I feel drawn to the practice of wrapping tefillin. . . .really drawn. . . the kind of drawn that my New Age friends would call a past life calling. I have a hard time letting the idea go.
The complicating factor is that I'm a vegan. I became an ovo-lacto vegetarian when I was 14. I've been a vegan for two and half years. I do have some left over wool. There's some second-hand leather jewelry that I inherited. I don't maintain the level of super-ethical vegan purity that Alex maintains. He will not eat anything that could have white sugar in it because white sugar is processed with charred animal bones. A year ago, he said that he would try to carve me some vegan tefillin. Now Alex is willing to admit that he doesn't have the time or the skill to carve the tefillin boxes we imagined (inspired by someone else's vision that we found online). We've talked about it, and he feels as though he could be comfortable with second-hand tefillin in our home. Sometimes I feel resigned and eager to get my second-hand . . . but then I do a search on "vegan tefillin" and I realize that there are a surprising number of people who are interested in vegan tefillin. We don't care if it is halakhically correct. We just feel a need to perform the ritual. These die-hard vegans resist the second-hand tefillin option.
This attraction to tefillin has been an interesting challenge to my vegetarianism. I find myself more accepting of long-lasting ritual objects that are made from animal products. I don't believe that the suffering of animals should be worked into the systems of our everyday lives. I won't eat animal products (unless my health or the health of a potential child is at risk). I don't want to support factory farming, but I don't know if I would as quick as I would have been in the past to say that Torah scrolls should not be made of parchment.
I've also learned more about my relationship to halakhah. I'm attracted to rituals, but I don't feel bound to halakhah. My own conscience and personal beliefs have more sway. That's not a perspective I consciously established for myself. Maybe it is because I didn't grow up feeling bound to Jewish law. My desire to wrap tefillin is a desire to use a ritual action to express what is within me. It is not out of a desire to live halakhically because of a belief in something divine behind Jewish law. When I follow halakha it is because it is a mindful action that seems to best suit what my soul is struggling to express. (On an intellectual level, I can enthusiastically believe and make arguments about history, continuity, and living sacred tests, but that's not my deepest motivation.) My vegetarianism comes from somewhere deep inside. It is a part of me that is one of the first authentically "me" parts of who I am. I am much more propelled by that kind of intuition. I realize that my desire to take on this acts of ritual observance may be offensive to traditionally halakhic Jews.
Tonight I continued my internet searching on the topic of tefillin. I also emailed my rabbi and asked her the following:
1. Is it possible to get second-hand tefillin? Is so, where?
2. Are cows killed for tefillin used for food?
I'm sure that I'll write more about this in the future.