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Dear friends, נ"י,

Last week the Jewish Internet was dedicated to chronicling Prime Minister Stephen Harper's tour of the Middle East; this week, attention shifted to New York, where two prominent schools, SAR and Ramaz, disclosed their policies permitting female high school students to wear tefillin. Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, an eminent educator at Ramaz, posted his logic on-line; Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel of America, posted his view as well.

Back when I was the rabbi of a synagogue, I was approached by a woman who wanted to attend davening with her tefillin. I was sympathetic; she had lost her father and she wanted a minyan, and she was used to wearing tefillin when she attended her Conservative temple. Still, I did not feel I could make this call. I consulted a respected halachic authority, and followed his advice: She could wear her tallit, but she should leave her tefillin at home. The principle was simple: the shul is about the community, and it's not the place for actions that stir up discord. I suspect that had I been in a leadership position at SAR or Ramaz, I would have similarly encouraged the students to continue their practice at home, but not at school.

But I wonder what I would do if one of my daughters asked for her own set of tefillin, just to wear at home.  The question has many facets, in addition to the halachic sources on women and tefillin:
  • It's a religion question: How much emphasis should religion place upon personal meaning, and how much upon prescribed ritual?
  • It's a tefillin question: How do we preserve the holiness of our sacred objects?
  • It's a parenting question: Where does this fit into my relationship with my daughter?
  • It's a spirituality question: If spirituality is "that which I find meaningful", is it still spirituality?
  • It's a community question: How important is it that we conform, if the price is religious meaning?
  • It's a pedagogy question: Might we gain by letting teenagers try outlying behaviour in a safe environment?
  • And another religion question: If I raise a child who practices halachah but without a personal connection to Torah, have I fulfilled my mission or committed a crime?
To me, this question of tefillin is anything but clear-cut - and it's a potential catalyst for some pretty good discussions. I'd love to hear your thoughts; please email me.

And while we are talking about women and mitzvot, allow me to remind you that this Sunday, from 10 AM to 11:20 AM at Congregation Bnai Torah, we are offering Midreshet Yom Rishon for women! Excellent educators Mrs. Sara Gutenberg and Mrs. Sara Frieberg will offer challenging classes; please click here for the flyer.


There is a great deal happening in the Beit Midrash universe this week! Please take a look at the listings below, and pick a learning opportunity (or opportunities). And please like us on Facebook!

Looking forward to seeing you at a Beit Midrash program soon,
Mordechai Torczyner 
Rosh Beit Midrash
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This Week!
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8:00 PM - On-line shiur with Rabbi Weintraub , Hebrew
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Wednesday February 5
10:00 AM at BEBY
Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner, Giants of Sephardic Jewry 5: Dona Gracia

1:30 PM at 49 Michael Court, for women
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8:45 PM at BAYT
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Thursday February 6
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