The Real Story?

     The controversy du jour deals with the high school girls and their tefillin, and it has prompted the usual litany of responses. Once again, what passes for psak in the Modern Orthodox world is little more than cherry-picking the sources to find the single, even strained, interpretation of a rabbinic opinion in order to permit what it wants to permit or prohibit what it wants to prohibit. The preponderance of poskim or the consensus in the Torah world matters little; fables – like Rashi’s daughters wearing tefillin – carry more weight.

     No honest reading of the sources could ever give rise to a statement such as “Ramaz would be happy to allow any female student who wants to observe the mitzvah of tefillin to do so.” Happy? Tell it to the Rema or to the Aruch Hashulchan. And what about the prohibition of lo titgodedu ­– of not having contradictory practices in the same minyan (e.g., some girls wearing tefillin and others not)? And what of the statement being made to the traditional girls – that their service of G-d must somehow be inferior to that of their peers who are on a “higher” level, or the statement being made to all of them – women’s spirituality can only reach its peak when it mimics the religious practices of men? I would not want my daughters to be exposed to either sentiment.

Frankly, it is unsurprising that many young students in high schools text on Shabbat, observe half-Shabbat, and the like. If the Mesorah can be manipulated to permit girls to do what they want, why can’t it be manipulated to permit what boys want? Clearly, the subtleties are being lost in translation. Would that the schools focused on enhancing the commitment of the boys and their tefillin than broadening it to include others who are not within the purview of the mitzvah.

And, like night follows day, the secular Jewish press – besides praising the courage of the administrators – have trumpeted this story as another sign of the feminization of Orthodoxy – a triumph of women’s rights in an age when those are considered some of society’s most cherished values. They perceive it as another sign that Orthodoxy is modernizing, getting with the times, and catching up with the non-Orthodox movements, to the chagrin of the troglodytes on the right who insist on impeding progress.

But what if that is not the story? It is quite possible that we – and especially the media – might have missed the essence of this unfolding tale.

One question needs to be asked: do the girls here even define themselves as “Orthodox Jews?” Upon information and belief, they do not, and I do not write this to impugn them in the least. The fact is that in these day schools, anywhere from 10-30% of the student population consists of children from non-Orthodox homes. These families are proud members of non-Orthodox temples, and are certainly among the more dedicated. After all, they are sending their children to day schools under nominally Orthodox auspices. Some may even be the children of non-Orthodox rabbis, both males and females. When one girl explained that she has been wearing tefillin since her Bat Mitzvah, she is likely telling the truth. She has been wearing tefillin because that is part of the egalitarianism that is the most dominant value in the non-Orthodox world. If these girls – as it seems – are from non-Orthodox families, then the narrative has nothing at all to do with the so-called modernizing tendencies in Orthodoxy, but something else entirely.

The real story is not that Orthodox girls are wearing or want to wear tefillin, but that non-Orthodox children (or their parents) are essentially dictating to day schools how they want non-Orthodox practices incorporated – in school – in their children’s education. It is as if Conservative Judaism and its customs must be acknowledged much like schools have been known (and properly so) to allow children of the Edot Hamizrach to have their own minyanim and adhere to their own customs. And the schools are willing accomplices. Will they next remove their mechitzot to allow an egalitarian minyan, or is that too great a departure from the Orthodox brand?

There was a time when non–Orthodox Jews were thankful that yeshivot accepted their children, but correctly assumed that the curriculum, standards, practices and ideology taught would conform to Torah. They knew it would differ from what they were being taught at home – but they wanted that.
There was a time when a yeshiva administration had the authority and the courage to insist on those standards. Times have changed. In the competition for the tuition dollar of the non-Orthodox – and the fact is that SAR and Ramaz are competing for the same students – accommodations have to be made. And that is a travesty. Masquerading under the convenient narrative that this is a war for the soul of Modern Orthodoxy is the inconvenient reality: the inmates are running the asylum. The administrators are either unable or unwilling to maintain a complete fidelity to Jewish tradition, for at least some of their constituents are demanding otherwise.

Does a boy in such a school then have the right to say: “I do not feel that my divine service requires me to wear a kippa. My father doesn’t, not even in the house. I am against your religious coercion”? Should a school tolerate that? Or, an even better question: could a boy say that he rejects wearing tefillin until all the girls do? I.e., he is such an advocate of egalitarianism that it would be unconscionable for him, coming from his background, to continue to propagate the school’s antiquated, misogynistic, patriarchal attitudes that discriminate between males and females. I can hear it now: “There is only one G-d. He created all of us, and so there should be one law for all of us!” I wonder how the administrators would respond to that; probably, quite uncharitably, but on what grounds?

As one male SAR student asked me this week: if girls can be obligated when they are really exempt, why can’t he be exempt when he is really obligated? The logic is not impeccable – he is only 16 years old – but begs the question: if the Mesorah is so ephemeral that it can change on a whim, why can’t any rabbi make any change that he wants to make? Why can’t a layman?
Add to this one other point. I personally have met a number of graduates of these schools who are children of non-Orthodox female converts who were never informed by the administrators that the conversions were not acceptable according to halacha. In effect, they went through high school thinking they were Jews like all their classmates only to discover – years later and often on the verge of marriage – that they were not considered Jewish. The tragedy is heart-wrenching, because these young men and women are pure innocents. But there are halachic ramifications as well even while they are in school: Did the son of such a female convert lein in school? Was he motzi the audience with his Chazarat Hashatz? Did he count for the minyan?

Take a more tragic example: what if a young girl, child of a non-Orthodox converted mother, meets and falls in love with a male classmate (perhaps, her chavruta in Gemara class), and that young man is a kohen? What would have been a beautiful relationship is now marred forever and their life plans have to be altered. Perhaps, G-d forbid, the couple might then even turn away from Torah observance entirely because the young woman in question also needs to convert according to halacha, but now cannot marry this young kohen. Is the unequivocal acceptance of non-Orthodox converts and their children the norm in these schools? Is any attempt made to have them – if possible – convert according to halacha? I wonder.

On some level, the policy makes internal sense. For a day school appealing for non-Orthodox students in a very competitive climate, questioning the legitimacy of non-Orthodox conversions would be a turn-off to parents – just like denying these girls their tefillin would displease future applicants as well.

But the bottom line is that the story here might not be at all about “Orthodox” girls wearing tefillin but about non-Orthodox children seeking an accommodation of their religious practices, and about day school principals reluctant to insist on adherence to Torah standards. And that is the opposite of courage.


59 responses to “The Real Story?

  1. Rabbi,
    While we can agree or disagree on the school’s decision, your willingness to publicly assume their motivations are financial is shocking to me. This attributes to good people, people you must know to be lovers of Torah, the basest motivations possible. You may be justified in thinking their decision misguided and short sighted, but you are not justified in asserting to your large audience that they are all shallow and dollar-seeking, rather than good people trying to figure out what is right in a complicated world. It should be possible to trumpet your disagreement, while remaining dan lekaf zechut.

