Details of Manufacture
consist of two leather boxes, one worn on the arm and
known as "shel yad", and the other worn on
the head and known as "shel rosh". They are
made of the skins of kosher animals.
According to traditional Jewish law, the boxes must be square; their height
should be about the length or the width; and they should be dyed black. The
boxes are fastened on the under side with square pieces of thick leather by
twelve stitches, and are provided with loops at the ends, through which are
passed leathern straps. They are blackened on the outside. The threads are
prepared from the veins of kosher animals.
The strap that is passed through the head-tefillin ends at the back of the head
in a knot representing the letter ד; the one that is passed through the hand-tefillin
is formed into a noose near the box and fastened in a knot in the shape of the
letter י. The box containing the head-tefillin has on the outside the letter ש,
both to the right (with three strokes: ש) and to the left; and this, together
with the letters formed by the knots of the two straps, make up the letters of
the Hebrew word Shaddai ("Almighty"), one of the names of God.
of the boxes are not given; but it is recommended that
they should not be smaller than the width of two fingers.
The width of the straps should be equal to the length
of a grain of oats. The strap that is passed through
the head-tefillin should be long enough to encircle
the head and to allow for the knot. The two ends, falling
in front over either shoulder, should reach the navel,
or somewhat above it. The strap that is passed through
the hand-tefillin should be long enough to allow for
the knot, to encircle the whole length of the arm, and
then to be wound three times around the middle finger.
Each box contains these Biblical
passages: Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9,
11:13-21, written with black ink in Hebrew square
characters on parchment specially prepared for the
purpose, from the skin of a kosher animal.
Arrangement of Passages
The hand-tefillin has only one compartment, which contains the four
Biblical selections written upon a single strip of parchment in four
parallel columns and in the order given in the Bible. The head-tefillin
has four compartments, formed from one piece of leather, in each of
which one selection written on a separate piece of parchment is
The pieces of parchment on which the Biblical selections are written
are in either case tied round with narrow strips of parchment and
fastened with the thoroughly washed hair of a kosher animal,
preferably of a calf. There was considerable discussion among the
commentators of the Talmud as to the order in which the Biblical
selections should be inserted into the head-phylactery. The chief
disputants in this case were Rabbi Solomon Yitzhaki (Rashi) and
Rabbi Jacob ben Meïr Tam (Rabbenu Tam), although different possible
arrangements have been suggested by other writers ("Shimmusha Rabba"
and the Rabad).
The prevailing custom is to follow the opinion of Rashi. Some
Sephardim and Hasidic Jews are accustomed, in order to be certain of
performing their duty properly, to lay two pairs of tefillin; one
pair is prepared in accordance with the view of Rashi, and the other
pair in accordance with that of Rabbenu Tam. If, however, one is
uncertain as to the exact position for two pairs of tefillin at the
same time, one should first "lay" the tefillin prepared in
accordance with Rashi's opinion, and then, removing these during the
latter part of the service, without pronouncing a blessing lay those
prepared in accordance with Rabbenu Tam's opinion.
Mode of Writing
The parchment on which the Biblical
passages are written need not be ruled, although the
custom is to rule it. A pointed instrument that leaves
no blot should be used in ruling; the use of a pencil
is forbidden. The scribe should be very careful in
writing the selections. Before beginning to write
he should pronounce the words, "I am writing
this for the sake of the holiness of tefillin";
and before he begins to write any of the names of
God occurring in the texts, he should say, "I
am writing this for the sake of the holiness of the
Name." Throughout the writing his attention must
not be diverted; "even if the King of Israel
should then greet him, he is forbidden to reply".
How to put Tefillin on....
In putting on the tefillin, the
hand-tefillin is laid first. Its place is on the inner side of the
left arm, above the elbow,on the biceps, leveled to the heart,
(fifth interspace of the ribcage and above).
Similarly the head-tefillin is worn above the hairline); and it is
held in position by the noose of the strap.
When the arm is hangs the tefillin
must rest near the heart.
If one is left-handed, he lays the hand-tefillin on the same place
on his right hand.
