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Congregation Brothers of Israel

L'dor Vador—From Generation to Generation since 1883
לדור ודור


“You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes.” —Deuteronomy 6:8

(from an article appearing in the February2019  USJC Journey Magazine)

Jewish men who perform tefillin—binding the boxes and straps onto their head and upper arm during prayer—may be doing more than creating a bond between the God who commands and the man who performs the powerful mitzvah. It could be good for the heart, too, says a study by researchers at the University of Cincinnati.

The study indicates that the act of tightly wrapping the leather straps of tefillin around the arm on an almost daily basis could help blood flow and lower the risk of a heart attack. “We found people who wear tefillin in either the short or long-term recorded a measurable, positive effect on their blood flow. That has been associated with better outcomes in heart disease,” explains Dr. Jack Rubinstein, a cardiologist and associate professor at the University of Cincinnati, who co-authored the study.

In the study, researchers looked at Jewish men living in or around Cincinnati, including half who wear tefillin daily and half who don’t. The subjects were measured before and after wearing them for 30 minutes each day. Measuring participants’ vital signs, blood for analysis of circulating cytokines and monocyte function and blood flow in the arm not wrapped with tefillin indicated that blood flow was higher for men who wore tefillin daily. They also had fewer circulating cytokines, which are signaling molecules that can cause inflammation and negatively impact the heart.

So how does this happen? Dr. Rubinstein says the binding of the arm and discomfort users often report may serve as a form of preconditioning and offer a substantial degree of protection against “acute ischemic reperfusion injury” where a part of the heart is deprived of oxygen during a heart attack and then damaged by re-oxygenation. “One of the ways that protection occurs is through pain,” says Dr. Rubinstein. “Feeling pain is actually a preconditioning stimulus. It is almost impossible to precondition someone unless they are willing to do something daily to themselves.” Tefillin users, in fact, may be unintentionally doing just that.

Results of the study were published late last year in the American Journal of Physiology Heart and Circulatory Physiology and could explain previous Israeli studies that found religious men suffered fewer heart attacks than the general population.

Prayer has been shown to have many other physical and emotional benefits, too. Better moods, more self-control, stronger personal beliefs, inspiration in hardship, healthier interpersonal relationships and increased creativity are among the ways people have been known to benefit from prayer.

Tefillin 101


Tefillin 101 was  presented by Women's League for Conservative Judaism with  Executive Director Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields’ updated guide to wrapping. Here are some of her Lessons on Teffilin:

What is Tefillin?
Tefillin, or phylacteries, are two leather boxes, called batim, containing four passages, parshiyot, from the Torah, which are bound on the arm and head with leather straps, called retzuot. Tefillin are made of leather, shaped into a black, quadrangular capsule with a base of thin skin, tithura, on one side, and a hollow rim ma’brata, or ‘passageway’ through which leather straps, called retuzot, are placed. One tefillah (singular of tefillin) is worn on the head, (tefillah shel rosh) and the other tefillah is worn on the left arm (tefillah shel yad) if one writes with the right arm, and on the right arm if one writes with the left hand.

When is Tefillin worn?
Tefillin is considered a positive-time bound commandment, mitzvah aseh she’hazeman gerama, because tefillin can only be worn from sunrise to sunset, preferably during the Shacharit or morning services, and are not worn on Shabbat and Festivals.

What is in the Batim, the boxes, of the Tefillin?
There are four Biblical passages, written on parchment, referred to as parshiyot, in the tefillin, which serve as a reminder of four basic principles in Judaism:

 Exodus 13:1-10 – Our obligation to remember the Exodus from Egypt
 Exodus 13: 11-16 – Our obligation to transmit the tradition to our children
3) Deuteronomy 6:4-9 – God’s unity and our mutual bond of love
4) Deuteronomy 11:13-21 – Declaration of a person’s responsibility to God.

What does it say in Exodus 13:1-10?
(1) And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying:
(2) ’Sanctify unto Me all the first-born, whatsoever opens the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast, it is Mine.’
(3) And Moses said unto the people: ‘Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the LORD brought you out from this place; there shall no leavened bread be eaten.
(4) This day you go forth in the month Abib.
(5) And it shall be when the LORD shall bring you into the land of the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Amorite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, which God swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shalt keep this service in this month.
(6) Seven days you shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the LORD.
(7) Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with you, neither shall there be leaven seen with you, in all your borders.
(8) And you shall tell your child on that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.
(9) And it shall be for a sign on your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand has the LORD brought you out of Egypt.
(10) You shall therefore keep this ordinance in its season from year to year.