    • If you read carefully, I wrote that “we can argue whether it is l’shem shamayim or l’shem mammon, and I assume it is both,” or something of the sort. I still maintain that. It is reality. To ignore the fierce competition for students is a bit naive. Of course, it cuts both ways. Some parents may be drawn to a school because of its liberal policies, and others might then rule out such a school. Of course I assume absolute tzidkut – but I recognize the possibility of other factors as well.
      – RSP

      • Rabbi,
        This is a conversation about competing values. There is nothing naive about assuming greed did not play a role. In making this case, it seems to me you are introducing an inflammatory rhetoric that pushes up against the value of dan lekaf zechut. Of course, you could contact people who work at SAR or Ramaz and speak with them to see whether your speculation is correct, were you so inclined. That you “assume it is both”– well, it is hard for me to imagine that you are naive regarding how hurtful these words are, and how some of your readers might use those exact words to further deepen the hatred that too often boils up in our community. I can only ask: is it really so difficult for you to see the impact of this layer you add to your argument? You don’t see what that does? Is it really naive to expect a more elevated discourse from our rabbis?

      • Is allowing girls to wear tfellin so as not to lose students (which by the way i dont think is the motivation) different from allowing women to attend shul in non-halachically appropriate dress so as not to lose membership?

        Interesting question. It is easier to regulate the behavior of children – especially in school – than it is to regulate the behavior of adults – especially in shul. There is also more flexibility in the laws of tzniut – opinions that are stricter or more lenient – than there is in the matter of tefillin, which is the performance of an objective act. And schools with strict dress codes tend not to attract the modern student either. Of course, and I assume the sincerity of your question, there are limits even to the leniencies of tzniut, and this remains a challenge in the Jewish world.
        Thank you.

  2. Jenni Zepnick

    Dear Rabbi, This is an absolutely excellent analysis.  I look forward to your posts, thank you for all you do. Jenni Zepnick L.I., N.Y,


  3. As an SAR HS teacher who is both familiar with our school culture and philosophy and who listened to Rabbi Harcsztark speak about this issue multiple times (both to faculty and large groups of students), I find this post insulting. The insinuation that this decision is more about money and appeasing the non-Orthodox contingent is completely false (and sets a bad example for the community regarding making judgments about others).

    At SAR, we work very hard to create an environment where students feel respect for their opinions and feelings, and one that teaches tolerance for those who make honest and thoughtful decisions (whether or not we agree with them all). In dialogue, this tolerance may go pretty far (depending on context. However, in practice and policy, it ends at practices that have NO BASIS in halacha. (This is admittedly different than “what is the most common practice based on the Shulchan Aruch and Rama,” – but we are talking about tolerance here).

    In this situation, an exception was made to permit a practice that HAS halachic basis. This is NOT an example of “cherry-picking the sources to find the single, even strained, interpretation.” When there is basis in halacha, all the values in play need to be considered. In this case, the value of showing respect for others’ practices and more importantly, teaching our students that value, was chosen over enforcing the most common practice.

    Being that you are shul Rabbi who has been faced (and continues to be faced) with many complex shailot, my assumption is that you appreciate the flexibility required in making a halachic decision more than most. I can’t imagine that every time a question comes to you, the prevailing value is always what is says directly in the Shulchan Aruch. Sometimes, you need to “violate the mesorah” for the sake of other values. This was not a psak made for every girl who enters our school, but a decision made for two girls. Yes, this practice is public, and therefore seen by others, but it is still a private decision by and for these two students.

    If you had been at the meetings where R’ Harcsztark spoke with our students (he eventually spoke with all of them), you might have changed your tune. He was clear that this was a decision made with halacha in mind and trying to balance numerous values. This is how we should educate our children – with tolerance, transparency, and honesty, sometimes at the cost of putting ourselves in the (increasingly negative) spotlight. Making this decision took a lot more courage than hiding behind Mesorah to reject a practice that makes people uncomfortable.

    I would encourage you to spend a day at SAR speaking to faculty and students about our school culture. You may surprised to see how far our values can go to creating a positive Jewish environment.

    • Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your candor and courtesy.
      Some issues need to be addressed that you did not, especially the limits of accommodation which was my focus. If children from non-Orthodox homes would refuse to daven behind a mechitza – an institution unmentioned in the Shulchan Aruch – on the grounds that it offends their sensibilities and ability to daven, would the school accommodate them with a mixed minyan?
      I assume not, because of your faithfulness to the Mesorah. I don’t quite see the difference here.
      What happened to the faithfulness to the Mesorah here?
      As you point out, I recognize the personal nature of psak. Usually, though, such piskei Halacha are private, and not in the national media. That lends to it the patina of l’chatchila, not b’diavad, and that affects all Jews and shuls, including my own. It is hard to preach faithfulness to the Mesorah when it is being willy nilly breached in a public way in a prestigious day school – which is attended by some of our children as well.
      Tolerance is a wonderful value, but it works both ways. Those who exercise their autonomy to make decisions that defy the halachic consensus must respect the autonomy of those who will criticize those decisions for their intended and unintended consequences.
      I certainly have no intention of passeling SAR. I am concerned though about the ramifications of these breaches on impressionable teenagers. If the Rema’s word can be disregarded – if the Torah world as a 16 year old knows it can be undone overnight – then why shouldn’t he text on Shabbat? Where does it say that in the Shulchan Aruch – and even if it did – why must he obey? Why must he surrender to the Torah when he sees that if you push hard enough, and find the right justfication (e.g., he wants to find out from his friend what time Mincha is, so he texts him), then you can always do what you want? With all due respect, I do not believe that is a proper educational message to impart.
      Some heterim are best kept private and others, private heterim that become public, are best retracted.
      Thank you again.
      – RSP

      • Dear Rabbi Pruzansky,

        Thank you for your thoughts and especially the above clarifications. Could you argue that Bais Yaakov and Gemara learning for women in day schools was/is also counter to Mesorah?
        Were there other times in history when our practices were changed from Mesorah at the public level due to the benefit of such? If yes, could one successfully argue that now is such a time?
        If the RCA would state that it was fine with women wearing tefillin in Shuls, similar to women bringing a lulav to Shul, would that lead to the fall of centrist Orthodoxy? Could it conceivably lead to a strengthening?

        Thank you and kind regards.


        All good questions.
        We should dispel some of the Beis Yaakov mythology. It arose in response to a certain reality: mandatory education. The choice was waiting for this “decree” to pass or create a school system that could educate girls properly. What was the choice? Only a secular education or a balanced education. The system was new in Poland – but since there was no viable option its controversial nature is exaggerated. And as noted here not long ago, girls were already receiving a formal education in Rav Hirsch’s Frankfurt, for 60 years before Beis Yaakov.
        As for Talmud study, I think the jury is still out. Capable women studied the Talmud in small numbers but there was no formal system. However, am I wrong that much of the discontent among modern Jewish women today has arisen among those who do study the Talmud? It seems to have engendered many grievances against the Torah and Chazal. Is it possible that it has provided them with more wisdom but less yir’at shamayim?
        I don’t know. What do you think?
        Finally, there is no injunction against women bringing lulavim to shul, as there is against tefillin-wearing. Even so, few do the former, and even fewer (none?) do the latter.
        I doubt the RCA will weigh in on the matter!
        – RSP

      • Rabbi,

        I hope you are aware that the original decision was intended to be completely within the confines of SAR and its respective parent and student body – private.