After the tefillin is thus fastened on the bare arm, the strap is
wound seven times round the arm.seven turns
The head tefillin is placed so as to overhang the middle of the
forehead, although it may not be lower than one's hairline, with the
knot of the strap at the back of the head and overhanging the middle
of the neck, while the two ends of the strap, with the blackened
side outward, hang over the shoulders in front.
On laying the hand-tefillin, before the knot is fastened, the
following benediction is pronounced: "Blessed are you, Lord, our
God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His
commandments and has commanded us to put on tefillin."
Hebrew: ברוך אתה ה׳ אלהינו מלך
העולם אשר קדשנו במצותו וצונו להניח תפלן
Transliteration: Baruch Atah Adonai, elohainu, melech haolam, asher
kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu l'haniach t'fillin.
Then the arm tefillin is tightend, and wrapped around the arm seven
times without interruption. On placement of the head tefillin,
before tightening, the following is recited: "Blessed are you, Lord,
our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His
commandments and has commanded us regarding the commandment of
Hebrew: ברוך אתה ה׳ אלהינו מלך
העולם אשר קדשנו במצותו וצונו על מצות תפלן
Transliteration: Baruch Atah Adonai, elohainu, melech haolam, asher
kidshanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al mitzvat t'fillin.
And then the head tefillin is tightened, as the following prayer is
said: "Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom for ever and
Hebrew: ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו
Transliteration: Baruch Shem kevod malkhuto l'olam vaed.
Before the head-tefillin is fastened,
many repeat the blessing is repeated with the substitution
of the phrase "concerning the commandment of
tefillin" for "to lay tefillin." Some
authorities are of the opinion that the blessing on
laying the head-tefillin should be pronounced only
when an interruption has occurred through conversation
on the part of the one engaged in performing the commandment;
otherwise the one blessing pronounced on laying the
hand-tefillin is sufficient. This is the current Sephardi
custom. The prevailing custom amongst Ashkenazim is
to pronounce two blessings, and, after the second
blessing, to say the words, "Blessed be the name
of God's glorious kingdom for ever and ever,"
lest the second benediction be pronounced unnecessarily.
Amongst Ashkenazim, the strap of the hand-phylactery is then wound
three times around the middle finger so as to form a ש and the
passages Hosea ii. 21 and 22 are recited. The seven twistings of the
strap on the arm are then counted while the seven words of
Deuteronomy iv. 4 are recited. After the tefillin are laid Exodus
xiii. 1-16 is recited. In removing the tefillin the three twistings
on the middle finger are loosened first; then the head-phylactery is
removed; and finally the hand-phylactery. It is customary to lay and
to remove the tefillin while standing; also to kiss them when they
are taken from and returned to the tefillin-bag.
Sephardim proceed similarly, but often without the extra scriptural
passages, and the shape ד is shaped on the palm of the hand and the
shape of a ש is formed around the middle finger, so as to represent
the name Shaddai from the middle finger (ש) through the palm (ד) to
the short extra strap of leather (י) hanging from the bayit (box) of
Originally tefillin were worn all day, but not during the night. Now
the prevailing custom is to wear them during the daily morning
service only. They are not worn on Sabbaths and holy days; for
these, being in themselves "signs," render the tefillin, which are
to serve as signs themselves (Ex. xiii. 9, 16), unnecessary. In
those places where tefillin are worn on the week-days of the
festivals (see Holy Days), and on New Moons, they are removed before
the "Musaf" prayer.
Women and tefillin
The duty of laying tefillin rests
upon males after the age of thirteen years and one
day. Women are exempt from the obligation, as are
also slaves and minors. Early Jewish law codes allow
women to take on the obligation of wearing tefillin
(Rambam, Rashba, Rashi, Rabbenu Tam), but this custom
was generally discouraged. Over time the discouragement
changed into active exclusion, especially amongst
Ashkenazim: Later codes of Jewish law such as the
Shulhan Arukh eventually forbade women from wearing
tefillin at all. Traditional Sephardi authorities
who permitted - and encouraged - women's use of tefillin
after the Shulhan Arukh were the 18th Century chief
rabbis of Jerusalem R. Yisrael Ya'aqob Alghazi and
his son R. Yomtob Alghazi.
