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For these women, wearing tzitzit isn’t about sticking it to the man. They see little of themselves in the women of earlier Judaism, who were excluded from men’s privileges on account of public propriety or a lack of education. Today, however, “it’s not so obvious that Jewish law exempts contemporary women from these [commandments],” said Tucker. “It’s a new moment now, where a generation of people who see themselves as part of the traditional camp of rigorous mitzvah fulfillment are seeing the tradition being refracted through the reality of our time.”
Not everyone accepts this modern interpretation of traditional Judaism. As Rabbi Mayer Twersky, head of Yeshiva University’s rabbinical seminary, wrote in a recent post for TorahWeb.org, “Overturning five hundred plus years of precedent and overwhelming consensus is anything but simple.”
But Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold, a director at Quebec’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim and one of the first Orthodox women to be ordained as a spiritual leader, said that there often is space in Halacha for women to be involved. “It just looks different to what the community is used to seeing, and that creates a lot of hesitation.”
Tucker views the question of women’s tzitzit-wearing as relevant to the entire Jewish community. “It’s not a question of [female tzitzit-wearing] starting, or even finding its greatest support, in any given movement,” Tucker said. “It’s in a new group that spans certain boundaries, made up of people that have been educated and had experiences in a bunch of different places.”
Indeed Rosen, just like several of the other men and women tying tzitzit at Netzitzot’s launch event, says she does not identify with any specific denomination.
That evening, O’Dell shared with the Forward a conversation she’d had with her rabbi before she started wearing tzitzit last summer. “My rabbi asked me why I didn’t wear tzitzit,” she said. “I replied: ‘Because no one’s ever invited me.’”
It’s this invitation that Rosen wants to extend to other women through Netzitzot.
“This is about giving people access to mitzvot and to Torah,” Rosen said. “This belongs to all of us.”
Lauren Davidson is a freelance journalist based in New York.