        The only reason you can write about this with any sort of knowledge (and, b’mechilas kevodcha, you seem to have many of them quite wrong) is because of the unscrupulous practices of certain ‘jewish’ media outlets who reported on it first, going to the shocking (and to my knowledge, illegal) length of publishing the names of the students in question. This is actually what precipitated the need for SAR’s head of school to make a public comment in the first place.

        You (and others) could have chosen to keep this as it was meant to be – private – and yet, could not resist airing out your impressions and narrative. It is almost as if all these voices feed on the excitement of schismogenesis in the MO world.

        That having been said, you offer a cogent analysis and I refuse to accept the notion made by other posters that you actually, really think that financial incentive had something to do with the original decision. Because we all know how many conservative families and their money the MO day school system stands to gain from the recent pew numbers on that denomination of Judaism.

      • Do you think it is more prudent not to address the issue, and leave the impression that this new breach of the Mesorah should be embraced? I think schools (like parents) have an obligation to teach boundaries. Additionally, the story was apparently published in the school newsletter which, presumably, is under the supervision of the school.
        Do I think money is a major factor here? Not at all, although it would be naive to think that enrollment numbers play no role.
        As the Schechter schools decline, the more committed Conservative parents will send their children to day schools. I think that is great, and a credit to them. In my day, similarly, not every classmate was from a religious home. The difference seems to be that they did not ask for different treatment. That was my focus here: what are the limits of accommodation? The tefillin issue is just one symptom.
        I attended a school where the principal unabashedly said: “the school doesn’t cater to the individual; the individual has to adjust to the school.” Did it always work out? Probably not. But at least we knew where the school stood and what the Mesorah was.
        – RSP

  4. “what passes for psak in the Modern Orthodox world is little more than cherry-picking the sources to find the single, even strained, interpretation of a rabbinic opinion”

    I apologize for cherry-picking only a single, strained halachic voice and ignoring “the preponderance of poskim,” but I do have some questions.

    וכן שאר כל מצוות עשה שהנשים פטורות מהן–אם רצו לעשות אותה בלא ברכה, אין ממחין בידן.

    1) Are women as incapable of maintaining a guf naki nowadays as they were in the 12th-19th c.? The Mishna Berura seems to think that maintaining a guf naki is very easy, at least for a short time.
    דבקל יכול אדם ליזהר בשעת ק”ש ותפלה

    Does daily bathing/showering have some effect on this? Does it depend on the behaviors of the time? Eliya Rabbah seems to think that poskim evaluated the circumstances that they observed in their communities to judge the cleanliness of women who wanted to wear tefilin.
    ולי מסתבר דדורות אחרונים החמירו בזה, כי ראו שאין הנשים בזמן הזה זריזות כל כך, לכן החמירו למחות בכולן שלא יצא תקלה ממנו

    Even in cases regarding someone with a stomach ailment, who is bound to pass gas, if he is capable of controlling himself during KS, he is obligated to wear tefilin (Beiur Halacha). Why not apply the same level of personal self-evaluation to women choosing to wear tefilin—if she is capable of maintaining a guf naki yes, and if not not?

    2) The Hagahos Maimonios points out that the Rambam (and presumably all those like him who allow women to preform non-obligatory mitzvot) hold according to those Hachamim who did not object to Michal bat Shaul wearing tefilin and the wife of Yonah haNavi going on aliya.
    דאמרינן בפרק המוצא תפילין אשתו של יונה היתה עולה לרגל ולא מיחו בה חכמים מיכל בת שאול היתה מנחת תפילין ולא מיחו בה חכמים ודלא כדאמרינן בירושלמי דברכות בש”ר אבהו אשתו של יונה הושבה ומיכל מיחו בה חכמים

    According to the Gra, the fact that the Hachamim objected to Michal bat Shaul was to refute the opinion that women should be obligated in tefilin, but not to exclude them from wearing tefilin as an optional practice.
    וי”ל דגם הגמ’ ס”ל כן אלא לא הוצרכו להביאו אלא מ”ד דנשים חייבות ודחו ליה דס”ל כמ”ד רשות ומותרות

    3) The Aruch Hashulchan points out that because they are not obligated, women’s wearing of tefilin even during shacharit is equivalent to a man wearing tefilin all day.
    ואצלן בשעת ק”ש ותפלה כלאנשים כל היום

    This has been used to object to the growing practice of a few women who chose to wear tefilin. But our community has always tolerated the wearing of tefilin all day by a select few talmidei chachamim, as referenced by the Aruch Hashulchan himself, and attested to by the practices of the many Roshei Yeshivos in Israel currently.
    וכן שמענו שיש יחידי סגולה ומה גם בדורות שלפנינו שהיו נושאים כל היום

    If the main concern is the social concern—yuhara and the like, why not encourage the adoption of the Gra’s suggestion (Maase Rav quoted in Beur Halacha) to one who wishes to wear tefilin all day—to wear only the shel yad in an inconspicuous way. A similar suggestion could be encouraged to women during shacharit, according to the Aruch Hashulchan’s analogy.
    בספר מעשה רב שכתב דאם חושש ליוהרא בפני הבריות מותר בשל יד לבד

    • Thanks for sharing. You actually made my point. With all the citations, the bottom line is that none of authorities you cited endorsed the wearing of tefillin by a woman. Indeed, the Aruch Hashulchan’s point was just that – since men do not wear tefillin all day, women do not even for a short time. That is the Mesorah. That is why this is a breach of the Mesorah.
      Granted that the ModOs have accepted the authority of any posek since the Rav zt”l, and arguably not even him in every matter – but did the Rav support such innovations?
      And if the impetus comes from children from non-Orthodox homes (as the newspapers intimated) doesn’t that then generate the concerns of Rav Moshe Feinstein (OC:4:49)?

      • Zachary Neugut

        Great article Rabbi. The one thing I disagree with is your assertion that the decision is motivated by student applications and by extension money. I believe that the constituents (parents) of the SAR community are more liberal and thereby cause there to be a more liberal administration in place that holds similar views to them. However, I doubt the administration were thinking of student applications while making the decision (or maybe I am just naive).
        In terms of the practice of women wearing tefillin, you start this article with the axiom that it is not halachikly permissible for an orthodox woman to wear tefillin and then analyze whether SAR should pander to non-orthodox students, without really delving into why it was made assur in the first place. I don’t know much about why it was made assur and I was wondering if you could elaborate on the reasons for the ban, as sometimes if reasons for a practice no longer pertain, then it is permissible to change the mesorah if there is a reason to do so.
        Thanks a lot

      • I think you’re right. From what I have heard from inside, credible sources, enrollment concerns did not play any role in these decisions. So I happily retract even the sort-of insinuation that such might have been an issue.
        Thank you for helping me to correct myself!

