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Home » Judaica » The Tefillin

The Tefillin

Written by Zev on April 13, 2009 – 1:54 pm -

Tefillin

The donning of Tefillin represents for Jewish people probably the most sacred and important tie that binds them to their religion and God. They have been worn by Jews for thousands of years. In the early Talmudic times, they were worn all day. However in modern Judaism they are only worn during morning prayers.

The Tefillin consists of two cube-shaped leather boxes – one worn on the head and the other on the arm. Tefillin have leather straps that are fixed to them to allow them to be wound around the head and the arm. The tefillin’s black boxes are known in Hebrew as batim or ‘houses’ in English. The boxes contain four Pentateuch passages.

According to the Torah, Tefillin are worn to remind Jews that God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt.

Requirements for a Kosher Tefillin

The writing inside the boxes must be kosher and follow the finer points of Jewish law, particularly as relating to kashrut. Great importance is placed on ensuring that the black leather straps of the Tefillin are made from the hide of kosher animals. In order to retain the tefillin’s kashrut, the written passages inside the boxes must be examined by a scribe at least once every three years to ensure that it contains no broken letters or that the parchment is wholly intact.

The Torah lays down several requirements that a set of tefillin must be produced according to, in order for them to be regarded as kosher. They run as follows:

  •  The scrolls must be made of parchment and written with ink.
  •  The tefillin boxes as well as their stitches must be perfectly square shaped.
  •  The Hebrew letter shin must be embossed on the right and left side of the head-tefillin
  •  The scrolls must be wrapped in a strip of cloth.
  •  The scrolls bound with kosher animal hair.
  •  The stitching must be kosher animal sinew.
  •  A “passageway” must be made for the strap to pass through.
  •  The straps must be black and should be knotted in the form of the Hebrew letter dalet.

 

Tefillin box packed neatly

Each of the tefillin contain the same four passages, which are hand written in Hebrew. In the teffilin worn on the prayers hand or forearm to be more exact, all four passages are inserted into the black box, which has no compartments. In the tefillin worn on the forehead, there are actually four compartments, one for each of the passages.

The four Torah passages contained in the tefillin are:

  •  Exodus 13: 1-10; 2.
  •  Exodus 13: 11-16; 3.
  •  Deuteronomy 6: 4-9; 4.
  •  Deuteronomy 11: 12-21.

How To Wear The Tefillin 

As is prescribed in the Torah, the procedure for donning tefillin has to be very strictly adhered to. First of all the teffilin to be worn on the hand should be removed from the special bag or purse where they are stored. They should be wrapped around the arm seven times while the wearer recites the prayer ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast hallowed us by Thy commandments, and hast commanded us to put on the tefillin.’

The next stage is that the head tefillin be then taken out of the bag, placed on the head, while the next prayer is recited: ‘Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast hallowed us by Thy commandments and hast given us command concerning the precept of tefillin.’

Only when the prayer is completed can the wearer begin to tighten the straps around his head so that they cube or bayit is situated in the middle of the prayer’s forehead, and just below the hairline.

Lastly the wearer wraps the strap of the hand tefillin three times around their middle finger while the following verse is recited: ‘And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgement, and in loving-kindness, and in mercy: I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.’

The Tefillin in Society

From the earliest periods of Judaism, the passages contained within the Tefillin were learned and studied by Torah scholars, and the significance of wearing these boxes on their head and their arm were explained to all Jewish males and females upon their coming of age. Every Jewish male who celebrates a Bar mitzvah will have been called upon to don their Tefillin for the very first time

Israeli Soldier wearing tallit, saying daily prayers

In modern Judaism, men wear their tefillin for morning prayers wherever they happen to be. In Israel, for example, there can be no more moving scene than a group of soldiers praying around their tank as the sun rises, reminding us all that Jewish tradition endures all and will continue to do so for time immemorial.

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