New Approaches to the Mitzvah of Tefillin

During kayitz 2016, Camp Ramah in New England took a number of steps to empower chanichot (female campers) and madrichot (female counselors) to try to do the positive mitzvah of tefillin in a pressure-free environment. With the help of donors and synagogues, Camp Ramah gathered over fifty pairs of tefillin so that all chanichot on Tzad Bet (B-side) would have an opportunity to try them.

In Machon (rising 10th graders) and Nivonim (rising 11th graders), interested chanichot learned about the mitzvah of tefillin, including the meaning behind the mitzvah, how to wrap the tefillin, and the berachot (blessings) that accompany this process. According to Lauren D., the tefillin“made me feel more connected, more Jewish.” Rachel C. agreed: “It felt like HaShem was giving me a hug. This experience is a good example of how camp pushes us to try new things and be our own best selves.” When she puts on tefillin, Sarah R. “feels a special connection to something Jews have done for thousands of years.” Adira B., who has worn tefillin since her Bat Mitzvah “partially as an equality thing” and because it “helps you be in the moment” at tefilot, was happy that others had tried tefillin; she feels that more girls will wear tefillin more often if they have more opportunities to try it.

Magshimim and Bogrim (rising 8th and 9th graders) held their own Rosh Chodesh service for chanichot and their madrichot. Using giant model tefillin that can be taken apart, tzevet member Jodi Eligberg showed how the tefillin boxes are constructed. Dozens of the chanichot were excited to try tefillin – with many of them helping and consulting with one another. In teaching the chanichot about tefillin, Jodi emphasized that “tefillin are not just for the most observant chanichim – anyone can participate.”

Sarah Binney and Veronica Leifer, who are madrichot in Ilanot (rising 4th and 5th graders), were inspired to wear tefillin this summer with the encouragement of one of their own role models, long-time tzevet member Rabbi Ariella Rosen. According to Sarah, “it is really important to serve as role models to our chanichot.” Veronica said the “kids really noticed the tefillin and touched it. It had an impact on their understanding that tefillin can be worn by girls as well as by boys.”

Claire Mendelson, one of the madrichot for Nivonim, is excited about camp’s active efforts to “embrace egalitarianism. I am thrilled that the girls have the opportunity to learn and participate in this way – now they can teach their own campers in years to come.”

“Camp Ramah is living laboratory of Judaism,” Rabbi Gelb emphasized. “By making tefillin available for the chanichot and by providing them with varied opportunities to put on tefillin, we want to encourage chanichot to try a new Jewish observance. Perhaps, at the same time, it may make some of the boys think differently about the mitzvah of tefillin.” We look forward to providing the chanichot with more opportunities to try tefillin and perhaps add this to their own set of personal practices.

Todah rabbah to those who made this initiative possible: to Elie Abemayor, Rabbi Ariella Rosen and Congregation Kehillath Israel of Brookline, MA, who donated funds to purchase tefillin; Beth El of Bethesda, MD, which donated tefillin; and the following congregations, which lent their tefillin: Temple Emanuel of Newton, MA, Temple Israel of Sharon, MA, B’nai Israel of Rockville, MD, Temple Israel of Natick, MA, and Temple Emunah of Lexington, MA.

Tefillin Machon Tefillin Nivonim