Category Archives: education

The Tefillin: what it is, how it is worn and what does it mean

The Tefillin: what it is, how it is worn and what does it mean

We have talked about many Jewish garments and traditions and what do they mean for the Jewish community.

This time we are going to take a look at the Tefillin. Yosef Meystel took the time to do a little research on the topic and here is what he found.

Tefillin are a set of black leather boxes that have inside what Jewish people call the Hebrew parchment scrolls. There are two parchment rolls, one is for the head and the other one is for the arm.

The tradition of wearing the Tefillin comes from the Torah that says that every Jewish man should use the Tefillin on their heads and around their arm from Monday to Friday. The verse that commands such garment to be worn is Deut. 6:8 “You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes.” Some Jews have described this mitzvah as to be powerful and life changing.

Since the Torah mentions the mitzvah of tefillin on 4 occasions and in a separate way, the texts make the Tefillin even more important. The passages in the Torah that refer to the tefillin talk about the unity of Gd, the miracles that god gave to the Jewish community in the moment they were being kicked out of Egypt and how god can do as he pleases in the physical and spiritual world.

The texts where the information about the Tefillin is found in the Torah are the following:

Exodus 13:1–10 and Exodus 13:11–16 that talk about how Jewish people should always remember how god saved all the Jewish community from evil in Egypt, and how it is mandatory to educate every Jewish child about that passage in the Torah and about the commandments given by god; Deut. 6:4–9 talks about the unity of god and how people should love and fear him; and Deut. 11:13–21 that talks about how god will reward us if we follow each and every of the Torah’s mitzvahs.

The process to make the Tefillin is a hard and meticulous one. It includes hundreds of requirements so it could be Kosher and to make them as spiritual as possible.  Imagine a very well-greased and tuned up spiritual device where all the parts have to be in place, and if one is just not there, the whole machine won’t work.

Image courtesy of Beit HaDerekh at Flickr.com

The scrolls that are the representation of the tefillin have an inscription that comes in black ink with a quill and that is done by a specially trained scribe also known as a Sofer that uses a special pen. The parchment is leather and must come from a kosher animal. The Tefillin contains 1594 letters and if one is missing or in the wrong position, the Tefillin is invalid.

The boxes and straps are also made of leather from a kosher animal. The Tefillin that is used on your head has 4 compartments with the four Torah selections and the Tefillin that is used on your arm is composed of one chamber with all the inscriptions written on one roll. Every Tefillin has the Hebrew letter Shin (ש) placed on both sides.

The Tefillin should be worn by every Jewish male that is already 13 years old and it should be done without help. It should be worn every weekday until night fall and the Shema prayer should be recited.  The only moments a Tefillin is not worn is during  Shabbat and major Jewish holidays.

Wearing the Tefillin comes with great responsibility and it cannot just be placed in the arm with no order whatsoever. For example, the hand-tefillin is strapped around the left arm or the right arm if the person is left-handed. The box must be placed on the bicep, directly facing the heart and then the strap has to be rolled around the arm seven times until it gets to the long finger; on the other hand, the head-tefillin is wrapped around the head just as a crown and the box is placed above the headline.

The whole idea, as mentioned before, is to have a connection with god, where he commands and the man performs.  The word mitzvah also comes from the root tzavta, which means “connection.” In a bigger sense, the Tefillin is the biggest Mitzvah of all as it commands the person to be one with god, to have an eternal bind to him. Using a more specific explanation, one of the boxes is placed near your heart so it controls the emotions; and the box that goes on the head tells Jewish people to dedicate every thought, feeling and action to god.   

Did you like this post? Be sure to also read this article about the most important Jewish symbols

* Featured image courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker at flickr.com

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