Tefillin Barbie: Body Image and Gender Roles in Judaism
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Tefillin Barbie: Body Image and Gender Roles in Judaism

grades:  Middle School (6-8) 

Lesson Summary:

Do women in your community wear tefillin and tallit when they pray? Do you? For many, the relationship between gender and ritual garb is still evolving, as Jews consider their personal and communal associations with these objects and practices. This Go & Learn guide from the Jewish Women s Archive uses the provocative image of "Tefillin Barbie"—created in 2006 by soferet (ritual scribe) Jen Taylor Friedman—to explore issues of gender, ritual, and body image.

Enduring Understandings:

  1. Identity is complex and defined on many different levels. 
  2. In Judaism, religious and cultural traditions are often dictated by aspects of identity such as age and gender. 
  3. People have the power to shape their own identities and the traditions in their communities.

Essential Questions:

  1. What elements make up one s identity? 
  2. How do people express their beliefs? 
  3. How does society impact individuals identities or self-perceptions? 
  4. Who should define what is beautiful or what "looks right?"

Be Inspired:The ideas included are offered as starting points as you and your students explore, discover and live the lessons. Be sure to elicit and encourage student and parent participation, consistently reinforcing the value being addressed. Allow lessons to authentically develop and change based on engagement and interests.

Lesson Plan Components

For the educatorJewish Thought, Text, and Traditionsmore

Jewish every dayIncorporate Jewish Valuesmore

Materials and resourcesmore


(accessible via link below, in "procedure" section)

  • Copies of photo of Tefillin Barbie
  • copies of excerpt from Ruth Handler s obituary
  • projector and computer to play "Onslaught" short film
  • four signs (“Strongly Agree,” “Somewhat Agree,” “Somewhat Disagree,” “Strongly Disagree”)
  • paper dolls, fashion magazine, images of Jewish ritual objects),


Explore, Discover, and More Extension and Reinforcement Activitiesmore

Music Connectionsmore

Evidence of Learningmore

  • Students will know that norms around appearance are shaped by culture and society, not only by an individual s feelings or identity. 
  • Students will be able to explain how external appearance is related to power and achieving one s goals. 
  • Students will be able to identify moments or experiences in their own lives where their identities have aligned or conflicted with the norms defined by larger society or community.


Lesson Contributors

The Jewish Women’s Archive is a national public history organization dedicated to telling the stories of Jewish women and inspiring change and inclusivity in communities everywhere. The collections and encyclopedia on jwa.org invite learners of all ages to connect with role models from history and today. Nearly 100 lesson plans for kids, families, and adults help Jewish educators weave stories about identity and activism into programs about Jewish values, holidays, and ritual. And, JWA’s professional development programs and trainings encourage educators to connect with one another to create new ways of engaging the communities they serve. As we say at JWA, “You cannot be what you cannot see,” so check us out anytime, anywhere, at jwa.org.