What does it say in Exodus 13:11-16?
(11) And it shall be when the LORD shall bring you into the land of the Canaanite, as God swore to you and to your ancestors, and shall give it you,
(12) that you shall set apart to the LORD all that opens the womb; every firstling that is a male, which you have coming of a beast, shall be the LORD’s.
(13) And every firstling of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb; and if you wilt not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and all the first-born of man among your sons shall you redeem.
(14) And it shall be when your child asks you in time to come, saying: What is this? that you shall say to the child: By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage;
(15) and it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the first-born of man, and the first-born of beast; therefore, I sacrifice to the LORD all that opens the womb, being males; but all the first-born of my sons I redeem.
(16) And it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and for frontlets between your eyes; for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.’

 What does it say in Deuteronomy 6:4-9?
(5) And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
(6) And these words, which I command you this day, shall be on your heart;
(7) and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.
(8) And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.
(9) And you shall write them upon the door-posts of your house, and upon your gates.

 7 – What does it say in Deuteronomy 11:13-21?
(13) And it shall come to pass, if you shall listen diligently to My commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve God with all your heart and with all your soul,
(14) that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your corn, and your wine, and your oil.
(15) And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied.
(16) Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them.
(17) For the LORD’s anger will flare up against you, and God will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the LORD is assigning to you.
(18) Therefore, impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, 
(19) and teach them to your children—reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up;  
(20) and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates—
(21) to the end that you and your children may endure, in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth. 

Terms Related to Tefillin

Tefillin is worn or Tefillin are worn? Singular or Plural?
Although “tefillin” is technically the plural form (the singular being “tefillah“), it is loosely used as a singular as well. The arm-tefillah, or tefillah shel yad – is placed on the upper arm, and the strap wrapped around the arm/hand, hand and fingers; while the head-tefillah or tefillah shel rosh, is placed above the forehead.

Sources: Wikipedia
Steinmetz, Sol (2005). Dictionary of Jewish usage: a guide to the use of Jewish terms. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 165.

Why Tefillin?
The word tefillin (called totafot in the Torah) means “emblem, sign, insignia,” the visible symbol of an abstract idea. Tefillin are our reminder of the commandment of the Shema: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). Tefillin thus symbolize the love for God in emotion (heart), thought (head), and deed (hand).

Where are Tefillin worn?
All your heart: this is the tefillin on the upper arm opposite the heart. All your soul: this is the head-tefillin opposite the seat of consciousness, the soul. All your might: this is the strap of the hand-tefillin, symbolizing action, power, might.

According to the Mishneh Torah, Tefillin, Mezuzah and the Torah Scroll 4:2, the tefillah shel yad is bound on the left arm over the biceps muscle, which is the flesh that stands out on the upper arm that is between the shoulder blade and forearm, so that, when the upper arm is held close to the ribs, the tefillah will be opposite the heart, and thus the precept will be fulfilled, ” And these words…shall be upon your heart,” as stated in Deuteronomy 6:6.

Some people wear the tefillah shel yad on their left hand, and some on their right. Why?
According to the Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chayim 27:6, a lefty who does all one’s work with one’s left hand puts one’s Tefillin on one’s “left hand,” which is the right hand of all people (when one faces someone else). And, if one uses both hands, one places them on the left of all people…If one writes with one’s right hand and does all other work with one’s right hand, there are those who say to put the Tefillin on one’s weaker hand, because we “need the weaker hand.”…And there are those who say that the hand with which one writes is considered the right hand for this, and one puts one’s Tefillin on the other hand.

Another explanation, the actual writing of the tefillin on one’s arm, is done by the physical binding, and winding the straps, retzuot, around one’s arm. Therefore, the hand that one writes with does the wrapping/binding motion. If one writes with one’s right hand, then one uses one’s right hand to wrap the tefillin strap around one’s left hand. If one writes with one’s left hand, then one uses one’s left hand to wrap the tefillin strap around one’s right hand.

