Tefillin and Clean Bodies – Part 2: Women Wearing Tefillin – by Rabbi Zev Farber

January 31, 2014

See: Tefillin and Clean Bodies – Part 1: Elisha’s Wings

Women are Exempt from Wearing Tefillin

According to the Mishna (Berakhot 3:3), women are exempt from wearing tefillin.

Women, slaves and minors are exempt from reciting the Shema or wearing tefillin, but they are obligated in prayer, mezuzah and reciting the grace after meals.[1]

Why are women exempt from wearing tefillin? Rashi (ad loc.) suggests that it is because tefillin are a positive commandment tied to a particular time (a category of mitzvot that women are generally exempt from performing), since tefillin are not worn at nights or on Shabbat and holidays. The discussion in the Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 96a), which assumes that this is the reason for the exemption, supports Rashi’s position.

The Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot 2:3), however, offers a different reason.

From where do we know that women [are exempt]? ‘Teach them to your sons’ (Deut. 11:19) – not your daughters. Whoever is obligated in learning Torah is obligated in tefillin; women who are exempt from learning Torah are exempt from wearing tefillin.[2]

According to this source, women are exempt from wearing tefillin because they are exempt from studying Torah.

The Mekhilta of R. Ishmael (Pasḥa 17) offers the same reason.[3]

‘So that the Torah of the Lord be in your mouth’ (Exod. 13:9). Why was this said? Because it says (ibid): ‘This should be a sign [upon your arm].’ I would have assumed that women are included, and this would make sense since mezuzah is a positive commandment and tefillin is a positive commandment, if we assume that women part of the mitzvah of mezuzah shouldn’t we assume that women are also part of the mitzvah of tefillin? Thus the verse comes to teach us, ‘so that the Torah of the Lord be in your mouth,’ I am only referring to someone who is obligated in learning Torah. From here they said: “All are obligated in tefillin except for women and slaves.”[4]

Rambam codifies this reason in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (Positive Commandments, 13), referencing the Mekhilta.[5]

The Michal bat Kushi Story

May a woman wear tefillin voluntarily? The Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 96a) records a story about this.

Michal daughter of Kushi used to wear tefillin and the Sages didn’t object. Jonah’s wife used to come [to Jerusalem] for the holidays and the Sages didn’t object.[6]

According to this source, it would seem that women may wear tefillin if they wish.

The Mekhilta records the same story.

Michal daughter of Kushi would wear tefillin. The wife of Jonah would come [to Jerusalem] for the festivals. Tabi, Rabban Gamliel’s slave would wear tefillin.[7]

According to this account, which is the same as that recorded in the Babylonian Talmud, it appears that women may wear tefillin if they wish.

There is an alternative version of this story, however, which appears in the Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot 2:3) and is included in the Pesiqta Rabbati (22). The passage follows the previously quoted the lines of the Jerusalem Talmud, where it was established that women are exempt from wearing tefillin.

A contradiction was offered: ‘But Michal daughter of Kushi would wear tefillin and the wife of Jonah would [come to Jerusalem] for the holidays, and the Sages didn’t stop her.’ R. Hezekiah in the name of R. Abahu: “The Sages sent Jonah’s wife back and objected to Michal bat Kushi.”[8]

The first version of the story included here assumes that Michal wore tefillin without any objection from the Sages. Moreover, the Jerusalem Talmud assumes that if she wore tefillin, she must have been obligated. (The Babylonian Talmud makes a similar assumption, suggesting that maybe she followed the opinion that tefillin should be worn at night and on Shabbat.) Hezekiah in the name of R. Abahu, to solve this problem, offers an alternative version of the story. The Sages did, in fact, object to what she was doing.

Tosafot and Women’s Fitness for Tefillin

The Tosafot (Eruvin 96a), having seen the source in Pesiqta Rabbati, wonder why the Sages would have objected. Since the Tosafot follows the position of Ri (=Rabbi Isaac of Dampierre) that women are permitted, even encouraged, to take on positive mitzvot for which they are not obligated, they cannot answer that doing that which one is exempt from doing is bad.[9] Thus, in order to answer the question, they turn to the position of Rabbi Yannai analyzed in part one.

It would seem that the explanation for the position that women are not permitted [to wear tefillin] is because tefillin require a guf naqi and women are not zealous enough to be careful about this.[10]

The Tosafot claim that the reason women may not wear tefillin, according to Hezekiah quoting Rabbi Abahu, is because they will not be careful about the cleanliness of their bodies. Since according to the Babylonian Talmud, being careful about “guf naqi” means avoiding flatulence or falling asleep, the Tosafot are saying that women will not be zealous enough about their tefillin to avoid flatulence while wearing them.

Why would the Tosafot say such a thing? Here is where modern readers, I believe, have difficulty accepting attitudes about women that reflect a pre-modern mentality that men are better or more spiritual or more serious about Torah than women. Yet this was a common, even normative belief in the pre-modern era.

In fact, this is the very reason that some sages believed that it is forbidden and a waste of time to teach women Torah.  This attitude was articulated most clearly by Rambam Mishneh Torah (Talmud Torah 1:13)

A woman who learns Torah receives a reward, but it is not like the man’s reward, since she was not commanded [to do so], and anyone who does something [good] which he was not commanded to do receives less reward than one who fulfills a command. Even though there is reward, the Sages commanded a person not to teach his daughter Torah, since most women’s minds are not designed for learning and they will turn the words of Torah into foolishness due to their weak intellect. The Sages said: “Anyone who teaches his daughter Torah it is as if he taught her licentiousness/nonsense.” To what does this statement apply, to Oral Torah, but insofar as the Written Torah, de jure a person should not teach her this, but if he did, it is not like teaching her licentiousness/nonsense.”[11]

Rambam believes that women, because of their weak intellects, would make nonsense out of Torah study, specifically study of Talmud, which is very intricate.

