tefilin BarbieJen Taylor Friedman, famous for being the first (only?) female sofferet (or scribe – trained to inscribe mezuzahs and Torahs etc. which have to be written by hand) had some extra time on her hands recently and decided to create Tefillin Barbie, pictured here.

Jen’s friends of course love Tefillin Barbie, as do the usual suspects. DovBear I guess took a more neutral approach, but his commentors mixed it up a bit. My take? There’s nothing wrong with women wearing tefillin. Women are not obligated to wear them – they are excused from all mitzvas that are time based and since tefillin have to be worn on weekday mornings at specific times then the mitzva of wearing them isn’t imposed on women. However, should a woman decide to start wearing tefillin and a talit then she has to do so always – thus rabbis generally advise against it.

Tefillin Barbie bugs me because the lower part of her Tefillin Shel Rosh (the head part) is below her hairline and thus incorrectly worn. And then of course there is the issue of Barbie herself who represents a depiction of beauty that is not only not particularly Semitic, but also impossible to attain – no real woman has boobs that big and a waist that tiny.

Beauty Myth Hello!

Then there’s the Hebrew Steinsaltz Talmud that Barbie is holding (as opposed to the usual Aramaic one) implying perhaps that women don’t have the intellectual fortitude for a traditional talmud? I’m not even going to comment on the blue fringe on the tzizit!

And what of the tznius (modesty) issue? Barbie’s arms aren’t covered and that skirt looks awfully tight! That’s not so much of an issue for me. Women in my Sephardic Orthodox synagogue wear pants and short sleeves and no one says boo. Try to tell them they’re being immodest and they will literally tear your eyes out. They’re plenty modest! But amongst the Ashkenazic Yeshivish crowd this is apparently quite an issue! I can write a whole other post just about the “Hot Channie” phenomenon that was brought to the fore in part due to the discussion on Tefillin Barbie. Check out the Hot Chanie Blog where an attractive, well put together Orthodox Mom takes umbrage with those in her community who look down upon her nice sheitel (wig), gym enhanced body and attractive clothing (like skirts with a slit!!) which technically follow the rules of tznius but are still far too attractive to be tznius (according to them). Hot Chanie believes that tznius does not need to mean frumpy (Oh Renegade Rebbetzin!).

Whatever. The point is that whoever you are, if you’re going to wear tefillin, wear them properly. Like me! (in this pic my head tefillin is improperly placed on my head with the lower part below my hairline. That’s because of the cowboy hat and I was still putting on my tefillin. I always make last minute adjustments so don’t flame me ok?)

Hat tip: boing boing. Now go on, click on the audio link below. I know you want to Barbie Girl!


…and yes, there’s video too, after the bump.

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Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • If I find the time, I will work on Kiddush Ken.

    Dressed in an Armani suit and Bally shoes, Kiddush Ken will come holding a bottle of 21 year old Macallan in his right hand and a plate of matjes herring, with miniature toothpicks, in his left.

  • you know, that’s something I always found odd – if women dont wear tefillin because we are “excused from all mitzvas that are time based” then why do we have to light candles by a specific time on shabbat? Or why are women still encouraged to daven when that too is a time based mitzvah? Or the very times based mitzvah of Niddah?

    Seems to me there’s gotta be another reason.

  • The Mitzvah of lighting Shabbat/Y”T candles is assigned to women because the purpose of the candles is “Shalom Bayit” and we men are the pits when it comes to that. Just think of Ralph Cramden, Fred Flintstone, Archie Bunker and Homer Simpson, to name but a few.

    As for prayer, praising G-d, asking for our personal needs, which require Divine assistance (Hakol Be’yday Shamayim), and thanking G-d for what we have are elementary obligations on every Jew.

    As for Niddah, that’s simply because some of us got it and some of us don’t. Baruch sheh’lo Asani Ishah! 😉

  • Oh, ck, she’s clearly wearing a shirt that covers her elbows–do you see an elbow on her right arm? No. You only see her tefillin arm because she had to push her sleeve up to put the tefillin on. Duh.

