Monday, July 7, 2014

Star of Davida Interviews Maya Rosen

Women wearing tzitzit, a fringed religious garment traditionally only worn by men, have been making it into the Jewish news recently. It's undeniable that women are increasingly more interested in claiming mitzvot (commandments) that they have not had access to in previous generations. Part of this wave is Maya Rosen, a Princeton undergrad and founder of Netzitzot. Star of Davida had the privilege of interviewing her.

Star of Davida: What first made you interested in tzitzit? Was it something you were raised with, or did you come to it on your own?
Maya Rosen: I started wearing tzitzit when I was in high school because I wanted the words of Torah to be more than words. It started to feel incoherent to me to articulate the obligation of tzitzit twice a day in the Shema but never move beyond articulation. I had a sense at the time—and can now much more fully articulate—that Torah speaks to me and also asks something of me. Wearing tzitzit was a way to allow my prayers to materialize, in a literal sense.

Could you explain exactly what Netzitzot is, and how you're involved with it?
Netzitzot is an initiative to create tzitzit (tallit katan) designed for women. I started the project about a year ago, following several conversations with women who were interested in and excited about the mitzvah of tzitzit but were not wearing them because they did not fit right or were uncomfortable. I had been making my own tzitzit for a few years and was disheartened that such a technical barrier was keeping people from tzitzit. With the help of several seamstresses, we began altering store-bought camisoles and tying tzitzit onto them. You can check out our current products at, and we have new product lines in the works!

Tell me more about the tzitzit-tying event Netzitzot held recently.
We held a launch party for Netzitzot in late March with friends, food, and divrei Torah (words of Torah). We also tied on the tzitzit for the first batch of garments at the party. About forty people learned how to tie tzitzit at the event, which was rewarding because teaching people this skills fits into our broader goal of making mitzvot directly accessible to all Jews. The party both helped us get the tzitzit tied faster and also demonstrated what a strong community exists around these values.

Why do you think tzitzit for women is so important?
In the Sifrei, Rabbi Meir asserts that one who wears tzitzit is regarded as if she had greeted the Divine presence. The Baal HaTurim talks about tzitzit as a way for the wearer to remember Torah no matter which direction he turns. Tzitzit, broadly speaking, represent a life in which mitzvot overflow from every corner. The ability to engage in the practices and ideals laid out by Rabbi Meir, Baal HaTurim, and scores of other traditional commentators need not and should not be gendered. It is important for women to wear tzitzit for the same reason it is important for a Jew of any gender to wear tzitzit.

Do you have any role models, either in regard to tzitzit or in general terms of women's inclusion in halakhic Judaism?
I have spent time learning at Yeshivat Hadar and Midreshet Ein HaNatziv. The teachers I learned from in these places have been hugely influential in modeling what it means to live a life deeply infused with and dedicated to Torah. I learned from them that gender issues in Judaism are not simple, and it’s okay to feel upset. I also learned from them, though, how to feel so embedded in the tradition and in Torah that my participation in the system is not a question of “if” but rather of “how.”

How can people who believe in your cause help?First and foremost—order tzitzit! Also consider learning the sources about tzitzit on our website. Additionally, if you go to the “Get Involved” tab on our website, you can express your interest in hosting a tzitzit-tying workshop or in helping to distribute tzitzit in your local Judaica store, synagogue gift ship, etc. You can also sign up to for an email list about gender, mitzvot, and their intersection. Additionally, you can make a donation to Netziztot on this page. We are currently selling the tzitzit for less than production cost because we want the product to remain accessible, but we rely on donations in order to continue our work. Thank you!

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