Although it is possible that the Tosafot did not hold as extreme a view as Rambam about women, nevertheless, it is hardly surprising that in the Middle Ages, some rabbis would believe that women could not be trusted to take tefillin seriously enough to hold in flatulence or quickly remove their tefillin if they felt it coming on. Even though the Rishonim state explicitly that any person can hold in their flatulence during the short period of the morning prayers, they were thinking about men, whom they believed would take the mitzvah seriously; they were not (necessarily) picturing women doing this.

A number of other Rishonim expressed the Tosafot’s explanation of the alternative Michal story in even starker terms. For example, in the Kol Bo 21 (the source upon which Rama’s opinion in the Shulḥan Arukh is based), Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg is quoted as being against women wearing tefillin (he may have been the first to codify this position as halakha):

Rabbi Meir [of Rothenberg] wrote: “Women are exempt from tefillin because they are a positive commandment tied to a specific time, for we do not wear them on Shabbat and festivals. If women wish to wear them we don’t listen to them, because they do not know how to keep themselves clean.”[12]

Although R. Meir of Rothenberg may mean the same thing as the Tosafot, that women will not be careful about flatulence, it is possible that he has even more in mind than this. R. Meir may be envisioning the realities that come with women menstruating. Before the advent of feminine projects, it would have been quite difficult for women to keep clean during their cycles. Although such a concern does not appear in the Talmud, perhaps R. Meir is making an a fortiori – if flatulence is forbidden certainly menstrual bleeding should be forbidden—but this is just speculation on my part.

An even clearer expression of how women will not be careful can be found in Ritva’s commentary to Qiddushin 31a. In that text, he is discussing the question of whether women should make a blessing on mitzvot they perform but in which they are not obligated. As part of this discussion, he suggests a possible reason that the Sages objected (according to the source in the Jerusalem Talmud and Pesiqta Rabbati).

…because tefillin require a guf naqi like Elisha with the wings, and women are not clean, they are not clean of body and they are not clean of mind.[13]

Ritva uses an extreme expression in order to get across the point that women, in his view, are not capable of being clean enough or serious enough to wear tefillin.

Although Ritva’s statement is extreme, the majority of the commentaries that follow the position of Rabbi Meir of Rothenberg, forbidding women to wear tefillin, repeat Tosafot’s interpretation verbatim (see, for example, TazMagen Avraham, and Mishna Berurah on the Shulḥan Arukh Oraḥ Ḥaim 38:3), i.e., “they are not zealous enough to be careful.”

Conclusion

In modern times, our attitude towards the intelligence and religiosity of women has changed dramatically. No longer do we claim that women are either not smart enough or not serious enough to learn Talmud. Instead, women’s Talmud programs are flourishing in our times. To my mind, the same must be said about women wearing tefillin.

Although in the past it may have been believable to claim that women should not be trusted with tefillin because they would not take the mitzvah seriously, and they may end up sinning by not avoiding flatulence while wearing them, such a claim must be discarded in our days. It is a relic of a time where attitudes towards women was very different.

In part one, we looked at the unanimous opinion of the Rishonim that any man at all, unless he is ill, can be trusted to treat tefillin properly if worn during prayer. In our day, this assessment applies to any woman as well. To put it starkly, if, as R. Moshe of Coucy said, “there isn’t a person wicked enough that he can’t be trusted with tefillin,” this dictum certainly applies to women as well. In short, the prohibition against women wearing tefillin must go the way of the prohibition against women learning Torah; we must consign it to history.

Addendum: The Arukh Ha-Shulḥan

Rabbi Yeḥiel Epstein, in his Arukh Ha-Shulan (Oraḥ Ḥaim 38:6), offers a novel formulation of the halakha.[14]

Women and slaves are exempt from tefillin because they (tefillin) are a positive time-bound commandment, since we are exempt from tefillin on Shabbat and festivals. If they wish to be strict upon themselves and wear them, we stop them. This is not similar to sukkah and lulav where they are exempt but they may say a blessing even so, since tefillin requires extra caution with guf naqi, as we said in Shabbat, “Tefillin require a guf naqi like Elisha with the wings.” In the Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhot, it says: “They say over there that anyone who is not like Elisha with the wings should not wear tefillin.” Nevertheless, men are obligated so they will necessarily be careful with them during Shema and prayer. For this reason, however, they don’t wear them all day, as I stated in the previous paragraph. Thus, women, who are exempt, why should they put themselves into a situation with such grave concerns? For them, [wearing tefillin] during Shema and prayer is like men wearing them all day. Even though it says in Eruvin that Michal daughter of Saul wore tefillin and the Sages did not object, we cannot learn from that since they probably know that she was a totally righteous woman and that she knew how to be careful. All this applies to slaves as well.[15]

With the greatest respect for Rabbi Epstein, his reading of the Talmudic passages seems to me to be impossible. To return to the analysis in part one: If we interpret the Elisha passage to mean, “immaculately clean and superhumanly careful,” then, as the Geonim said, we don’t follow that position. For this reason, most Rishonim follow the plain meaning of the Talmud’s interpretation, that it means that it is forbidden to be flatulent while wearing tefillin and, therefore, unless one is like Elisha, one should not wear them all day.

Nevertheless, it was unanimous that wearing tefillin only for prayer poses no problem for anyone because it is easy to be careful during that short space of time. The reason this consensus was not applied to women (according to those who forbid them to wear tefillin), is because these rabbis believed that women could not be trusted to take the rule about flatulence seriously or to keep their minds on their tefillin, even for a very short time.

I suspect—and I am just speculating—that what motivates this unusual reading is the fact that Rabbi Epstein was living in a modern world and could not imagine that R. Moshe Isserles thought that women could not avoid flatulence, and that they were less spiritual or serious about Torah than men. In other words, it is possible that R. Epstein is trying to square the circle apologetically, to maintain the prohibition against women wearing tefillin which appears in the Shulḥan Arukh, but to make the reason for the prohibition less offensive and more believable to modern people. Whether or not this was the case, Rabbi Epstein’s interpretation contradicts the simple reading of the Talmud and the Rishonim and should be rejected le-halakha. Certainly, it should not be used in a last ditch effort to maintain a prohibition that is based on obscure sources and Ashkenazi custom, flies in the face of the Talmud, has no applicability or believability in the modern world, and offends the sensibilities of many Jewish women.

