Tefillin Barbie Tries a New Siddur

Soferet [scribe] Jen Taylor Friedman uses her scribal arts to create a variety of ritual items: ketubot [marriage certificates]; scrolls of the Book of Esther; scrolls to be used in mezuzot [doorpost markers] and tefillin [ritual boxes bound to arm and head]; as well as complete sets of tefillin. In 2007, she became the first woman we know to have completed a full Torah scroll. (More about female scribes)

UPDATE: An earlier version of this blog listed vegetarian tefillin among HaSoferet offerings. This was in error. Apologies. See discussion and comments below.

Barbie_ArrivedSince 2006, Taylor Friedman has also been providing mini-tallitot [prayer shawls] and tiny tefillin for Barbie® dolls.

One of these “Tefillin Barbies” recently traveled from Montreal to Washington, DC.

DC Tefillin Barbie arrived with a volume of the Babylonian Talmud in her hand. Seems she was studying something in Yebamot. This tractate focuses on marriage of a widow to her brother-in-law, but I believe Barbie may have been exploring passages, which appear near the beginning of the volume (4b, 5b), about tying of tzitzit, ritual fringes.

Study vs. Prayer

Early critics of Tefillin Barbie argued that, because tefillin are donned for prayer, Barbie ought to have a prayerbook in her hand, not a Talmud volume; some also criticized the particular edition of the Talmud she uses. (See, e.g., DovBear; more below).

In response, Taylor Friedman’s website now explains that Barbie is engaged in “daf-yomi” [page a day] study of the Talmud. (This practice requires seven years of daily discipline to complete. Some women in Israel and in the U.S. engage in this study, but it is usually considered a male enterprise; in addition it’s usually considered an orthodox practice, although non-Orthodox Jews also participate.) She adds:

Barbie is hardcore, see? She’s taking daf-yomi shiur before minyan starts, telling you that she’s sorry you don’t get that Tosafot but we don’t have time to get into it right now and she’ll go through it with you if you can stay afterwards.

Perhaps a real hardcore Barbie fan might get a whole set of mini-Talmud volumes, so she is carrying the right volume for any particular day of the seven-year Daf-Yomi cycle: For example, she’d be starting Moed Katan/Hagiga [Minor Feast/Festival Offerings] today (8/13/14). But I’m pretty sure DC Tefillin Barbie downloads her learning off the internet or uses a local library volume.

Meanwhile, having been warned “that tallit and tefillin are not designed to come off, and that this is a collector Barbie, not a toy suitable for small children,” I assumed Barbie might be pretty set in her ways. But when she arrived, I realized that she was, in fact, a Barbie doll…

Barbie Expands Horizons

…I had limited experience with Barbie® as a child. I remember an off-brand doll whose hair grew (into a hopeless tangle) but for whom my aunt-godmother crafted some amazing outfits. I recall long weeks hoping to receive a Skipper (or maybe Scooter?) for a birthday — Skipper® will soon be 50 years old, BTW. But I have far more vivid memories of the house, created by my older sister (now an architect, BTW) from a terrific complex of cardboard boxes. Ours was a hats-from-bottle-caps kind of neighborhood, and I never saw a “collector” Barbie. So, it wasn’t long before….

“let’s see if she can let go of this Talmud…oops…OK, this volume needs a new back cover!”

Kippah Barbie“hmm, that tefillin knot doesn’t look like the one I’m used to — if I just unglue this…and retie this…”

“Where’s her kippah?” Original Tefillin Barbie covered her hair — which many distinguish from covering the head — but this one (see arrival photo above) was bare-headed.


shoesKinky_boots“Those traveling shoes seem more appropriate to the set of Kinky Boots — not that the gender and dress themes of the movie are irrelevant here — than a simple Shacharit.”

Finally: “How about adopting custom of the place, praying from the independent, egalitarian siddur used in this house?”


DCTefillinBarbieThe result: DC Tefillin Barbie has just set aside her Talmud, adjusted her head tefillin and donned a kippah, switched to more sensible shoes, and is now using Siddur Eit Ratzon.

NOTE: If you want to preserve your collector doll, don’t try this at home! And if you prefer for HaSoferet to create a doll to your specifications, she accepts commissions.

But if your Barbie is used to making do and trying new things, why not expand her horizons?

Barbie Has Choices

The HaSoferet website includes a discussion entitled, “Should All Barbies Wear Tefillin?

Jewish Women’s Archives offers a “Go and Learn” post, “Tefillin Barbie: Considering Gender and Ritual Garb.” In it, Barbie creator Ruth Handler is quoted as follows:

My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices.

The article concludes:

…whether you see tefillin Barbie as an empowering figure or a satirical one, she is undoubtedly a provocative starting point for communal discussion.

Re-reading DovBear’s 2006 complaint (link above)– “I don’t like the idea of Barbie being depicted as one of those self-important Brooklyn man [sic] who make a point of studying talmud during prayer” — I am struck by so many layers of irony that it would require a thesis-type response to explore them fully. Most immediate, however, is the idea of complaining about a Barbie’s dress and accessories instead of changing them. I am guessing that this author’s experience with Barbie is even more limited than mine, and I realize that not everyone wants to buy a doll in order to engage in this conversation. But a central aspect of the hats-from-bottle-caps Barbiehood of my youth is this: If what you see does not suit your experience or your imagination, change things.

Conversation Continues

It took me eight years to decide to invest in Tefillin Barbie. And I did not originally intend to alter her appearance at all. It was only after she arrived that I realized I would not be a passive participant in this art — or is it play? — project.

I hope that DC Tefillan Barbie — now slightly less stylish (more frump than frum, perhaps) and rather more havurah-ish than on arrival — helps to further a number of related conversations.

— with gratitude to Soferet Jen Taylor Friedman

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Virginia blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day. Manages WeLuvBooks.org. CommunitythruCovid.com is on hiatus.

3 thoughts on “Tefillin Barbie Tries a New Siddur”

  1. In this season of such despair from news of the world it’s a mitzvah that you bring more than a moment of joy with this — and balance tale and teaching and tone so artfully. Toda/Kol Hakavod.

  2. I love when people give their Tefillin Barbies a life.

    You’re right about the shoes. I don’t have daughters, so I’m not really plugged into where to buy appropriate shoes–I use whatever shoes come with the dolls I buy, and yeah, sometimes they aren’t exactly shul-appropriate. But didn’t you ever go to shul in wellies under your long skirt and feel gleeful that no-one could see them? :)

    I actually am going to make a full set of Talmuds for Barbies, just as soon as I get time to scan all the covers. Like you, I think it would be a super accessory for any self-respecting Barbie.

    And I love that you retied the tefillin knot. I don’t usually take the time to do them authentically, because most people don’t seem to care.

    And she would totally use an egal siddur, but I have a feeling she might be the kind of person who basically has weekday davening memorised and learns Talmud during kaddish :)

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