A set of tefillin includes the arm-tefillin (left)
|Halakhic texts relating to this article:|
|Torah:||Exodus 13:9 • Deuteronomy 6:8 • Deuteronomy 11:18|
|Babylonian Talmud:||Zevachim 37b • Sanhedrin 4b • Menachot 34b • Kiddushin 36a|
|Mishneh Torah:||Tefillin, Mezuzah, veSefer Torah ch 5-6|
|Shulchan Aruch:||Orach Chayim 25-48|
|* Not meant as a definitive ruling. Some observances may be rabbinical, custom or Torah-based.|
Tefillin (Askhenazic: //; Israeli Hebrew: [tfiˈlin], תפילין) also called phylacteries (// from Ancient Greek phylacterion, form of phylássein, φυλάσσειν meaning "to guard, protect") are a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which are worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. Although "tefillin" is technically the plural form (the singular being "tefillah"), it is loosely used as a singular as well. The hand-tefillin, or shel yad, is placed on the upper arm, and the strap wrapped around the arm, hand and fingers; while the head-tefillin, or shel rosh, is placed above the forehead. The Torah commands that they should be worn to serve as a "sign" and "remembrance" that God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt.
The scriptural texts for tefillin are obscure in literal meaning. For example, the verse in Deut. 11:18 does not designate what specifically to "bind upon your arm," and the definition of totafot is not obvious. It is the Talmud, the authoritative oral tradition for Rabbinic Judaism, which explains what are to be bound to the body and the form of tefillin.
And it shall be for a sign for you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand did the LORD bring you out of Egypt.—Exodus 13:9
And it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and as totafot between your eyes; for with a mighty hand did the LORD bring us forth out of Egypt.—Exodus 13:16
and twice in the shema passages:
And you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes.—Deuteronomy 6:8
You shall put these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall tie them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes.—Deuteronomy 11:18
The ultimate origin of Hebrew "tefillin" is uncertain. The word "tefillin" is not found in the Bible, which calls them ṭoṭafot. The Septuagint renders "ṭoṭafot" ἀσαλευτόν, "something immovable." Some believe it refers to a charm, similar to the Hebrew neṭifot, "round jewel." The Talmud (Sanhedrin 4b) explains that the word ṭoṭafot is combination of two foreign words: Tot means "two" in the "Caspi" language and Fot means "two" in the "Afriki" language, hence tot and fot means "two and two", corresponding to the four compartments of the head-tefillin. Menahem ben Saruq explains that the word is derived from the Hebrew Ve'hateif and Tatifoo, both expressions meaning "speech", "for when one sees the tefillin it causes him to remember and speak about The Exodus from Egypt."
The first texts to use "tefillin" are the Targumim and Peshitta and it is also used in subsequent Talmudic literature, although the word "ṭoṭafah" was still current, being used with the meaning of "frontlet." "Tefillin" may have derived from the Aramaic palal, "to plead, pray," a word closely related to the Hebrew tefillah, "prayer." Jacob ben Asher (14th century) suggests that "tefillin" is derived from the Hebrew pelilah, "justice, evidence," for tefillin act as a sign and proof of God's presence among the Jewish people.
The only instance of the name "phylacteries" in ancient times occurs once in the Greek New Testament whence it has passed into the languages of Europe. "Phylacteries" derives from the Greek phulaktērion - φυλακτήριον, "defences," and in late Greek, "amulets" or "charms." Neither Aquila nor Symmachus use the word "phylacteries."
The tefillin are to serve as a reminder of God's intervention at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. Maimonides details of the sanctity of tefillin and writes that "as long as the tefillin are on the head and on the arm of a man, he is modest and God-fearing and will not be attracted by hilarity or idle talk; he will have no evil thoughts, but will devote all his thoughts to truth and righteousness." The Sefer ha-Chinuch (14th century) adds that the purpose of tefillin is to help subjugate a person's worldly desires and encourage spiritual development. Joseph Caro (16th century) explains that tefillin are placed on the arm adjacent to the heart and on the head above the brain to demonstrate that these two major organs are willing to perform the service of God.
Manufacture and contents
The manufacturing process of both the boxes and the parchment scrolls are intricate and governed by hundreds of detailed rules. In earlier Talmudic times, tefillin were either cylindrical or cubical, but later the cylindrical form became obsolete. Nowadays the boxes should be fashioned from a single piece of animal hide and form a base with an upper compartment to contain the parchment scrolls. They are made in varying levels of quality. The most basic form, called peshutim ("simple"), are made using several pieces of parchment to form the inner walls of the head tefillin. The higher quality tefillin, namely dakkot ("thin"), made by stretching a thin piece of leather, and the more durable gassot ("thick") are both fashioned from the single piece of hide. Black leather straps (retsu'ot) pass through the rear of the base and are used to secure the tefillin onto the body. On both sides of the head-tefillin, the Hebrew letter shin (ש) is moulded. The knot of the head-tefillin strap forms the letter dalet (ד) or double dalet (ד) (known as the square-knot) while the strap that is passed through the arm-tefillin is formed into a knot in the shape of the letter yud (י). These three letters spell Shaddai (שדי), one of the names of God.
