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WOMEN IN TEFILLIN: Rav Hershel Shachter Slams Rabbis Permitting Women To Wear Tefillin

Tefillin.jpgThe following responsa was written by Rav Hershel Shachter Shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva University, regarding the recent issue of orthodox girls in certain circles wearing Tefillin. It was translated (unofficially) by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for YWN exclusively because of the importance of the content. Rav Shachter pulls no punches in his defense of the traditional Torah view and decries the audacity of the Rabbis behind the move in issuing rulings regarding matters that are far beyond them. Minor changes were made in formatting to facilitate greater readability and comprehension. Section headings were also added in the beginning and certain ideas were moved to a footnote – for the same purpose.

“The Entire Congregation is Holy..”


A Mishna [1] is cited in the beginning of tractate Yuma (2a) that the sages would purposefully cause the Kohain preparing the Parah Adumah to become impure, and then immerse him. They did this in order to entirely negate the view of the Sadducees [that the kohain performing the service must be completely pure – not just partially pure] [2].

So that onlookers would now not denigrate the process of Para Aduma [3] – the sages further ordained that all the actions involving the Parah Adumah be performed in vessels of dung, stone, and earthenware – vessels that are not susceptible to impurity.


It was also the custom to build [special] courtyards in Jerusalem over a rock and beneath them an area was hollowed out to protect from a possible grave in the depths below. They would bring pregnant women there and they would give birth there and raise their sons there. They would bring oxen with doors on them and cups so that the children could fill up the water when necessary for the preparation of the ashes of Para Adumah.


We see that all these details, the special raising of children, the utilization of certain vessels, were all because the sages of the Mesorah who lived during the time of the Bais HaMikdash were concerned not just regarding the Mitzvos that the Saduccees performed entirely incorrectly [4], but rather, even in the matter of the Para Adumah, where the Sadduccees acted more stringently than the Sages of Israel . The sages made a special effort to practice the leniency taught in the Oral law – that even one who was only partially pure is permitted to participate in the Para Adumah.

They would therefore purposefully cause the Kohain to become impure and they would then subsequently immerse him. This is to show that even stringencies that are not in accord with the Oral law have no basis whatsoever – and that one may not follow such customs. And all this is to entrench in our hearts this fundamental principle – that we only have our traditions, passed down and explained by the sages of our traditions in each and every generation.

Now in recent months, a new practice has developed, where women don a Kippah, or a Talit and Tefillin during the time of the morning prayers service. They did not pose this question to the halachic adjudicators of our times. Apparently, they do so according to the philosophy of “the entire congregation is holy” – similar to the complaint of Korach and his band. And even if this is not their true intent (following Rashi citing the Midrash), but rather that everyone of them also stood at the foot of Mount Sinai – and therefore – everyone is worthy of adjudicating halacha in accordance with his or her understanding and feelings. [They echo Korach’s statement:] “And why have you elevated yourselves upon the congregation?” In other words, why do we need a Rav or a Rebbe to adjudicate halacha? [compare this to the famous drasha of Rav Y.B. Soloveitchik cited in brief in the book “Nefesh haRav” in Likutei Torah for Parshas Korach and in the book “Hashkafas HaRav”].

Any individual who has merely studied in a Yeshiva can rule and adjudicate according to his own intellect – especially in our days where anything can be searched and found on the internet, in the Otzer HaChochma, or in the Responsa project of Bar Illan, and other such things. Utilizing these aforementioned methods, each person can thus make himself into a Talmid Chochom or a Morei Horaah. He can then rule even in the most stringent of matters as if he knew by himself all the sources and all the opinions. [Upon this they jokingly explained the intent of the Yerushalmi (beginning of the fourth chapter of Dmai) that states that the fear of Shabbos is upon the unlearned – that is, on Shabbos, where he cannot use his computer, he is in a state of fear that they will catch him and see and understand that in truth he knows nothing!]

