Ramaz, a Modern Orthodox school in Manhattan, has joined SAR in agreeing to allow girls to pray with tefillin, although the school’s principal reportedly says no students are currently doing so.
“If a young woman wanted to put on tefillin and tallit, she could daven with us in our school minyan,” Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the Upper East Side school’s principal, told the Jewish Week.
Lookstein said he agrees with SAR officials who have permitted two female students to carry out the ritual.
It marks the first time that girls would be allowed to wear tefillin at the Ramaz’s coed prayers, although at least two girls were permitted to wear phylacteries at single-sex prayer sessions several years ago.
An Orthodox feminist leader strongly backs the decision by SAR to allow girls to pray with tefillin.
“I’m pleased whenever there’s an expansion of anyone’s ability to connect with God in a way that is halachically permissible,” said Judy Heicklen, the president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and a parent at SAR. “I’m proud of SAR for going out on a limb to help support these girls.”
Outside of day schools, the issue of women seeking to wear tefillin is something that “comes up occasionally” but is not a “hot-button issue” among Orthodox feminists, Heicklen said. However, she welcomed SAR’s decision.
While it has become common in the Conservative movement for women to don tefillin, it remains a controversial practice in the Orthodox world, where many believe it is a violation of Jewish law.
Rabbi Tully Harcsztark, principal of the SAR in Riverdale, last month began to allow two female students to wear tefillin, or phylacteries, during a women’s daily prayer service. The development was first reported in the school newspaper, The Buzz.
The newspaper reported that it remains unclear whether the decision, announced in an e-mail in December to students and faculty, will apply to the entire student body and whether it’s only applicable in all-female services.
This year, the question came up at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, California, when a prospective student asked whether she would be allowed to lay tefillin at school. Rabbi Ari Segal, Shalhevet’s Head of School, said that although he would not let women lay tefillin within the walls of Shalhevet, he would follow Ramaz’s example and excuse the girls from davening so that they could lay tefillin at a nearby synagogue or at home. The eighth grader, after this decision, chose not to apply to Shalhevet.