  5. Rema comment on Shulchan Aruch,
    chelek Orach Chayim, siman 38, sif 3:

    Even if the women want to be strict on themselves
    [by wearingtefillin], it should be strongly
    discouraged (based on Kol Bo).
    הגה – ואם הנשים רוצין להחמיר על עצמן, מוחין בידם (כל בו)

  6. FACT:
    There is no evidence that Rashi’s daughters wore tefillin.

  7. Targum Yonatan on Devarim, chapter 22, verse 5:
    Women are not permitted to wear tzitzit or tefillin,
    because of the prohibition of a woman wearing male garments…
    תרגום יונתן על דברים פרק כב פסוק ה
    (ה) לא יהיה גוליין דציצית ותפילין דהינון תקוני גבר על איתא

    • התרגום תורה שקוראים לו תרגום יונתן ב”ע הוא תרגום ירושלמי, ולהתרגום אונקלוס קרא בעל הערוך תרגום בבלי. ע”ש שכתב ראי’ לזה. וכתב עוד, כי לפי דעתו יונתן ב”ע לא תרגם התורה. ע”ש שכתב ראי’ עצומה לדעתו. ולפי מה שכתבתי, יהיה מכאן ראיה שאין עליה תשובה, דמוכח להדיא דיונתן ב”ע לא תרגם התורה כלל. דאם לא כן יהיו תרגומי יונתן ב”ע סותרים זא”ז, מתורה לנביאים כנ”ל. … ועפי”ז שפיר פסקו הראשונים דנשים שרצו להתעטף בציצית מתעטפים, כמבואר ברמב”ם הל’ ציצית פ”ג ה”ט. וכ”פ בתוספות והרא”ש והר”ן בראש השנה דף ל”ג ע”ב, ולא פליגו רק לענין ברכה.
      שות רדבז חו”מ ג:עג

      The targum of the Torah that is called Targum Yonasan is actually a Targum from Eretz Yisrael, and the Targum of Onklos the author of the Aruch called the Babylonian Targum. And he wrote further, that according to him Yonasan ben Uziel did not translate the Torah. From this is an irrefutable proof that Yonasan ben Uziel did not translate the Torah at all. For if it were so, then his translations would contradict one another—from the Torah to the Neviim, as mentioned above. … Thus, it is well grounded that the Rishonim paskened that women who wish to wear tzitzis may do so, as explained in the Rambam Law of Tzizis 3:9. And so too paskened the Tosafos and the Rosh and the Ran on Rosh HaShanah 33b, and they only disagreed concerning the recitation of the brocho.
      Responsa of Radba”z Hoshen Mishpat 3:73.

      From here it seems clear that the halachic consensus is against paskening according to an anonymous Yerushalmi targum just because you found it in your mikraos gedolos. Take it up with the Radba”z.

  8. Rema comment on Shulchan Aruch,
    chelek Orach Chaim, siman 17, sif 2:

    If they [women] want to wear tzitzit and recite a blessing
    on it, they are permitted to do so, like other commandments that
    depend on time, but it appears arrogant, therefore they should
    not wear tzitzit

    • והשר מקוצי כתב ג”כ כדברי ר”ת שנשים יכולות לברך אלולב ואתפילין וכיוצא בהן וכ”כ רבינו שמחה גבי תקיעת שופר שהאשה התוקעת לעצמה יש לה לברך ואין מוחין בידן ע”כ
      Hagahos Maimonios Tztitz 3:9

  9. Sharon Fischman

    Regarding your question: “And what of the statement being made to the traditional girls – that their service of G-d must somehow be inferior to that of their peers who are on a “higher” level, or the statement being made to all of them – women’s spirituality can only reach its peak when it mimics the religious practices of men?”
    1. What, in your opinion, does Orthodoxy consider the peak of spirituality for women and the way it should be attained, and is that approach valued and taught in your community?
    2. Why do you think a woman who “mimics the religious practices of men” would be considered by others to be on a “higher level” – in your opinion, are men and their religious practices considered to be on a higher level (spiritually?) than women? (It doesn’t seem this reference to “higher levels” is an issue of “schar” since in this particular case I don’t think anyone is considering the men and women who observe this religious practice to have the same obligation, which would imply the same “higher” level of “schar” than one who is not obligated in the mitzvah).

    • All good questions.
      1) I would refer you to where much of this was discussed. Suffice it to say that, in line with Brachot 17a, women fulfill their peak when they enable those who are obligated to fulfill their obligations. Clearly, women are assigned the primary role of guiding children. I hesitate to say that it more important than man’s role, although I believe it, because too many people find that patronizing. That being said, the modern women is able to supplement that role with tremendous opportunities for Talmud Torah, chesed and personal enrichment. I suppose part of my “problem,” for some, is that every woman I know would not ever want to be a man, and are quite satisfied with the portion in life allotted to them by the Torah.
      2) I don’t think the woman who mimics male practices is on a higher level. They must think that, otherwise they wouldn’t be drawn to it. It’s just different, not better or worse. In an orchestra, is the trumpet player “better” than the violin player? Not at all. They are just different, and equally needed. If they reverse their roles at any part of the symphony, it will sound quite jarring.
      And the Gemara says the schar of women is higher than that of men, so that can’t be the motivation either.
      Thanks for writing – be well –

      • Sharon Fischman

        Thank you for your response. I would greatly appreciate if you could address a few follow up questions to your response.
        1. Is the religious role of women as you see it (or according to your reference, Brachot17a), as an enabler of their husbands to do mitzvot (all or just talmud torah?), valued, taught, and perpetuated in your community?
        2. If a woman does not have a husband to enable, does she have no religious role?
        3. You wrote – “Clearly, women are assigned the primary role of guiding children.” – I don’t understand why it is “clear” that women are “assigned” this role, as we do not have an obligation in the mitzvah of peru u’rvu, and are therefore not assigned this role in any formal halachic way. In Family Redeemed, in his comparison of the motherhood roles of Eve and Sarah, Rav Soleveitchic discusses the idea that whereas a women’s role in having children is biological, her role in guiding children is a way to add sanctity to it, to transform it from the natural or passive to the committed and active role. However, my understanding is that halachically speaking, women are not obligated.
        4. You wrote – “And the Gemara says the schar of women is higher than that of men…” – What schar and for what obligation are your referring to? With regard to the mitzvah of talmud torah (by extension tefillin), a woman is not obligated, so as a “lo metzuveh” she would be getting less schar than a man who is “metzuveh” when performing the mitzvah – how does this concept relate to Brachot 17a, referring to more “havtacha” of merit in the world to come?

        May we all merit understanding and practicing the concept of שמע בני מוסר אביך ואל תטש תורת אמך

        Thank you for your time.

  10. Is it arrogant when a man from a non-chasideshe background wears a gartel? Why is yuhara only invoked in our community in relation to women doing mitzvos?

  11. SAR should be examining the motivation of the girls’ wearing tefillin. It may not be any of our business but it’s certainly the school’s. If they’re shomros Torah umitzvos and also wearing tefillin, that’s one thing. But if they’re typical Conservative (and we have been told that they’re Conservative) and they’re picking one commandment out of many to observe, and the putative reason is that it’s a cool thing to perform a typically male ritual because that makes them feel good, then that’s a different story. The school has no business being an accomplice to their worshiping the god of egalitarianism nor in allowing them to thereby influence other students..

