Question: Why don’t women wear tzitzit and tefillin?
Answer: In general, tradition has it that women are not obligated to observe mitzvot dependent upon a specific period of time. Thus, for example, they are exempt from hearing shofar on Rosh Hashanah and shaking lulav on Sukkot.
Yet women commonly observe the mitzvot of shofar and lulav. Why, then, can they not also observe the mitzvot of tzitzit and tefillin?
The Aruch HaShulchan discusses this issue. He explains that tzitzit is different than shofar and lulav. First, tzitzit is a constant mitzvah while shofar and lulav are restricted to a couple of minutes a year. Second, wearing tzitzit is not technically required by biblical law unless one is wearing a four-cornered garment. Men, nowadays, voluntarily wear four-cornered garments constantly so that they will be obligated to perform the mitzvah of tzitzit. Women were never granted authority to similarly volunteer and recite a berachah on this mitzvah like men. The Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chayim 17:1-3) even uses the term “ein me’nichim” – we do not allow women to wear tzitzit. (See also Mishnah Berurah, O.C. 17:5.)
As far as tefillin are concerned: This mitzvah mandates cleanliness and proper thoughts (Shabbat 49a). Men are presumed able to control themselves during tefillah and maintain the necessary level of cleanliness. Due to physiological differences, however, matters are not as simple for women, and they therefore should not wear tefillin.
The Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 38:6) notes that the Talmud (Eruvin 96a) states that King Saul’s daughter, Michal, wore tefillin and the sages did not protest. However, the Aruch HaShulchan writes, this anecdote does not contradict his conclusion. Michal was a well-known pious woman who knew how to protect and preserve the sanctity of tefillin. She was an exception and we should not extrapolate anything from her example.
Rabbi Cohen, a Jerusalem Prize recipient, is the author of seven sefarim on Jewish law. His latest, “Shabbat The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), is available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.