I was shocked to see how otherwise intelligent people are engaging in pilpulim, vain pilpulim, dealing with whether or not women may voluntarily perform the Mitzvah of Tefillin (in the manner of “not commanded but fulfilling it anyway”). They have marshalled opinions both this way and that way, and judge things as if we were living in the period of the Tanach (as they cite precedence from Michal Bas Shaul), or in the period of the Tannaim (where the Tannaim debate regarding whether women may voluntarily lay on hands), or in the period of the Rishonim (who debated things regarding the practices of Rashi’s daughters).

However, in the abundance of our sins we live in the year 5774 – in the time period of the rebellion of schismatic movements who fight the oral law.

It is a time when this practice of [women] wearing Talis and Tefillin is found exclusively with Conservative Judaism, where their entire approach to halacha is founded upon the principle that it is permitted – even an obligation to change from the path of our traditions according to the whims and practices of “how the nation conducts itself” whenever there may be any trace of a source to the matter.

It is this particular point which is the essential difference between them and the Orthodox.

There is a civil war here – one campaign versus another. It is where one group continues to follow the traditions of their fathers declaring that our fathers did not lie to us. And that we believe with complete faith like all the previous generations – that Moses received the Torah from Mount Sinai.

The other group screams out and says, “We alone are the true arbiters of the truths of history.” They claim decisively that Moses did not receive the Torah from Sinai, etc. etc. A good portion of their stand and opinion emanates from the claim of their “forefather Korach” – that the entire congregation is holy, as mentioned above.

It would appear that only someone who is intellectually blind, with no “eyes” to see, will fail to recognize what is under his own nose – that this practice is the practice of Conservative Judaism, and is highly likely to bring about more changes that lie in contrast to the Mesorah, and to bring about a general laxity in the matter of rulings of Psak halacha. [It is also well known what Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik said about his father Rav Chaim Solveitchik, that he had intense powers of understanding and observation. He could predict at the outset of a decision that if it was decided to go in one direction – the repercussion in sixty years would be such and such. And if they went in this other direction, then “such and such” would be the results in sixty years. “But I,” remarked Rav Yitzchok Zev, “do not have such powers of understanding.” After a short pause he added, “But, it would appear to me that at least I do have the quality of seeing what is in front of me right now, under my own nose.”]

It is an obvious matter that just as the sages of the Mesorah did not permit us to act even according to the stringencies of the Sadducees, and they were careful to previously cause the impurity of the Kohen that prepares the Para Adumah and then immerse him, for the purpose of ensuring that the preparation specifically be done by a Tvul Yom, so too must we do in our actual situation.

Piskei Halacha are not rendered in an empty vacuum. Rather, they are made in contact with that generation. And in our generation, all the Tannaim, all the Rishonim, and all the Achronim would agree that such practice is decidedly forbidden so as not to emulate the schismatic movements, even though it may appear as a stringency (see the Mishna in Chulin 41a).

It would appear that this matter lies within the idea of “Arkasa d’Msana [5] – even the changing of shoelaces like the gentiles.” The Rav zatzal said that the parameters of the prohibition of “even changing of shoelaces” are that any practice that became a symbol for the destruction of the religion – even if “according to technical halacha” it is permitted – this (that it has become such a symbol) itself causes it to become forbidden. And so did the Rav presciently predict in his time (regarding Ben Gurion’s topic of “Who is a Jew”), that there is no difference in the matter as to whether the oppressor is a gentile like Antiochus, or a Jew such as Ben Gurion [6], matters of “even the changing of shoelaces” still remains a matter of Yehareg v’al yaavor – where one should be killed rather than violate it.

It is also well known in the name of the Rav that when the Conservatives first introduced the Bat Mitzvah ceremony in the middle of davening like the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for boys, the Rav warned that Orthodox Rabbis are certainly forbidden from doing so. This is because it is within the notion of “Arkasa d’Msana – even the changing of shoelaces” and is yehareg v’al yaavor.

Furthermore, see the Chazon Ish (OC 52:6) who writes that even though it appears correct to permit opening up the hood above a baby carriage [on Shabbos], we should still forbid opening an umbrella for a number of reasons. One of them is that it will cause a pirtzah – a breach. Perhaps his intent is like what was explained above – that the umbrella served as the symbol of the destruction of religion in Europe regarding Reform Jewry. Therefore, we must forbid it – even though that by virtue of the laws of a temporary tent regarding the Malacha of building on the Sabbath it might technically be permitted.