    And the obligation of prayer means that you are obligated to pray over the course of a day. You can say any prayer you want, if it fulfills prayer requirements, at any time you want. That’s all women are obligated to do. And furthermore, women aren’t exempt from ALL time based mitzvot. I think it’s seven that they are exempt from, but I could be wrong. Also, I’m pretty sure niddah is a negative commandment which would make this irrelevant because women are only exempt from those time-based positive commandments. I think, anyway…I could be wrong.

  • Oh Dina. I’m Sephardic! We don’t get woodies from elbows! I’ve seen other shots of Tefillin Barbie – her orange (gush katif?) shirt is a short sleeved one. And thanks for the clarification – how hard is it to remember “Mitzvat aseh sheh ha zman grama” meaning the positive mitzvas that are time based – those are the ones women are generally but not alway exempted from. I am such a crack head sometimes. But you knew that Dina.

  • Ah, Ck you Pharisee. Just to be clear: the original way tfillin shel rosh was worn was literally between the eyes–but, as part of the Pharisaic desire to do things differently from the Tzdokim (Sadducees), the tfillin were raised above the hairline.

    Dude, we’re sooooo over that.

    And, also just to be clear, not all Jews wore tfillin–it is a later development (don’t you love it how things BCE can be considered “later” when it comes to our People?). Karaites thought it was a dumb invention (they might still think so, I don’t know any) and the whole idea of tying scroll up in leather didn’t get to Ethiopia, if I’m not mistaken.

    In other words, women have just about as much a reason to put on tfillin than men do. I do it, love it, need it–it’s like a daily fix of God–and recommend it widely. Some even says it wraps you right around the Chakras, releasing positive energy. But I don’t know about that hippy stuff.

    And, that, eh, is a wrap.

  • According to the BBC:

    Barbie’s traditional trademarks have been her blonde hair, tiny waist and an astonishingly large bust. If her measurements were translated to human inches, her statistics would be 38-18-34.

  • CK– I saw this on Jen’s blog, and she discusse the shel rosh issue in the comments section.

    yes, she knows how to put on tfillin; however, Barbie’s head not being shaped like a persons, she had to put the shel rosh a bit low so it would stay on.

    also, it’s a shteinstalz not a vilna, b/c a shrunk image of the shteinsaltz is more indentifiable.

    l’kaf z’chut, -maybe?

  • Hey Esther-I was just coming here to make sure that Soferet got a shout out. You beat me to it.

  • BS”D

    Jen Taylor-Friedman is not the first soferet.

    I welcome any opportunity for discussion about women in non-trad roles.
    Although this took a great deal of time & skill to make, I find it offensive.

    My concern is Jen’s deliberate choice of Barbie iconography, given the associations. Most women of our generation (the over-30s) find Barbie to denote “trivial”. Barbie is a cultural shorthand for plastic, superficial, brainless, and demeaning. It’s the ultimate non-feminist icon.

    This image says to me that basically feminist Jx women are bimbos just “playing” real Jews & that feminist Jx women who CHALLENGE tradition for the love of torah, are really playthings. Either the women or the traditions.

    So since I’m sure that Jen’s intention here was NOT to trivialize feminist women in Judaism, perhaps it could have been better thought out.

  • Ariel wrote,

    “The whole idea of tying scroll up in leather didn’t get to Ethiopia.”

    Big deal. A lot of stuff didn’t make it to Ethiopia. Most of us don’t pasken according to Ehtiopia. We have our own mesorah.

  • …the thread inspires slight curiosity about how modest it is in CK’s book to report on the Internet what does (or does not) arouse him effectively.

  • …But seriously, I was just thinking about the release from time-based (postive) mitzvot the other night, shelling beans from the farmer’s market. In some books, they list child-tending as the main reason for women needing unbound time, but I wonder if feeding the family was also a part of that need.

    Think- no freezers, no instant anything, and you’re cooking on some kind of fire (wood or similar fuel) which needs to be managed…

  • LirotTov – not modest at all! Thanks for calling me out on that. Actually, that’s kinda hot…

    Beery: so how do you wear your tefillin? Probably above your hairline. So what was the point of that comment?

