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Putting on Tefillin by Those of Other Religious Backgrounds

Normally I would simply assign the ritual of donning tefillin (prayer boxes) and anything that promotes it to the “inside.” In other words, I think that such rituals are almost exclusively conducted by those already deeply engaged in the inside of the Jewish community, even though our colleagues from Chabad encourage the ritual as part of its outreach strategy. But I was really intrigued by the rabbi’s approach at tefillinblog.blogspot.com.

He says something that I have been saying for a long time—the Rambam (Rabbi Moses Maimonides, perhaps the greatest of all Jewish philosopher/theologians, who hails from the Medieval Period) teaches that those of other religious backgrounds—those who aren’t Jewish—are permitted to don tefillin. Now it is true that Maimonides makes the argument in the context of those who are exploring Judaism or considering conversion. And we know that those who are exploring Judaism or considering conversion are taught not to take on everything at once. So it makes sense.

If this is the case, then this is one more strike against the barrier of what I like to call social visibility, that is, the “stuff” that is a visible separation between Jews and those of other religious backgrounds—such as the father of another religious background who is standing on the bimah (raised platform in the front of the synagogue) while his Jewish son is celebrating his bar mitzvah or his Jewish daughter is celebrating her bat mitzvah.

So if Maimonides is behind such an approach, why can’t the rest of the Jewish community join him?



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