Identity, Israel, Mishegas, Religion, Sex & Gender

The Rebbe's Army is Now Recruiting Women

Can women wrap tefillin? Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 9.43.28 AM
Well, it depends on who you ask. And, apparently, how short your hair is and whether you are wearing pants.
Jewschool has a sneak preview of a not-yet-released short film that tackled the topic. Students from Ma’aleh Film School (full disclosure: one of them is this Jewschool editor) brought this question alive in a quirky exploration of a female documentary filmmaker from the United States who takes an interest in tefillin after meeting a Chabad Shaliach on the streets of Jerusalem. We won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say the title just might.
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11423748_728386453938319_3262468088786505973_o-635x357Then, this week, a Chabad shaliach’s actions made headlines in the Times of Israel. What made it news was not only that this Chabadnik assumed Weiler was a cisgender man when asking “did you lay tefillin today?”, but the fact that Weiler, already had a daily practice of laying tefillin.
Soon after the event, Weller posted about the incident on Facebook as well as in the group: “God Save Us From Your Opinion: A Place For Serious Discussion of Judaism“:

“this happened last friday at a chabad table. apparently, buzzed hair + baggy t-shirt + charedi lack of any concept of fluidity in gender expression = egalitarianism. tefillin with a bracha, administered by a chabadnik! bimheira beyameinu…”

Here is a rough rough transcription of the conversation between the Chabadnik, Baci, and Baci’s friend Alex:

Chabadnik: “Are you Jewish?”
(Baci was going to keep walking, but Alex pipes up:) “Yeah!”
Chabadnik: “Okay, come here.
(To Alex:) Here, have some Shabbat candles.
(To Baci:) Have you put on tefillin today?”
Baci: “!!!!!……Yeah!”
Chabadnik: “Really? Wow!”
Baci: “…I mean, no, not today!”
Chabadnik: “Okay, here you go. (He perches a yarmulke on my head and commences putting tefillin on me.)
Now you say: Baruch… Atah… (etc.)” (I repeat after him)
Chabadnik: (Meanwhile, to Alex:) “Have you heard of the Lubavitcher Rebbe?”

Those of you concerned with the halakhic implications of women and tefillin should check out this piece by Rav Eitan Tucker of Mechon Hadar. And, spoiler alert, according to Tucker:

But as we have shown, guf naki is likely not really the heart of the matter to begin with: tefillin’s connection with Torah study and the issues of gender and class that surround it are much more central.

Jewschool asks you: should this be news? As excited as we are about this recent event in Union Square, it makes us wonder: Should the goal really be to educate the (often teenage) Chabad emissaries about egalitarianism and fluidity in gender expression? Or instead, perhaps we should be placing our focus on empowering and educating all Jews, regardless of gender, with equal access to mitzvot.

2 thoughts on “The Rebbe's Army is Now Recruiting Women

  1. From the events as relayed in the media it doesn’t seem like there was much “educat[ion]” going on last Friday.

  2. The issue is not the chabadnik’s lack of education regarding “fluidity in gender expression”; it’s Baci’s being uncomfortable with her gender and wishing she were a boy.
    There are females who are masculine in appearance and males who are effeminate; that’s not news. The story here is that Baci, despite her education, isn’t comfortable in her role as a woman.

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