Four biblical passages which refer to the tefillin are placed inside the leather boxes. (Click HERE for an explanation of their content and placement). They are written by a scribe with special ink on parchment scrolls (klaf). The Hebrew Ashuri script must be and there are three main styles of lettering used: Beis Yosef – generally used by Ashkenazim; Arizal – generally used by Hasidim; Velish – used by Sefardim. The passages contain 3,188 letters usually take between 10–15 hours to complete. The arm-tefillin has one large compartment, which contains all four biblical passages written upon a single strip of parchment. The head-tefillin has four separate compartments in each of which one scroll of parchment is placed.
There was considerable discussion among the commentators of the Talmud as to the order in which the scrolls should be inserted into the four compartments of the head-tefillin. In the Middle Ages, a famous debate on the issue was recorded between Rashi and his grandson Rabbeinu Tam. Rashi held that the passages are placed according to the chronological order as they appear in the Torah: Kadesh Li, Ve-haya Ki Yeviehcha, Shema, Ve-haya Im Shemoa, while according to Rabbeinu Tam, the last two passages are switched around. Sets of tefillin dating from the 1st-century CE discovered at Qumran in the Judean Desert revealed that some were made according to the order understood by Rashi and others in the order of Rabbeinu Tam. The prevailing custom is to arrange the scrolls according to Rashi's view, but some pious Jews are also accustomed to briefly lay the teffilin of Rabbeinu Tam as well, a custom adopted by the Hasidim. The placement of the protrusion of a tuft of the sinew (se'ar eigel) identifies as to which opinion the tefillin were written. The Vilna Gaon, who wore the tefillin of Rashi, rejected the stringency of also laying Rabbeinu Tam, pointing out that there were sixty-four permutations for the arrangement of the tefillin scrolls.
The duty of laying tefillin rests upon males after the age of thirteen years. Although women are exempt from the obligation, some early codifers allowed them to do so. Moses Isserles (16th century), however, strongly discourages it. Historically, the mitzvah of tefillin was not performed by women, but the ritual was apparently kept by some women in medieval France and Germany. Traditions exist of some prominent women laying tefillin and the idea is gaining a following among women affiliated to the Conservative movement.
Others who are not obliged to lay tefllin include a mourner during the first day of his mourning period, a bridegroom on his wedding-day. A sufferer from stomach-trouble or one who is otherwise in pain and can not concentrate his mind is also exempt. One who is engaged in the study of the Law and scribes of and dealers in tefillin and mezuzot while engaged in their work if it can not be postponed, are also free from this obligation.
The codes view the commandment of tefillin as important and call those who neglect to observe it "transgressors." Maimonides counts the commandment of laying the arm-tefillin and head-tefillin as two separate positive mitzvot. The Talmud cites Rav Sheshet who said that by neglecting the precept, one transgresses eight positive commandments. A report of widespread laxity in its observance is reported by Moses of Coucy in 13th century Spain. It may have arisen from the fear of persecution, similar to what had occurred to the Jews living in the Land of Israel under Roman rule in the 2nd-century.
Originally tefillin were worn all day, but not during the night. Nowadays the prevailing custom is to wear them only during the weekday morning service, although some individuals wear them at other times during the day as well.
Tefillin are not donned on Shabbat and the major festivals because these holy days are themselves considered "signs" which render the need of the "sign" of tefillin superfluous. On Chol HaMoed (intermediate days) of Pesach and Sukkot, there is a great debate among the early halachic authorities as to whether tefillin should be worn or not. Those who forbid it consider the "sign" of intermediate days as having the same status as the festival itself, making the ritual of tefillin redundant. Others argue and hold that Chol HaMoed does not constitute a "sign" in which case tefillin must be laid. Three customs evolved resulting from the dispute:
- To refrain from wearing tefillin: This ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is based on kabbalah and the Zohar which strongly advocate refraining from laying tefillin on Chol HaMoed. This position is maintained by Sephardic Jews and is also the opinion of the Vilna Gaon whose ruling has been universally accepted in Israel.
- To wear tefillin without reciting the blessings: This is the opinion of, among others, Jacob ben Asher, Moses of Coucy and David HaLevi Segal. The advantage of this compromise is that one avoids the transgressions of either not donning tefillin or making a blessing in vain.
- To wear tefillin and recite the blessings in an undertone: This opinion, based on Maimonides, is the ruling of Moses Isserles who writes that this is the universally accepted practice among Ashkenazic Jews.
In light of the conflicting opinions, the Mishna Berura (20th-century) recommends Ashkenazim make the following stipulation before donning tefillin: "If I am obligated to don tefillin I intend to fulfill my obligation and if I am not obligated to don tefillin, my doing so should not be considered as fulfilling any obligation" and that the blessing not be recited.
