Rabbi Miriam's Blog
The Torah instructs us on almost every component of our human existence. It is our Tree of Life. It includes instructions about the type of material our clothing is to be made from. It forbids women from dressing as men, and men from dressing as women. It forbids us wearing sha’atnez, clothing that is made of a mix of wool and linen. (Deut. 22:5, 11)
There is a particularly important commandment on wearing tzitzit, or fringes. In our portion this week, Moses instructs the People of Israel to wear tzitzit "throughout the generations, so that they would serve as a reminder to our connection to God by doing mitzvot every time we look at the fringes… "so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I Adonai am your God, who rought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, Adonai your God." (Numbers 15:39-41)
Throughout our history men wore tzitzit in the form of a small prayer shawl known as talit katan, on the four corners of their clothing, at times under a shirt, or even over a shirt. The mitzvah to wear tzitzit is so important that the rabbis who composed the first prayers of the synagogue included it as one of the four paragraphs chanted each morning and evening after the Shemah.
Wearing tzitzit is so important that Rashi noted that the word tzitzit has a numerical value of 600, and that the fringe is tied with eight threads and five knots. Together the full numerical value of tzitzit is equal to 613, the number of commandments that are found in the Torah. Rashi teaches that "wearing tzitzit and looking upon them leads us to remembering them, and remembering them leads to doing them." In other words, tzitzit function as a powerful symbol to stimulate ethical behavior. (Numbers Rabbah 7:6) They save those who wear them from being careless, forgetful, and from giving in to many temptations that are "crouching at the door eager to control us". (Genesis 4:7)
Today, tzitzit continue to be worn by many Jewish men as a symbol of identity, their historic covenant with God, and as a badge of commitment to ethical and ritual responsibilities. So, why do most women not wear tzitzit?
Please do not let anyone tell you that women should not wear tzitzit because traditionally only men wear it. Do not let anyone tell you that for women to wear tzitzit is muzar, strange. Do not let anyone tell you that women are on a higher spiritual plane and they do not need tzitzit to remind them to behave ethically. As you see in our Torah portion this week, nowhere does the Torah instruct only man and not woman to wear tzitzit. We know that wearing tzitzit is a symbol of identity. It is a symbol of our historic covenant with God. It is our commitment to behave in an ethical way, and to be a "light to the nations." Ladies, why not wear tzitzit? Please wear them, and be proud of them.
May God give us ladies the inner strength to wear tzitzit and be happy and humbled with our relationship with God.
Ahavat Torah of West Los Angeles
About Rabbi Miriam
Rabbi Miriam E. Hamrell MHL, M.Ed., has served as our religious and spiritual leader at Ahavat Torah Congregation and helped it grow since it was founded in 2003.