Tallit Expert Sharona Lomberg: “No she can’t – Yes she can … No she can’t – Yes she can, Yes she can, Yes she can, Yes she Can!”

It almost sounds like to be or not to be… that’s the question.

Photo: Courtesy of Pardes Designs

I remember the first time I visited a Reform temple, I couldn’t believe my eyes!  There were women and men actually sitting next to each other during the service.

I was shocked.  Something was wrong with this picture. The “actors and the audience” were all in the wrong places and seats.

You may have no idea what I’m talking about. But, that’s how a 21year old Israeli Yemenite girl from a religious family felt 36 years ago.  In my parents synagogue they wouldn’t be able to fathom that something like this could ever happen. Not only did the women not sit next to the men, they weren’t even in the same room. On the second floor of the synagogue we had a balcony area designated only for women and children. Men didn’t come up there, they weren’t allowed.

We, the women, could watch the men from above, basically seeing the top of their heads covered with a Kippa or a big, long, wool Tallit with black stripes that each one wore. The Tallitot varied by length, width and stripes.

Seeing the men praying together was a powerful sight. There was a unity in the color and the overall look of the Tallitot, unity of their movement, unity in their intentions, and unity in their belief. This beautiful sight was the one I knew, and it was definitely the only right one!

But was it?

The women were sitting in the chairs upstairs, praying quietly facing down towards the hall where the men were praying. There were actually small curtains attached to the railing up to the height above our eyes. We could move the curtains to peek down into the Heychal (the prayer room where the ark is) the reasoning behind that is to keep the women’s modesty, and also insure there would not be interference during the main service led by the men. Interference by children’s voices their personal needs, voices of the women or their sight. That was the closest we got to pray together, or be close to the Ark.

The woman’s section was called “Ezrat Nashim”. I want to translate it to English but I’m not sure how.  Literally it means Women’s help/aid/assistance.  But what does it mean, who are we helping? The men? The children? Ourselves?

Is this the place a woman goes for help?  Is it the place to turn to G-d for help and guidance?

I wonder.

You can undoubtedly understand how foreign the behavior in Reform, Conservative or Reconstructionist synagogues was to me.  I think the biggest impact on me was seeing for the first time a woman who is a Rabbi, not a Rebbetzin (Rabbi’s wife), wearing a Tallit; and it didn’t faintly resemble the Tallit I saw growing up.

Little did I know that 5 years later I, me, would actually be hand painting Tallitot on silk.

Yes, for women too!

Photo: Courtesy of Pardes Designs

But before I started painting, I felt I really needed to understand whether women can actually wear a Tallit.

And here’s what I learned.

According to the Talmud women are not obligated to wear a Tallit, since they are not bound to perform positive mitzvot (commandments) which are “time-specific”, and the obligation to wear a Tallit only applies by day.

However, many early rabbinic authorities such as Rashi and Rambam did permit women to wear a Tallit. In the early 1800’s there was a gradual movement towards prohibiting women from wearing Tallit, mainly based on the ideas of the medieval Ashkenazi Rabbi the Maharam. That Rabbi states that while women are technically allowed to wear a Tallit, it would appear to be an act of arrogance for women to perform this mitzvah.

Other Rabbis view a Tallitas a “male garment” and thus find that a woman wearing aTallit to be in violation of the precept prohibiting a woman from wearing a man’s garment. And therefore, women should wear different, feminine, Tallitot.

To this day, we still don’t agree with one another. The Orthodox communities forbid women wearing a Tallit while the rest encourage women who desire to fulfill the mitzvah to follow their heart.

When I spoke with my Dad and asked him, he answered with no hesitation “No, women can’t wear a Tallit”. The fact that I said that women are discharged from the obligation to wear a Tallit, this meant that while we are not obligated it didn’t mean we are forbidden, did not change his mind.

One might be able to change their mind at 21yrs. old, but I doubt that would be the case with most 60+yrs.

My Dad didn’t agree with me, but he definitely made me feel, and know, how proud he was of me for making Tallitot.

Photo: Courtesy of Pardes Designs

It’s only been a few decades since women began wearing Tallitot in the non-orthodox Jewish congregations, especially in North America. 

We enjoy following “the life of the Tallit” throughout the decades. But for today’s B’nei Mitzvot, its looks like it’s been a lifetime. They don’t know a time when women weren’t allowed to wear it.

However, that is not the case in Israel, yet. The fact that women wear Tallitot is still foreign to most of the society there. Mainly because the women who are religious think it should be forbidden. The rest who are not religious mostly don’t participate in services; therefore don’t even have a reason to think about this issue.

Today there are many beautiful, creative Tallitot in all colors, sizes, designs and materials, and if you can’t find “the one” you can have one custom made just for you.

36 years ago, I was blessed with the gift of creating prayer shawls.

When I see a woman or man, B’nai Mitzvah, who is wearing my Tallit, my heart leaps in happiness. I have the privilege to provide them with a Tallit that will be with them on their religious and spiritual journey. It is a great honor to me, so thank you!

And Yes- We can!

Artist Designer

Owner Pardes Design

Previous guest posts:

Tallit Expert Sharona Lomberg on The Thread That Connects Us

Tallit Expert Sharona Lomberg on The Difference between Tallitot

Want to learn more about Sharona and her work? You can find her interview with us here.

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