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What are Tefillin?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht


Library » Mitzvot » Tefillin | Subscribe | What is RSS?


A. Tefillin are palm-sized, hard leather boxes painted jet black. Inside are sacred parchments that contain four sections of the Torah1 hand written in Hebrew, much like a Torah scroll. They are intricate works of handicraft, and are created under a set of rigorous standards and guidelines by highly trained scribes and craftsmen. Long leather straps allow them to be tied to the head and arm. They are commonly called “phylacteries,” but since nobody knows what phylacteries are, let's just call them Tefillin. It’s easier to pronounce.

B. Jewish males2 above the age of 13 (Bar Mitzvah) wear them at morning prayers3, except on Shabbat and Biblical Holidays.

C. Tefillin are the object of a Divine commandment which are bound around the weaker arm and head of the mortal being, symbolizing the bonding of the emotions and the intellect to that which lies beyond the realm of the physical. Getting high without getting illegal—that’s what Tefillin are all about. Tefillin say, you can reach out and touch the universe with your mind. You can love something that you can’t hug or even see. You can be more than just a product of your surroundings and chance—you can connect your thoughts and guide your emotions to your Creator and towards the fulfillment of your purpose.

See also What is the significance of Tefillin? and How do I put on Tefillin?


  • 1. 1. Kadesh—Exodus 13:1-10. 2. V’hayah ki Y’viacha—Exodus 13:11-16. 3. Shema—Deuteronomy 6:4-9. 4. V’haya im Shamoa—Deuteronomy 11:13-21.
  • 2. Tefillin is a "Positive Mitzvah" with a time limitation. Women are not obligated to fulfill this type of Mitzvah. See "Why are women exempt from time-related Mitzvot?" (,2131955/Why-are-women-exempt-from-time-related-Mitzvot.html)
  • 3. If one could not wear it during morning prayers he can put it on any time between sunrise and sunset and recite the Shema prayer.


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Life Cycle » Bar/Bat Mitzvah » Tefillin

(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Black leather boxes containing small scrolls with passages of the Bible written on them. Every day, aside for Sabbath and Jewish holidays, the adult Jewish male is required to wrap the Tefillin--by means of black leather straps--around the weaker arm and atop the forehead.