Modern Orthodox high school in New York allows girl to wear tefillin
Two teenage SAR students break ritual barriers with the support of their rabbi.
Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) High School, a Modern Orthodox institution in Riverdale, New York, is now allowing girls to wear tefillin.
Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, head of the school, sent out an email explaining that two girls were granted permission to wrap tefillin at the school’s daily all-girls meeting, reports the Boiling Pot, the online student newspaper of Shalhevet High School in LA.
“I have given permission to two female students… to put on tefillin during tefilah,” Rabbi Harcsztark wrote on December 8, in an email to the school’s faculty, obtained by The Boiling Point. “They do so every day and have not been permitted to do so in school until now. “I believe that it is halachically permissible although it is a communally complicated issue.”
Ronit Morris ('15) and Yael Marans (‘16) will now be wearing tefillin every day, the SAR Buzz reported.
“[This mitzvah] has been very important to me for a very long time and I’m really glad to be doing it at SAR,” Morris told the Buzz. “I started putting on tefillin after my Bat Mitzvah. I lay tefillin for three years straight at [Solomon] Schechter every morning, and then I came to SAR and it did not seem like that was a thing that the school was going to go for at the time, and we put it off for a while.”
Marans told a similar story, adding that her mother also wore tefillin every day. “Just before my Bat Mitzvah, I began putting on tefillin. It was just what my mom did, and, of course, what my brothers did,” she explained. “But I was one of a few girls in my grade that did. It made me think a lot about individuality, and eventually, when I wasn’t so overwhelmed by this new ritual, I realized it was making me think about God. I’m not going to say that every time I lay tefillin I feel a renewed awe of God, but sometimes it really makes me think. It’s just something in my day that makes me really conscious and concentrated.”
According to a Ricki Heicklin, a senior at SAR, meetings with every grade were held to address the reasoning behind the controversial decision.
“There were a handful of students who saw tefillin as something strongly correlated with the Conservative movement.” Heicklen told The Boiling Point, adding: “I strongly support the girls and I think it’s absurd that anybody would be upset about Rabbi Harcsztark’s decision.”
“Regardless of my personal choices, I think everyone at SAR should be allowed to connect to HaShem in whatever way they find meaningful, as long as it falls within the scope of halakha, which this clearly does,” Heicklen said.
Praying with tefillin - boxes containing the Shema prayer that are wrapped around the head and arm - is an obligatory mitzvah for boys. Girls are not forbidden to do so by halakha, but rabbis from different streams of Judaism disagree as to whether or not they should.