The Origins of T'fillin

The name is probably from t'fillah, "prayer".

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple,

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
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Question
What are the origins of t'fillin?

Answer
The name is probably from t'fillah, "prayer," and denotes prayer-accompaniments. Others link it with tafel, dependent, suggesting prayer-hangings. The English term "phylacteries" is from a Greek word that means a guard or protection.
 
Some historians thought that t'fillin were an answer to the problem that ancient clothing had no pockets; people carried their treasures in little bags or boxes fastened to the arm or suspended from the neck or head. Since religious believers took scriptural verses seriously, these pockets containing Biblical passages, according to this view, accompanied a person wherever he went.

By contrast, there was also an ancient idea that the law of t'fillin was not meant to be taken literally, but was a poetic way of emphasising that a person had to be constantly aware of God's will. The allegorical theory was repudiated by Ibn Ezra and others, who insisted that the four references to t'fillin in the Torah (Exodus 13:1-10 and 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) meant what they said and t'fillin were not a mere symbol.

By the time of the Mishnah, t'fillin were well established. Shammai treasured his grandfather's t'fillin; the sages debated whether t'fillin should have four or five passages (the fifth was the Ten Commandments); in the 2nd or 3rd century BCE the Letter of Aristeas spoke of t'fillin as an established practice; Josephus describes it; and in the
Shammai treasured his grandfather's t'fillin.
New Testament, Matthew attacks the Pharisees for allegedly showing off their "broad phylacteries and deep fringes."

Some Jews wore t'fillin all day, though in the Diaspora the practice was usually limited to the time of the morning prayers. There are people who claim that t'fillin are mere "ritual" and therefore dispensable. Many such allegoricists, however, have no problem with masonic, sporting, commercial or social rituals. One of the best analogies I have heard is that of military service, in which putting on a uniform when on duty is a mark of identity, loyalty and commitment.

At a Jewish school with which I was associated, the boys over Bar-Mitzvah age were told that they had to put on t'fillin in the morning. Some would arrive late, duly put on t'fillin and then immediately take them off. I was tempted to come down hard on these boys for not davening a word whilst the t'fillin were on, but I decided that for all the spirituality they lost by not praying, they had, at least, to borrow Rabbi Riskin's words, "bound skin and flesh to holy Torah parchments." The story has an aftermath. Years later, many of these erstwhile pupils are fully observant Jewish men who wear t'fillin and say their prayers. Some have studied in yeshivot and one or two are even rabbis.




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