See: Tefillin and Clean Bodies – Part 1: Elisha’s Wings 


[1]  נשים ועבדים וקטנים פטורין מקריאת שמע ומן התפילין וחייבין בתפלה ובמזוזה ובברכת המזון:

[2]  נשים מניין? ‘ולמדתם אותם את בניכם’ ולא את בנותיכם, את שהוא חייב בת”ת חייב בתפילין נשים שאינן חייבות בת”ת אינן חייבין בתפילין.

[3] In his excellent article on women and tefillin“Gender and Tefillin: Possibilities and Consequences,” Rabbi Ethan Tucker explores the full implications of this Mekhilta text.

[4]  למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך למה נאמר לפי שנאמר והיה לך לאות שומע אני אף הנשים במשמע והדין נותן הואיל ומזוזה מצות עשה ותפילין מצות עשה אם למדת על מזוזה שהיא נוהגת בנשים כבאנשים יכול אף תפילין ינהגו בנשים כבאנשים ת”ל למען תהיה תורת ה’ בפיך, לא אמרתי אלא במי שהוא חייב בתלמוד תורה, מכאן אמרו הכל חייבין בתפילין חוץ מנשים ועבדים.

[5]  הנה כבר התבאר לך קראם לתפלין שלראש ושליד שתי מצות. ושתי מצות אלו אין הנשים חייבות בהן לאמרו יתעלה (ס”פ בא) בטעם חיובם למען תהיה תורת י”י בפיך ונשים אינן חייבות בתלמוד תורה. וכן בארו במכילתא.

[6]  מיכל בת כושי היתה מנחת תפילין ולא מיחו בה חכמים. ואשתו של יונה היתה עולה לרגל ולא מיחו בה חכמים.

[7]  מיכל בת כושי היתה מנחת תפילין, אשתו של יונה היתה עולה לרגלים, טבי עבדו של רבן גמליאל היה מניח תפילין:

[8]  התיבון הרי מיכל בת כושי היתה לובשת תפילין ואשתו של יונה היתה עולה לרגלים ולא מיחו בידיה חכמים ר’ חזקיה בשם ר’ אבהו אשתו של יונה הושבה מיכל בת כושי מיחו בידיה חכמים.

[9] See the addendum in R. Ethan Tucker’s (above referenced) article for a discussion of this point.

[10]  ונראה לפרש דטעמא למ”ד דלא הוי רשות משום דתפילין צריכין גוף נקי ונשים אין זריזות ליזהר.

[11]  אשה שלמדה תורה יש לה שכר אבל אינו כשכר האיש, מפני שלא נצטוית, וכל העושה דבר שאינו מצווה עליו לעשותו אין שכרו כשכר המצווה שעשה אלא פחות ממנו, ואף על פי שיש לה שכר צוו חכמים שלא ילמד אדם את בתו תורה, מפני שרוב הנשים אין דעתם מכוונת להתלמד אלא הן מוציאות דברי תורה לדברי הבאי לפי עניות דעתן, אמרו חכמים כל המלמד את בתו תורה כאילו למדה תפלות, במה דברים אמורים בתורה שבעל פה אבל תורה שבכתב לא ילמד אותה לכתחלה ואם למדה אינו כמלמדה תפלות.

[12]  כתב הר”ם נשים פטורות מתפילין מפני שהוא מצות עשה שהזמן גרמה שהרי אין מניחין אותן בשבת ויום טוב ואם רצו להניח אין שומעין להן מפני שאינן יודעות לשמור עצמן בנקיות ע”כ,

[13]  …משום דתפילין צריכין גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים ונשים אינם נקיות לא נקיות גוף ולא נקיות דעת.

[14] He is inspired by the retort of R. Avraham Gombiner (the Magen Avraham) to Rabbi Meir Perels (the Olat Tamid), who asks that if women should not wear tefillin because they don’t have to be careful, why should the explanation of women being exempt because tefillin are a positive time-bound commandment ever have been offered. Just say that people who cannot be careful may not wear tefillin and that should include a subset of men and all women? R. Gombiner responds by saying that since men are obligated the force themselves to be careful, and if women were obligated they would also have to force themselves to be careful, but since they are not obligated they are not permitted to take that chance. This retort seems to be the jumping off point for Rabbi Epstein, who references Magen Avraham and states that his analysis makes this position work.

[15]  נשים ועבדים פטורים מתפילין מפני שהיא מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא דשבת ויו”ט פטור מתפילין ואם רוצין להחמיר על עצמן מוחין בידן ולא דמי לסוכה ולולב שפטורות ועכ”ז מברכות עליהן דכיון דתפילין צריך זהירות יתירה מגוף נקי כדאמרינן בשבת [מ”ט.] תפילין צריכין גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים ובירושלמי ברכות שם אמרו תמן אמרין כל שאינו כאלישע בעל כנפים אל יניח תפילין אך אנשים שמחויבים בהכרח שיזהרו בהם בשעת ק”ש ותפלה ולכן אין מניחין כל היום כמ”ש בסי’ הקודם וא”כ נשים שפטורות למה יכניסו עצמן בחשש גדול כזה ואצלן בשעת ק”ש ותפלה כלאנשים כל היום לפיכך אין מניחין אותן להניח תפילין ואף על גב דתניא בעירובין [צ”ו.] דמיכל בת שאול היתה מנחת תפילין ולא מיחו בה חכמים אין למידין מזה דמסתמא ידעו שהיא צדקת גמורה וידעה להזהר וכן עבדים כה”ג [עמג”א סק”ג וב”י ולפמ”ש א”ש]:

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Tefillin and Clean Bodies – Part 1: Elisha’s Wings – by Rabbi Zev Farber

January 31, 2014

See: Tefillin and Clean Bodies – Part 2: Women Wearing Tefillin

Preface

The debate about women wearing tefillin rages. The issue has many moving parts, some are halakhic, most are sociological. In this piece, I want to touch upon only one aspect of the debate, the concept of guf naqi (clean body) and its application to the question of whether women should wear tefillin.

