Research Suggests Preference for Rabeinu Tam Tefillin Is Genetic
LONDON, ENGLAND — [TheKnish.com] Medical researchers at the Psychiatric Research Institute at Kings College (PRIKC) in London announced findings this week that suggest a genetic basis for the preference of a minority of Orthodox Jews for Rabeinu Tam t’fillin over their Rashi counterparts. This is the latest study that attempts to settle the debate over whether the inclination for wearing Rabeinu Tam t’fillin is a genetically “pre-programmed” disposition or a learned behavior.
The findings are the result of a long term population study of Orthodox Jews from the British neighborhoods of Golders Green (modern), Hendon (traditional) and Gateshead (ultra). The study tracked the behaviors of males educated in religious private schools from the age of five though the age of 25 and compared behaviors between the three communities. Across the groups, 7%, 6%, and 8% respectively adopted Rabeinu Tam t’fillin. The implication is that despite varying backgrounds and geographies, a consistent percentage of orthodox men are drawn to such “alternative behavior.”
A team led by Sir Christopher Goldberg, dean of the Institute’s Behavioural Studies Department, conducted the research. According to Sir Goldberg, “We were very much surprised at the intensity of the linkage proven by the data. Blimey – I used to beat up my own brother for wearing Rabeinu Tams. I never knew!”
As a contrast, the study noted much wider variations in other alternative behaviors. For example, 10% of men observed in Golders Green, 8% in Hendon, and 3% in Gateshead became secular by age 25. And across the same communities, 6%, 4%, and 11%, respectively, became gay.
Much of the worldwide Orthodox Rabeinu-Tam-Wearing community has welcomed the new findings. “Most Rabeinu Tam wearers I know have always felt somehow unnatural putting on Rashi [t’fillin], though it was the only t’fillin they had ever known.” said Rabbi Gedaliah Freilich, President of North American Man Boy T’fillin Association (NAMBTA). “And I will tell you,” Rabbi Freilich added, “there is no greater geshmak than introducing someone to Rabeinu Tam t’fillin for the first time, especially if they are bar mitzvah age!”
Buck Schwarz grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and never met a Rabeinu Tam wearer in his life. But at the age of 14, upon moving into a yeshiva dormitory, he could not wait to try on a set of Rabeinu Tam t’fillin. As fate would have it, his yeshiva roommate was quick to oblige. Upon returning home, he secretly put on Rabeinu Tam t’fillin for five years before coming out of the closet. “Look, I am aware that not everyone accepts what we do, not my Rebbe or even my friends. Some really took offense when I offered that they try it with me.”
Another story is that of Nachum K. of Boro Park, Brooklyn. Nachum donned Rashi t’fillin for 35 years before he first experienced the Rabeinu Tam version. “I look back on my life of wearing only Rashi T’fillin as somehow incomplete,” said Nachum. “All those wasted years of davening. I was living a lie.”
Yet not everyone is comfortable with the research findings. Some scholars suggest that the attraction to Rabeinu Tam t’fillin is not genetic, but is the result of an early trauma, such as an abusive Rebbe. Others suggest a breakdown in traditional rabbinic authority leading to behavior outside the “accepted social norm.”
Next month, the Kings College Institute of Psychiatry is expected to release findings on the link between real hair shaitels and mental illness.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein is a part time free-lance journalist and the full time Rosheshiva (dean) of Yeshiva Chipass Emmess. He is currently under investigation for having his daughter’s boyfriend beaten up. He may be reached through his Yeshiva's website at: http://www.geocities.com/npoj8/
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