SAR recently made the news for granting permission to two high school girls to wear tefillin for davening, and, not to be outdone by his modern orthodox colleagues in northern Manhattan, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein said in an interview that were he to revisit the issue (which came up at Ramaz in the ‘90s) he would certainly be matir.
The quote above, which appeared in the Times of Israel (link), is from Eden Farber, a modern orthodox female teen from Atlanta who wears tefillin.
First off, I’m concerned for Ms. Farber’s health. If you wrap your tefillin so tight that there is a mark on your arm all day, I think you may be in danger of causing self-inflicted cardiac arrest due to your circulation being cut off.
But in all seriousness… There is something positive to say about this: I wish I felt like Ms. Farber every morning when I put on tefillin. I wish davening with my tefillin also made me feel so “connected,” so “Jewish.” Maybe putting them on every weekday for years and years dulls your mind to what it’s all supposed to be about. So thank you Ms. Farber for the wake up call.
I think the difference between SAR, Ramaz, and myself is that if my 12 year old daughter were to tell me that davening is not the same for her because she doesn’t get to wear tefillin like I do, I would ask her just who she is kidding. At 12 you don’t know what davening means, you don’t know what tefillin means, you don’t know anything about Judaism and haven’t even begun to think seriously about avodas Hashem. (I don’t know if I’ve even begun to understand anything about these things at my age.) If at 12 years old you don’t feel “connected” or “Jewish” in your davening it has very little to do with whether you are or aren’t wearing tefillin.
But I get where these schools are coming from. So many kids are OTD, are not interested, are ambivalent about Torah and mitzvos, that when a kid expresses what sounds like sincere interest in doing something more, there is a rush to embrace and encourage it in any way possible, even to the point of arguing for what would be a chiddush at least in practice if not in theory (and I'm not debating those points).
Do we trust teens? Of course not! -- at least not completely. We call their judgment and maturity into question all the time when we set limits, when we say no to their doing things that seem right to them but that we know will lead to trouble, when we tell them to be home at a certain time and to act in a certain way, even though they plead and cry that they know better. Why then if a teen says that wearing tefillin seems the right thing to do for her should we suddenly toss out a Rama and centuries of tradition and jump to give the practice our approval, in Rabbi Lookstein's case before even being asked? What happened to telling them that what may seem right, what may look right, what may feel right, is not always right or in fact good for them?
I disagree with those who question the motives and sincerity of the teens or the schools in this case or other cases where individuals take on mitzvos or roles that are usually reserved for men. How can anyone presume to question what is in another person’s heart?
That argument completely misses the point. It is in spite of the sincerity of those involved, in spite of their good motives and intentions, in spite of their wanting to be more “connected” and more “Jewish,” that when something is wrong al pi halacha or is wrong as a matter of public policy, we must disallow it.
That’s a very hard pill to swallow and a hard lesson to learn, but one that is critical to creating a true connection with Hashem, one that is larger than one's own wants and desires.