  12. Dear Reb Yid,

    Have you read the letter sent by Rabbi Harcsztark to the parent body of SAR High School? I think he answers many, if not all, of the concerns you have raised.

    You can find the letter in the comments at

  13. Does “tolerance” of deviations lead children to greater observance of Halacha? I think not. I believe the role of teachers and parents is to impart the values and practices of Torah, and deal sensitively on an individual basis with those who fall short for one reason or another. But to purposely set a low bar and think that somehow they will at some point raise – rather than further lower – their level is, I believe, misguided.
    I don’t live under a rock or in a cave. I’m quite familiar with the travails of the modern teen, and even of some SAR students. But I also believe that coddling them, expecting little from them, catering to every (or many) desires for fear that if we say “no” they will run for the hills, or justifying every deviation means that we have already lost them. Children respond to discipline also – and especially to the discipline of the Torah system – but only when they are taught that it is divine, a gift, the best system for a human being, that they are members of a holy, chosen people – and that they are princes and princesses of that people. As such, royal behavior is expected of them. (And I mean in the classic sense – not today’s royalty!) They can be challenged too! Self-control is a good thing, not a bad thing.
    And yes, sometimes that requires sacrifice, temporary discomfort, and delayed gratification. But isn’t that life – and shouldn’t education prepare them for life? “No” is also an answer, and is especially effective when said gently and lovingly by people who are trusted by the child.
    But why should the child have any respect for a system that purports to be divine but that can be changed due to pressure? Answer: they don’t, they won’t, and really, they shouldn’t.

  14. Looks like the text from my last comment got accidentally erased. Can you put it back? I have it saved if you lost it. Thanks.

  15. I think you’re right. From what I have heard from inside, credible sources, enrollment concerns did not play any role in these decisions. So I happily retract even the sort-of insinuation that such might have been an issue.
    Thank you for helping me to correct myself!

    K’vod ha-Rav,

    If you mean this retraction, you must know that the ‘sort-of insinuation’ that enrollment didn’t play any role is being taken as one of the central points of your analysis of this issue. In fact, this retraction would be welcome news to many of the people who read your initial post with ‘shock’ that you could tar SAR’s decision like that. I would think that it deserves at least a post of its own, or at least an edit to the original post, rather than buried in the comments.

    • The main point was not at all about the monetary/enrollment considerations.
      It was about the fact that SAR is willing to disregard the Mesora in order to accommodate it’s liberal clientele.

    • If the “enrollment” issue is being taken as a “central point” in my analysis – essentially a partial suggestion in a throw-away line in the penultimate paragraph – it is simply a willful attempt to avoid the issue that has been raised: the limits of accommodation in a day school to non-Orthodox practices on the premises and with school approval.
      Dealing with that issue could generate a good internal discussion. It could make children aware of the importance of Torah and Mesora. If the choice is made to obfuscate, then for shame. The only thing more deceptive is the media portrayal of this story as about “Orthodox feminism.”

  16. It’s almost comical….as a person who grew up in a non-observant home, I learned more about belief in hashem and respect for our Rabbi’s and mesora then what my kids are learning in an orthodox school…its pretty sad….all for the goal of harmony and tolerance….let’s all sing kumbaya….what’s next?
    And I think this is part of the problem….A Rabbi or a teacher, and I say this with the greatest respect for their torah knowledge since its surely greater than mine, that has some knowledge on halacha can give a psak and argue with giants of the torah from past generations on an issue that has great ramifications and say well its only mesorah we can change that! what! that’s like torah 101! issues like this should be decided by torah scholars, a posek hador, not by a school principle, a teacher, or a parent.
    Rabbi as a parent feeling bombarded from every side on our core values, I appreciate your moral clarity on this issue.

  17. Joshua Feldman

    Rabbi —

    I love reading your blog. I don’t always agree, but you have a great ability to take a position and then put together a cogent argument in support of that position; a skill that is unfortunately waning these days, as emotion mixes with social media.

    My question to you is this: These two girls made a personal decision. Had they walked into your shul, or even into their school, and just carried on as they always have [since their Bas Mitzvahs], would this be a big deal? Does the fact that SAR took an ‘official position’ make this a bigger ‘problem’ than it is?

    I completely understand your position…it’s essentially an ‘ain ledavar sof’ position, and since we are a people of mesorah, it’s important to stick to that mesorah. And that’s where I think we need to split some hairs. From what this outsider can glean from the various internet sources on this kerfuffle, I don’t think that anyone [in this particular situation] was asking for a revised statement of policy. [I’m reminded of the scene in ‘A Few Good Men’ when, on cross examination, Tom Cruise asks Noah Wyle to find the part of the marine handbook where it states he could find the mess hall], I’ll bet you that no student handbook of any of these schools gets into the intricacies of what constitutes appropriate behavior for teffillah b’zibbur. In fact, I’ll bet that even the constitution of your shul doesn’t get into it. (Orthodox shul constitutions usually call out mechitza, but not much else religiously).

    These girls are doing something personal. Not communal. They didn’t ask to daven for the amud, they didn’t ask to lain, they didn’t ask for greater participation in a minyan. So why do we have a right to ask them not to, or ask them to leave? I have a routine in the morning…I walk into shul, pace around saying brachos, put on my tallis and teffilin and I daven. If a woman were to walk into the beis medrash of my shul, and go into the women’s section and do the same, would it get people whispering? You bet (it’s an Orthodox Shul, it doesn’t take much to get the guys talking during davening!). But should it matter? Quite honestly, the mechitzah is there for a reason–we shouldn’t be looking!

    This whole thing reminds of my year in Israel…when I met up with my female friends who were in enrolled at Brovenders. The guys used to enjoy ribbing on them about women learning gemorrah. The problem for guys turned out to be that they were relying on what they had been told, never challenged it, and never learned the sources. What do you think Rabbi Brovender did on the first day of school? He walked those women through every makor that both supported and decried what they were about to do for the next year. He EDUCATED them. True, they had already made a decision by enrolling, but he gave them the tools that they needed to defend their position.

    I guess my point is this: Why can’t we leave them be? It’s an orthodox school. Teach them the sources. Teach them why the mesorah doesn’t accept their behavior. If they accept the teaching, great! If they don’t, as you eloquently pointed out, they wouldn’t be the first kids to to do something that is in conflict with social norms or halachic values (Actually, given the examples that you submitted in your original piece [ie: half-shabbos] HALEVAI this should be their worst activity!

    I thank you for taking the time to read and thoughtfully respond to the comments here. I wish the discourse on other forms of social media would be as civil.

