Sisterhood Blog

I'm Observant — and I Wear Tzitzit

By Avigayil Halpern

  • Print
  • Share Share

A few months ago, I was at the Kotel with my family. When I was leaving the site, a woman stopped me. She grabbed one of the knotted white fringes dangling from under my shirt and, in Hebrew, exclaimed “Tzitzit!? But this is forbidden!” No, I told her, it is permitted according to all major codes of Jewish law. “Forbidden!” she insisted. I again told her that it was permissible. Still visibly upset, she exclaimed “But you’re a girl!” “Yes, I know,” I responded with a calm smile. “I know.”

Despite having worn my tzitzit for almost six months now, I’m still a little bit surprised when people stare at me. After almost six months, I’m used to the fringes, and seeing them against my jeans seems natural. However, what to me has begun to feel like simply an extension of who I am — a religiously-observant, seventeen-year-old Jewish feminist — is also a political statement. I am one of the relatively small number of women who considers herself commanded in this mitzvah, because I believe in both the obligatory nature of Jewish law and its inherent egalitarianism.

As an observant Jew, I understand halacha to be a set of binding rules for the way I live my life. Most Jews who adhere to this approach are Orthodox, and they divide mitzvot into two categories: those that apply to all Jews, and those from which women are exempt. However, based on my in-depth study of the relevant texts (and because of my feminist beliefs) I am convinced that this dichotomy stems from sociological factors external to the halachic framework and not from any inherent characteristics of the laws or of women, and therefore is no longer valid.

Tzitzit are intended to remind the wearer to do mitzvot, making them, in my opinion, a fitting metaphor for my egalitarian approach to halachic life as a whole. It’s not technically forbidden for women to wear tzitzit according to “traditional” interpretations of the law that disregard sociological factors — Maimonides permits women to don tzitzit without saying a blessing, the Shulchan Aruch, a major legal code, states that women are exempt, but does not forbid them, and Rabbi Moses Isserles, commenting on the Shluchan Aruch, states that while women are technically permitted to wear tzitzit, he recommends against it because it would appear arrogant, but nevertheless he does not forbid it. Likely because of this, most halachically-observant communities do not encourage women to do this mitzvah, and it is even viewed as transgressive in many circles. As a result of this, people often approach me to talk about my attire, both strangers and members of the Jewish community where I live. Sometimes their questions come from a place of genuine curiosity, since to them I am an oddity, but at other times their queries sound closer to condemnations.

Many people who wear tzitzit tuck the fringes into their clothes, so they are not visible. When I first donned my fringes, I considered doing this; after all, it would spare me from the stares, questions and unpleasant interactions (as an introvert, I find even polite inquiries sometimes feel intimidating). But one of the things I love most about my tzitzit is the way they function as an identifier. I was raised to dress in a fashion that identified me in a more normative way as an observant Jewish girl, wearing skirts and long sleeves in public. During my time in high school, I’ve developed serious philosophical issues with religious codes of modesty — skirts especially are physically restrictive, and requiring a group to restrain themselves in this way seems to me to be less an issue of respect for the body (which, in any case, should be unrelated to the amount of skin covered) and more an attempt to constrict women and limit their power. Now, my more comfortable jeans and T-shirt make me all but indistinguishable from any teenager on the street. Wearing tzitzit is meaningful for me because when they dangle for all to see, my values are on display. Even though the consequences of this choice are not always what I would like, my tzitzit and what they represent — feminist, observant Judaism — are worth the trouble.

Photo credit Thinkstock


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: tzitzit, teenage, orthodox, Jewish

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.