What are Tefillin?

Tefillin are translated into English as Phylacteries. They are two palm-sized black leather boxes that contain scrolls of parchment that are inscribed with verses from the Torah. The boxes have black leather straps attached to them. One box is attached by the straps to the upper arm and one is placed above the forehead.

Who wears Tefillin?

Jewish males from the age of thirteen upwards wear Tefillin. The age of thirteen is a milestone for Jewish males; the age at which they are considered as taking responsibility for their actions.

When and where are Tefillin worn?

Tefillin are worn every day at weekday prayers which traditionally are held in quorums of ten in Synagogue. Tefillin are not worn on Shabbat, festivals, the intermediary days of Succot and Pesach (according to some) and on the morning of Tisha’a Ba’Av.

Why are Tefillin worn?

Tefillin are worn due to interpretation of Jewish Sages of four mentions in the Torah of “signs” that should be worn on one’s hand and between one’s eyes. Two mentions are from the book of Exodus and refer to recalling the exodus from Egypt and two are in the passages that make up the prayer Shema.

What is the purpose of the Tefillin?

According to the Torah, Tefillin are meant to remind the Jewish people on a daily basis of G-d’s intervention in the exodus from Egypt. Rambam writes that wearing Tefillin causes one to be modest, to fear G-d, prevents one from wasting time on foolishness and idle talk or from having bad thoughts and causes one to think only truth and righteousness. The Sefer HaChinuch states that Tefillin are intended to help a person repress his desire for worldly things and to help him develop spiritually. Rabbi Yosef Caro speaks of how the Tefillin are placed both opposite the heart and above the brain and how this demonstrates that one is subjugating these two main organs to the service of G-d.

What is written on the parchments contained by Tefillin?

The four biblical passages discussed above, that are the source for Tefillin are written on the parchment placed inside the Tefillin. They are written on the parchment by a specially trained scribe with special ink. There are different traditions regarding the type of lettering used to write the passages. The Tefillin that is placed on the arm has one large compartment that contains one piece of parchment that has all four passages written on it. The Tefillin that is placed on the head has four compartments and each one contains one scroll of parchment which is inscribed with one of the four passages.