Amy Sara Clark writes about politics and education. A Columbia Journalism School graduate, she's worked at CBS News, The Journal News, The Jersey Journal, Mom365, JTA and Prospect Heights Patch. She comes to journalism from academia where she earned a master's degree in European History with a focus on Vichy France.
Following news that the Modern Orthodox SAR High School is now allowing girls to wear tefillin during morning prayer, the principal of Ramaz, a similar institution, said he’d be happy to do the same — should anyone ask.
This is the first time that the Upper East Side Modern Orthodox school has given the OK for girls to wear tefillin during the school’s co-ed morning prayers, but it’s not the first time that girls have been allowed to wear tefillin at the school.
In 2002, two female students were given permission to wear tefillin, also called phylacteries, during a weekly women’s prayer session. But they weren’t allowed to do it during the school-wide daily minyan, said Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Ramaz’s principal, correcting his earlier remark to The Jewsh Week that such a request hadn’t been made for two decades.
The two decades, he said, referred to the first time Rabbi Lookstein remembers a female student asking to wear tefillin, back in the early 1990s. At that time the school said no, allowing her to instead do wear tefillin at morning prayers at nearby synagogue Kehilath Jeshurun, where Rabbi Lookstein is the rabbi.
Today, things would be different, Rabbi Lookstein told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview Tuesday.
“If we were asked the question today — it’s 20 years later — we are in agreement that if a young woman wanted to put on tefillin and tallit, she could daven with us in our school minyan.”
It’s not that Rabbi Lookstein doesn’t want to encourage a widespread adoption of the practice. But his experience with the female student two decades ago made him realize that if a girl is truly sincere, letting her wear tefillin in public could be a good thing.
“She would come from Westchester every morning at 7:30, instead of coming to Ramaz at 8 — she really put herself out,” he said.
“She had tremendous kavanah,” he added. “As soon as I saw this young woman davening, I thought: this kid is so sincere, she could actually serve as a role model.’”