Indeed, I am perplexed at the very outset, what those who permitted it were even thinking.

The Ramah (OC 38:3) has already cited the views of the Rishonim and there is no dissenting view among all the commentaries of the Shulchan Aruch – that in our times we all have a problem of maintaining a guf naki. Therefore, the decision was made to minimize the duration of the donning of Tefillin even for men (in other words – just during the Shacharis service). This is how the Rav explained the matter properly and well in his lectures (See MiPninei HaRav Tefillin section 1).

This is also how the Rav ruled in actuality regarding a young Baalas Teshuvah, a student in Frisch, who wanted to put on Tefillin. The Rav ruled, based upon the words of the Ramah, not to allow her to do so. One cannot say that in the past forty years the situation has so improved regarding the purity of thought necessary for the putting on of Tefillin. It is known to all that this was the accepted practice for all generations, and who is this who dares to have the audacity to rule agains the accepted ruling of our master the Ramah. Compare this to the Rambam Hilchos Shmita and Yovel (10:6) that accepted practice and conduct are considered huge pillars in the matter of halachic adjudication. In them, it is worthy to rely upon. In other words, even though the opinion of the Rambam in this matter was inclined to rule not in accordance with the view of the Gaonim, he finally adjudicated in their way, because this was the accepted practice.

And those who quote the expression, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai,” continue with and passed it on to Yehoshua etc. They state, “We have in our hand a strong tradition as to how to render halacha.” But the field of halacha is not like an abandoned property where the first person who lays claim to it receives it, and whoever is stronger wins, or whoever publicizes his opinion first either through the newspapers or through the internet the halacha is like him.

No. The matter is as it has been explained in the Midrashim – that one thousand walk into the Beis HaMidrash and one comes out suitable to rule in the area of halacha. That one individual is one who has interned for much time with his master. He received the words of Torah investing blood and soul. He is indeed married to the Torah – not just engaged to it.

Indeed, the Rav would often say (see drasha to Parshas Korach), that every person must recognize that he needs a Rav or a Rebbe. Even a Talmid Chochom whose Rebbe had passed away must constantly ask himself in truth (when they present questions to him) what his Rebbe would have said in such a scase, and what stance he would have taken. [I once heard from my colleague Rav Abba Bronspiegel, may he live, that he had once posed a question to the Rav (when he was visiting the Rav’s mother in her apartment). After some back and forth, the Rav ruled leniently. His mother was upset at him and said, “Your father would not have ruled in this way!” The Rav immediately retracted his ruling, as his father was certainly his Rebbe Muvhak, the Rebbe whom he had learned from the most.]

The expression that some of those who have permitted this utilize that “according to the technical halacha” a certain act is permitted, and that which people wish to prohibit it is because of “political considerations” is incorrect. For even a matter such as changing the mesorah – the traditions of the Jewish people is in and of itself an integral section of halacha. When one rules on “the donning of Tefillin for women” it is not enough to merely examine the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch in Hilchos Tefillin and in the sources there and treat it as a simple question.

Rather, like any question in halacha, we must rule on the topic from all facets and perspectives. Not always will the ruling lay on that page in Shulchan Aruch that we had initially thought. This is what is said in the Yerushalmi Rosh haShana (3:5) on the verse (Mishlei 31:14), “mimerchak tavi lachma – from a far place she will bring her bread” that [quite often] the words of Torah are poor in one place and rich in another place. All difficult questions such as this [ruling against an explicit Ramah in Shulchan Aruch is certainly a difficult question that certainly needs wide shoulders], certainly must be presented before Torah scholars who are Morei Horaah that have a wide knowledge in halacha.

No mere musmach or local Rabbi, even one with the best if intentions, should express his opinion in a question such as this, and certainly not to publicize his private opinion through the media or the internet. For such a serious question applies to all of Klal Yisroel who are true to the Mesorah. Only leading Gedolei Horaah are permitted to decide upon these matters.

