Women and Men’s Mitzvot

I was at a press conference today (more about that in a future post but this is the speech I gave and this is the slideshow we showed), and afterward, a German reporter and I started talking. She wanted to know about the concept of Rosh Chodesh and women, so I thought I’d share with you what I told her.

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Rosh Chodesh is a special holiday for women, when women aren’t supposed to do laundry, sew, etc… Why? There are many reasons, but one of the reasons is because the Jewish month is based on the cycle of the moon, and women also have cycles like the moon and are connected to renewal, so it has become a special day for us, because the renewal of the moon represents women’s special abilities and strengths.

I find it interesting, that, on Rosh Chodesh, a special day for women, a group of women come to the Kotel to pray specifically with men’s ritual objects. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to celebrate Jewish womanhood on Rosh Chodesh, doing things that are womanly, and not manly?

Women don’t wear tallit and tefillin, not because they are unworthy of it, but because mitzvot that we do are given to us to fulfill spiritual lacks, to help us reach where we need to get spiritually. The reason men are required to do these mitzvot but women don’t do them is simply because they’re irrelevant for women.

Take Tefillin, for example.

Tefillin shel yad, the tefillin that goes on your arm, is representative of femininity. In order to connect properly to God, men need to put on this object of femininity. The box, called bayit, is one compartment, and is likened to the womb, and the strap that wraps around the arm, the umbilical cord. Women don’t need tefillin because we have a built in pair of tefillin already- putting on tefillin is simply redundant. And the bayit, is also representative of the home that women traditionally run.

Tallit is the mitzva of tzitzit– putting fringes on every four cornered garment that you wear. Men typically wear tzitzit all day, to be able to get the mitzva whenever they can.

What is the reason for the tzitit?

The fringes on them are tied in such a way that they are reminiscent of the 613 mitzvot, so that whenever you see the tzitzit, you get reminded of God and the mitzvot, and you don’t stray after your heart and your eyes that you are lusting after. In other words, men are given the mitzva of tzitzit, because they get distracted by things, distracted from service of God, and the tzitzit as supposed to serve as a reminder that you should following God, not what you’re lusting after.

There is a story in the Gemara (Talmud Menachot 44a) about a man who traveled far to use the services of a prostitute, and as he was undressing to sin with her, his tzitzit slapped him in his face and he realized the error of his ways and did teshuva.

That, in short, is the purpose of tzitzit.

Women don’t wear tzitzit because they don’t need it, because by nature they’re not as distractable by things that they lust after that take them away from the service of God.

This isn’t just a Jewish belief. There have been studies showing that when in mixed gender classrooms, boys do worse, because they’re distracted by the presence of girls, and girls do better, because they try to impress the guys.

And that is why Jews traditionally prayed with a mechitza, with men and women divided. Because when praying, you shouldn’t be focusing on the cute guy or girl sitting near you, but on God. So we separate during prayer to help keep our minds in the right place.

Women often wonder why they can’t be counted for a minyan.

It’s because people are only able to be counted in a minyan if they’re obligated in it (the same way that any other mitzva, if you’re not obligated in it, you can’t do it for other people, like a deaf person blowing the shofar for a hearing person).

Why are women not obligated in minyan?

Because the mitzva of minyan was instated in order to correct a flaw in Jewish men, to atone for a huge sin. After the spies scouted out Israel and came back to the Jews in the desert, ten of the spies rejected the gift God gave them, the land of Israel, and convinced all the Jewish males (other than Yehoshua and Calev) how terrible the land of Israel is. This was a big desecration of God’s name, and caused the Jews to be punished in many ways. To rectify the sin of the 10 spies and the men that believed their slander, God told them that when they want to come bring down God’s presence, they need to get together in groups of 10 or more, as a tikkun, a spiritual correction for their sins.

Women didn’t believe the spies’ slander, and women did not sin and make a desecration of God’s name, so they simply did not need the spiritual correction of a minyan, and hence they are not obligated in minyan, and cannot be counted in a minyan.

Not because they are lower, but because their soul doesn’t need it. Same with tzitzit and tefillin– they don’t need it, their soul doesn’t need it for completion, and it’s simply superfluous.

Women who want to wear a tallit and tefillin, be counted in a minyan, and are opposed to mechitzot in davening are missing the point, missing the reason why these very mitzvot were commanded. Its not that you’re not good enough to do this, and don’t have the “right” to do it- its that you don’t need the soul correction that these mitzvot do- they’re built in, as part of you, just because you were born a woman and have the special neshama of a woman.

I guess I would liken it to taking medicine that you don’t need. When your body is sick, medicine is good, but taking medicine when your body is healthy doesn’t make you “extra healthy” at all.

About the Author
Adara Peskin is a non conformist chareidi feminist single mother of 4 living in Kochav Yaakov, activist for mental health awareness, blogger at about living a life with mindful spending, and foraging instructor, attempting to make a kiddush Hashem every day via her interactions with others.
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