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In The Latest Departure, Girls Wear Tefillin

Two Modern Orthodox schools are allowing girls to wear tefillin while davening in school. On December 8th, Rabbi Tully Harscsztarki, head of the SAR High School in Riverdale, announced to his faculty that he’d “given permission to two female students… to put on tefillin during tefillah. They do so every day and have not been permitted to do so in school until now.”

“I believe that it is halachically permissible although it is a communally complicated issue,” he added.

One of the girls got used to wearing tefillin while studying at the Solomon Schechter school where she had previously attended.

 

This fad – which is a clear deviation from accepted Orthodox practice – is not limited to SAR and not all that new. At the Hebrew High School of New England in West Hartford, high school senior Avigayil Halpern began putting on tefillin publicly at school last week. Twenty years ago, girls at New York’s Ramaz School wore tefillin at the school’s affiliated shul, although not in the school itself.

 

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, principal of the school and rabbi of the affiliated shul, Kehilath Jeshurun, told the Jewish Week, “We haven’t had the question in 20 years… If we were asked the question today, it’s 20 years later, we are in agreement if a young woman wanted to put on tefillin and tallit, she could daven with us in our school minyan.”

 

Rabbi Lookstein said that he remembered that the girl who wore tefillin in his shul twenty years ago “had tremendous kavanah. As soon as I saw this young woman davening, I thought: this kid is so sincere, she could actually serve as a role model.”

Last year, the Shalhevet School of Los Angeles debated the issue of girls wearing tefillin publicly on campus and turned it down, but school head Rabbi Ari Segal says he’s still wondering if he made a mistake.

“Norms shift, said Rabbi Segal. “Girls didn’t always learn Gemara. Lots of innovations happen in Orthodoxy, but they take time – they are not revolutionary, they evolve. Women laying tefillin is going to happen, if it’s not happening already. I know there are very committed and devout women who are doing it for all the right reasons… In 10 years, the world landscape will be totally different than what we see today.”