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Tefillin

"You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they should be for a reminder between your eyes."
(Deuteronomy 6:8)

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

  1. 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 Tefillin.

  2. 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 Mitzvah.

  3. 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 used.

  4. 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.)

  5. 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.

  6. 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).

  7. The straps, both of the Hand and Head Tefillin must always be placed black side up.

  8. 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").

  9. 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.

  10. The Tefillin must be placed on the bare arm and head, without anything intervening.

  11. 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.

  12. It is required that the person be constantly and respectfully aware of the Tefillin while he is wearing them.

  13. 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).

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. On Tisha b'Av the Tefillin are not put on for the morning prayer, but for the afternoon prayer.

  17. 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.

  18. Said our Sages: He who carefully observes the commandment of Tefillin daily, merits long life and the World to Come.

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