Today is the first Rosh Hodesh of 2014. We began the year with a Torah scroll again being banned from the Kotel. I read this news online as I was preparing for my own morning tefillot, as I was unpacking my own tallit. I also usually wear tefillin, but have long marked Rosh Hodesh like hol hamoed, wavering between a regular weekday and a festival, as it is considered a special day for women.
Traditionally, women have been exempt from the mitzvah of tefillin, tallit, and Torah. The claim is that, somehow, women have a special relationship with the Divine and, therefore, we do not need these mitzvot. Likely the reason was more practical than that. However, if that is the case, so be it.
Nevertheless, exempt does not mean forbidden. It means free from the obligation. It allows the mitzvah to come from the heart and the head, from a place solely of love for God and for Jewish worship. I have been wearing tefillin for 16 years. I began in a moment of inspiration, which blossomed from prayer, learning, and love of Judaism.
The moment of decision is etched in my memory. I was staffing a SNUSY (South Nassau USY) kinnus at Temple Beth El of North Bellmore, NY. On Sunday morning, one of the boys asked me if I could help him put on his tefillin. I had watched my male Hebrew School classmates learn and relearn every Sunday morning for years, and was happy to help. Being an educator, I opened a siddur to the Shema. As we read the words of the Shema together, I pointed out why we don tefillin and tzitzit, plus the mitzvah of mezuzah. Suddenly it struck me. Here, the mitzvah of mezuzah is commanded to ALL the people, and with it tefillin to ALL the people. I borrowed a set of tefillin, and put them on for the first time. Tallit naturally followed. Before heading back to Brandeis, I collected an old set of my grandfather’s tefillin and my father’s bar mitzvah tallit from my parents’ home. I wore those for years. The tefillin are now used for education, no longer kosher for use. The tallit is worn by my son, who became bar mitzvah last summer. An old silk tallit, with the creases permanently embedded, Gavi says it is a family heirloom. As the third generation to wear this tallit for the first time, I believe he is correct.
Next summer I will stand at the Kotel together with husband, with my two sons and my daughter. Together we will daven Shacharit. Together we will all wear tallit and tefillin. We will do so at the Masorti Kotel, aka Robinson’s Arch. Although I have been to Israel multiple times, and stood at the Kotel probably a hundred or more times, it will be a first for me. Never before have I been able to approach those sacred stones in my tallit and tefillin. Never have I stood there, together with my husband. Never have I shared that special place with my children. In July we will do all that and more.