Part 1 – Elisha’s Wings

The idea that tefillin require a guf naqi comes from a passage in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 49a):

Rabbi Yannai said: “Tefillin require a guf naqi (clean body) like Elisha, with the wings.”[1]

This statement is enigmatic, both because it is unclear what it means by “clean” and because of the reference to this strange person, Elisha with the wings. More importantly, what the halakhic consequences of such a statement are meant to be. Assuming Elisha with the wings was an extraordinary person, does that mean that most people should not wear tefillin? As will be seen, there is more than one way to understand the import of the statement about Elisha.

Model 1 – Persecution and the Pure Spirit

The Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 49a) relates Elisha’s story:

Why do they call him, “the man with wings”? Once the wicked Roman government made a decree against the Jews that anyone who wore tefillin would have his head pierced. Elisha, however, put on his tefillin and went out in public. An official saw him. [Elisha] ran away and the man chased him. When he was about to catch up, [Elisha] removed them from his head and held them in his hand. The man said: “What is that in your hand?” [Elisha] replied: “Dove’s wings.” He opened his had and there were dove’s wings. Therefore, he is called, “Elisha with the wings.”[2]

According to this story, Elisha’s righteousness was that he risked his life to fulfill the mitzvah of wearing tefillin. Not only that, he wore them in public, a bold if risky move.

Following this story, a number of commentators assume that the meaning of Rabbi Yannai’s dictum is that one should not wear tefillin during a time of persecution unless one is as righteous as Elisha. Rav Hai Gaon, for instance, in a responsum dedicated to convincing men that they should wear tefillin and should not worry about the cleanness of their bodies, writes (Sha’arei Teshuvah 153):

If one were to argue that tefillin requires a guf naqi like Elisha with the wings, the Sages explained it thus: In what context was this stated? During a time of persecution, where they made a decree that anyone who wore tefillin would have his head punctured. The Sages said: ‘Anyone who knows that he is as righteous as Elisha with the wings, for whom a miracle was done during the persecution when he risked his life, should wear tefillin. Otherwise, do not put yourself at risk.” For if you do not interpret it this way (but assume that one should not wear tefillin unless one is immaculately clean), a Torah scroll, which is bigger and holier and has many parshiyot and is complete – we open this and read from it all the time, certainly we can wear tefillin! Rather, learn from this that when the Sages said that tefillin needs a guf naqi, this refers to during a persecution and to no other time.[3]

In other words, in Rav Hai Gaon’s interpretation, guf naqi means something like “a pure spirit” and the halakha refers only to wearing tefillin at the risk of one’s life. It has nothing to do with physical cleanliness at all.

Clarifying this position, R. Shmuel bar Meshullam Yerundi (Sefer Ohel Moed, Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah and Tzitzit 1:1) translates the term guf naqi as “free from sin (כלומר נקי מעבירות).” This is R. Tam’s position as well (Sefer Ha-Yashar, Novelae, 675):

Tefillin requires a guf naqi like Elisha with the wings – meaning, if one wishes for a miracle to be performed on one’s behalf as was done for Elisha, he must have a pure being like that of Elisha with the wings.[4]

For R. Tam, the import of R. Yannai’s position is only about hoping for a miracle. In other words, R. Yannai is discouraging men from endangering their lives in order to wear tefillin.[5]

Model 2 – Immaculate Bodies but not Halakha Le-Ma’aseh

Another interpretive tradition assumes that the statement was meant to limit tefillin wearing to very select individuals. The Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot 2:3) makes this point clearly:

Over there (Babylon) they say that anyone who is not like Elisha with the wings should not wear tefillin.[6]

Although this statement mentions nothing about Elisha’s “clean body”, it states that if a person is not like Elisha, in whatever way he was special, he should not wear tefillin. Significantly, the Jerusalem Talmud attributes this position to “them,” which implies that it does not accept the statement as authoritative.

The Jerusalem Talmud is not the only one to distance itself from this position. Rabbi Menachem ben Shimon (Midrash Sekhel Tov, Exod. 13) writes:

It is forbidden to sleep in tefillin, whether just nodding off or really sleeping, lest one flatulate while wearing them, however, we are not worried about ejaculation [during sleep] as semen would not forbid a person from wearing tefillin, as we stated earlier. However, we do not follow the position of the person who said that tefillin require a clean body like Elisha with the wings, since the Torah was not given to the ministering angels, as it says (2 Sam. 7:19): “this is the Torah of man.”[7]

This is the understanding of R. Hananel as well (Shabbat 130):

The Halakha does not follow… Rabbi Yannai, who said that tefillin require a guf naqi like Elisha with the wings. The Rabbis, however, interpreted R. Yannai and said that he was only referring to the time of persecution, and they support this with the account of [Elisha] running away and a miracle occurring on his behalf.[8]

According to R. Hananel, we simply do not follow R. Yannai’s position, although he is open to accepting the reinterpreted R. Yannai as described in the previous model.

Model 3 – Flatulence

The Babylonian Talmud offers its own clarification of the concept of guf naqi in the lines immediately following the quote from R. Yannai:

What does this mean? Abaye said: “Not to flatulate with them on.” Rava said: “Not to sleep with them on.”[9]

Assuming one were to accept both answers, i.e. that it is forbidden to flatulate with tefillin on or to sleep with them on, this does not seem like an impossible task. Is Elisha with the wings really the only person who was able to accomplish this? The answer that the vast majority of authorities who follow this model give is “no.” In other words, everyone should wear tefillin; it is only a warning to be careful while wearing them.

Many Rishonim further claim that R. Yannai was speaking about people who wear their tefillin all day, but, certainly, for people who wear them only during prayer there should be nothing at all to worry about.

