Tefillin, a prayer object typically worn by Orthodox Jews, can be a strange thing to learn how to properly wear.
Consisting of a set of small, black boxes with tiny Torah scrolls inside and leather straps, Tefillin is customarily only worn by men—but that is changing.
Women and Tefillin
When Rachel Putterman, a 52-year-old woman, enrolled in Rabbinical school, she couldn’t quite get the hang of how to put on Tefillin. She turned to YouTube only to discover low-quality videos solely featuring men.
‘It was just upsetting to me that there was nobody that looked like me. It seemed like a glaring gap,’ Putterman told Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).
So, Putterman, who formerly worked as a public interest lawyer, decided to start an IndieGoGo campaign to create an educational video featuring people of all genders.
The project will aptly be titled All Genders Wrap.
Putterman is directing All Genders Wrap and it is being produced by fellow Hebrew College rabbinical student Gita Karasov. The video will include 10 diverse Jews—including men, women, trans, and non-binary people—of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
‘I want to make a statement to counter what you see when you go on YouTube, that there are people of all genders engaged in practice,’ Putterman said.
In addition to featuring diverse Jews, the video will also talk about other differences in Tefillin practice. For instance, they will show a Jew who wraps Tefillin according to Sephardic rather than Ashkenazic customs, and one who is left-handed and thus wraps on the left arm instead of the right.
‘My instinct was that this was going to strike a chord within a small subset of the Jewish community: the part of the community that is interested in laying tefillin but not the Orthodox,’ Putterman said.
And indeed, many non-Orthodox synagogues now encourage both men and women to use Tefillin.
In only eight days, Putterman’s campaign surpassed their fundraising goal thanks to more than 100 donors.
With the money, Putterman plans to hire a professional crew to shoot and edit the video, which she hopes to release in September. Additionally, she hopes to launch a website that will feature the personal stories of the 10 diverse Jews in the video.
‘I’ve been a feminist activist my whole life, and I’ve done a lot of research around these issues and writing about it,’ Putterman said. ‘But there’s something so profoundly satisfying about this visual imagery of non-cisgender men wearing this stuff, and not just wearing it but engaged in the practice.’
Learn more about All Gender Wrap in the video below: