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Tefillin and Tefillin Sets Guide

Tefillin - phylacteries in Latin and English - is one of the commandments, or Mitzvot, that a Jewish man performs during the day. This Mitzvah, which consists of wearing leather boxes and straps, has numerous rules and is also considered to be a symbol of closeness to G-d and a reminder of G-d’s redemption of the Jews from Egypt.

What are Tefillin?

The term Tefillin refers the sets of two black boxes and straps that Jewish men wear on their head and arm following their Bar Mitzvah during prayer services during the week, although it may also refer to a single box and strap. Many Rabbinical leaders wear Tefillin throughout the day.

Materials and Construction

Tefillin are made from the hide of a kosher animal, usually a cow and are painted black. The boxes are inserted with parchment that has sections of the Torah that refer to the Mitzvah of Tefillin written on it in Hebrew script known as Stam and is the font also used in Torah Scrolls and Mezuzahs. It should be noted that the ordering of the text inside the Tefillin is the subject of a complicated rabbinical dispute between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, two medieval commentators on the Torah. Their dispute has led to two different traditions regarding Tefillin. All Jews follow the opinion of Rashi, although Chassidim also wear those in accordance with Rabbeinu Tam’s ruling.

A set of Tefillin consists of two boxes. The first box is known as the Shel-Yad, or “Hand Tefillin” and is placed on the arm not used for writing, which means that a left-handed person wears his Shel-Yad on his right arm and a right-handed person wears his Tefillin Shel Yad on the left arm. The hand-Tefillin box has one large compartment in which a long piece of parchment is inserted. The other box is known as the Shel-Rosh, or “Head Tefillin” and has an identical shape to the hand-Tefillin. However, it has four separate compartments, each of which is inserted with a section of the Torah that speaks of Tefillin.

The straps run through the back of the Tefillin boxes and are painted black on their front side. The straps are also knotted; on the hand Tefillin the knot appears on the left or right side, depending on which hand the person writes with and the head-Tefillin knot is directly opposite the Tefillin box.

The Commandment of Wearing Tefillin

The Mitzvah of Tefillin is a complicated one, mainly because the rules regarding its construction are quite intricate and the rules regarding its wearing are equally complex. According to normative Jewish tradition, Tefillin are worn during prayer services during the week. They are not worn during Shabbat or days in which work is forbidden, specifically Jewish holidays.

In terms of the wearing of Tefillin, the hand Tefillin are put on first. The box sits atop the bicep and the straps are wrapped around the arm seven times and around the hand. The head-Tefillin box sits above the forehead and the knot sits on the nape of the neck.

For More Information

For more information on Tefillin and Tefillin setsJudaica, or synagogue items, feel free to contact our Judaica experts with any questions or concerns.

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