Women are exempt from the mitzva of tefilin, as it is a time-bound positive mitzva that applies only on weekdays, not on Shabbat or festivals, when it is forbidden (above, 2:7).
When it comes to other time-bound positive mitzvot, like lulav and shofar, many women indeed fulfill them, since the law is that women are credited with the mitzva if they voluntarily fulfill them despite their exemption. Nevertheless, when it comes to tefilin, the common practice is that they do not wear them. The reason for this is that Jewish custom is very concerned for the honor of the tefilin. Even though technically men should wear tefilin all day, they only wear them in the morning, and only to fulfill their obligation, because there is concern that they will have lapses in concentration while wearing tefilin (which is forbidden) and thereby disrespect the tefilin. Similarly, women, who are not obligated to wear tefilin at all, should not put themselves in a situation that would raise concerns for disrespecting the tefilin. For this reason, the custom is that women do not put on tefilin (MA, AHS).
Therefore, a woman who wants to elevate herself through mitzvot and asks whether she should wear tefilin should be instructed not to do so. If she nevertheless yearns to wear them in private, even though numerous authorities wrote that this is objectionable, one should not object, because there are opinions upon which she may rely. In general, whenever a practice has an authority on which to rely, one should not object to it.
There are women who are not meticulous about the laws of tzni’ut and many other mitzvot, but they wish to boast by wearing talit and tefilin. One should object to their agenda of turning the Torah and mitzvot into a site of social conflicts, as mitzvot should be performed for God’s sake, not as a tool to advance interests of one sort or another. 1.” It is also said of several righteous women from early and later generations – including the wife of R. Ĥayim ibn Atar – that they wore tefilin.
The practical ruling is that a woman should not wear tefilin, and many authorities – including Rema, Kaf Ha-ĥayim, MB, and many others – state that objections should be raised against women who wish to wear tefilin. Nevertheless, a woman who wishes to wear tefilin has authorities to rely upon – Orĥot Ĥayim and Olat Tamid – and AHS also concludes that one should not object to one who is renowned as a righteous woman. Therefore, in practice, one should not object to this practice. However, a woman who wear tefilin should take care not to wear them while menstruating (though she may wear tefilin while counting her clean days) and should make sure to wear them in private, so that it is clear that she is wearing them for God’s sake and so that she does not advertise when she is menstruating.]
- The mishna on Berakhot 20a states that women are exempt from tefilin but does not clarify whether women who want to wear tefilin may do so just as they may perform other positive time-bound mitzvot like lulav and shofar. Eruvin 96a cites a beraita that states that Michal, the daughter of King Shaul, wore tefilin and that the Sages did not object. Tosafot (ad loc.) state in the name of Pesikta that the Sages indeed objected. Similarly, y. Berakhot 2:3 first cites an anonymous opinion that the Sages did not object and then cites R. Ĥizkiya to the effect that the Sages did, in fact, object. Tosafot state that according to the opinion that the Sages objected even though they did not object to women performing other time-bound positive mitzvot, it is because “tefilin require a clean body, and women are not zealously careful.” (It seems that the concern is that they may not wear tefilin while menstruating – see Rema 88:1 – and since they do not normally study laws that do not pertain to their obligations, they will not be careful about this. Perhaps there is also concern that they will handle a soiled diaper or another filthy household item.) Kol Bo also states in the name of Maharam that one should object to women who wish to wear tefilin because “they do not know how to keep themselves clean.” Beit Yosef cites this, and SA 38:3 rules: “Women and slaves are exempt from tefilin as it is a time-bound positive mitzva. Rema: If women wish to be stringent upon themselves, we object (Kol Bo).”
MA explains that if women had been obligated by the Torah to wear tefilin, the rationale that they are not careful about cleanliness would not exempt them from the mitzva. However, since they are exempt and there is a concern about cleanliness, their wearing tefilin is objectionable. Along these lines, AHS states that really men have the same problem; tefilin require a clean body. However, since men are obligated, they wear tefilin for Shema and prayers while being as careful as possible. Women, though, are exempt, and should not subject themselves to this serious concern. For them, the time of prayer and reciting Shema are the equivalent of the rest of the day for men. We therefore do not allow them to wear tefilin. Even though Michal wore tefilin and the Sages did not object, this case is not instructive. Presumably, they knew that she was completely righteous and knew how to take the proper precautions. Similarly, Kaf Ha-ĥayim 38:9 states in the name of Birkei Yosef and other Aĥaronim that one should object to women wearing tefilin and cites esoteric reasons for this as well.
Yet there are Rishonim who say that one should not object. Indeed, Orĥot Ĥayim challenges Maharam’s strict ruling (cited in Kol Bo) based on the opinion that the Sages did not object to Michal wearing tefilin. This is cited in Beit Yosef, which answers that Kol Bo relied on the view that the Sages indeed object to Michal. Olat Tamid (an early commentary on Shulĥan Arukh) 38:3 rejects Maharam’s view: if the prohibition on women wearing tefilin is based on cleanliness, why does Berakhot 20a state that they are exempt because it is a time-bound positive mitzva? Moreover, Michal wore tefilin and the Sages did not object. Therefore, Olat Tamid concludes: “We do not object to an old woman who we know is capable of guarding herself, and it is sort of case that they are discussing there [ in reference to Michal ↩