    Oh and you’re wrong. The Pharisees interpreted Deuteronomy 6:5-8 more literally than the Sadducees. “Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a frontlet between your eyes” was interpreted by the Pharisees as if to say that the words of the Torah should be written on a scroll and placed between your eyes, whereas the Sadducees interpreted the verse figuratively: One should act as if the words of the Torah are in front of your eyes. Just lettin’ ya know – seems you got your Pharisees confused with your Sadducess and I got my peanut butter in your chocolate…

  • Just lettin’ ya know – seems you got your Pharisees confused with your Sadducess and I got my peanut butter in your chocolate…

    Comment by ck — 10/23/2006 @ 10:35 pm

    Spoken like a true member of the PhaReeses!

  • (I’ve said this over on Soferet’s blog, but I’ll say it here too:)

    This over-30 woman doesn’t find Barbie to universally denote “trivial,” and is anything but offended by the playful–even, to me, empowering–image of Davening Barbie (as my husband & I call her: she’s got a tallis as well as tefillin, so she’s more than just Tefillin Barbie by me! Weekday Davening Barbie, to be precise…).

    Not all feminists are anti-Barbie, nor is Barbie or her history necessarily anti-feminist. Barbie was created by a Jewish businesswoman, Ruth Handler, who named Barbie and Ken after her daughter and son; after undergoing a mastectomy for breast cancer, Handler developed a better type of breast prosthesis (along with post-mastectomy swimwear) as the “Nearly Me” line. (See her entry on the PBS “They Made America” site, where she’s honored among the Innovators.)

    Barbie need not be a bimbo, and the woman who created her certainly wasn’t one. I’d definitely allow (even encourage!) any daughter (or son) of mine to play with Davening Barbie as well as the proposed Egal Minyan Ken. 🙂

  • Well Becca, far be it from me to tell you how to raise your children. One does not need to be a feminist to find Barbie offensive. We of course know ALL about Barbie’s origins. Esther noted in a previous post that Ruth Handler based Barbie on a German sex doll called Lilli. We even screened Tribe (the Jewish Barbie film) at Jewlicious at the beach 2.

    But Barbie pisses me off because I’ve known too many women with eating disorders occasioned by unrealistic images of female beauty foisted upon girls by the media and products like Barbie.

    Enjoy Weekday Davening Bulimia Barbie and make sure to take the tefillin off before she goes to barf out her breakfast in the Barbie Temple toilet.

  • BS”D
    Hey, Becca!
    Great to have you commenting on my blog again 🙂

    I’m going to have to go with CK on this one.

    As I said, most women of our generation/GenX-ers/however we categorize ourselves share my opinions & reactions to Barbie. You’re not one of those women 🙂

    I knew this history of the Barbie Doll you cite, & have zero problem with ther inventor & the process she went through. What I take exception to is the end product & how that has ultimately taught girls to hate our bodies, sent non-white women the message that we are not beautiful & generally been used as a tool to undermine women’s self-value. It’s Women’s Studies 101. The superficiality/publicity ploy can be separated from its inventor, but not from the doll, IMHO.

    ps – I really miss hanging out with you & Mike!

  • BS”D

    LOL! Nice one, Shy Guy.
    But seriously, folks…how many Jewish women have got their noses “fixed” because of Barbie? Don’t get me wrong, struggling with our beauty aesthetic pre-dates this doll, but this tall, pixie-nosed, slim-hipped socialite with straight blonde hair just ramped it up.

    Further to CK’s “… Ruth Handler based Barbie on a German sex doll called Lilli.”:
    This reminds me of a Saturday Night Live sketch where they lampooned the trial of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie by dressing a Barbie doll up in a teensy Nazi uniform & put her on a scale balcony reviewing a parade. Anyone remember this?
    (Scroll down)
    Controversial Barbie costumes are nothing new. SNL did it in 1983.

  • People don’t get their noses fixed because of Barbie. People get their noses fixed because of 100 years of cinema, 80+ years of mass distribution magazines and 60 years of television. Barbie is a doll that girls play with and while it’s interesting to think that this doll brainwashes little girl, I would venture the brainwashing is done by a wide variety of media pushing forth certain ideals of perceived beauty relentlessly.

  • TM wrote: “I would venture the brainwashing is done by a wide variety of media pushing forth certain ideals of perceived beauty relentlessly” and Barbie, a doll that girls covet ferociously and play with for hours is a big part of that.

  • What Middle said. Hard to believe I actually agree with every word in a post of his but this was bound to happen.