Our complaint is not at all upon the women who have endeavored to fulfill this Mitzvah, rather it is upon the Rabbis (all of whom have received ordination from our Yeshiva) who proffered an erroneous opinion here, without consultation of their question to the Morei Horaah that they direct their questions toward regarding other matters. They have publicized their opinion as if it were a simple matter to permit. May Hashem Yisborach mend the breaches and repair the rips that occurred in our camp and direct our hearts to serve him in truth and purity [7].

(Rav) Tzvi [Hershel] Schachter,

Adar I, 5774

The translator can be reached at [email protected]



[1] Parah 3:2

[2] The Sadducees interpreted that the entire procedure took place after the sun had already set and the kohain was thus completely pure.

[3] Rashi explains that since a Tvul Yom would be kosher for use in the preparations of a Parah, people might think that one does not have to be so exacting in things.  They therefore were very careful to observe all these stringencies.

[4] Such as always celebrating Shavuos on a Sunday, or such as on Yom Kippur to fix the matter outside the heichal and bring it in afterward – where they made him take an oath that he was not a Saduccee (See Yuma 18b).

[5] See Sanhedrin 74b.

[6] The notion of “oppressor Jew” is first found in response Avnei Naizer OC response 37 see Nefesh haRav p. 233.

[7] See further my response on mixed Minyanim (Shvat 5774) to be augmented to what we have written here.

31 Responses

  1. This is a major development as Rabbi Schachter is typically sympathetic to feminism inroads in Judaism, such as in Hilchos Gittin.

  2. Rabbi Schachter should work on changing the השקפה of his university, because in my opinion, it’s the closest thing to conservative.

  3. As a graduate of YU, and a talmid of Rav Schechter, I can’t understand how him and the others remain in the RCA together with Avi Weiss.

    They need to distance themselves from Conservative rabbis.

  4. In all fairness, an occasional woman wanting to put on tefillin is hardly an existential crisis for the frum world. If you compare this to what many young women do (both within our community, and among the general population), which of course we can’t discuss in detail on YWN, I don’t think we have reason to worry. A person going overboard on frumkeit is nothing to lose sleep over.

  5. The RCA is what needs to be addressed. When will Rav Schachter cease to be a member? Why will he continue to remain a member of an organization that has conservative rabbis as members? The same rabbis that he is slamming for allowing women to wear tefillin, are part of the RCA.

  6. #4: Really? Mods, are you really going to allow someone to claim that Yeshiva University and RIETS are “the closest thing to conservative”?

  7. #9, Maybe it’s because not every halakhic or hashkafic disagreement is cause for separating yourself entirely from a group. A lot of people would do well to learn that.

  8. #11: RCA member Avi Weiss and crew are not making “hashkafic disagreements”; they are attempting to reform the halachic process. No less than the Reform of yore.

    #10: #4 is 100% correct. He said the university (which teaches kefira and pays and supports toeiva clubs at Cordoza and Einstein), and is far more encompassing thann just RIETS.

  9. “Toras Moshe”

    I could tell from your comments that you have no clue in the world who Rav Shachter is nor do you ever hear anything he says.

    I am the farthest thing from a YUnik however I have heard him speak on many occasions in different settings. THERE IS NO WAY IN THE WORLD THAT RAV SHACHTER WOULD EVER EVER EVER ENDORSE THE AVAYROS DONE BY THESE MEN WANNA BE!

    You should call the rov and BEG him for m’chila gemurah.

  10. I once hear R. Yisroel Reisman comment about the ‘women on the wall’ or whatever they call themselves, that it’s interesting that their husbands who are actually responsible to daven and put on talis and tefilin have long ago let go of these practices…

  11. Who gave R. Yair Hoffmann to translate this statement and publicize it to Amei Haaretz and Baalei lashon Hora who post comments on YWN? I heard it was posted outside the YU Bais Medrash and by the last 2 paragraph, it is obvious who it was intended for.

    Rabbi Schachter is neither motivated by feminism or anti-feminism, but rather deriving the appropriate P’sak for particular situations, some which necessitate being Maikal(lenient) and others which necessitate being Machmir (stricter).

