Upon reaching adulthood, at age 13, boys put on the phylacteries (Greek) known in Hebrew as Tefillin.
Tefillin is based on a Biblical commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the prayer known as the Shema. The Shema is the watchword of the Jewish people saying: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deut. 6:4). It goes on to say: You shall bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. This passage testifies to the eternal covenant between God and Israel. With the tefillin, the Jewish male identifies with his Jewish past, present, and future.
This is, by the way, the same passage that is placed inside the mezuzah on the doorpost.
What do they look like?
Each of the two tefillin is a square box with long straps attached. One tefillin is placed on the head, and the other tefillin is on the arm.
In the box that is attached to the head, there are four separate compartments. Each has a Hebrew quotation placed with the compartment:
The first bids us to remember their freedom from slavery and to celebrate the Passover. (Exodus 13:1-10)
The second refers to the redemption of the first-born. (Exodus 13:11-16)
The third and fourth compartments contain two sections of the Shema prayer from Deuteronomy (6:4-9 and 11:13-20)
The arm piece has only one strap with all four sections written on it.
Each box has been imprinted with the Hebrew letters Shin, Daled and Yod which spells Shaddai, an acronym for God's most mystical name.
How are they worn?
The tefillin for the arm are on the left arm, close to the heart. It is wrapped seven times around the forearm below the elbow. The remaining strap is put around the palm of the hand.
The tefillin for the head are placed on the forehead between the eyes. The knot of the head strap is at the base of the skull, and the straps are then brought forward across the chest, lying loosely. Now, the strap around the palm of the hand is unwrapped and wound three times around the middle finger. The remainder is carried around the ring finger and then rewound around the palm.
When are they used?
Tefillin are worn only on weekdays and not on Shabbat or festivals, because the latter are in themselves reminders of the covenant between God and Israel.
As with the tallit, there would be no requirement for a Christian to wear the tefillin. However, for general knowledge or demonstration, tefillin could be useful. You may want to own and wear tefillin during your own personal prayer time.
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