Below are some examples of Rishonim who make this point.[10]

R. Moshe of Coucy (Sefer Mitzvot ha-Gadol, Positive Commandments, 3)

This refers to a person who wears tefillin all day, as is the mitzvah, lest he forget he is wearing them and he act inappropriately. During prayer, however, there isn’t a person wicked enough that he can’t be trusted with tefillin.[11]

Rashba (Glosses on Tractate Shabbat 49a)

The term ‘they require a guf naqi’ refers to someone who knows how to avoid flatulence while wearing them, meaning that he knows to remove them when he feels the need to flatulate – that is Rashi’s explanation, and it is Tosafot’s as well.[12]

Rosh (Hilkhot Qetanot, Tefillin)

This does not mean that he must be like Elisha with the wings, but rather that he can avoid flatulence and falling asleep like him. For since a miracle occurred for him because of his tefillin, it seems reasonable to assume that he guarded their purity. Nowadays, since we only wear them during prayer, it is easy for a person to be careful during that space of time.[13]

R. Joshua ibn Shuib (Derashot, Va-etḥanan)

There are those who are lenient with this mitzvah because of what R. Yannai said, that tefillin require a guf naqi like Elisha with the wings. They say: “Who could be pure like him?” But this is not correct, because [the Talmud] explicitly asks what is the reason or what is the halakhic import of this statement, and it answers, to avoid flatulating or sleeping while wearing them. So any man who can avoid sleep or flatulence should wear them. This was also Rashi’s interpretation. It was back in the period when they would wear them all day that they said that tefillin requires a guf naqi like Elisha of the wings, but just while reciting the Shema, every person can be careful to avoid sleep and flatulence![14]

R. Avraham Zakut (Sefer ha-Yukhsin, Seder Amoraim, “Elisha”)

The Geonim wrote that the halakha does not follow [R. Yannai], since the Torah was not given to the ministering angels. However, later authorities wrote that it is halakha, and that a person can remain under control during prayer.[15] 

Halakhic Summary

In short, if R. Yannai’s statement was meant to warn regular Jews not to risk their lives by wearing tefillin, it is irrelevant to the question of cleanliness. If it was meant to limit tefillin only to exceedingly pious individuals, like Elisha, the Geonim already decided that his is not the halakha and we do not follow this position. If all it means is that people wearing tefillin need to be careful not to flatulate or sleep while wearing it, that is considered halakha, but is also considered easy to follow unless one has a stomach ailment.

The only people who might have trouble with it are people who wear them all day. For this reason R. Yannai suggests that only very pious people should wear them all day, but everyone should wear them during prayer, since there is nothing to worry about for the average person. This is the halakha as we have inherited it.[16]

See: Tefillin and Clean Bodies – Part 2: Women Wearing Tefillin


[1]  אמר רבי ינאי: “תפילין צריכין גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים.”

[2]  ואמאי קרי ליה בעל כנפים? שפעם אחת גזרה מלכות רומי הרשעה גזירה על ישראל, שכל המניח תפילין ינקרו את מוחו. והיה אלישע מניחם ויוצא לשוק. ראהו קסדור אחד – רץ מפניו, ורץ אחריו. וכיון שהגיע אצלו נטלן מראשו ואחזן בידו, אמר לו: מה זה בידך? אמר לו: כנפי יונה. פשט את ידו ונמצאו כנפי יונה. לפיכך קורין אותו אלישע בעל כנפים.

[3]  ואם בא אדם לומר תפלין צריכין גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים כך פירשו חז”ל במה דב”א בשעת השמד שגוזרים כל המניח תפלין ינקרו את מוחו אמרו חכמים כל היודע עצמו שהוא צדיק גמור כאלישע בעל כנפים שעשו לו נס בשעת השמד ומסר עצמו למיתה יניח תפלין ואם לאו אל יביא עצמו לידי סכנה שאם אתה אומר כן ס”ת גדול ומקודש שיש בו כמה פרשיות והוא שלם ואתה פותח בו וקורא בו בכל זמן וק”ו תפלין מכאן אתה למד שלא שנו חכמים תפלין צריכין גוף נקי אלא בשעת השמד ולא בזמן אחר.

[4]  תפילין צריכין גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים. כלומ’ אי בעי דאיתרחיש לי’ ניסא כמו שנעשה לאלישע צריך להיות גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים.

[5] R. Tam’s position is brought down as authoritative by R. Avraham bar Natan Even ha-Yarḥi in Sefer ha-Manhig (Tefillin) as well.

[6]  תמן אמרין כל שאינו כאלישע בעל כנפים לא ילבש תפילין.

[7]  ואסור לישן בהן לא שינת עראי ולא שינת קבע, גזירה שמא יפיח בהם, אבל משום קרי לא מיתסרי לאנוחי, כמא דפסקינן לעיל, ולא קיי”ל כמאן דאמר תפילין צריכין גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים, שלא ניתנה תורה למלאכי השרת, שנא’ וזאת תורת האדם (ש”ב ז יט):

[8]  ואין הלכה… כרבי ינאי שאמר תפילין צריכין גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים ומפרשי רבנן כי לא אמר רבי ינאי אלא בשעת הגזרה וסמיך דהוא עריק ועבדי ליה נס.

[9]  מאי היא? אביי אמר: “שלא יפיח בהן.” רבא אמר: “שלא יישן בהן.”

[10] See also the treatment of R. Baḥya ben Asher (Kad ha-Qemaḥ, “Tefillin”), who surveys more than one model for understanding R. Yannai.

