"You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand,
and they should be for a reminder between your eyes."
Tefillin is one of the most important Mitzvot (precepts) of the Torah.
Tefillin consists of two small leather boxes attached to leather
straps. The two boxes each contain four sections of the Torah
inscribed on parchment. These passages cite:
(a) The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) - pronouncing the Unity of The One G-d.
(b) Vehayah (Deuteronomy 11:13-21) - expressing G-d's assurance to us of
reward that will follow our observance of the Torah's precepts, and
warning of retribution for disobedience to them.
(c) Kadesh (Exodus 13:1-10) - the duty of the Jewish people to always
remember the redemption from Egyptian bondage.
(d) Vehayah (Exodus 13:11-6) - the obligation of every Jew to inform his
children on these matters.
One of the boxes (the "Hand Tefillin") is placed upon the left arm so
that it rests against the heart, and the suspended leather strap is
wound around the left hand, and around the middle finger of that hand.
The other box (the "Head Tefillin") is placed upon the head, above the
forehead, so as to rest upon the cerebrum.
In this manner our attention is directed to the head, heart and hand.
It teaches us to dedicate ourselves to the service of G-d in all that
we think, feel and do. The Mitzvah of Tefillin and its practice
facilitates the attainment by the individual of unity of mind and heart,
intellect and emotion.
Some Laws of Tefillin
- A Jewish boy, upon reaching his thirteenth birthday, is regarded
as a full fledged Jew. He then becomes a "Bar Mitzvah", meaning that
he is obliged to keep and perform all the laws and customs of the
Jewish people. One of these laws commanded us in the Torah is
- It is customary to initiate the boy into the practice of donning
the Tefillin two or three months before the actual date of his Bar
- When purchasing a pair of Tefillin, care should be taken to buy
it from a dependable store in order to be sure the Tefillin are
hand-written by a duly qualified Scribe (Sofer), on special,
consecrated parchment. The boxes are produced in a highly
specialized process from the leather of a Kosher hide, and are,
likewise, specially consecrated for the use of Tefillin. The boxes
must be perfectly square. The straps and boxes must be dyed black
with a special dye. The head Tefillin has four compartments. Each
contains one of the four scrolls upon which one of the four different
sections of the Torah relating to Tefillin are inscribed. The hand
Tefillin has only one compartment, and contains all these four
sections of the Torah inscribed on one scroll. Those not produced
in conformity with the specified requirements of Tefillin, may not be
- Tefillin should be donned on week days only (Sunday through
Friday). On Sabbath and festivals, including chol-hamoed, Tefillin
are not to be put on. (In some congregations, however, Tefillin are
also donned on chol-hamoed.)
- Tefillin are worn during the morning prayers. However, if for
some reason it was impossible to do so in the morning, Tefillin may
still be put on later in the day, but not after sunset.
- The procedure for putting on Tefillin is as follows:
The person should be standing. He takes out the "Hand" Tefillin
first, and places it upon the biceps of the left arm, adjusted so as
to rest against the heart.
Care should be taken that the leather loop through which the strap is
drawn is above the box. Before tightening the strap he recites the
blessing "L'ho-niach Tefillin." Then he fastens the strap, winding
the two coils over the leather extension of the Hand-Tefillin and his
arm (this forms the letter "Shin") proceeding to make seven coils on
his forearm. The rest of the strap he winds around his palm.
Immediately afterwards he takes out the "Head" Tefillin and places it
on his head so the box rests above the forehead, and the knot rests
just above the neck. Care should be taken to ensure the box of the
Head-Tefillin is placed properly above the forehead so that the lower
edge of the box should not fall below the hair roots, and that it is
centered at a point midway between the eyes. Having so adjusted the
Head-Tefillin, he now unwinds the strap from his palm in order to
make three coils on the middle finger, the first on the lower phalanx
(near the palm), the second on the middle phalanx, and the third,
back again on the lower phalanx. The remainder of the strap is then
would around the palm. (In some communities it is customary to make
the blessing "Al Mitz-vas Tefillin" over the Head-Tefillin before
adjusting it, followed by - "Boruch Shem Kiv-od Malchuso L'Olam
Vo-ed." There are also slight variations in the manner of winding
the straps around the arm, palm and middle finger).
- The straps, both of the Hand and Head Tefillin must always be
placed black side up.
- During the act of putting on Tefillin, it is prohibited to
interrupt the procedure by conversation or gesture. The only
interruption permitted is to answer Amen when hearing someone else
making the blessing over Tefillin. If an unauthorized interruption
was made, the blessing "Al Mitz-vas Tefillin" should be recited when
putting on the Head Tefillin. (In those congregations where this
blessing is said in any case, it is also necessary to repeat the
first one "L'ho-niach Tefillin").
- A person who is left-handed (whether one is deemed left-handed in
this case should be ascertained from an orthodox Rabbi) puts on the
Hand-Tefillin on his right arm.
- The Tefillin must be placed on the bare arm and head, without
- If for some reason it is impossible to put the Hand-Tefillin on,
the Head-Tefillin must be put on nevertheless, and vice versa.
In each case the respective blessing is recited.
- It is required that the person be constantly and respectfully
aware of the Tefillin while he is wearing them.
- It is customary to remove the Tefillin only after the conclusion
of the entire morning service. At any rate they must not be removed
until after the prayer "Uvo L'Tziyon." On Rosh Chodesh, the Tefillin
are taken off before musaf. (On chol-hamoed, if Tefillin are donned,
remove them before Hallel).
- The procedure for removing the Tefillin is as follows: The
person should stand. First the strap around the middle finger is
unwound and is rewound around the palm. The Head-Tefillin is then
removed from the head with the left hand, the straps rewound, and
placed in the Tefillin bag. Then the Hand-Tefillin is removed, the
straps rewound, and placed in the bag. It is customary to put the
Head-Tefillin on the right side and the Hand-Tefillin on the left
side in the bag.
- When a Tallis is worn during the prayer, the Tallis should be
put on first and then the Tefillin; but when the prayer is
concluded, the Tefillin are removed first, in the manner described
above, and then the Tallis.
- On Tisha b'Av the Tefillin are not put on for the morning
prayer, but for the afternoon prayer.
- The Tefillin must be handled with due reverence. Should the
Tefillin accidentally fall to the floor, atonement is required by
fasting or giving charity. In such a case a Rabbi should be
consulted as to how the atonement should be made.
- Said our Sages: He who carefully observes the commandment of
Tefillin daily, merits long life and the World to Come.