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Rosen ’17 founds nonprofit to include women in orthodox Judaism

Netzitzot, a new nonprofit venture cofounded by Maya Rosen ’17, is selling tzitzit online that are specifically tailored to women.

Tzitzit are specially knotted ritual fringes worn by some adherents of Judaism. Wearing tzitzit is intended to remind followers of the 613 mitzvot, or commandments, of the Jewish faith.

Women traditionally did not wear tzitzit because many interpretations of Judaic theology exempt them from the requirement to don the fringes. Recently, however, some women have taken to wearing tzitzit out of a sense of obligation or devotion to their faith, and some rabbis have encouraged more women to wear them.

“Women have historically and traditionally been excluded from [Jewish ritual] practice, and the idea of Netzitzot is to give all people a way to partake in this ritual,” Rosen said.

The company debuted on March 23, and Rosen said that its website began to take orders a few weeks later, although she added that the project had been in the development phase since August.

Two paid seamstresses support production, she noted, but volunteers have contributed to the output as well.

Rosen said production of Netzitzot’s second batch of tzitzit is underway and that the first, now sold out batch consisted of 60 tzitzit. Netzitzot ships within the United States as well as to Israel.

“Business has been great,” Rosen said. “I’ve actually been kind of excitedly overwhelmed with orders.”

She explained that social media and coverage by The Jewish Daily Forward have compelled demand. Women’s wearing of tzitzit and tefillin, a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with Torah verses for use during weekday morning prayer, has been a notable subject of coverage at Jewish media outlets in the past few months, and has at least once spilled over to the University.

Dozens of women were arrested in Israel for wearing a tallit, “a version of the tzitzit worn over the clothes during prayer,” according to an April 9 Jewish Daily Forward article.

The Jewish Daily Forward published an article in January profiling the action of girls at a Modern Orthodox school in New York to gain the right to lay tefillin, and an editorial titled “Why Women Can — And Must — Lay Tefillin,” and the Times of Israel described similar actions at other schools. Rabbi Efrem Goldberg published a critique of the coverage defending customary behavior, and Josh Stadlan ’16 wrote a blog post titled “A Letter to Rabbi Goldberg” that construed Jewish law to affirm the wearing of tefillin, which prompted a rebuttal from Rabbi Goldberg.

“Is the Talmud an authoritative text for you or not?” Goldberg wrote. “If the Talmud and the rabbinic tradition are not authoritative for you, do you derive your conceptions of Judaism from a different source?”

Stadlan declined to comment for this article.

Rabbi Sara Rich, director of education at the Center for Jewish Life, said that adherents of Judaism often begin at such far different starting points on the role of women in Jewish practice that it is difficult to reconcile these viewpoints.

“I do think that it’s controversial within the Orthodox world, this question of what women can and can’t do,” Rich said. “And for people who are trying to expand the role of women, they’re getting pushback on that.” She explained that the pushback derives both from interpretations of Jewish law and feelings about the proper role of women in Jewish practice.

Aaron Koller, associate professor of the Bible and assistant dean at Yeshiva University, said that the two key sources on the wearing of tzitzit by women are the Rema, a 16th century Polish rabbi, and 20th century rabbi Moshe Feinstein. The Rema didn’t say women were prohibited from wearing tzitzit but said the practice lent itself to “yuhara,” or an arrogant, ostentatious display of religious behavior. Rabbi Feinstein said the acceptability of the practice depended on the motivations of the individual woman.

Rabbi Ethan Tucker said the fuller incorporation of women into the even more traditional elements of Judaism appears poised only to grow.

“I think it’s only great when people take ritual observances into their own hands,” Tucker said. “So to learn how to do it as an undergraduate and be excited about it is one basic level that I think is very interesting.”

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