College students design tefillin for women .
(photo credit: TUT SAGI)
Students from the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan have created tefillin for women as part of a workshop called The Manipulative Past in the institute’s third annual Concoction Week taking place this week.
Three students – Tut Sagi, a student in the college’s department for multidisciplinary art, Avior Tzvi of the department of plastics engineering, and Valeria Simhovitz from the department of design and fashion – collaborated on the project.
Tefillin are a set of two black boxes made of hardened leather which in Jewish law are supposed to be worn by Jewish men every day during the morning prayer service.
The requirement for the workshop was to take a handmade item from ancient technology, games or tradition and to transform it into something of the present or future. Most of the participants chose to recreate an ancient game, piece of jewelry or form of technological development, from the field of games, but Sagi, Tzvi and Simhovitz decided to take something from the realm of tradition, “something that has existed for many years and is still very relevant today.”
The students noted that today tefillin are still made by hand, and so decided to try to integrate handmade work with modern technology that would be possible to engineer on a computer when designing their tefillin.
“The decision to appeal specifically to women was a feminist statement and also a concrete statement that there are women in the world who wear tefillin – and this project is for them,” said Sagi.
“We decided only to make the hand tefillin, which is supposed to concentrate the heart and which, in our opinion, is more fitting for women, since ritual objects for women should fit the depths of the female world,” she continued.
Sagi said that the group undertook the project “through love and dedication to Jewish tradition and not out of any desire for destruction or defiance, but rather as an attempt to renew and create a modern, Jewish feminist dialogue that respects tradition and that seeks to unite and integrate and not to disengage.”
Because they were designing tefillin for women, they chose to depart from the traditional black color used for the religious item, and also elected to design a less square and angular object, in favor of something with less severe lines and corners.
And instead of inserting parchment with the traditional excerpts from the Torah, which according to Jewish law must be placed into the tefillin for them to be used in prayer, the students minted metal discs with the names of prominent women from the Bible, including that of the Prophet Debora, Esther, whose exploits are celebrated during the holiday of Purim, and Yael, whom the Book of Judges records as having slain Sisera, the commander of a Canaanite army.
All third-year students from the college’s faculties of design and engineering are participating in a range of workshops which connect different fields and disciplines.