Who's To Say Tefillin Barbie Is a Rabbi?

“You know Barbie’s getting a new job,” says my friend Mimi to me. “People can vote for her new career.”

I put tefillin on a Mattel Barbie doll in 2006, unwittingly creating the Jewish icon now known as Tefillin Barbie Tefillin Barbie has a religious-girl denim skirt, a T-shirt, the tallit and tefillin more generally worn by Orthodox men during morning prayer, and a volume of Talmud; a whimsical activity for a vacation morning, she generated an absolutely vast and wholly unanticipated amount of reaction, positive and negative.

“Hurrah,” people say. “Now we can have Rabbi Barbie!”

But why, people? Why? Barbie put on tefillin and picked up a gemara, so now she has to be a rabbi? Why can’t she be an IT engineer who prays with tefillin and learns gemara in her lunch break?

See, we have this little problem in the liberal Jewish world. We assume that anyone who’s Jewishly invested must be on the rabbinical track. Not completely Jewishly illiterate? Surely you are in rabbinical school. Pray with tefillin? No one does that except rabbis. If Barbie is wearing tefillin and learning gemara, how can she possibly be anything other a rabbi?

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Jen Taylor Friedman is a Jewish ritual scribe and scholar. The entire piece is available at Jewesses With Attitude, the blog of the Jewish Women’s Archive, which cross-posts regularly with The Sisterhood.

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