    • This is why: what if those girls are not from Orthodox families? They, indeed, are innocents, simply following family custom, as it were. But if a school claims to be Orthodox (any school, I’m not referring to any here), should the school maintain those standards even for the students who are not Orthodox? That was my point, which seems to be getting missed. As I asked, if five boys and five girls from non-Orthodox homes went to the principal and said they find davening behind (or in front of) a mechitza morally repugnant, should they be accommodated? Please don’t cite sources. The Conservative movement was quite adept at cherry-picking the sources to justify not having a mechitza.
      I believe that any school that purports to be a Torah institution should insist on maintaining the Torah’s standards regardless of the composition of the student body or even individual requests made by some students. Any school can advise students to rely in private on minority opinions (they could even put tefillin on at night when they came home, as Tosafot (Kiddushin 34a) states based on Menachot 36b, once we’re scouring the sources for opinions to permit unusual behavior). But to teach it and advocate it publicly crosses a line.
      Thank you !

      • Joshua Feldman

        To be 100% clear – I understand your point, and I agree with it. Orthodox school, orthodox standards, etc, etc. To go back to your example, of five boys and five girls from non-Orthodox homes finding davening behind a mechitza to be morally repugnant, the answer that should be given is that perhaps they are not in right insititution.

        I’m just trying to see things through another lens and not be dismissive.
        My point is this: Is their *personal* behavior *that* big of a deal? Or is it being blown out of proportion? They didn’t challenge the status quo of the tzibbur, they challenged the freedom of the individual behavior within the accepted norms of the tzibbur. That said, one could argue [as you have] that such ‘individual behaviors’ are what define a tzibbur.

        I find people that walk into shul that haven’t showered in a week, and are dressed to go to the beach, to be highly distracting to my tefilah, but there is little I can do about it, other than move to another seat. If the woman in the back row dawns a tallis does it impact me at all? The other women? Personally, I think it does…it changes the avirah–and, in the shul environment, (ie, not school), it’s almost 95% of the time not as ‘l’shaim shomayim’ as its made out to be. ie: A woman walking into Bnei Yeshurin on Shabbos morning [or any other Orthodox shul in a neighborhood with the number of diverse shul choices and options as Teaneck, the West Side, the Five Towns, etc] and dawning a tallis is doing it to be prevocative, because frankly, there are other places in town where that behavior is the norm.

        Anyway, this is a fascinating discussion, and I thank you for the opportunity to participate in the discourse.


      • Showering is not part of the Mesorah, although as Hillel expressed it, it is a daily mitzvah. But to use mitzvot provocatively and in public is problematic. Indeed, many great spiritual events were private (Avraham, Moshe on Sinai, Eliyahu) because then it is just the person and G-d – no show.

    • There have been cases in our community where women wore tefilin (or talit) and were asked not to do so. It is against the minhag hamakom. If the girls follow their families, they could have continued doing it in private. Indeed, the public statement changes the dynamic.

  18. Yechezkel Eisenberg

    Thank you for clarifying that Rashi’s daughters wearing tefillin is a fable. Midrashim are fables as well. As are silly stories of magical Rabbis. Be careful not to mention any in your drashas.

    • I don’t. Obviously, you don’t know me, nor do you understand Midrashim. See the Rambam’s introduction to Perek Chelek. A Midrash is not meant to be taken literally but is used to offer a moral or a value. But the story about Rashi’s daughters is completely bogus,a modern invention. See

      • Yechezkel Eisenberg

        Thanks for your response. I looked up the Rambam and also stumbled across this: “Women, slaves, and minors are exempt from tzitzit from the Torah…Women and slaves who want to wrap themselves in tzitzit may do so without a berakha. And so too with other such mitzvot from which women are exempt: if they want to perform them without a berakha, one does not protest”

        Yes, but see the Rema (OC 17:2), normative for Ashkenazim.

  19. Rabbi,
    You say ” It is easier to regulate the behavior of children – especially in school – than it is to regulate the behavior of adults – especially in shul.”
    Why can’t you merely ban women who dress immodestly from your shul? This is a serious problem and violates the torah commandment of “lifnei iver lo sitan michshol”. Not to mention the distraction it causes for people who are trying to daven.
    Seems like when you see a problem that breaks with mesorah you are quick to say the institution that allows it is succumbing to financial concerns. But when there’s a clear problem in your own backyard you look the other way or rationalize it so as not to lose your membership dollars.
    I don’t mean to be disrespectful, I’m just very confused about what appears to be a gross inconsistency.

    • I already addressed this above. There is no inconsistency in the slightest, and I think you exaggerate the “immodesty” of the women in our shul. But the laws of tzniut have much more flexibility – more lenient and more stringent opinions. To insist on the most stringent opinion is a community choice, but not necessarily required by the Mesorah. E.g., Rav Aviner has written that to wear thick stockings would be required of one who chooses to live in Meah Shearim (Monsey?) but not elsewhere. There is a range.
      Additionally, in our shul, the women’s section is in back of the men’s section in every minyan. No man has to look at any woman if he faces forward. If he chooses to scrutinize them, that means he turns around (literally, turn his back to the Aron Hakodesh) to gaze, and then his problems exceed that of “lifnei iver lo titen michshol.”
      In this instance, there is no range.
      Also, it is a complete misreading of what I presented to suggest that money was a significant factor in the decision. I held it out as a possibility, since retracted, because I was told and accept it was not at all a factor. But crystallizing what I wrote as “they permitted girls to wear tefillin so as not to lose money” is false, but probably means the reader attended a modern American high school and gained his reading comprehension skills there.

      • Rabbi, Thank you for taking of your time to answer all of these questions. Regarding adults and your shul, it may be (as you know) that tznius has broader contours to allow greater flexibility. However, you would probably agree that no poskim allow a married woman with uncovered hair or dresses that run too high – that such standards are beyond even the broadest standards of tznius. Please, then, in the interests of halachik sensitivities, remove those people from your shul. (I make this comment knowing full well that women dress this way every shabbas at your shul and nobody kicks them out.)

  20. Rabbi–
    You wrote: “In the competition for the tuition dollar of the non-Orthodox – and the fact is that SAR and Ramaz are competing for the same students – accommodations have to be made. And that is a travesty. ” You later wrote: “we can argue whether it is l’shem shamayim or l’shem mammon, and I assume it is both.” You then wrote it “is a complete misreading of what I presented to suggest that money was a significant factor in the decision. I held it out as a possibility.” Would you mind clarifying the misreading? While I appreciate that you offered a retraction, a retraction is not nearly the same as an apology.

    • I stand by what I wrote and retracted. Your obsession with this one point – calling it “significant” is your term, not mine – is leading me to believe maybe it was more of a factor that I thought.

    • Nicely put. Also, a retraction is not a retraction when it is buried in the [heavily moderated] comments on your own post.
      Rabbi – your original post was percieved by many intelligent, rational, and Halakhicly committed individuals to be an egregious example of Motzi Shem Ra. Your own intellectual honesty and honor demand a sincere apology to those whom you offended, cogent Halakhic points in your post notwithstanding.

