also called phylacteries, are leather objects used
in Jewish prayer, containing Biblical verses. They
are an essential part of morning prayer services,
and are worn on a daily basis (except Sabbath and
festivals) by many Jews.
The origin of wearing tefillin comes from the Torah
(five books of Moses), in Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18;
Exodus 13:9, 16. While these passages were interpreted
literally by most commentators (compare, however,
the view of the Karaites, Abraham ibn Ezra, and Rashbam
on Exodus 13:9), the Rabbis held that the general
law only was expressed in the Bible, the application
and elaboration of it being entirely matters of the
oral law. The earlier tannaim (rabbis of the Mishnah)
described their views of the tefillin in the Mishnah
and Talmud. (Talmud references: Menachot 34b; Zeb.
37b; Sanhedrin 4b; Rashi and Tosafot ad loc. )
- Gasot - Dakot - Mehudar
Tefillin consist of two leather boxes, one worn on
the arm and known as "shel yad", and the
other worn on the head and known as "shel rosh".
They are made of the skins of kosher animals.
According to traditional Jewish law, the boxes must
be square; their height should be about the length
or the width; and they should be dyed black. The boxes
are fastened on the under side with square pieces
of thick leather by twelve stitches, and are provided
with loops at the ends, through which are passed leathern
straps. They are blackened on the outside. The threads
are prepared from the veins of kosher animals.
strap that is passed through the head-tefillin ends
at the back of the head in a knot representing the
letter ד; the one that is passed through the
hand-tefillin is formed into a noose near the box
and fastened in a knot in the shape of the letter
י. The box containing the head-tefillin has
on the outside the letter ש, both to the right
(with three strokes: ש) and to the left; and
this, together with the letters formed by the knots
of the two straps, make up the letters of the Hebrew
word Shaddai ("Almighty"), one of the names
The measurements of the boxes are not given; but
it is recommended that they should not be smaller
than the width of two fingers. The width of the
straps should be equal to the length of a grain
of oats. The strap that is passed through the head-tefillin
should be long enough to encircle the head and to
allow for the knot. The two ends, falling in front
over either shoulder, should reach the navel, or
somewhat above it. The strap that is passed through
the hand-tefillin should be long enough to allow
for the knot, to encircle the whole length of the
arm, and then to be wound three times around the
Each box contains these Biblical passages: Exodus
13:1-10, 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21, written
with black ink in Hebrew square characters on parchment
specially prepared for the purpose, from the skin
of a kosher animal.
Arrangement of Passages
The hand-tefillin has only one compartment, which
contains the four Biblical selections written upon
a single strip of parchment in four parallel columns
and in the order given in the Bible. The head-tefillin
has four compartments, formed from one piece of
leather, in each of which one selection written
on a separate piece of parchment is deposited perpendicularly.
The pieces of parchment on which the Biblical selections
are written are in either case tied round with narrow
strips of parchment and fastened with the thoroughly
washed hair of a kosher animal, preferably of a
calf. There was considerable discussion among the
commentators of the Talmud as to the order in which
the Biblical selections should be inserted into
the head-phylactery. The chief disputants in this
case were Rabbi Solomon Yitzhaki (Rashi) and Rabbi
Jacob ben Meïr Tam (Rabbenu Tam), although different
possible arrangements have been suggested by other
writers ("Shimmusha Rabba" and the Rabad).
The prevailing custom is to follow the opinion
of Rashi. Some Sephardim and Hasidic Jews are accustomed,
in order to be certain of performing their duty
properly, to lay two pairs of tefillin; one pair
is prepared in accordance with the view of Rashi,
and the other pair in accordance with that of Rabbenu
Tam. If, however, one is uncertain as to the exact
position for two pairs of tefillin at the same time,
one should first "lay" the tefillin prepared
in accordance with Rashi's opinion, and then, removing
these during the latter part of the service, without
pronouncing a blessing lay those prepared in accordance
with Rabbenu Tam's opinion.
The parchment on
which the Biblical passages are written need not
be ruled, although the custom is to rule it. A pointed
instrument that leaves no blot should be used in
ruling; the use of a pencil is forbidden. The scribe
should be very careful in writing the selections.