    YWN should not allow comments unless it is an opinion piece requesting comments. People were improving in Shemiras Haloshon and then the INTERNET (and YWN) came on the scene to allow people to anonymously indulge their Yetzer Hara.

  12. #7: Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    “A person going overboard on frumkeit is nothing to lose sleep over.”

    Really? Al tehi tzaddik harbei. Misplaced frumkeit is arguably worse than no frumkeit.

  13. “RCA member Avi Weiss and crew are not making “hashkafic disagreements”; they are attempting to reform the halachic process.”

    To the contrary, Rabbi Weiss and allies has been defending the halachic process against attacks on it by Israel’s official rabbinate. Specifically, Israel’s official rabbinate thinks that it is ok for a beit din to make decisions on cases without hearing from the parties involved, and changed the many thousands of years old definition of who is a kosher eid. Those “innovations” are more dramatic, more fundamental than what the Conservative movement has done!

  14. #20 – You don’t seem to be concerned with Avi Weiss changing (in your own words) “the many thousands of years old” Mesorah that we, as Orthodox Jews (unlike Weiss who is Conservative) have been following.

    Such as this Tefillin fiasco. How about a woman being the “makrei” for tekias shofer? The list is endless.

    And what’s with the black gospel church choir IN HIS SHUL on Martin Luther King Day? A black choir in front of an aron kodesh? Women singing? HAKOL BEISHA ERVA!! Women and men dancing and singing. Sure. Sure. Rav Solvatchick is probably very proud of him right now.

    Weiss is s shtick drek. He is a piece of trash.

    Weiss loves to push the envelope. Don’t worry. Wait until a scandal between him or one of his ordained Conservative Rabbis are caught in a “scandal” with one of his lovely “Maharat / Rabba’s”.

    He is a conservative piece of garbage oisvorf who is trying to redefine orthodoxy.

    Why doesn’t he just COME OUT OF THE CLOSET ALREADY? Come on Weiss. Admit it. You are A CONSERVATIVE RABBI. And shame on the RCA for keeping him on board. They are all part of this. Rabbi Schachter included. EVERY SINGLE RABBI who doesn’t leave the RCA is an accessory to the crime.

  15. mdd: +1. akuperma is dead wrong on this thread, in multiple regards. (Notwithstanding akuperma usually making very pertinent and accurate points on most issues.)

  16. “You don’t seem to be concerned with Avi Weiss changing (in your own words) “the many thousands of years old” Mesorah”

    Since you did not counter my criticism of the Israeli rabbinate I assume that you agree that they indeed constitute massive attacks on the halachic structure.

    “Such as this Tefillin fiasco.”

    Rabbi Weiss had nothing to do with that.

  17. I think the real problem here is not clearly understood. There are those who’s Worldly Outlook affects their view of Torah and Hashkafa and there are others who’s Torah Hashkafa effects their view of the World.

    These Rabbis fall into the prior category. They are traifed up by the foreign views that they consistently drank from via TV, newspapers, radio and other forms of Goyish media. When they hear their whole life about pro-feminism, pro-choice, Homophobia, tolerance, etc. it distorts their view of Toras Emes! Deep down inside they don’t fully believe in Toras Emes and feel the need to make changes. Albeit, in baby steps (that’s the way the Yetzer Harah works).
    The real danger here is that they do not understand that they are guided by their Yetzer Harah. They think they are involved with a great mitzvah and are bringing people closer to Judaism. The reality is that whenever the Y”H is involved you can expect it’s all down hill from there.

    Of course, these “Rabbis” will argue, “how do we know that it’s not the other way around? Maybe we are the ones that are guided by our Y”H?”

    The answer is found in the very first Mishna of Pirkei Avos. משה קיבל תורה מסיני ומסרה ליהושע וכו The first thing that Chazal want to teach us is the importance of Mesorah. We don’t use our feeble minds to decide Halachah, but rather strive to understand what the correct Mesorah is. If it is clearly stated in Chazal, we are not allowed to contradict it or say “times have changed”.

