I wish to preface that I know that there are various concerns both pro and against women wearing tefillin, and for some, this is a "hot" issue. For purposes of my question, please dispel personal bias, if you can, and answer only as it relates to the concern / reason, here.

Tosfot in Eruvin 96a (excerpt):

ונראה לפרש דטעמא למ"ד דלא הוי רשות משום דתפילין צריכין גוף נקי ונשים אין זריזות ליזהר

My translation (please edit if inaccurate):

It seems that the according to the one that states that it (mitzvah of tefillin) is not optional, states this because the wearing of tefillin requires a clean body, and women are not fastidious (regarding this).

Refer also to Yam Shel Shlomo Kiddushin 1:64 (it's about midway in the right column where he explains the situation of Michal daughter of Saul who wore Tefillin). He states the same thing but adds that the reason the rabbis did not object to Michal wearing tefillin is that she was the daughter of a king, a highly righteous woman, and could not have children.

Neither commentary explains exactly what the real concern with women not being able to keep their body clean. Was it specifically related to menstruation / oozing blood, or were there other concerns? I'm, basically, trying to get an understanding of what the definition of "guf naki" really means, and what specifically would discourage women from being able to wear tefillin because of this problem.


2 Answers 2


I'll preface this ridiculously long answer by echoing the OP of answering with disinterest.

The Gemara only ever uses the term guf naki when discussing someone putting on tefillin. There are two main ways that the Talmudic sages and broader rabbinic literature have understood the term "a clean body":

As a Spiritual Condition

For the Meiri (Beit HaBechirah, Brakhot. 14b) the meaning of a "clean body" goes beyond physical issues (i.e., sleeping, dirtiness) to include a kind of spiritual cleanliness:

שהן צריכין גוף נקי מעבירות ומהרהורים ואין ראוי להניחם אלא לאחר התשובה וקצת חכמים נוהגים להניחם בימים שבין ר"ה ליום הכפורים אחר התשובה והטבילה והוודויין וכן הדבר נכון בעיני

...that they need a "clean body" from transgression and impure thoughts, and so it is not proper to put on tefillin until after one's repentance. And there was a custom for a few of the sages to put on tefillin during the Days of Awe (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) after repenting, immersing in a mikveh, and saying vidduy, and this is the proper way in my opinion.

This definition goes beyond Talmudic sages Abaye and Rava's interpretation that people wearing "tefillin require a clean body like Elisha, the man of wings" (Shabbat 49a), which they respectively understand to mean an avoidance of flatulence and sleep (the latter being a time when flatulence and other unclean states occur). For the Meiri, the story of Elisha would suggest that righteous people, or those who become righteous through proper repentance, are the kind of people fit for wearing tefillin.

According to the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo Kiddushin 1:64), this is part of why the sages did not protest Michal, the daughter of King Saul, because she was a "completely righteous person." For the Maharshal, then, having "a clean body" partly involves being a righteous person. Arukh HaShulchan (OC 38) similarly identifies "a clean body" as a physical, yet also spiritual, state, writing that Michal was righteous, and most women don't meet the requirements.

As a Physical Condition

Most rabbinic scholarship, however, understands "a clean body" in the simpler sense of meaning a tangible, physical condition of cleanliness, related to the standards of avoiding filth during the time of prayer. This follows the Talmudic understanding of the term, which implies a more achievable state for the individual. Regarding women, some have understood the problem with maintaining "a clean body" to be related to menstrual blood (cf. Maharam in Tashbetz 270). Such an argument appears to be about the issue of getting menstrual blood on the body, but this is hardly spelled out.

Instead, many poskim writing about women and tefillin, repeat Tosafot's wording that women "are not diligent about maintaining a clean body," without going into detail about what the problem entails (cf. Kol Bo 21; Eliyah Rabba OC 38:2; Mishnah Berurah OC 38:3, note 13).

Even though the nature of this cleanliness is seldom specified, some have written that this physical condition has to do with a cultural period of women being less hygienic than men. Eliyah Rabba, for example, writes:

ולי מסתבר דדורות אחרונים החמירו בזה, כי ראו שאין הנשים בזמן הזה זריזות כל כך, לכן החמירו למחות בכולן שלא יצא תקלה ממנו:

It seems to me that being stringent in the later generations [after the Talmudic era] has to do with the fact that women these days are not so diligent [about cleanliness], and this is why there is a stringency to protest their wearing tefillin.