Before beginning to write he should pronounce the
words, "I am writing this for the sake of the
holiness of tefillin"; and before he begins
to write any of the names of God occurring in the
texts, he should say, "I am writing this for
the sake of the holiness of the Name." Throughout
the writing his attention must not be diverted;
"even if the King of Israel should then greet
him, he is forbidden to reply".
How to put Tefillin on....
In putting on the
tefillin, the hand-tefillin is laid first. Its place
is on the inner side of the left arm, above the
elbow,on the biceps, leveled to the heart, (fifth
interspace of the ribcage and above).
Similarly the head-tefillin is worn above the hairline);
and it is held in position by the noose of the strap.
When the arm is
hangs the tefillin must rest near the heart.
If one is left-handed, he lays the hand-tefillin
on the same place on his right hand.
After the tefillin is thus fastened on the bare
arm, the strap is wound seven times round the arm.seven
The head tefillin is placed so as to overhang the
middle of the forehead, although it may not be lower
than one's hairline, with the knot of the strap
at the back of the head and overhanging the middle
of the neck, while the two ends of the strap, with
the blackened side outward, hang over the shoulders
On laying the hand-tefillin, before the knot is
fastened, the following benediction is pronounced:
"Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the
universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments
and has commanded us to put on tefillin."
אתה ה׳ אלהינו
Transliteration: Baruch Atah Adonai, elohainu, melech
haolam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'haniach
Then the arm tefillin is tightend, and wrapped around
the arm seven times without interruption. On placement
of the head tefillin, before tightening, the following
is recited: "Blessed are you, Lord, our God,
King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with
His commandments and has commanded us regarding
the commandment of tefillin."
אתה ה׳ אלהינו
על מצות תפלן
Transliteration: Baruch Atah Adonai, elohainu, melech
haolam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al
And then the head tefillin is tightened, as the
following prayer is said: "Blessed is the Name
of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever."
שם כבוד מלכותו
Transliteration: Baruch Shem kevod malkhuto l'olam
Before the head-tefillin
is fastened, many repeat the blessing is repeated
with the substitution of the phrase "concerning
the commandment of tefillin" for "to lay
tefillin." Some authorities are of the opinion
that the blessing on laying the head-tefillin should
be pronounced only when an interruption has occurred
through conversation on the part of the one engaged
in performing the commandment; otherwise the one
blessing pronounced on laying the hand-tefillin
is sufficient. This is the current Sephardi custom.
The prevailing custom amongst Ashkenazim is to pronounce
two blessings, and, after the second blessing, to
say the words, "Blessed be the name of God's
glorious kingdom for ever and ever," lest the
second benediction be pronounced unnecessarily.
Amongst Ashkenazim, the strap of the hand-phylactery
is then wound three times around the middle finger
so as to form a ש and the passages Hosea ii.
21 and 22 are recited. The seven twistings of the
strap on the arm are then counted while the seven
words of Deuteronomy iv. 4 are recited. After the
tefillin are laid Exodus xiii. 1-16 is recited.
In removing the tefillin the three twistings on
the middle finger are loosened first; then the head-phylactery
is removed; and finally the hand-phylactery. It
is customary to lay and to remove the tefillin while
standing; also to kiss them when they are taken
from and returned to the tefillin-bag.
Sephardim proceed similarly, but often without the
extra scriptural passages, and the shape ד
is shaped on the palm of the hand and the shape
of a ש is formed around the middle finger,
so as to represent the name Shaddai from the middle
finger (ש) through the palm (ד) to the
short extra strap of leather (י) hanging from
the bayit (box) of the hand-phylactery.
Originally tefillin were worn all day, but not during
the night. Now the prevailing custom is to wear
them during the daily morning service only. They
are not worn on Sabbaths and holy days; for these,
being in themselves "signs," render the
tefillin, which are to serve as signs themselves
(Ex. xiii. 9, 16), unnecessary. In those places
where tefillin are worn on the week-days of the
festivals (see Holy Days), and on New Moons, they
are removed before the "Musaf" prayer.