    The Rema states very clearly quoting the Kol Bo Siman 38:3, “and if women want to be “stringent” upon themselves to wear Tefilin WE ARE TO PROTEST (I.E. it is prohibited).”

    Our Chochomim explain the reason is that even by men if not for the fact that this is a מצוה דאורייתא and also we don’t want people looking like they are giving false עדות when saying קראת שמע it would have been prohibited for men as well to wear Tefillin being that it is very hard to keep a גוף נקי and the proper מחשבות. (Originally men wore Tefilin all day, but when Chazal saw that people no longer could fulfill the conditions to do so they limited it to only during Shacharis.)Therefore, being that women are NOT EVEN REQUIRED to wear tefilin, all the more so they SHOULD NOT (and are not allowed to) place on Tefilin.


    Any woman that does so today is not G-d Fearing. She is just doing so for herself, not Hashem!

    This reminds me of a story:

    (I once heard a story that a woman came to the Rav and asked to be permitted to wear Tzitzit(or perhaps it was a Talis). He told her to go out and buy herself the בגד she would like to use for this mitzva. She should wear the בגד for two weeks WITHOUT TZITZIS ATTACHED and then come back to him for a psak. Two weeks later when she came back the Rav asked her how was it. She expressed how uplifting it was for her! How holy and elevated she felt! The Rav then stated that he absolutes refused to permit her to wear tzitzis! Shocked, she inquired why. The Rav stated, “a בגד without tzitzis is no more than a בגד! It has ABSOLUTELY “NO” KEDUSHA!!! You’re just fooling yourself and I won’t give you a Heter to wear them!!!”


  18. Rabbi Yair Hoffman has done a great service to those trying to learn Rav Shachter’s Torah. And a great disservice to those who love, cherish and respect his torah. I count myself as part of both groups. It is abhorrent that Rabbi Hoffman chose to post the teshuva here. He knows what kinds of people lurk on his site. People who hate hashed and torat hashes temimah. Just read the previous comments.
    Rav Shachter’s torah knowledge is vast and unquantifiable. That’s not to say that I don’t profoundly disagree with his position on many issues, this one included. But I can not tolerate sinat chinam and hatred of Rav Shachter and YU.
    To the idiot behind comment 14: Your comment shows just ho much you lack the most basic familiarity with the structure of YU. Rav Shachter is an employee of RIETS. RIETS is intertwined with YU in many ways, but at the end of the day, RIETS employees answer to the board of trustees of RIETS. Rav Shachter has no power in the decisions making over club funding at the graduate camases. As anyone with the most basic familiarity with YU can tell you, Cardozo and Einstein are graduate schools that happen to be part of YU. They do not answer to YU’s board or the President of YU. Rav Shachter has absolutely no say in the affairs of either program. Richard Joel, current president of YU was once dean of Cardozo. His job was to reform Cardozo from within and bring it under the control of YU’s board. He failed. It is absolutely inappropriate to criticize Rav Shachter for internal affairs of a program he is not involved in.

  19. To the morons arguing that YU is the closest thing to conservative or otherwise to orthodox, you are so deadly wrong its not even funny. Have you spent 15 minutes learning in YU’s batei madras? Have you spent 10 minutes sitting in on a shier? Have you ever walked into the Glueck Beis Medrash (the new beis medrash at 930p after students had a full afternoon of secular studies and seen how many guys run straight back to their gemara after organic chemistry? Shame on you.

  20. Quotes: “To the idiot behind comment…”, “To the morons arguing …”

    There is no question that YU has staffed some of the greatest Gedolim of our time and that it has produced many Chosuv Rabbanim.

    With that said I ask you, are these words that you’ve chosen befitting a Ben Torah? Are you helping to defend Rav Shachter if the words you choose show a grubbiness and lack of character on the part of a Talmid of YU? You have the rights to defend you Rav and REITS, but it will fall on deaf ears if your approach is harsh and rude.

    Better to have said, “To the commentator of #14, you are sorely mistake…”, “To those of you who boldly compare YU to Conservative Judaism, have you ever spent…”

    Do you hear the difference?

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