Women and the Tallit

In November of 2009 a woman was arrested while praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The reason? The women, who was taking part in the monthly Rosh Hodesh prayer with the religious women’s group “Women of the Wall”, was wearing a tallit.

The event caused quite a disturbance, prompting interesting dialogue between a group of religious conservatives and a group of religious progressives. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a reform leader, noted that “all over the world women are entitled to wear the tallit, and only in the land of Jews are they excluded from the social custom and even arrested for praying”. (Haaretz)

So, what’s the deal with women wearing tallitot? Why did one woman’s choice to wear a prayer shawl cause such a disturbance?

According to halakhah (Jewish law) woman are exempt from the commandment of wearing tzitzit, the fringes that hang from a tallit. Accordingly, women do not have to wear a tallit, but not forbidden from doing so.  Although most women in more conservative religious sectors are not interested in wearing a tallit or are dissuaded from doing so, many other Jewish women now take advantage of the option of performing the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit.

In recent years, many women – especially in the reconstructionist, reform, and conservative movements — have discovered the joys of wearing tallitot during prayer. While tallitot traditionally worn by men can be worn by women as well, most women choose to express their feminine side and fashion sensibility and choose to purchase and wear a more beautiful and adorned tallit. Many tallit designers, responding to this, have begun to create many different kinds of interesting, feminine, tallitot that are suited specifically for women.