  21. I have given much unemotional thought to this issue and have had many discussions about it with my wife and older daughter. The crystallization of my conclusions comes not only from reviewing source material, but giving intellectual honesty to the matter within the framework of Orthodox Mesorah. To this end, it appears to me that there has been an unfortunate comingling of three relevant issues, each of which deserve individual attention: 1) Can these apparently non-orthodox girls don tefillin within a pure halachic framework? 2) Should a school that advertises itself as “Orthodox” [Modern notwithstanding] sanction such actions in the absence of customary Orthodox practice [Modern notwithstanding], even if within halachic acceptability? 3) Should a school principle paskin on an issue that has such broad ramifications for the school student body at-large as well as the “Modern” Orthodox community in general, without asking the shayla to a contemporary Gadol [Das Torah] within the “Modern” Orthodox world?

    1) Can these apparently non-orthodox young women wear tefillin within a pure halachic framework?

    As has been referenced by other commenter’s with great emotional charge, there does not appear to be undeniable halachic grounds forbidding a woman from putting on tefillin.

    In a review of the book “The Eye of the Storm” by Rabbi Ahron Feldman, Shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Neir Yisrael in Baltimore, MD, Rabbi Ahron Lichtenstein, Shlita, certainly considered a Gadol HaDor of the “Modern Orthodox” world writes the following: “With regard to women putting on tefillin … a practice which was regarded as open to acceptance by the Rashba, Ritva, Meiri, as well as less prominent Rishonim, all of whom asserted, minimally that while the Yerushalmi cites conflicting views as to whether authoritative chachamim had protested against Michal’s wearing tefillin, the Bavli, whose views ordinarily prevail, assumed unequivocally that they had not.” “… Or again, inasmuch as the practice was nowhere proscribed by the Rambam or the Mechaber in Shulchan Aruch and, some readings, was even permitted by the Ba’alei HaTorsafot, it cannot be said to have been rejected, either unanimously or nearly unanimously”.

    “Moreover, in the very same paragraph in which the Maharam is cited as a source for extending the scope of the term “guf naki” a clean and pure body) to include pure thought devoid of salacious content, the author of the Orchot Chaim, a fourteenth-century Provincial compendium, clearly indicates that he, at any rate, thought the extension has no bearing upon women who, in his opinion, are apparently not defiled by sexual rumination. And indeed he quotes the Rashbag as holding, without qualification, that a woman may wear tefillin and recite their berachah.[1]

    In keeping with the words of a true Das Torah, Ha Rav Lichtenstein, it was not aser, in classic definition, for these two presumptively non-orthodox young women to put on tefillin as per their contemporary “Conservative Movement’s” hashkafic practices. As can be seen, they have the strength of many Torah luminaries to support their individual as well as hashkafic practices; however, as stated earlier, the issue exceeds the walls of their chosen family denominational practices since they were seeking to compel a school that advertises itself as adhering to Orthodox practices to allow them to break from Orthodox Mesorah. Herein lies the problem.

    2) Should a school that advertises itself as “Orthodox” [Modern notwithstanding] sanction such actions in the absence of customary Orthodox practice [Modern notwithstanding], even if within halachic acceptability?

    Rav Lichtenstein’s closing comment in his book review deserves our attention and speaks directly to the heart of Rabbi Pruzansky’s argument: “For my part, I would submit that given the complexity [of the women wearing tefillin controversy]-rather than the supposed simplicity-of the issue, we can readily and emphatically agree with Rabbi Feldman’s judgment, to the effect that traditions prevalent practice should be sustained.”

    Herein lies the error in judgment by SAR and Remaz alike; two schools who advertise themselves as nominally Orthodox [“Modern not withstanding].

    While they may pride themselves in being open to accepting students from other non-orthodox and non-halachic [in general] Jewish denominations, they have, to my knowledge, not yet shed the moniker of Orthodoxy. Hence, one would hope that their religious convictions and the message transmitted to their students would be entirely in keeping not only with “pure” halacha, but well within the boundary lines of accepted Orthodox Mesorah. It is in this latter framework of Mesora where they failed. As both Rav Lictenstein, Shlita and Rabbi Prusansky stated, prevalent Orthodox practice on a global level has not favored woman putting on tefillin, even if within supportable halacha.

    By allowing these young woman to break from Orthodox traditional practices within a nominally Orthodox institution says that the religious convictions of these two schools are weak and not worth defending. In my humble opinion, the better response would have been for the schools to explain to these young women that “while we respect your desire to come closer to HaKodesh Borchu during davening by putting on Tefillin, and even though not halachically prohibited, such a practice by women is not in keeping with our Orthodox Mesorah and would infringe on the traditional davening practices of the majority of Orthodox young men and woman students in the school. Hence, we would request that you daven with tefillin at home prior to coming to school even if you must be a few minutes late for arrival. We are sure that you and your parents will understand that by electing to attend a nominally Orthodox Jewish day-school you accepted the responsibility to adhere to Orthodox practices including halacha, Mesorah and Minhag while on school grounds. What you do at home is within the purview of your family’s beliefs and practices and we certainly wouldn’t impose on that.

    3) Should a school principle paskin on an issue that has such broad ramifications for the school at-large as well as the “Modern” Orthodox community in total, without asking the shayla to a contemporary Gadol within the “Modern” Orthodox world?

    As in answer #2, I believe that the Principle of SAR used unsound judgment and overstepped his boundary lines by issuing an halachic opinion without first asking the Shayla to a contemporary “Modern Orthodox” Gadol [Das Torah] such as Rav Licthtestein, Shlita or Rav Hershel Schachter, Shlita. Instead, Rabbi Tully Harcsztark took it upon himself to render a very complex and far reaching halachic decision to allow these female students to wear tefillin in keeping with their “Conservative” and personal davening practices, quoting sources that looked at the issue solely through the monocle of pure halacha with any consideration to the strength of Mesorah. By not asking a Das Torah, Rabbi Harcsztark did a disservice to all of his students and their respective parents and sent a message that a Mesorah that is steeped so deeply into the grains of time, is suddenly flexible and can be ignored or changed upon the whims of the “times” simply because times change. To me, this is the problem with the world at large today. Nothing, absolutely nothing is sacred and everything is subject to change by personal agenda, societal whims and the like. Unfortunately, it is for this reason why the world today is in such chaos. No one has fixed boundary lines

    What made matters ever so much worse is that this “dirty laundry” was aired in public over the soiled waves of social media. Whether Rabbi Harcsztark meant that to happen or not, it did. This only goes to prove that even though his intentions may have been honorable, he owed it to the student and parent body to seek the advice of a Gadol HaDor before answering the young woman and hanging a very complex issue in halacha, hashkafa and Mesorah out to public ridicule. Had he sought such Torah wisdom, his response to these young women would have been a respectful NO, as we read from Rav Lichtenstein’s concluding statement “I would submit that given the complexity [of the women wearing tefillin controversy]-rather than the supposed simplicity-of the issue, we can readily and emphatically agree with Rabbi Feldman’s judgment, to the effect that traditions prevalent practice [of woman not wearing tefillin] should be sustained.”