What are some differences between the tefillah shel yad and the tefillah shel Rosh?
The tefillah or tefillin shel yad, the hand tefillin, is a single cube (bayit), in which the four parshiyot, Torah portions, are written on one strip of parchment. The surface of the batim, the boxes, other than the bottom, are painted black. The paint must be made from kosher ingredients only. The bayit of the tefillah shel yad is solid, with nothing written on it. A knot, kesher, is tied on the strap of the tefillah shel yad, so that a loop is left outside of it. There are different customs regarding the location and size of the loop. The hand strap ends in two knots. The topmost knot (kesher) is in the form of the Hebrew letter yud, which is referred to as the yud shel hakesher (the yud knot).

The tefillah or tefillin shel rosh, the head tefillin, is composed of four separate sections of leather, each of which contain one of the four parshiyot, Torah portions, written on parchment. These four separate sections of leather are then pressed together to form a cube. Two forms of the letter shin are written on the bayit of the tefillah shel rosh. A three-headed shin protrudes on the right side of the bayit cube of the tefillah shel rosh. A four-headed shin protrudes on the left side of the bayit cube of the shel rosh. There are different customs of how the shape of the shin appears, as there are different customs of the calligraphy used for parchments. A knot (kesher) is tied on the strap of the head tefillah, so that it can fit on a person’s head. There are different customs concerning the shape of the knot, which forms the Hebrew letter Dalet.

Three Hebrew letters are found on the Tefillin: The letter Shin on the sides of the bayit shel rosh, the head tefillah. The letter Dalet on the kesher shel rosh, the knot on the head tefillah; and the letter Yud on the kesher shel yad, the knot on the hand tefillah. These three letters spell out on of the holy names of God, Shaddai, Shin Dalet Yud.

What are retzuot?
The retzuot are the leather straps, which tradition states, should be at least the length of barley-corn in width. The Babylonian Talmud in Shabbat 108a quotes Exodus 13:9, which states, “so that the Torah of God will be in our mouths.” Hence, the leather of the straps for the Tefillin must be from an edible animal, i.e. a kosher animal, and must be processed with the intention of being used for tefillin. The length of the straps for the head tefillah should be sufficient to surround the head, tie the knot, and extend on either side of the head until they reach the navel or a little above it. According to the Tur, Orach Chayim, 27, the strap of the right side should hang slightly lower than that of the left. The length of the strap of the hand tefillah should be sufficient enough to surround the muscle and forearm, tie its knot, and extend until it can be wound three times around the middle finger and tied. The lengths are minimum measures. If the straps are longer than these lengths, the tefillin are still usable.

How have we learned how Tefillin should be made?
It is traditionally believed, as learned in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, that ten details of Tefillin are laws given to Moses at Sinai, and so, these ten details of Tefillin cannot be changed in any way. Two of these are with regards to their writing, and eight of them are regarding the covering and the tying of the straps. These are the two regarding their writing: They must be written in ink, and they must be written on parchment. The following text from Mishneh Torah, Tefillin, Mezuzah and the Torah Scroll 3:1 teaches the eight halachot (laws) with regards to the making of Tefillin that are halakhah (law) from Moses at Sinai:

Tefillin must be square, and they are sewn shut in a square, and the casing must be square on all sides.
In the leather of the headpiece is the shape of the Hebrew letter shin on the right and on the left.
The parchments must be tied with a piece of parchment.
The parchments must then be tied with hair above the strap, and then placed into the compartments.
They must be tied shut with sinew.
They must be made with a passage from leather covering that straps can pass through easily.
The straps must be black.
The knot must be in the shape of the Hebrew letter dalet.!

Significance of the Number 7 with Tefillin 

The tefillah shel rosh, the head tefillin, has a three-headed letter shin on one side of the bayit, box, and a four headed shin on the other side of the bayit, thus adding up to seven.

The straps, or retuzot, are wrapped seven times around the person’s arm - perhaps for the seven days of the week; maybe because seven is a number of completeness in Judaism. One can count seven by saying each of the days of the week, or the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and then the four matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Another way of counting seven, is to recite the Peh verse of the Ashrei prayer, which has seven words - Potech et yadech oo’masberah l’chol chai razon -  which means “You open Your hand and Your favor sustains all the living.” The parshiyot, Torah portions, in the tefillah shel yad, the arm tefillin, are written on seven lines. The number seven is associated with holiness - for example, Shabbat is the seventh day; shemittah, sabbatical, the seventh year; yovel, jubilee, arrives after seven shemittah cycles.

