Friday, December 15, 2006

Women, Tefillin, and Throwing Oneself into a Furnace

From Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' devar Torah on this week's parashah from last year (link):

I will never forget an episode that occurred when I was a rabbinical student in the mid-1970s. A group of us, yeshivah students together with students from a rabbinical seminary, were praying together one morning in Switzerland, where we were attending a conference. We were using one of the rooms of the chateau where we were staying. A few minutes into the prayers, a new arrival entered the room: a woman Reform rabbi, wearing tallit and tefillin. She sat down among the men.

The students were shocked, and did not know what to do. Should they ask her to leave? Should they go elsewhere to pray? They clustered around the rabbi leading the group - today a highly respected Rosh Yeshivah in Israel. He looked up, saw the situation, and without hesitation and with great solemnity recited to the students the law derived from Tamar: "It is better that a person throw himself into a fiery furnace than shame his neighbour in public." He told the students to go back to their seats and carry on praying. G-d forbid that they should shame the woman. The memory of that moment has stayed with me ever since.

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