    [1] ”Hands Across the Ocean: A Review of Rabbi Aharon Feldman’s The Eye of the Storm. Jewish Action, March 8, 2010

    • Fine analysis. I would add one comment, which underlies things you allude to in (3)….
      In the past (pre-internet years), a principle of a local school probably could make these decisions for him/herself since these were truly local issues. What happened in X-location, stayed there. Now, that is no longer the case. And, therefore, how does a local leader do what may be best for his/her community if it may not be best policy for a broader constituency? In other words, assuming that R’ Harcstark’s decision is right for SAR (and, that’s just an assumption), what ought he do if it’s bad policy for the broader MO or O community?

  22. Rabbi, Pruzansky,

    My impression from reading ALL of this, is that the truth of the matter is being missed. Rabbi, you and Rabbi Harcsztark actually agree that an Orthodox school should only allow practices from the halachik mesorah. Your debate is about type: You believe that only practices that are acceptable in today’s Orthodox world should be practiced, and Rabbi Harcsztark believes that the practice must have some basis in halacha. With this as a backdrop, I would like to make a few points, and I would be interested to hear your response:

    1) I assume you would agree that allowing women to wearing tefillin is legitimate in theory, as there are authorities in our mesorah who have permitted it in theory. It is a minority opinion which, based on the concept of eilu v’ eilu, still has value, albeit rejected in practice.

    2) This is not a debate about halacha, but one of hashkafa. SAR never paskened that women should wear tefillin nowadays, but instead let girls do what they are doing anyway on school premises. The argument here is about whether being tolerant in the given situation is worth the potential slight to mesorah (or whether this really is a slight to the mesorah at all).

    3) It is wrong to use the “cherry picking” argument here, as it does not apply. SAR’s policy here is a hashkafik one that states: We will allow someone to continue their personal practice in our tefillot because it is a theoretically legitimate practice. This policy DOES NOT REQUIRE that a practice be our current mesorah, only that it has theoretical legitimacy (which this does).

    Setting up SAR to be “cherry pickers” is therefore a straw-man argument, and misleading to the reader. Only if one subscribes to your opinion, that only current-mesorah practices should be tolerated at school, must they prove that it fits our current mesorah. By arguing with SAR from a halachik and hashkafik angle, you are trying to have your cake and eat it too.

    4) Orthodoxy, as you know, is a non-halachik construct. It is merely a (very useful) description of an area on the Jewish spectrum. If so, why must it be that everything allowed in the school fits current Orthodox practice? Would you argue that a “community style” school run by an Orthodox administration have the same standards? I assume not.

    In such a case it wouldn’t be misleading to the frum students to allow non-Orthodox practices, because they know the score. Maybe students in SAR also know the score. Maybe the school has educated the students well enough to know the difference between tolerance and a free for all (at least in this case). Maybe the parents sending their children there know what they are “getting into.” I find it hard to believe that anyone on outside can pass judgement here. Seems like there is a nice area in between “typical Orthodox” and “community school” that SAR fits right into, and therefore this decision was a perfect fit for their school culture and student body.

    • Can you credibly say that “women wearing tefillin” is a plausible practice in the Torah world? And do we want to permit a situation where people rely on unorthodox minority opinions in the rishonim or the acharonim in order to satisfy a “need?” If so, we might as well revive the institution of the pilegesh, which finds support in the acharonim and is certainly plausible (if not uncontroversial) in modern America). Perhaps schools should also allow students to opt out of English lit, phys ed, or trig on the grounds that they have credible religious sources that advocate a “Torah-only” approach to education – that everything not Torah is considered Bitul Torah. I can give you ten other such examples.
      Ah, but you will say: “Wait, these children enrolled in these schools knowing what the curriculum would be?”
      To which the answer is: yes, they also enrolled knowing what the school policy on tefillin was.
      I am also not sure you are doing the schools a favor by diluting their Orthodox credentials, as you did in your last sentence.
      Thank you for sharing – and do read this, from a former, illustrious CBY member now living in Israel. Good food for thought!

      – RSP

      • “And do we want to permit a situation where people rely on unorthodox minority opinions in the rishonim or the acharonim in order to satisfy a “need?”
        And if we, perhaps, do? With all due respect, you are a pulpit rabbi of one (of many) shuls in Teaneck, NJ. The answer to your question is by no means mandated solely by your feelings on the matter. Especially when other (more learned) Orthodox rabbis in your own town have come out in support of SAR. The relevant question here is not whether you are correct or not. The question is whether we care.

        Brilliant comments… Quite typical. You must be a ModO. And not a very educated or pleasant one, at that.
        And the better question is: if you don’t care, why do you read what I write??


      • Not to sound contentious, but your response seems to ignore my main points. I think I argued pretty clearly why this is NOT a situation of “relying” on an opinion. The word “relying” implies a disingenuous decision. As I explained, there was no manipulation of the Mesorah, because SAR’s philosophy was to tolerate a private practice that has theoretical validity (which this objectively does). It was not to state that this opinion carries more weight than others because of current American morals.

        Secondly, I never used the phrase “plausible practice” in my explanation. I specifically used the phrase “legitimate in theory” because the permissive shitta is only rejected in practice (as it should be), but not that it is “wrong.” Therefore, it does have validity in certain situations, in this case as a factor in a haskafic decision. (Minority opinions having theoretical validity is a very common interpretation of “eilu v’ eilu.”)

        I am also confused by your gross generalization that this decision was to “fit a need.” This statement assumes either disingenuous motivation, putting modern values over Torah values, or both. SAR’s decision was one about competing Jewish values, of which tolerance and respect for other people’s decision are included. If you believe that these are only modern values (which I’m sure you don’t – although you may be dismayed at the degree to which they are currently practiced), then you are right; this is only to “fit a need.” But if you agree to their validity, then this is not fitting a need, but trying to fulfill a religious value.

        SAR believes tolerance to be a Jewish value, and in this case believes it to be the value that overrides. They are not manipulating the Mesorah, rather choosing one Jewish value over another in their school’s policy (not in pesak). If you believe that allegiance to current Orthodox practice should trump the value of tolerance in school policy, then make that case. But don’t overstate SAR’s opinion on the matter to include allowing pilegesh and letting students decide to do whatever they want in school because they have a shitta. These examples are not practical incarnations of the school’s policy on girls’ tefillin. This also misleads the reader, who will identify SAR with these policies, making SAR an easy target in a way that they should not be.

        Finally, your “they know what they are getting into point,” is an important one. A school must always be aware of the assumptions that their stakeholders have when getting involved with the school. Additionally, all policy changes must take these assumptions in mind. However, such judgements are for the school administration to make, as they understand their school culture better than any observer.

        If a student requests to withdraw from secular studies, a school has to evaluate the effect such permission will have on school culture. This decision must be made on its own merits, irrelevant of policy changes in another area (e.g. women’s tefillin). Similarly, if a students “enrolled knowing what the school policy on tefillin was,” the school must take this assumption into account in the overall decision. However, it is not bound to keep status quo, and must decide based on what is best for the school.

        I just think this is a much more nuanced issue than you are making it out to be. Thank you for providing a forum to discuss this, and have a good shabbos.

  23. Is it Permissible for a Woman to Wear Tefillin? by Rabbi Eli Mansour women