Modern Orthodox Judaism holds that it is permissible for women to
wear tefillin, but generally discourage it. Conservative Judaism and
Reform Judaism allow women to wear tefillin. Many in Conservative
Judaism encourage this practice.
A mourner during the first day of
his mourning period, a bridegroom on his wedding-day,
one who has been excommunicated, and a m'tzora are
exempt from wearing tefillin. A sufferer from stomach-trouble,
one who is otherwise in pain and can not concentrate
his mind, one who is engaged in the study of the Law,
and scribes of and dealers in tefillin and mezuzot
while engaged in their work if it can not be postponed,
are also free from this obligation). It is not permitted
to enter a cemetery or any unseemly place, or to eat
a regular meal or to sleep, while wearing tefillin.
The storage bag used for tefillin should not be used
for any other purpose, unless a condition was expressly
made that it might be used for any purpose. The tefillin
should not be brought into a restroom. Ideally, this
rule should be followed with regard to the tefillin
in their storage bag.
In his Mishneh Torah, Maimonides concludes the laws of tefillin
with the following exhortation :
"The sanctity of tefillin is very great. As long as the tefillin are
on the head and on the arm of a man, he is modest and God-fearing
and will not be attracted by hilarity or idle talk, and will have no
evil thoughts, but will devote all his thoughts to truth and
righteousness; Therefore, every man ought to try to have the
tefillin upon him the whole day; for only in this way can he fulfil
the commandment. It is related that Rav (Abba Arika), the pupil of
our holy teacher (Rav Judah ha-Nasi), was never seen to walk four
cubits without a Torah, without fringes on his garments (tzitzit),
and without tefillin. Although the Law enjoins the wearing of
tefillin the whole day, it is especially commendable to wear them
during prayer. The sages say that one who reads the
Shema' without tefillin is as if he testified falsely against
himself. He who does not lay tefillin transgresses eight
commandments; for in each of the four Biblical passages there is a
commandment to wear tefillin on the head and on the arm. But he who
is accustomed to wear tefillin will live long, as it is written,
'When the Lord is upon them they will live'".
Tefillin resembled amulets in their
earliest form, strips of parchment in a leather case,
which is called either "bag" or "little
house." Tefillin and "keme'ot" are,
in fact, often mentioned side by side (Shab. vi. 2;
Miḳ. vi. 4; Kelim xxiii. 9; et al.), and were
liable to be mistaken one for the other ('Er. x. 1
et al.). As in the case of the Torah roll, the only
permissible material was parchment, while the "mezuzah"
was made of a different kind of parchment (Shab. viii.
3 et al.); for this reason a discarded tefillah could
be made into a mezuzah, but not vice versa (Men. 32a).
It was made square, not round (Meg. iv. 8). The head-tefillah
consisted of four strips in four compartments, while
the hand-tefillah consisted of one strip. The former
could be made out of the latter, but not vice versa;
and they were independent of each other.
In the Diaspora
and Post-Talmudic Times
Although the tefillin were worn
throughout the day, not only in Israel but also in
Babylon, the custom of wearing them did not become
entirely popular; and during the Diaspora they were
worn nowhere during the day. But it appears from the
Letter of Aristeas and from Josephus that the tefillin
were known to the Jews of the Diaspora. At this time
it may have become customary to wear them only during
prayer, traces of this custom being found in Babylon
In France in the thirteenth century they were not generally worn
even during prayer. The difference of opinion between Rashi (d.
1105) and his grandson Jacob Tam (d. 1171) in regard to the
arrangement of the four sections indicates that no fixed custom in
wearing them had arisen. Rashi and Tam's tefillin are referred to;
scrupulously pious persons put on the tefillin of R. Tam after
prayer. There were differences of opinion between the Spanish and
the German Jews in regard to the knot in the strap (see
illustrations in Surenhusius, cited below).
We put tefillin on once a day,
usually for the morning prayers.
We may not wear tefillin at night
Get your tefillin checked periodically -- at least once every
four years, preferably once a year if possible.