In the blog post “Accessorizing: Jerusalem Style!” the section dedicated to Jewish women presented images of married Orthodox-Jewish women wearing head coverings. However, there is a vibrant, lively minority of Jewish women who wear kippot and talitot. Two of them are respectfully presented here along with a brief background explanation which summarizes a broad spectrum of religious Jewish legal rulings, interpretations and customs.
The majority view regarding talitot (singular: talit) is based in the Torah (Bible) commandment regarding tzitzit (knotted ritual fringe) which first appears in Bamidbar (Numbers) 15:38: “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue thread.” It is repeated in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:12: “You shall make yourself twisted threads, on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.” The basic law as cited in these two books of the Torah is more fully explained in the Talmud (collection of Jewish Responsa). Throughout the ages, the interpretation has been that the commandment to wear talit and tzitzit is an obligation directed exclusively to men. The use of Talitot by some female members of the Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and Modern Orthodox branches of Judaism rests in the words “speak to the children of Israel”. As many women who fulfill the commandments of tzitzit and talit are quick to point out: “The text says ‘speak to the children of Israel’ and we all know that Israel’s children are both men and women”. Therefore from the point of view of these women it is their free choice and privilege to wear tzitzit and talit.
Generally women who wear tzitzit and talit do so only during prayer. The young girl wearing her talit with tzitzit clearly in view, in the photograph below was participating in an American Reform Movement Bar and Bat Mitzvah* celebration on Masada near the Dead Sea.
There is no Torah commandment or statement requiring head covering during prayer (or at any other time) neither for men nor for women. The custom of head covering during prayer is first mentioned in the Talmud. As with many other practices in Judaism, what started out as a Talmudic custom, today carries the force of religious law through long established practice.
The reasons Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and a few Modern Orthodox women choose to wear kippot and talitot are varied and personal. These reasons run the gamut from the point of view that men and women are equal to the point of view that is presented in the Talmud. Truly this gentle woman at the Western Wall represents a modern interpretation of what is written to men in the Talmud Volume Shabbat page 156-bet: “Cover your head in order that the fear of Heaven may be upon you.” This woman’s entire manner and attitude was a clear example of the Talmudic comment (at Kiddushin 31-aleph) made by Rabbi Hunah ben Joshua: “…because the Shekhinah (Divine Presence) is always over my head.”
The woman in the photograph above is wearing a talit and kippah which match and beautifully accessorizes the rest of her outfit. It is noted that she did not remove the hat she wore over her kippah until she was actually touching the Western Wall. Her humility, modesty, and awe at the Western Wall was complimented by her serene self-confidence, dignity and mindful respect for others. She was at the Western Wall by herself on an ordinary afternoon and not as part of the popular protest group “Women of the Wall”** who arrive in large numbers at the beginning of each Hebrew month (Rosh Hodesh). Upon completing her prayerful devotions she returned her hat to her head, wrapped her prayer shawl in the ordinary manner one would wrap a winter scarf around one’s neck and walked out onto the Plaza without being jeered at, harassed or stopped by anyone.
All photographs for this blog post are by Isa David-Ben-Rafael and are owned by IsraeLightly
*Jewish coming of age ceremony celebrated for girls at age 12 and for boys at age 13
**for more information about “The Women of the Wall” please do visit: