What is Tefillin?

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We are commanded in the Torah to bind tefillin on our arm and on our head. The source for the mitzvah is mentioned four times in the Torah:

“And it shall be for you a sign on your arm and a remembrance between your eyes so that the word of G-d be in your mouth for G-d took you out of Egypt with a strong arm.” (Exodus 13:9)

“And it shall be a sign on your arm and tefillin between your eyes for G-d took you out of Egypt with a strong arm.” (Exodus 13:16)

“Bind them as a sign upon your arm and they shall be tefillin between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:8)

“Bind them as a sign on your arms and they shall be tefillin between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 11:18)

What is Tefillin?Each time we put on tefillin we fulfill eight positive commandments- 4 for the arm tefillin and 4 for the head tefillin!

We our taught by oral tradition, as told by G-d to Moshe on Mount Sinai and to the subsequent scholars of each generation, the specific requirements for the mitzvah of tefillin. These laws have been inscribed in the Talmud and later halachic codifications.

Each of the paragraphs containing the above sentences are handwritten, according to strict halachic codes, by a traditional, G-d fearing scribe using special black ink and quill on specially prepared parchment. Click here for an introduction to some of the halachic codes associated with Torah scrolls, tefillin, mezuzahs and megillahs. Each of the four paragraphs are written twice, once for the arm tefillin and once for the head tefillin. The paragraphs for the arm tefillin are written on one long strip of parchment, in four columns, seven lines per column, in the order they are presented in the Torah. The paragraphs of the head tefillin are written on four separate strips of parchment, four lines per column. The four paragraphs and each letter within must be written in chronological order both in the arm and head tefillin. There are 3188 letters in tefillin and it takes the sofer approximately 10-15 hours to write. The completed parchments are carefully checked by a trained examiner, preferably two, for textual errors and incorrectly formed letters. In addition, it is highly recommended to have all tefillin parchments checked by computer for textual errors. Once verified as kosher the arm parchment is rolled and the head parchments are folded, in a specific manner and inserted in a specific order and position into the batim (leather housing). The batim are then sewn shut with specially prepared gid, sinew string, in a method prescribed by halachah. The tefillin are then fitted, in a specific manner as set out by halachah, with the specially prepared and painted, leather straps, retzuos. This entire process entails the handiwork, expertise and knowledge of a significant number of trained, knowledgeable and G-d fearing craftsman. Due to the fact that this is a holy endeavor it is the custom of most sofrim to immerse in the ritual bath, mikvah, each day before beginning to write in order to spiritually purify themselves. Additionally, the sofer must maintain pure thoughts and concentrate on and enunciate each letter as he writes it.

The tefillin are worn daily during morning prayers. The tefillin are not worn on shabbos and festivals. The reason is because the Torah calls shabbos and festivals “signs” and so too the tefillin are called signs. While the sign of shabbos or the festival is active there is no need for the sign of the tefillin. In fact, the word tefillin comes from the word Pelilah, evidence. The tefillin serve as a sign demonstrating the presence of the shechinah, divine presence, upon the Jewish people as is stated, “And all the nations of the earth will see that the name of G-d is called upon you and they will be awed by you. (Deuteronomy 28:10) We are taught that this sentence refers to the head tefillin, which is visible to all.

The tefillin are worn on the weaker arm, so a right-handed person would wear them on his left arm.

In addition to Rashi tefillin many Sephardic and Chassidic Jews wear tefillin with the placement of the parshiyos, parchments, according to Rabbeinu Tam. The grandfather of Rabbeinu Tam, Rashi, says that the parshiyos are not only written in their chronological order but they are also placed in the same order from right to left. According to Rabbeinu Tam the first 2 parshiyos are placed in chronological order from right to left then the last 2 parshiyos are switched so the 3rd compartment in the head tefillin and the 3rd space on the strip of parchment of the arm tefillin contains the 4th parsha and the last compartment of the head tefillin and the last space on the strip of parchment of the arm tefillin contains the 3rd parsha. All agree that the parshiyos must be written in the same chronological order as they are found in the Torah. Rabbeinu Tam tefillin are generally worn towards the end of the morning services after removing the Rashi tefillin that every adult male Jew wears.

For a visual introduction to the parts of tefillin click here.

For a pictorial tour of the batim making process click here.

Why does STaM seemingly cost so much and why the wide variance in prices? Click here to find out!