Reflection of Tefillin as loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and might

This is a reflection written in “A Ritual For the First Time a Woman Dons Tefillin,” by Ellen S. Wolintz as a Fourth-Year Rabbinical Student at the Jewish Theological Seminary on December 15, 1997, for a Final Project for a class entitled “Theological Issues in Liturgy” taught by Rabbi Neil Gillman. Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields, January 27, 2019, has revised the reflection, to apply to any gender, for any time one dons Tefillin. The hope is that people will use this reflection when donning Tefillin, and will find the mitzvah more meaningful by reading it before wrapping.

The purpose of this reflection is to have a person think about the importance of Tefillin, its strength that one will fulfill the verse in the Shema that one should love God with all one’s heart, soul, and might. The reflection is to put the person in the proper frame of mind, to see the intensity and mitzvah of Tefillin. We begin by saying:

As God puts on Tefillin, and Tefillin gives strength to God, so I put on Tefillin.

Tefillin is a reminder of our covenant with God, Tefillin gives us strength. Tefillin is a reminder of God’s selection of Israel to be God’s witnesses of this covenant between God and the people of Israel, both men and women. The Torah, in Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verse 5, teaches us to: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” V’ahavta et Adonai elohecha b’chol l’vavcha oo’v’chol nafshecha oo’v’chol m’odecha.

I love God with all my might, so today, I show my love for God by placing the arm Tefillin, the tefillah shel yad, opposite the heart, the seat of life.

I love God with all my soul, so today, I show my love for God by placing the head Tefillin, the tefillah shel rosh, on my head, near my mind, which I will dedicate to the love of God.

I love God with all my might, so today, I show my love for God in a new way, by binding the Tefillin straps around my arm, which is my strength, so that I dedicate all my strength and power to love God.

As I bind the Tefillin straps around my arms, seven times, each time I wrap the Tefillin, I recite the names of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, for they began our covenant and bond with God, and I continue it.

Love is the basis of the Torah, and our Patriarchs and Matriarchs have taught me to love God, with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might. The binding will draw me closer to God, and will strengthen my bond of love with God. The binding of Tefillin forges a spiritual bond with God. Not only is Tefillin a spiritual bond, but it is also a physical bond. Tefillin is a symbol reminding me of my faith in God, and the bond of love between God, and God’s people. Tefillin is my way to show my gratitude to God for all I have received. It is the tradition, that God chose the Jewish people to receive the Torah, so I hope to study Torah each day.

 Women and Mitzvot by Rabbi Pamela Barmash

The teshuvah, responsa, entitled “Women and Mitzvot,” authored by Rabbi Pamela Barmash, was approved by the Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards on April 29, 2014 by a vote of fifteen in favor, three against, and three abstaining (15 - 3 - 3). The question posed was: “Are Jewish women responsible for observing the mitzvot from which they have traditionally been exempted?” The final decision, or pesakwas “Women and men are equally obligated to observe the mitzvot, with the exception of those mitzvot that are determined by sexual anatomy.”