    My daughters played with Barbies. My sister and her friends, etc., etc., etc. No nose jobs. One case of anorexia among them all, which no one has ever pinpointed to Barbie. And from what I’ve seen from my sister’s friends, they were closer to 38-18-34 some decades than they ever will be again.

    And none of them live in pink houses except for one but she’s from a Hungarian family, so that explains that.

  • BS”D
    Well, I did say, “…struggling with our beauty aesthetic pre-dates this doll…” in my last comment.

  • What CK said… Barbie is definitely part of that big media message that girls/young women should not think they are in any way attractive unless they could compete with porn stars… Look at her feet, too! Can you say, “orthopedic surgery in the future” boys and girls?

    I have had some trials with the scale and the mirror (body image distortion etc) myself, and although I can’t speak for Wolf’s more recent work, _The Beauty Myth_ was part of the long path out.

    Whether as a parent you choose to keep Barbies out of the house or to buy them but try to raise your kids’ awareness, — those are policy decisions.

  • ck et al:

    Certainly true that one does not need to be a feminist to find Barbie offensive…but also that being a feminist doesn’t preclude one from not finding Barbie (and tongue-in-cheek repurposings of her & her outfits) offensive.

    I’d be more worried about falling prey to the rampant consumerism that can come from the “gotta get ’em all” (yes, I know that’s Pokemon) bewildering array of Barbie Paraphernalia than just about body image issues specifically, though they’re certainly a concern.

    I tend to agree with those who say that Barbie is not exactly helping but that there are other more powerful cultural forces that are more influential in doing the damage: I’m not about to let any (right now theoretical) kids of mine be raised on only a steady diet of Barbie eye candy, nor would I give in to the whim to get the Barbie Dream House and Fast Car and Kitty Litter Box and You Name It.

    For the record, when growing up: I had some, but not a lot, of Barbies; some, but not a lot, of other dolls (depicting ages from baby to woman, in materials from fabric to porcelain to plastic); and a lot of books. With lots of nifty girls in them…from Nancy Drew and Nancy, Tacey, and Tib (anyone else read those?) to Laura Ingalls Wilder to sci-fi heroines (Podkayne of Mars; Candidia Maria Smith Foster) and fantasy sword-wielders (Eowyn and her ilk).

    Barbie notwithstanding, I never bought into the beauty-pageant ideal, not even in our Jewish context: for Purim I preferred to go as pouty Vashti than as Esther. 🙂

  • I’m both shocked and appalled, Jewlicious team! How could you have written so much about Barbie and Judaism in this post and not plug Ken Goldberg and Tiffany Shlain’s The Tribe?

    Tsk, tsk! A shonda!

  • And how does the blond, blue-eyed chick with the I Love Hashem t-shirt on this website NOT fit the Barbie stereotype that everyone’s kvetching about?

    Jen has something special: a sense of humour, by means of the deployment of irony. Not only was she commenting on women’s ritual roles in Judaism, but also commenting on Jewish stereotypes with regards to “looking Jewish” AND dealing with Barbie stereotypes in a fun and lighthearted way.

    Three birds with one stone, if you ask me.

    Often, humour is the most effective way to open up discourse and break down taboos.

    I’m with her all the way.

    PbP, who happens to be naturally slim, have a pixie nose, blond hair AND be Jewish. And, yup, does tefillin.

  • Ploni bat Ploni: The “chick” in question is not blond – she’s a red head. Kathleen does not have a 38″ bust atop an 18″ waist. She has green eyes, not blue and despite being attractive, she’s not rail thin.

    I’m not anti-Jen. I was just pointing out the issues I had with her Barbie. I already noted that women are allowed to put on tefillin. The thing about Barbie is not that Jewish stereotypes dictate that no Jewish women look like Barbie, but rather that a realistic perception of women dictates that no women look like Barbie. She represents an impossible to acheive ideal. But whatever…

    pixie nose and blond hair eh? I bet you have brown eyes… heh.

  • just remember jewish chicks, the only one who minds if you go out dressed like a slut is your hubby. the other guys will just stare

  • There is another reason, aa.sh. Not all scientists are careful philosophers. They have beliefs like anyone else, and sometimes they haven’t thought through which of their beliefs are actually justified by what we know from science and which of them, though motivated by science perhaps, are simply things they happen to believe.