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Women’s Exemption from Shema and Tefillin and How These Rituals Came to be Viewed as Torah Study 1

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Abstract This article argues that the rabbis exempted women from Shema and tefillin because the rabbis understood these rituals to be forms of Torah study, from which women were already known to be exempt. Though the dominant scholarly position regards the Shema as a liturgical affirmation of key doctrinal commitments, this article demonstrates that performance of these rituals was also a means of internalizing the biblical text. As such, these rituals had much in common with Torah study, which was also a means of internalizing the biblical text. The article makes this argument by examining Second Temple sources which cite, paraphrase, or allude to the Shema verses. Where Second Temple sources engage the verses of ritual instruction, they regard the rituals as a means of internalizing various commitments (justice, the nature of God, divine beneficence). Against this backdrop, it becomes clear that for the rabbis too these rituals were a means of internalizing something: biblical scripture.

Affiliations: 1: University of Virginia, Department of Religious Studies PO Box 400126, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4126 USA


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