On the fast day of Tisha B'Av, tefillin are not worn in the morning as tefillin are considered an "adornment", symbols of beauty, which is deemed inappropriate for a day of mourning. They are worn instead at the afternoon Mincha service. There are those however who have a Custom(Jews from Allepo,Syria) on Tisha B'Ab to privately put on tefillin at home and pray privately, say the Amida and take off the tefilin and go to synagogue to finish the prayers.
How to put on tefillin
Ashkenazim put on and remove the tefillin while standing, while Sephardim do so while sitting. It is forbidden to speak or be distracted while putting on the tefillin. An Ashkenazi says two blessings when laying tefillin, the first before he ties the arm-tefillin: ...lehani'ach tefillin, and the second after placing the head tefillin: ...al mitzvat tefillin, thereafter he tightens the head straps and says "Baruch Shem Kovod...." The Sephardic custom is that no blessing is said for the head-tefillin, the first blessing sufficing for both. Many members of the Chabad Orthodox movement only recite the blessing on the Head-Tefillah if they spoke about something not related to tefillin since reciting the blessing on the Hand-Tefillah.(this is also the Sephardic custom).
The arm-tefillin is laid on the inner side of the bare left arm, two finger breadths above the elbow, so that when the arm is bent the tefillin faces towards the heart. If one is left-handed, it is placed on the right arm in the same place. After the blessing is said, the arm-tefillin is tightened, and the strap wound seven times round the arm. Then the head-tefillin is placed on the middle of the head just above the forehead, so that no parts rests below the hairline. The knot of the head-tefillin sits at the back of the head, upon the part of the occipital bone that protrudes just above the nape, directly opposite the optic chiasm. The two straps of the head-tefillin are brought in front of the shoulders, with their blackened side facing outwards. Now the remainder of the arm-tefillin straps are wound three times around the middle finger and around the hand to form the shape of the Hebrew letter of either a shin (ש) according to Ashkenazim, or a dalet (ד) according to Sephardim. There are various customs regarding winding the strap on the arm and hand. In fact, the arm strap is looped for clockwise wrapping with Ashkenazi tefillin while it is knotted for counter clockwise wrapping with Sephardic and Chabad tefillin. On removing the tefillin, the steps are reversed.
- Steinmetz, Sol (2005). Dictionary of Jewish usage: a guide to the use of Jewish terms. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-7425-4387-4.
- Phylacteries, Jewish Encyclopedia (1906).
- Sol Steinmetz (August 2005). Dictionary of Jewish usage: a guide to the use of Jewish terms. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 165. ISBN 978-0-7425-4387-4. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
- The Targum often substitutes the word Afriki for Tarshish, see Kings I 10:22
- Exodus 13:16, s.v. U'letotafot bein ei'neicha
- Rashi to Exodus 13:16, s.v. U'letotafot bein ei'neicha
- Dovid Meisels; Avraham Yaakov Finkel (30 April 2004). Bar mitzvah and tefillin secrets: the mysteries revealed. Dovid D. Meisels. p. 133. ISBN 978-1-931681-56-8. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
- The Cambridge Bible for schools and colleges. University press. 1908. p. 175. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
- Abraham P. Bloch (1980). The Biblical and historical background of Jewish customs and ceremonies. KTAV Publishing House, Inc. pp. 78–80. ISBN 978-0-87068-658-0. Retrieved 1 July 2011.
- Tefillin, Mezuzah, ve'Sefer Torah ch 5-6.
- Stephen Bailey (15 June 2000). Kashrut, tefillin, tzitzit: studies in the purpose and meaning of symbolic mitzvot inspired by the commentaries of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Jason Aronson. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-7657-6106-4. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
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- Maimonides, Hilkhot Tzitzit 3:9; Rashba Teshuva 123; Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 421; Rabbenu Tam. See Grossman, Avraham (2004). Pious and Rebellious - Jewish Women in Medieval Europe. Brandeis Univ.
- Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim, 38:3. See also Targum Yerushalmi on Deuteronomy 22:5.
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- Rashi's daughters allegedly wore tefillin, as did the wife of Chaim ibn Attar and the female Hasidic Rebbe known as Maiden of Ludmir. http://www.beki.org/womentefillin.html
- Women and Tefillin : The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism (USCJ)
- Isaac David Essrig (1932). The fountain of wisdom. p. 18. Retrieved 1 July 2011.
- Menahot 44a
- Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 37:2
- Jachter, Howard (April 7, 2001). "Tefillin on Hol Hamoed". Kol Torah: Torah Academy of Bergen County.
- Mishna Berura 31:8
- Hayim Donin (1991). To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life. Basic Books. p. 265. ISBN 978-0-465-08632-0. Retrieved 1 July 2011.
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- Louis Jacobs (1 June 1987). The book of Jewish practice. Behrman House, Inc. p. 35. ISBN 978-0-87441-460-8. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
- Michael L. Munk (April 1983). The wisdom in the Hebrew alphabet: the sacred letters as a guide to Jewish deed and thought. Mesorah Publications. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-89906-193-1. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
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