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Tefillin, (Phylacteries in English, derived from the Greek, variant - Teffilin) consist of two boxes containing Biblical verses and the leather straps attached to them. These are fastened to the arm and forehead in Jewish morning prayer (Shachrit). They are essential for male Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and may be used by others, including some Christians. They are used every day except on Shabbat (the Sabbath) by observant Jews males above the age of 13 years. Most Conservative Jewish rabbis also support the use of Tefillin by women. 

Chabad Tefillin - "Peer HaSTaM"

Teffilin: Ancient Phylacteries
Modern Tefillin Ancient Tefillin

The boxes contain parchments with the text of the verses that mentions them in  Exodus 13 :

EXODUS 13:9 And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD's law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.

EXODUS 13:16 And it shall be for a token upon thine hand. and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.

and in Deuteronomy 6:

DEUTERONOMY 6:8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

and Deuteronomy 11:

DEUTERONOMY 11:18 Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.

In the Torah verses above, they are called "Totafot" (translated as "frontlets" in the King James Bible). The word Tefillin is derived from the word "Tefilla" and is a later usage with an Eramaic plural ending.

Tefillin are also discussed and described in the  Mishnah and the Talmud (see Menahoth 34b; Zevahim 37b; Sanhedrin 4b).

The box that is tied to the arm is called "shel yad" ("for arm"), while the one for the head is called "shel rosh" ( "for head"). The boxes and straps must be made of the skins and tendons of kosher animals. The boxes are square and they should be dyed black, as are the attachment straps. The box that is put on the arm must be level with the heart. There are different customs among various schools of Judaism regarding how to put on Tefillin.

The boxes are constructed differently. The hand-tefillin has but one compartment, containing the four Biblical selections on a single strip of parchment in four parallel columns. The box for the head has four compartments with four separate parchments containing the different verses. The details of the construction of the box are a subject of dispute between rabbinical authorities. Special prayers must be said before beginning the construction of Tefillin.

Ami Isseroff

Some photos courtesy of ajudaica

Copyright 2007 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism-Israel Center

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