Rabbi Barmash’s teshuvah was both retrospective and prospective. “It is breathtaking to see the vast advances in the participation of women in the Conservative movement in the past century, especially accelerated in recent decades. Who would have imagined the developments that have occurred since the first declarations and decisions of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards on the role of women in 1955? At the same time, we must take a prospective view toward the future: how do we envision the spiritual life of the communities we are aspiring to build and nurture? Egalitarianism, the equality of women in the observance of mitzvot, is not just about the participation of women: it is about fostering the fulfillment of mitzvot by all Jews…What women could not do was to be involved in public ritual acts and fulfill mitzvot on behalf of men. This impediment was due to their subordinate social status. The role of women in public life has changed dramatically in modernity. In society in general, women are now involved in commerce and the professions on an equal basis with men, and secular law considers women legally free and independent. In Jewish communities, women have been seeking to enrich their lives with more mitzvot. The changes in women’s social lives in general and in Jewish communities are not just a matter of external behavior, but reflect a changed perception of women. Women are now seen as equal to men in social status, in intellectual ability, and in political and legal rights. The historical circumstances in which women were exempted from certain mitzvot are no longer operative, and we must embrace the realities of life in the 21st century. The principle of “times have changed” has been used in halakhic analysis to make dramatic alterations in tradition. When social customs change significantly, the changed social reality requires a reappraisal of halakhah. The change in the social status of women calls for a new determination of women’s responsibility for mitzvot and participation in public ritual acts. The Conservative movement has been in the process of making a new determination for many decades. In Conservative synagogues, schools, and camps, women have been taught to observe mitzvotfrom which they have been traditionally exempted, and have been educated to participate in public ritual observance.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards therefore rules that women are now held equally responsible for the mitzvot as men have been. Women are responsible for the mitzvot of reciting the Shema and the Shemoneh Esreh, wearing tzitzit and donning Tefillin, residing in a sukkah, taking up the lulav, hearing the shofar, counting the omer, and studying Torah.

...A Special Note - It is the case that learning to integrate the performance of mitzvot into our daily routines takes time and reflective effort for all of us, both women and men. For those in our communities who are in their beginning steps in the journey of mitzvot, and even for those of us who have integrated many mitzvot into the path of our lives, it must be emphasized that we are all trying to increase the holiness that mitzvot bring to our lives and that each mitzvah observed causes holiness to suffuse our lives more and more. Each mitzvah allows us to walk another step in the journey toward and with God. In the process of learning the observance of mitzvot, no one is expected to learn to fulfill every mitzvah all at once. For many women who grew up in a different atmosphere regarding women’s roles, the call to observe mitzvot heretofore closed to them will be inspiring and deeply spiritual. They will feel ready to fulfill many mitzvot, and they will eagerly learn new habits. But for some women who were raised in a non-egalitarian or not-completely egalitarian atmosphere, it is understandable that they may be hesitant to take on new mitzvot. Learning new mitzvot may be challenging, and some women may find certain mitzvot daunting for a significant span of time. However, it is the calling of our communities, synagogues, schools, and camps to teach men and women to consider themselves equally obligated to fulfill mitzvot and to educate them equally in mitzvot...

Summary - The general exclusion of women from many mitzvot is based on the characterization of those mitzvot as positive and time-bound. A number of reasons have been devised for the link between this category and the exclusion of women from those mitzvot. However, it turns out that this category was devised for exegetical (formal interpretive) purposes, and only later was the category extended to other mitzvot from which women had already been excluded. It was never a generative principle. Instead, women were excluded because they had subordinate status. They were exempted from the mitzvot that Jews are obligated to observe in the normal course of the day, week, and year because the essential ritual acts should be performed only by those of the highest social standing, those who were independent, those who were heads of their own households, not subordinate to anyone else. Only males were considered to be fitting candidates to honor God in the most fit way. The acts of those who were subordinate honor God in a lesser way and, therefore, women were excluded from them. Furthermore, social standing matters in relations between human beings, and those of higher social standing would lose their dignity if some of lower social standing functioned on their behalf. Women were endowed with ritual responsibilities for others inside the home because the rabbis thought that women had the intellect and reliability to do so. It was social status alone that determined whether women were exempted from certain mitzvot. Women were also not involved in public ritual ceremonies because of their position in social hierarchy. The involvement of women in Jewish religious and liturgical life has changed significantly in the past century and even more in the past few decades. Jewish women are aspiring to the privileges and responsibilities enjoyed by Jewish men through the millennia. The halakhah has recognized that, when social customs change significantly, the new social reality requires a reappraisal of halakhic practices. The historical circumstances in which women were exempted from time-bound positive mitzvot are no longer operative, and the Conservative movement has, for almost a century, moved toward greater and greater inclusion of women in mitzvot. In Jewish thought and practice, the highest rank and esteem is for those who are required to fulfill mitzvot. We rule, therefore, that women and men are equally obligated to observe the mitzvot. We call upon Conservative synagogues, schools, and camps to educate men and women in equal observance of mitzvot and to expect and require their equal observance of mitzvot.”

Sun, May 26 2024 18 Iyyar 5784