Tefillin (Phylacteries)

Tefillin are not amulets. They are reminders of God's laws.

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How to Put On (Lay) Tefillin

The procedure for putting on the tefillin is as follows. The hand tefillin is taken out of the bag in which the tefillin are reverentially kept, and placed on the upper part of the left arm [but see below], and the benediction recited: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast hallowed us by Thy commandments, and hast commanded us to put on the tefillin." The knot is then tightened and the strap wound seven times around the arm.

prayer quizThe head tefillin is then taken out of the bag, placed loosely on the head, and the further benediction recited: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast hallowed us by Thy commandments and hast given us command concerning the precept of tefillin." The head tefillin are then tightened round the head so that the bayit rest in the middle of the head above the forehead and where the hair begins.

The strap of' the hand tefillin is then wound thrice around the middle finger while the verses (from Hosea 1:21-2) are recited: "And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgement, and in lovingkindness, and in mercy: I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord."

In the rabbinic tradition, the tefillin are to be worn on "the weaker hand" (perhaps the idea here is to symbolize that it is the weaker side of human nature that requires to be strengthened by observing the precept). For this reason a left-handed man wears the tefillin on his right arm.

The tefillin are not worn on the Sabbath and festivals. The reason given is that these are described as a "sign," and so are tefillin. When these "signs" are present there is no need for tefillin to be worn. Tefillin are worn only during the day, not at night. Consequently, tefillin is one of those precepts dependent on time from which women are exempt. There are one or two references to women wearing tefillin even though they are exempt, but this is extremely rare. Even women who nowadays do wear a tallit do not normally wear tefillin. A minor is not obliged to wear tefillin and the usual practice is for a boy to begin to wear them just before his Bar Mitzvah.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.