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    Women wearing tallit & tefillin – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is it permitted for women to wear tallit and t’fillin?

    A. There is a principle that in general women are exempt from time-bound positive commandments, but there are a number of exceptions.

    Women themselves decided to undertake some mitzvot – e.g. hearing the shofar – from which they were previously exempt. May they opt to observe the mitzvot of tzitzit and t’fillin? (I know your question mentions the tallit which is worn during prayer, but the crucial element of the tallit is the fringes – tzitzit – which are worn on four-cornered garments throughout the day). The “time-bound commandments” issue is still the major consideration.

    Let us first look at tzitzit:

    • The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayyim 17) makes a distinction between tzitzit and the other time-bound commandments of shofar and lulav. The latter are limited to a few minutes of the year whilst tzitzit is carried out daily.

    • Men created a four-cornered garment which is worn constantly so as not to limit the mitzvah of tzitzit to the tallit.

    • Rav Moshe Feinstein allows women to have tzitzit on any four-cornered garment, so long as they do so out of genuine piety and not in order to make a statement.

    The second part of the question deals with t’fillin. Rabbinic authorities do not permit them to women. T’fillin go directly on the body and there is a problem of bodily cleanliness at certain times; women have a different bodily regime than men. But as men too cannot guarantee bodily cleanliness, they usually keep the t’fillin on for a limited time (during morning prayers) and not all day, though some exceptionally pious men do wear t’fillin for extended periods.

    The Talmud (Eruv. 96a) says that King Saul’s daughter Michal wore t’fillin and the sages did not object, but she was an exception and we do not derive anything from her example.

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