This implies that women can potentially attain "a clean body," and Magen Avraham (OC 38:3) says as much:

מפני שצריכין גוף נקי ונשים אינם זריזות להזהר אבל אם היו חייבים לא היו פטורין מה"ט דהוי רמי אנפשייהו ומזדהרי כנ"ל דלא כע"ת

[We protest] because they need a clean body and women are not diligent about being careful. But if they were obligated to wear tefillin, they wouldn't be exempt for this reason. Rather, they would need to take the risk and be more careful [to maintain a clean body].


"A clean body" may mean some kind of spiritual requirement to be like Elisha (who was righteous enough to have miracle protect him from a Roman guard). If so, than this difficult-to-quantify level may be a further limiting factor for people already not obligated in the mitzvah. Alternatively, "a clean body" could be a general term for physical states of uncleanliness (e.g., flatulence, feces, etc.), and/or particular to women (i.e., menstrual blood on the body), which may hinder women from wearing tefillin because they were once, apparently, less diligent in its maintenance.

For practical application, CYLOR and perhaps, your personal hygienist.

  • 2
    I'm befuddled as to why you think your answer is "ridiculously long". I think it demonstrates good analysis, even if there is no definitive conclusive answer. Thanks for the effort and explanation.
    – DanF
    Aug 10, 2015 at 1:07
  • 1
    In the magen avraham, רמי אנפשייהו means "they would accept it upon themselves" or "apply themselves"
    – Mordechai
    Dec 29, 2020 at 18:50
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    I don't think the tashbetz can really be read as referring to mensural blood.. He writes "שאינן יודעות לשמור עצמן בטהרה", which clearly implies something that is theoretically within their control.
    – Mordechai
    Dec 29, 2020 at 20:54

that it is regarding flatulence

Tractate Shabbath 49A

R. Jannai said: Tefillin demand a pure body, like Elisha, the man of wings. What does this mean? — Abaye said: That one must not pass wind while wearing them; Raba said: That one must not sleep in them.

sleeping is easy but flatulence is a problem

shulchan aruch harav 28.5

the reason men do not wear teffilin all day is because they do not have a guf noki

and 36.2

not every man can be careful not to pass gas in them

the reason it is called guf noki maybe is because particles of feces getting suck to the body (why is flatulence forbidden in tefillin and during prayer)

i never saw that menstruation has to do with clean body

see mogen avrochom 38.3

מוחין כו'. מפני שצריכין גוף נקי ונשים אינם זריזות להזהר אבל אם היו חייבים לא היו פטורין מה"ט דהוי רמי אנפשייהו ומזדהרי כנ"ל דלא כע"ת:

where he says that it is because they are not careful to be watchful and that if they would have been obligated to wear them then this (not being careful of flatulence) will not be enough of a reason not to

but woman are anyway not obligated to wear them

Berakhot Chapter 3 mishna 3

Women, slaves, and minors are exempt from reciting Shema and from Tefillin ...

so better that they should not wear them, then maybe passing gas in them

ps (IMO this is since it is good for women not to be tense but relaxed (it is also better for the children))

i heard that their once was a time that even men stopped wearing teffilin since they where lazy from keeping their body clean (from passing gas), but the rabbis were against this.

  • 1
    Essentially, the point of the MA is that since women aren't obligated to put on the Tefillin, why risk it? Not: women are sloppy dirty creatures who can't control any of their bodily functions.
    – Double AA
    Aug 7, 2015 at 16:14
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    Please source your first sentence (the only one that directly answers the question).
    – Double AA
    Aug 7, 2015 at 16:15
  • I'm not seeing your relating the two aspects of your two quotes. The one in Brachot exempts women b/c of time-related mitzvoth, which is outside the scope of what I am asking, anyway. I think you need to support two ideas - 1) Guf naki means ONLY flatulence and 2) The fact that women are not careful about "guf naki" means that they flatulate more than men or that men are MORE careful than women. I don't see that concept implied from the above. (AFAIK, men & women have the same level of concern re flatulence.)
    – DanF
    Aug 7, 2015 at 16:17
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    "maybe it has to do with particles of feces getting suck to the body ". I'm uncertain if there is a M.Y. "protocol" regarding including an unanswered question to support your answer. Regardless, as it stands, this is currently, speculation. Cc @DoubleAA
    – DanF
    Aug 7, 2015 at 16:39
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    hazoriz, you have cited lots of sources that flatulence is a problem of guf naki, but none that specify that that's what Tosfos in the OP meant.
    – Double AA
    Aug 7, 2015 at 16:42

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