

2. Before you take on another misswah are not obligated to, just for the sake of "egalitarianism," think about whether you have to do any work on the misswoth you are obligated to perform, and...

3. Remember the following true story from a rabbinic acquaintance of mine:

A female soldier came up to a Chabba"d tefillin table where I was standing. She angrily asked him why he did not ask her if she wanted to put on tefillin. Can't I put on tefillin, too?

She was very much taken by surprise when I responded, "Sure, you can."

He then took her aside to talk more privately, and he related to her this story of Rash"i's daughters.

It is said that Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaqi z"l of Worms, France [Rash"i], one of the greatest Jewish scholars ever to have lived, had daughters who put on tefillin. They put on tefillin because they believed it would help them to have better kevana (intention, feeling, connection,...) while praying.

However, they put tefillin on in private. Women have no requirement to pray in a group. Women do not need this mitzvah. Rash"i's daughters were very modest. They dutifully performed all of the mitzvot which they were obligated to do, and that included modesty.

When exposing their elbows to put on arm tefillin, and when exposing their heads to put on head tefillin they did so in private, in order to maintain their modesty.

Rash"i's daughters wore tefillin because they believed that it would help them to connect to their prayers and to increase their focus on their Creator. Displaying their tefillin in public was unnecessary to achieve this goal.

But, yes, you may, indeed put on tefillin.

The soldier was happy with the response she received to her challenges, and that this rabbi bothered to take the time to explain a Jewish concept to her, and not just brush her off.

If you look, you, too, can find a rabbi who will be kind and patient to you. If you come across one who is not, then he is not for you. Keep searching.

So, why did I not get in this woman's face about tefillin and Rash"i's daughters?

Would she have listened? No, I don't think so. Actually, the confrontation above did not happen.

But, the women I have encountered during similar incidents, have acted in this manner, apparently confusing rude, "over-compensation for the hierarchical, patriarchal aggressive oppression of women" (eyes rolling) for...


Galuth (diaspora) has really messed us up as a people, and as servants of The Holy One, Blessed Be He.

We continue to attempt to reduce our cognitive dissonance by deluding ourselves that the Western cultures and sensibilities from which we have emerged are all actually one with authentic Judaism.

There are "rabbis" who even try to pass those Western cultures and sensibilities off as Torah.

They are not.


If you managed to reach the end of this post, and are reading this note, then you will know that my criticism here is of the Avi Weisses, Kolechs, and Shirah Hadashas, not of the so-called "movements."

Say what you will about those "movements" (and I say plenty), but at least they are consistent, and often admit their lack of belief in the binding nature of halakhah, as well as admit to their "creative" approach to Jewish observance.


Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...


"Mikhal the daughter of King Saul used to wear tefillin, and the sages did not protest" (Eruvin 96a).

Esser Agaroth said...


Thanks for leaving a comment.

My first reaction to your comment was "What's your point?"

I do not think that you would find that to be a satisfactory response.

And so, even though I certainly do not want to encourage women to learn Talmud, I see that I must nip this one in the bud.

Your comment does suggest that you missed the point of this post, especially since I gave an example of women wearing tefillin.

There are several explanations as to why Michal wore tefillin and why she was not prevented from doing so.

1. She was so broken and her life was so tragic that the Hachamim did not want to add to the damage.

2. Because of her life's situation, Michal dedicated her life to issues of Qedusha and Purity, and her family affairs, like education her sister's children. Michal performed all of her obligatory observances, unlike many modern day women who insist on putting on tefillin, as well as other things, to make a statement.

3. Being childless, Michal wanted to take on a misswah which was in force much of the time, in compensation for her lack of children. She chose tefillin as an alternative to Torah study.

4. Another explanation was that tefillin would enhance her luck and bring her abundance (Ariza"l).

So, you see, your comment only goes to support my post, not argue against it. Michal's wearing of tefillin was another unique situation like that of Rash"i's daughters.

Michal did it for the proper reasons, knowing what those were, having been in an authentically Torah environment all her life, unlike what we could possible know.

Finally, there is no source that I could find to suggest that Michal put tefillin on in public. Even if she did, all of the above suggest the reasons for why it was allowed.

If she did do so in public, I believe that we can be certain that it was done in a segregated women's section, and was certainly not given an aliya to the Torah, etc. Her hair was covered as were her arms.

Chana said...

"They knew the a woman's most important misswah was tzeni'uth (modesty)."

Really? Only if one postulates that Jewish women are neither Jews nor human beings. Your speculations regarding Michal bat Shaul are equally baseless.