וכיון שביד האדם לקיים מצוה זו אין לאחד מישראל שימנע מזה על המחשבה שהזכרתי למעלה, כי כל אדם ראוי להניח תפילין כל זמן שהוא בריא וגופו טהור מן החולי והמדוה, ואין צריך עכ”פ שיהיה לו גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים, הוא שטועין בו הרבה בני אדם מהמון ישראל גם קצת מן היודעים שחושבין שאין כל אדם ראוי למצות תפילין אלא א”כ הגיע למדרגת אלישע בעל כנפים שנעשה לו נס ושיהיה לו גוף נקי כמוהו. וזו היא הסבה שהמצוה הזאת מרופה בידם ולא יחזיקו בה, ולא ידעו ולא יבינו כי אין המאמר הזה אמור אלא בשעת השמד שאם המניח תפילין הוא כדאי ובטוח על עצמו שיעשה לו נס כאלישע בעל כנפים יש לו להניח תפילין בשעת שמד ואם לאו אין לו להניחם מפני הסכנה, אבל שאר כל המון ישראל שלא בשעת הסכנה חייבים להניח, וכל ישראל ראוים לכך כי כל העדה כלם קדושים, או יהיה ביאור המאמר לענין הנחתן כל היום כלו וזהו לשון גוף נקי שאם יש לו גוף נקי כאלישע ונזהר בהם הזהירות הראוי חייב להניח’ כל היו’ כלו כמו שהי’ עושה אלישע, אבל אם אין לו גוף נקי כמוהו די לו להניחן בשעות ידועות, ואין צריך לומר הגדולים שהם חייבין במצות תפילין ושהיא מצוה מוטלת עליהם, כי גם הקטנים צריכין להניחן כדי לחנכן במצות. וכן אמרו במסכת סוכה (פ”ג דף מ) קטן היודע לשמור תפילין אביו לוקח לו תפילין:

[11]  זהו באדם שמניחן כל היום כולו כמצותן פן ישכחם עליו ויעשה בהם דבר שאינו הגון, אבל בשעת תפילה אין לך רשע שלא יהא ראוי לתפילין,

[12]  פירוש צריכין גוף נקי היודע ליזהר שלא יפיח בהן כלומר שיזהר לסלקם בשעה שצריך להפיח, וכן פירש רש”י ז”ל, וכן פירשו גם בתוספות.

[13]  לומר לא שיהא צריך כאלישע בעל כנפים אלא שיכול ליזהר משינה ומהפחה כמוהו. דכיון דאירע לו נס בתפילין מסתמא היה שומרן בטהרה. והאידנא שאין רגילין להניחן אלא בשעת תפלה בקל יכול אדם ליזהר באותה שעה.

[14]  ויש מקילין במצוה זאת משום ההיא דרבי ינאי דאמר תפילין צריכין גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים, ואומרים [כי] מי הוא נקי [גוף] כמוהו. וזה אינו [כן] כי בפירוש אמרו מאי טעמא או למאי הלכתא, ואמרו שלא יפיח בהם ושלא יישן בהם, ואם הוא יכול ליזהר מן השינה וההפחה כל אדם ראוי להם. וכן פירש רש”י זכרונו לברכה ובאותן הזמנים שהיו מניחין אותן כל היום היו אומרין (זה) שצריך גוף נקי כאלישע לכל היום, אבל בזמן קריאת שמע כל אדם יכול ליזהר משינה והפחה.

[15]  והגאונים ז”ל כתבו שאינו הלכה כי לא ניתנה תורה למלאכי השרת, אבל האחרונים כתבו שהוא הלכה ויכול אדם בשעת תפילה להעמיד עצמו,

[16] See, for example, Shulḥan Arukh, Oraḥ Ḥaim 38:1, where R. Joseph Karo says that people with stomach ailments should not wear tefillin. Presumably, the average person without such an ailment can avoid flatulence during prayer.

 


Different Roles-by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

January 29, 2014

I came across THIS ARTICLE by Rabbi Avi Shafran, my old 10th grade Rebbe.  There is a lot he writes in the public arena that I do not agree with, but this one I really did.  I articulated a similar notion in my post in this blog about Maharats HERE.  Indeed when our Maharat here at Bais Abraham asked me if she was expected to go to the weekday Schacharit minyan, I told her that of course she could but it was not expected, and perhaps she would like praying at home better and spending the time with her young children or learning.  

 

Men and women have different halachic obligations and as Orthodox Jews we believe that men and women are different.  Because the genders bring very different voices and points of view to the table is precisely why we must empower women to be Jewish leaders, to be learned, but we must take care not to push them to be the same as men.  This could send  observant Judaism down a dangerous path of erasing the distinctions between the genders, much as has happened in some more liberal Jewish movements.  Ultimately such a path does not honor women and their leadership, their power, and uniqueness nor does it honor men’s, but rather takes something precious away and creates fewer opportunities for both genders to bring their strengths to the community.  


Raising Consciousness about the Agunah Crisis -By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

January 28, 2014

This past Sunday  our congregation, Bais Abraham in St. Louis, Missouri, hosted a post-nup signing event with the aim of prompting the whole shul and much of the community to sign the RCA post-nup and to raise consciousness for the plight of Agunot, women chained in a marriage by a recalcitrant husband who refuses to grant them a religious divorce.  The event was co-sponsored by two other local Orthodox synagogues, Young Israel of St. Louis and Nusach Hari B’nai Zion.   Rabbi Yonah Reiss, the new head of the Beit Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council spoke at the event followed by a mass post-nup signing and a party. I think as shuls and communities host more and more public post-nup signings the entire Orthodox community will follow suit and this will serve as a bulwark against get recalcitrance.  Chazal, the Rabbis of the Talmud, instituted the Kitubah precisely to protect women financially, emotionally and physically in case of divorce.  If they lived today they would be standing with us and requiring all Rabbis to ensure every couple has a pre or post nuptual agreement.   HERE is a link to some of the press.


A Recent Episode As Seen From Three Perspectives by David Wolkenfeld

January 22, 2014

Rabbi Avi Weiss and the Israeli Rabbinate: An Episode Seen from Three Perspectives

I.

Rabbi Avi Weiss announced last October that his letters attesting to the Jewish status of members of his community who had moved to Israel were no longer acceptable to the rabbanut, the Israeli rabbinate. When pressed to justify their rejection, a spokesman for the rabbinate explained last month that controversial positions that Rabbi Weiss had taken over the years, as reported to them by anonymous American rabbis, rendered Rabbi Weiss suspect in their eyes and insufficiently Orthodox even to vouch for the personal status of members of his community.

