A female Jewish student who caused a social media firestorm when she uploaded photos of a Chabad representative placing tefillin on her after mistaking her for a man apologized Tuesday.
University of Chicago student Baci Weiler said that she regretted misleading the representative about her gender and that she had intended to make a “political statement” about the marginalized role of women in Orthodox Judaism.
Tefillin, two black leather boxes containing parchments with passages from the Torah, are traditionally worn by Jewish men during morning prayers, but most Orthodox rabbis proscribe their donning by females.
“Being seen as a man, despite being a woman, was paradoxically validating: for just a minute, I was no longer an Other — the mechitza that has frustrated me for years dissolved,” Weiler said in a Facebook post, referring to the partition used in synagogue services to separate men and women.
“My goal was dual: on one level, I was knowingly making a sharp, ironic political statement — a criticism of a religious ideology with which I fundamentally disagree… on another level… the photo depicts an instance of accidental pluralism and of shared joy,” she said.
“Though I didn’t force him to do something wrong, I allowed him to do something he presumably would have been uncomfortable doing given complete knowledge of the situation,” Weiler noted, adding that “despite our ideological differences, I owed him this basic level of respect as a fellow Jew and as a human. For that I am sorry.”
Women traditionally do not wear tefillin in Orthodox Jewish communities, though a growing number of women are choosing to take on the practice, as do some women in non-Orthodox Jewish denominations.
Gedalyah Reback contributed to this report.