How literal is too literal? My Experience with Tallit Katan. By Ivy Helman

I tried a new spiritual practice yesterday.  I wore a tallit katan.  It is commonly worn by Orthodox, Hasidic and other Ultra Orthodox men and boys from the age of 3 onward and usually not worn by women within these communities.  Occasionally, one can see Jews (mostly men) from Conservative shuls wearing these garments and rarely from Reform congregations.  They seem to be a marker of a more observant Jewish practice that reads much of the Torah literally.  One is commanded to wear fringes (tzitziyot) when wearing four-cornered garments as reminders of the covenant between G-d and the Jews and more specifically of the 613 commandments.

There are a number of reasons women and men from Orthodox and ultra Orthodox communities give for discouraging women from the wearing of tallit katan and tallit gadol.  First, women are said to be exempt from time-bound mitzvot, or commandments .  Wearing tzitziyot are considered time-bound because the Torah says one should be able to see them which has been interpreted to mean that they be worn during the day.  The reason given that women are not held to time-sensitive mitzvot has to do primarily with their childcare responsibilities.  Children and fulfilling their needs often requires much time and may not allow one to complete a task within a given time frame.  A related ideology says that women are often generally thought to be more spiritually attuned, and therefore do not need such physical reminders to follow the mitzvot. Continue reading “How literal is too literal? My Experience with Tallit Katan. By Ivy Helman”


I attended a service at Congregation Shalom in Chelmsford, MA two Fridays ago.  During the service, Rabbi Shoshana Perry spent a few minutes addressing the last word of a Hebrew prayer found in the Reform siddur, Mishkan T’filah.  It was translated in the siddur as “God rested” but the Hebrew word used was vayinafash, which comes from the word nefesh, or soul.  The prayer emphasizes on the seventh day that God did not rest as much as God took time out to re-soul.  Rabbi Perry believes that our Shabbat should be spent doing things that help us also re-soul.

Initially, I spent quite a long time considering why God would need to re-soul and what exactly God would do to re-soul.  When I realized the futility of trying to sort that out, I moved a little closer to home: what do I do on Shabbat to re-soul?  I was quite overwhelmed trying to answer this question as well.

Traditionally, Shabbat is about study, rest, prayer and family among other things.  In fact, many Jews avoid creative processes like writing, cooking, painting, driving and working because God rested from creative work on the seventh day.  (Incidentally, our creativity is also how we are considered to be made in the image of God).  Part of the reason this idea struck me so deeply is because I often find painting, cooking and writing rejuvenating. Continue reading “RE-SOULING ON SHABBAT BY IVY HELMAN”

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