Since Rabbi Weiss broke this story, he has been able to mobilize an impressive list of colleagues, students, and other allies, both in Israel and in the diaspora, to advocate on his behalf.  Late last week, the rabbanut announced that they would, once again, accept Rabbi Weiss’ letters regarding personal status when members of his community move to Israel.  Just last Thursday, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) announced a larger agreement with the rabbanut, wherein they would take responsibility for verifying the Jewish status of the congregants of any of its member-rabbis and that the rabbanut would, as a matter of course, accept the status-determinations made here in America.

Like a Mandelbrot fractal image, no matter how narrowly or how broadly one examines this episode, the shape is the same and raises fundamental questions.  Broadly speaking, there are three levels to this episode and three important contexts for the ensuing conversation.

II.

The first level is the question of “who is Orthodox?”  For those of us love rabbinic politics (or love to hate rabbinic politics), and for those who have some personal connection to the question – this is an important and compelling question. But for most Jews, whether or not Orthodoxy has boundaries and where those boundaries lie, is, at most, a passing thought. Furthermore, within the context of the decades long battle over the place of Liberal Orthodoxy within the broader Orthodox community, there are no surprises. Anyone who has read the polemics surrounding Liberal Orthodoxy, or about Rabbi Weiss himself, that have been published in the past fifteen years already knows that there are segments of the Orthodox world who no longer consider Rabbi Weiss, and inter-alia, his students, to be Orthodox.  Secretly encouraging the rabbanut to reject Rabbi Weiss letters was, perhaps, a new low, and a worrisome escalation, but it was not a move that should have been surprising.

That being said, there are two new elements of this stage of the story that should be noted, condemned, and responded to. First, several of the most consistent and fiercest critics of Liberal Orthodoxy published essays or blog-posts in the past two weeks that disagreed with the decision to disqualify Rabbi Weiss’ letters. Those conflicted critics, and those who agree with them, should experience this episode as a wake-up call. The sensationalist attacks on Rabbi Weiss could have no other long-term effect among those who believe them, other than the total inability of Rabbi Weiss to function as part of the Orthodox rabbinate. That self-destructive path would lead Orthodoxy to a place of less trust, less collegiality, less sharing of Torah ideas, and less respect for Torah and Torah scholarship among a jaded community who witness Torah scholars attack and vilify each other.

Second, the RCA has a need to investigate and identify (at least as part of an internal review) the anonymous source(s) that the rabbanut relied upon to initially disqualify Rabbi Weiss. The ability of the elected leadership and professional staff of the RCA to direct the organization for the benefit of its membership and for the benefit of Torah, necessitates the ability to adopt policies and implement them. Rogue rabbis who speak in the name of the organization without authorization render all of that collective action impossible. Having been burned once, the rabbanut, one hopes, will be more discriminating regarding from whom it accepts information. In turn, the RCA needs to restore its ability to devise and implement policies.

III.

Ironically, the public and private defenses of Rabbi Weiss, from organizations that he is affiliated with and from his colleagues, students, and allies, all affirmed his faithfulness to Orthodox beliefs and practices, and argued that he should be entitled to all of the legal privileges of Orthodox rabbis. This, however, only begged the question of why Orthodox rabbis alone should have this legal status in the State of Israel. More than a few non-Orthodox Jews, and other astute observers, have publicly condemned the resolution of this latest episode as being insignificant for their aims of bringing religious diversity to Israel. The struggle for religious pluralism in Israel is the second context within which to examine this episode. Both those who condemn and those who embrace religious pluralism should recognize that the past two weeks have been insignificant to that broader cause.

IV.

But the rabbanut, the state rabbinate, is not an independent variable. The role and function of the rabbanut is dependent on the tasks that the state asks it to perform and that is connected to a much broader question. What does it mean to be a “Jewish State?” The State of Israel currently defines itself as a Jewish state – at least in part – in an ethnic-religious way. This means that those who can prove a Jewish ethnic background, or who were converted by the right sort of rabbis, are entitled by law to a certain legal status. And, as long as that remains the case, there will be a need for a centralized government agency that can keep track of who is Jewish and who is not.

This broader context, to me, is the most interesting perspective from which to contemplate the latest episode between Rabbi Weiss and the rabbinate.  So long as the conversation remains, “is Rabbi Weiss sufficiently Orthodox for the purposes of a certain government agency” or even if the question is expanded to include, “what kind of diaspora rabbi will have the ability to affect the legal status of Israeli citizens?” then the conversation is one that is beyond the conventions of democratic public discourse. “Rabbi Weiss is indeed an Orthodox rabbi” is not a liberal cry. Nor is, “every rabbi should be able to perform conversions recognized by the State of Israel,” at least not as liberalism has been understood for centuries.

The State of Israel was established because the Zionist visionaries understood that nation-states can uniquely protect their citizens from the threat of violence and that the Jewish people needed our own nation-state to protect our lives in a dangerous and threatening world. Nation states can also sponsor, protect, and encourage a national culture in various guises. But nation-states, at least in the democratic world, are ill-equip to answer questions like, “who is a rabbi?” or “what are the boundaries of acceptable halakhic behavior?” Those sorts of questions, however, are asked and answered every day by kehilot, by communities, and by the religious leadership of those communities.  And because we don’t depend on each other for our physical survival, it’s OK for our kehilot, our shuls, and our religious movements and denominations, to answer those questions in different, or even contradictory, ways.

Think of what you love about living in Israel or visiting there. Think about what the State of Israel means for world Jewry and its significance in the grand sweep of Jewish history. Does any of that depend on a government office collecting lists of Jewish and gentile citizens?

A kehillah is capable of organizing around a common religious vision and a common purpose. That sort of unity, ish echad b’lev echad, as Rashi taught us last week in Parashat Yitro, is a preface to receiving Torah.  But a nation-state cannot easily impose that degree of unity.  Contrary to Kobi Oz’s creative lyrics, the State of Israel is not a giant shul.  Let’s learn to unite where we should, and to foster diversity where that is needed.  We in the diaspora should celebrate all that Israel represents for us, and do what we can to ensure Israel’s safety and flourishing. But we should not look to Israel to resolve questions of Jewish identity that we can more properly answer at home.