Having said that, I find the vocal lady tefillin boosters (who don't necessarily WEAR them, but rather insist that we all agree with their RIGHT to wear them) equally offensive.

And I say this as an Orthodox Jewish woman who does not lay tefillin and has never felt the need to do so. I have, however, personally purchased 3 pairs for my husband and sons.

Esser Agaroth said...


Thank you for writing.

I believe that Chaviva was making a legitimate inquiry.

OTOH, you have not mentioned any sources to back up your argument against rabbis, including the Ariza"l.

But, as a woman, I wouldn't expect you to be able to bring sources, nor should you worry about such things.

You might very well be a good example of those Jews I was talking about who confuse Western sensibilities with Jewish ones.

Chana said...

"Tzniut is a woman's most important mitzva"? One would think that the 6 mitzvot tmidiot would be equally incumbent on Jewish women *as Jews*, and the 7 mitzvot bnai Noach would be equally incumbent on them *as human beings*. None of these are time-bound, by the way, and I can't see how assuming their primacy for women as well as men has anything to do with Western sensibilities.

Chana said...

If tzniut is a woman's most important mitzva, would that not makee it preferable to be a modestly-clad murderess than to refrain from murder but not be careful about sleeve length?

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett said...

Sigh ... I was being obnoxious. Come on, have a sense of humor!

Esser Agaroth said...


Points taken...

I think you might be nit-picking about semantics here.

There's "important," and there's "important."

Esser Agaroth said...


Nu? Who knew? (alla Mike Myers as Linda Richman, "Coffee Talk")


Chana said...

"I think you might be nit-picking about semantics here."

This is a point that happens to very important to me. It's also the reason why a lot of the feminist yada-yada leaves me cold.

I am *first of all* a Jew, a human being, and an ovedet Hashem, and all my societal and ideological associations are secondary to that.

As my husband pointed out, it's obvious that tzniut is the mitzva that some *men* feel is most important for women to keep. But my *primary* obligation is not to "some men". It's to G-d.

I am not a sub-category that relates to Hashem only in relationship to the opinions and whims of the males of my species. "Bishvili nivra et HaOlam.
This is why separate seating, tallit and tefillin, etc, do not bother me in the least.

Esser Agaroth said...


Thanks again for taking the time to leave comments.

Your husband is also invited to leave comments.

I think it's great that you bought the men in your life tefillin. I will assume that you mean you put up the money.

That a woman could, should, or would know that what she is buying is appropriate for the fulfillment of a misswah obligatory only on men, is foreign to me.

This is not something a woman should need worry about.

I am glad that separate seating does not bother you. If it did, then I believe that would be another sign of Western Galuth internalization.

Perhaps you can be a positive influence on other women.

Stay tuned for future posts to be entitled "Rebbetzin" and "Feminists."

No, I do not say this mockingly. I do intend to write such posts.

Chana said...

Regarding buying tefillin:

I actually got a big sense of personal fulfillment out of it.
Regarding replacing my husband's problematic tefillin, it was like "WE are using OUR money to buy better tefillin", and it was clearly a mitzva we were achieving together.

With both my sons, it was very meaningful that *I* was assuring we could acquire the tefillin with no outside help. One time I had gone back to work in a part-time job of which I was not particularly fond, and every time it annoyed me, I'd think about how the extra income was covering the tefillin payments.

With son #2, *I* thought of it about 2 years in advance of bar mitzva, and I went in to the sofer and made a series of cash payments. We kept the tefillin there until a couple months beforehand. The sofer was impressed that, having made payments, everything was paid up before we came for the tefillin. I just felt this was very cool, and my husband was mostly relieved that I had taken care of the financial outlay well in advance of the bar mitzva.

Whatever. People like to talk about *feeling* fulfilled by a mitzva, and whether or not subjective feeling is relevant. I felt plenty fulfilled and plenty involved, although I doubt this would satisfy the dogmatic feminist types.

I am not in the universe to serve *them* either, nor to be their poster child.

Esser Agaroth said...


IMO, you were involved in this misswah.

You were supporting other Jews, aiding them in the performance of their misswoth.

I see no reason why you should not be fulfilled by this.

Dan Rosen said...

You wrote "Before you take on another misswah are not obligated to, just for the sake of "egalitarianism," think about whether you have to do any work on the misswoth you are obligated to perform,"

is there a citation or a source for this idea that before one takes on an optional practice, one should make sure that the required obligations have been performed properly? I have heard this idea but I want to trace it back to some authoritative origin. Thank you.

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