Women are exempt from the mitzva of tzitzit, a time-bound positive mitzva that applies only during the day, not at night (Menaĥot 43a; SA 17:2; above, 2:7). Women who want to wrap themselves in a talit may do so privately. According to Ashkenazic practice, they would recite a berakha, and according to Sephardic practice, they would not. 1
- The law follows R. Shimon, who maintains that the mitzva of tzitzit is time-bound and that women are therefore exempt (Menaĥot 43a; Rif and Rosh ad loc.). Simply understood, however, if women wish to fulfill this mitzva they may, as is the case with other time-bound mitzvot. The only question is whether or not they would recite a berakha. Rambam (MT, Laws of Tzitzit 3:9) states: “Women and slaves who wish to wrap themselves in tzitzit do so without a berakha.” So states Sefer Ha-ĥinukh §386. In contrast, Rabbeinu Tam and Ran maintain that women who wish to wrap themselves in tzitzit may recite the berakha. They similarly disagree about whether women may recite a berakha on blowing the shofar or taking the lulav. The practice of most Sephardic women is not to recite the berakha, while the practice of Ashkenazic women is to recite the berakha, as clarified in SA 589:6 (see above, 2:8).
However, Maharil (New Responsa §7) says that women should not wrap themselves in a talit, mentioning several reasons, such as that we are concerned about forbidden fabric mixtures (sha’atnez), carrying on Shabbat, presumptuous customs, and arrogance. He also mentions an esoteric reason. In Minhagei Maharil (Tzitzit 4), he writes that there were women who wrapped themselves in tzitzit, including the wife of Mahari Brin. Even though he was not pleased with this practice, he did not object. See also Agur, Laws of Tzitzit 27, which mentions this practice. Targum Yonatan of Devarim 22:5 implies that it is forbidden for women to wear tzitzit because it is forbidden for women to wear men’s clothes. However, none of the Rishonim who dealt with the issue mentioned this concern, even though some Aĥaronim (including Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 1, Lekh Lekha 13) did mention it.
SA 17:1 rules:
Women and slaves are exempt, because it is a time-bound positive mitzva. Rema: Nevertheless, if they wish to wrap themselves in it and recite the berakha, they may do so, just like other time-bound positive mitzvot (Tosafot, Rosh, and Ran on the second chapter of Rosh Hashana and the first chapter of Kiddushin). Yet it appears arrogant, and therefore they should not wear tzitzit since it is not an obligation that devolves upon the individual (Agur §27), that is, one is not required to purchase a garment in order to become obligated in tzitzit.
Thus, there is no concern for any halakhic violation, whether out of concern for sha’atnez or wearing men’s clothing. Rema wrote that women should not wrap themselves in tzitzit only because it appears arrogant.
R. Moshe Feinstein addresses this issue thoroughly and writes that if a woman’s purpose in wrapping herself in tzitzit is for God’s sake, she may do so and it is a credit to her. She should use a garment that looks different from a man’s talit (such as by using other colors). According to Ashkenazic custom, she may recite the berakha. However, if she wishes to wrap herself in tzitzit because of external influence, and her purpose is to fight for the cause of feminism, and she wishes to join the fray out of resentment and in order to change the laws of the Torah, it constitutes a denial of the Torah, and she forfeits her share in the next world (Igrot Moshe OĤ 4:49).
Therefore, in my opinion, a woman who wants to wrap herself in tzitzit for God’s sake may do so in private. There is no concern for arrogance, and it is not an expression of resentment against halakha and the tradition. If many women do so for God’s sake and in private, then over time even if they wear tzitzit in non-private setting it will not be considered arrogance or an offense against the traditions of the Torah. Nevertheless, in my opinion, even today one should not object to a woman whose intentions are for God’s sake and who wraps herself publicly in tzitzit, for she has authorities upon whom to rely. However, one should object to women who are not meticulous about many mitzvot but who specifically wear a talit publicly in order to express their opposition to halakhic tradition. ↩