Is Tolerance in the Orthodox Lexicon? by R. Yosef Kanefsky

January 14, 2014

There is no classical Hebrew word for “tolerance”. The modern Hebrew term is “sovlanut”, but this word never appears with this meaning in rabbinic literature. This isn’t surprising of course, as the contemporary notion of tolerating differing views is born of modern humanist perspectives, and democratic political systems. Our classical literature blossomed long before those concepts were current.

But does this mean that there is no equivalent to tolerance within Orthodox thought and discourse? This question takes on increasing urgency as the practice of publically excoriating and debasing one’s ideological opponents has become de rigueur in Orthodox circles, particularly in the blogosphere. This trend has developed even among those of us who proudly regard ourselves as possessing modern sensibilities. Is there nothing in our tradition that constrains us from mimicking the broader culture’s increasingly intolerant and debasing discourse, in which the invalidation and delegitimization of others is routine?

I’d argue that there is, in fact, a classical Halachic articulation of the imperative to exercise tolerance, one which is listed by Rambam and by Sefer HaChinuch as a Biblical commandment, and which is codified as such in Jewish law. It is recorded immediately following the Biblical Mitzvah to rebuke one’s fellow for misdeeds that the latter has committed (Vayikra 19:17). That same verse concludes with the admonition to “not bear sin on his account”. There are two primary interpretations of this phrase:

(1) Yes, rebuke your fellow, but do not do so in a manner that will result in the sin of humiliating your fellow publically. In the Talmud’s words, “I might think that you should rebuke even in a manner which causes his countenance to redden. Therefore Scripture adds, ‘you shall not bear sin on his account.”

(2) Yes, rebuke you fellow, but do so as an antidote and alternative to hating him. (“Thou shall not hate your brother in your heart” are the Biblical words that immediately precede the Mitzvah to rebuke.) The underlying idea is that if we remain silent about the misdeeds that we perceive in the other, we will slowly, but surely, grow to hate him. Whereas, if we privately address these issues with him, we are far more likely to step off the road toward enmity and hatred. The prevention of hatred is the intended outcome of – and the implicit justification for – the directive to rebuke.

Jews are going to disagree. Orthodox Jews are going to disagree. It is only when we are able to ultimately tolerate one another, i.e. when we are able to disagree and offer rebuke that neither humiliates nor fosters hatred, that we are permitted to speak. If we cannot exercise tolerance, the Biblical permission to rebuke is withdrawn. This is the Halacha.

No one captured the danger and folly of intra-Orthodox vilification and intolerance better than Netziv did, in his introduction to Breishit. Netziv’s understanding of the sin of the generation of the Second Destruction – a generation filled with Torah scholars – is that “they presumed that anyone who differed from their particular way of fearing God, was a heretic or a Sadducee. And as a result [of this intolerance] they came to bloodshed (in a figurative sense) and to all of the evils in the world, until finally the Temple was destroyed.”

The good news, is that together, we can stem this tide. Together, as we read what’s being written out there, and listen to what’s being said out there, we must discriminate between legitimate, crucially important debate, and degrading, debasing, intolerant attacks (not to mention the terribly destructive practice of painting entire groups with broad brushes). And, privately and discreetly, we can rebuke our teachers and friends, who are unquestionably well-meaning and sincere, but who have fallen into the same bad habit as did their predecessors of two millennia ago, and are routinely violating the Torah’s constraints on the Mitzvah of rebuke. We can still save and sanctify our intra-Orthodox discourse, if together we simply draw the line where God drew the line.

The last Mishna in Shas teaches that God identified exactly one vessel that can hold Israel’s blessings, preventing these blessings from all coming to naught. And that vessel is peace. Had the word existed in Mishnaic times, that blessing would have been “savlonut”.


Of Fish Tacos and Otherness –By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

January 3, 2014

I grew up in the 1970’s in one of the only Orthodox Jewish families in a small Connecticut town.  I did not know then that kosher keeping Jews could eat in a restaurant.  I never had eaten in one and the thought of doing so did not even cross my mind.   Once a year we would make the three hour drive to Manhattan where there were, I think three or four kosher restaurants.

 

I was recently in Los Angeles walking along Pico Boulevard near Robertson where almost every restaurant, perhaps 20 or so, is kosher.  Sitting in one of the LA kosher Chinese restaurants as my company critically evaluated the food, I remembered myself as a child eating my once-a-year lunch at Moshe Peking, eating such “exotic” food, and thinking, this must be the best food in the entire world, how lucky am I, how lucky are the Jewish people to have such a gift, a fancy restaurant to eat at in New York City. 

 

Fast forward to last week, eating fish tacos on MalibuBeach where the only restaurant, and indeed prominently located across from the Malibu Pier, is kosher.  One would not have known if they did not look for the hashgacho, the kosher supervision symbol, that it was kosher, and no doubt the many non-Jewish Asian tourists eating there did not. 

 

It seems in 40 years the relationship of Jews to restaurants has revolved 180 degrees.   To sit in one of the few kosher restaurants in the 1970’s was to feel that one had been given a perhaps all too indulgent gift, taken a bit of the non-Jew’s ambrosia.  Now the restaurant itself is Jewish and it is the non-Jew who must enter our domain if they wish to have the most trendy food on the trendiest beach. 

 

Perhaps there is a danger in this, the Jew riding at the crest of the popular wave, the Jew becoming the measure of society instead of the outcast who is allowed periodically to feel a bit like everyman when eating out.  Perhaps suddenly, the other has become everyman, the outsider can now feel not only like the insider but like the measure of all things.  I wonder how this might take its toll on what it means to be a Jew in exile, on what it means to be a Jew at all. 

 

Perhaps the greatest irony is in that our rabbis created certain food laws to keep the Jew separate from the non-Jew, for instance not eating their cooking or their bread and so making it more difficult to socialize with them, in their world.  Never did they imagine that those boundaries would erode due to the non-Jew eating the cooking of the Jew, that the Jew would become the measure of society at large, or at least of the trendy fish taco joint in the most prime location on Malibu beach.