Tefillin (also Tephilin), Jewish phylacteries, according to Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; and Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21, a Jew must bind «these words for a sign upon your hand and a frontlet between your eyes.» This commandment is fulfilled by binding two small leather boxes containing these scriptural passes around the head and left arm by means of leather straps.

The practice is first mentioned in the Letter of Aristeas; it is alluded to in the New Testament in Matthew 23:5, and the rabbis the custom possesses an ancient origin (B.Sanh. 92b), fragments of tefillin were found at Qumran, but with variations in order and addition to the four paragraphs.

Although an ancient practice, the wearing of the tefillin is not specified, though it forms one of the Minor Tractates of the Talmud, as a literal commandment in the written law, and is not observed by the Samaritans.

The order and manner of laying the tefilin is precisely described, although the Ashkenazim wind the arm straps counter clockwise while the Sephardim wind clockwise. The Talmud stresses the importance of the duty–even God puts on phylacteries (B.Ber. 6a).

The duty begins at the age of thirteen, and should be performed each weekday. As a positive time-bound commandment, women are exempt, through the rabbis taught that Michal, the daughter of Saul, wore tefilin and the sages did not protest (B.Er. 96a); consequently, the wearing of the tefilin has become a mark of Jewish feminism.

Also, in Hebrew tefillin means «attachments» they became regarded as talismans and were used in many ceremonies. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 959
Spence, Lewis, An Encyclopedia of Occultism, New York, Carol Publishing Group Edition, 1996, p. 408