Women and tefillin
The duty of laying
tefillin rests upon males after the age of thirteen
years and one day. Women are exempt from the obligation,
as are also slaves and minors. Early Jewish law
codes allow women to take on the obligation of wearing
tefillin (Rambam, Rashba, Rashi, Rabbenu Tam), but
this custom was generally discouraged. Over time
the discouragement changed into active exclusion,
especially amongst Ashkenazim: Later codes of Jewish
law such as the Shulhan Arukh eventually forbade
women from wearing tefillin at all. Traditional
Sephardi authorities who permitted - and encouraged
- women's use of tefillin after the Shulhan Arukh
were the 18th Century chief rabbis of Jerusalem
R. Yisrael Ya'aqob Alghazi and his son R. Yomtob
Modern Orthodox Judaism holds that it is permissible
for women to wear tefillin, but generally discourage
it. Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism allow
women to wear tefillin. Many in Conservative Judaism
encourage this practice.
A mourner during
the first day of his mourning period, a bridegroom
on his wedding-day, one who has been excommunicated,
and a m'tzora are exempt from wearing tefillin.
A sufferer from stomach-trouble, one who is otherwise
in pain and can not concentrate his mind, 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). It is not permitted
to enter a cemetery or any unseemly place, or to
eat a regular meal or to sleep, while wearing tefillin.
The storage bag used for tefillin should not be
used for any other purpose, unless a condition was
expressly made that it might be used for any purpose.
The tefillin should not be brought into a restroom.
Ideally, this rule should be followed with regard
to the tefillin in their storage bag.
In his Mishneh Torah, Maimonides concludes the
laws of tefillin with the following exhortation
"The sanctity of tefillin is very great. 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, and will
have no evil thoughts, but will devote all his thoughts
to truth and righteousness; Therefore, every man
ought to try to have the tefillin upon him the whole
day; for only in this way can he fulfil the commandment.
It is related that Rav (Abba Arika), the pupil of
our holy teacher (Rav Judah ha-Nasi), was never
seen to walk four cubits without a Torah, without
fringes on his garments (tzitzit), and without tefillin.
Although the Law enjoins the wearing of tefillin
the whole day, it is especially commendable to wear
them during prayer. The sages say that one who reads
Shema' without tefillin is as if he testified
falsely against himself. He who does not lay tefillin
transgresses eight commandments; for in each of
the four Biblical passages there is a commandment
to wear tefillin on the head and on the arm. But
he who is accustomed to wear tefillin will live
long, as it is written, 'When the Lord is upon them
they will live'".
amulets in their earliest form, strips of parchment
in a leather case, which is called either "bag"
or "little house." Tefillin and "keme'ot"
are, in fact, often mentioned side by side (Shab.
vi. 2; Miḳ. vi. 4; Kelim xxiii. 9; et al.),
and were liable to be mistaken one for the other
('Er. x. 1 et al.). As in the case of the Torah
roll, the only permissible material was parchment,
while the "mezuzah" was made of a different
kind of parchment (Shab. viii. 3 et al.); for this
reason a discarded tefillah could be made into a
mezuzah, but not vice versa (Men. 32a). It was made
square, not round (Meg. iv. 8). The head-tefillah
consisted of four strips in four compartments, while
the hand-tefillah consisted of one strip. The former
could be made out of the latter, but not vice versa;
and they were independent of each other.
In the Diaspora and Post-Talmudic Times
Although the tefillin
were worn throughout the day, not only in Israel
but also in Babylon, the custom of wearing them
did not become entirely popular; and during the
Diaspora they were worn nowhere during the day.
But it appears from the Letter of Aristeas and from
Josephus that the tefillin were known to the Jews
of the Diaspora. At this time it may have become
customary to wear them only during prayer, traces
of this custom being found in Babylon (Men. 36b).
In France in the thirteenth century they were not
generally worn even during prayer. The difference
of opinion between Rashi (d. 1105) and his grandson
Jacob Tam (d. 1171) in regard to the arrangement
of the four sections indicates that no fixed custom
in wearing them had arisen. Rashi and Tam's tefillin
are referred to; scrupulously pious persons put
on the tefillin of R. Tam after prayer. There were
differences of opinion between the Spanish and the
German Jews in regard to the knot in the strap (see
illustrations in Surenhusius, cited below).