I Am a Woman and I Wear Tzitzit: Here's Why
Editor’s Note: Although generally we do not publish anonymous pieces, we have decided to publish this piece anonymously for reasons the author outlines.
One of my most vivid childhood memories is my teacher describing the beauty and preciousness of mitzvot, comparing them to diamonds and urging us to collect as many as we could. I remember feeling such excitement at the time and motivation to run and gather them all. Over time, this enthusiasm, of course, subsided and evolved into a more complex and nuanced understanding of mitzvot and Torah, but the underlying message of the celebration of doing mitzvot remained with me and still rings true.
Growing up as a girl in the Orthodox Jewish community, however, this message was slightly amended: yes, all mitzvot are special and cherished, but not all are meant for women. As is clear from the Gemara and is brought down by all the later halakhic works, there is a clear distinction between a woman’s and man’s obligation with regards to certain mitzvot, namely time-bound mitzvot that one is obligated to actively perform.
But, as many know, it’s not as simple as that. Many of these time-bound mitzvot are performed by women — hearing the shofar and eating in a sukkah — and then some aren’t — like tzitzit. (Sephardic women have different customs of performing time-bound mitzvot.)
The Torah given purpose for the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit, is to remind the wearer of Hashem’s commandments and to further encourage them to perform them (Numbers 15:38). The ultimate ruling brought down by the rabbis is that it’s considered a time-bound commandment, and therefore women aren’t obligated in it. Traditionally, it was uncommon, if not unheard of, for women to take this practice upon themselves as a mitzvat reshut (a voluntary and permitted practice). The halakhic sources on the topic of women and tzitzit are voluminous and diverse, but many rulings including those of the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, and Rav Moshe Feinstein state, with different qualifications, that women can choose to do this mitzvah if they wish.
As a woman who deeply values going above the letter of the law and chooses to do many mitzvot that I am not obligated in, I also wear tzitzit. To avoid any potential issues with kli gever, the prohibition of women wearing men’s clothes, my tzitzit are made out of a woman’s garment. In addition to being careful about tzniut, one of the special things about wearing tzitzit is the opportunity to don a garment with religious significance that isn’t directly connected to modesty and covering up. The option of engaging in a mitzvah so connected to my body, but not to my body’s sexualization, is meaningful and helps me further my personal connection to Judaism and Hashem.
One of the issues brought up about women wearing tzitzit is that of yuhara, or arrogance related to taking on religious practices with a sense of self-image. For me, tzitzit is exactly the opposite. I wear them under my clothing, tucked in and almost nobody knows about them, making this mitzvah completely between me and Hashem. I also chose to write this article anonymously, not because I am embarrassed about wearing them — on the contrary, I am quite proud of them — but to keep this mitzvah on a personal level and to steer clear of yuhara.
In a community where we celebrate and encourage women to perform mitzvot which they aren’t obligated in, those who feel that wearing tzitzit is something that will help them grow religiously should not be dissuaded from doing so. To me, donning tzitzit every day represents rushing to collect those diamonds in the morning. I begin my day with a renewed excitement and a tangible, wearable reminder of opportunities I have to perform as many mitzvot as possible.
Photo Caption: To avoid any potential issues with
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons