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Tefillin – Jewish or Israelite?

March 30, 2012
The Bar Mitzvah Boy by Chaim Zvi on Flickr

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

 5And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

 6And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:

 7And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

 8And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.

 9And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Tefillin, pictured above, are leather boxes containing Torah Scrolls which observant Jews bind to their arm and forehead in observance of Deuteronomy 6:8. This command is contained in a portion of the Torah is known as the Shema by Judaism. It is called this because the first word of the section, in Hebrew, is Shema.

The word Shema, Strong’s 8085,  means to hear intelligently and obey. Depending on the context, it can have other connotations as well. A similar usage occurs in Isaiah 1:2, Hear O Heavens, and give ear, O Earth.

So, the question is, is this section of scripture intended for believers today? Are we to hear the words of God and Obey them? On first glance we say, “Of course!”  The question could be asked, however, are we to literally do this? Isn’t this written on our hearts and minds?

Hebrews 10:16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them

In the interest of being thorough, let’s examine a bit further, shall we?

Deuteronomy 6

1Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it:

2That thou mightest fear the LORD thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged.

3Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.

The first question I have is who is speaking and to whom?

Deuteronomy 5

1And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them.

Moses is speaking to all of Israel. What is he talking about?

In Chapter 5 Moses recounts the 10 Commandments, and reminds Israel to their commitment to YHVH at the base of Mt. Sinai. Then he continues in Chapter 6 speaking to all of Israel giving the Shema.

Next question, Why are we to do this?

Deuteronomy 6:2 tells us that doing these things will make us God-Fearing. In 5:29 Moses tells the people of when he spoke to Yahweh and Yahweh said,

 29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!

So, does Yahweh want us to be truly afraid of him? In the way that we might fear being trapped in a burning building or ravaged by wild dogs? I don’t believe so; I think that He wants us to have a healthy respect for Him so that we always obey. I think he wants this in the same way that any good father wants for his children.

In doing these things, what do we get besides fear? Blessings!

What Kind of Blessings?

Deuteronomy 6:3

  • Things will be good for you
  • You will increase greatly

Deuteronomy 6:10,11

  • He will give you Great Cities, which you have not built
  • Houses full of all good things, which you didn’t build or fill
  • Wells that you didn’t dig
  • Vineyards and olive trees that you didn’t plant

Sounds good, right?  I think so but, what happens if we don’t obey? The opposite of blessings are curses.

6:15(For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.

We still haven’t answered the “Hearts and Souls” question though, have we?

Deuteronomy 11

16Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them;

17And then the LORD’s wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you.

18Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.

19And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

20And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates:

We can see in verse 11:18 that we are commanded to both lay these words into our hearts and souls and also bind them onto our hands. Are there any other references in the Tanakh of  the laws of God being written onto our hearts and souls?

Psalm 37

30The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment. 31The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.

Proverbs 3

1My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:

2For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.

3Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:

Psalm 40

8I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.

Psalm 119

11Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

Isaiah 51

7Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings.

It seems that there were at least some people who had the laws of God written onto their hearts even before the coming of Messiah. If some of the people already had the law written onto their hearts, did it excuse those people from actually doing these things?

 Zechariah 7

12Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.

James 1

22But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

23For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:

24For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

25But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

It seems to me that those who made their hearts as stone and did not hearken to do the things commanded by God were the reason for the dispersal of Israel among the nations.

 Hosea 4

6My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.

Are there other places in scripture where we are commanded to bind the words of YHVH to ourselves? In addition to the two passages from Deuteronomy – 6:8 & 11:18 there is Exodus 13:9, 16

Exodus 13

9And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD’s law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.

16And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.

Does Yahweh literally want us to bind his words to our foreheads? This is a difficult question, but I’ll take a shot at it.  Oftentimes in scripture God seems to give us prophetic shadows of things to come. The Spring Feasts of The Lord were fulfilled at Yeshua’s first coming and the Fall Feasts will be fulfilled at his second. Are there any prophetic patterns involving marks on the forehead or arms?

Ezekiel 9

4And the LORD said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.

5And to the others he said in mine hearing, Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity:

6Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house.

We are told that at some point in the future there is going to be an angel going door to door through the streets of Jerusalem marking the righteous on the forehead. Those who do not receive the mark will be slain and their bodies piled up in the courtyards and villages.

I seem to recall some other prophetic scriptures relating to marks on foreheads and arms….

Revelation 13

1And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

16And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: 17And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Am I suggesting that Tefillin are the mark of blasphemy? I don’t think so, they surely can’t be both the mark of the righteous and the mark of the beast. How do they relate to the mark of the beast then?

Perhaps YHVH has given believers something to put in the very places that these marks will go so that when the time comes for the beast to do his work believers will either:

  • Not be able to receive the mark because something holy is already there


  • Remember not to receive the mark because they know that the word of YHVH is to be as frontlets on their eyes and arms.

It appears a case can be made that:

  1. This commandment hasn’t been done away with by the writing of the law on our hearts and minds
  2. There may be a prophetic reason YHVH commands this to be done

If we are to literally obey this, how is it to be done? Are Tefillin correct? Are they the only thing that is correct?

Matthew 23

5But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

Matthew 23 is a chapter in which Yeshua is chastising the scribes and the pharisees. Phylacteries is a Greek term used to describe the Tefillin:

The Jews used this word to describe small strips of parchment on which were written the following passages of the law of Moses, Ex. 13:1-10, 11-16; Dt. 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and which, enclosed in small cases, they were accustomed when engaged in prayer to wear fastened by a leather strap to the forehead and to the left arm over against the heart, in order that they might thus be solemnly reminded of the duty of keeping the commands of God in the head and in the heart, according to the directions given in Ex. 13:16, Dt. 6:8, 11:18; These scrolls were thought to have the power, like amulets, to avert various evils and to drive away demons. The Pharisees were accustomed to widen, make broad, their phylacteries, that they might render them more conspicuous and show themselves to be more eager than the majority to be reminded of the law of God.

Note that he is chastising them for having a holier than thou attitude towards the populace, thinking and acting as though they are better than everyone else. Purposely calling attention to how obedient they are to God, even though they render the word of God void through their traditions.

In the midst of this he chastises them saying, They make broad their phylacteries. Note that he said they make their phylacteries broad, conspicuous, noticeable; He didn’t say, They wear phylacteries. If Jesus had wanted to speak against the wearing of Tefillin, he would have done so. Instead he uses the opportunity to instruct that the attitude you have is what is important. If you have the wrong attitude, even doing the right things isn’t good enough.

I feel that Tefillin are clearly not wrong, or Messiah would have said so.

If Tefillin are acceptable are there any other ways to do this that are equally acceptable?

There isn’t any clear guidance, that I am aware of, in scripture that says what is to go on the forehead or arm. It just says to bind the words to your arm and frontlets. Lil Wayne seems to have found an interesting way to achieve this: (If you’ve actually read this far into this study, I’m guessing that you were ready for a little break, I’m not endorsing Lil’ Wayne by any stretch, but it is interesting to see what effect reading The Bible in prison for months on end had on this person.)

OK, so I’m not suggesting that you have Fear God tattooed across your eyes, in fact I’m not even certain that we should get tattoos, but that’s another study for another day.  My only point is that scripture does not specifically say HOW to bind the words of YHVH or which words to bind.

The Tefillin contains the words of  Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9 & 11:13-21. As you can see from quotations above, these passages are passages which contain commands regarding the binding of commandments onto our arms and eyes.  It is worth noting that, in these passages, we are told twice to remember the Exodus and twice to remember the Torah.

What about the words used in the commands, do any of them have a meaning that might be missed in translation?

In all four of those passages the only words that really stand out as possibly cryptic are frontlets and bind.

Bind, as in the commands, is Strong’s word H7194: qashar – to tie; physically or mentally. Interesting that it can be figurative or literal based on the definition of the word. Compare to H7405: rakac – to bind. This is the word used in Exodus 28:28 and 39:21, concerning the High Priests Breastplate.

Frontlets is Strong’s H2903: towphaphah (A more modern transliteration is Totafot) – to go around or bind; bands, phylacteries, frontlets, marks. OK, so frontlets means phylacteries and phylacteries means Tefillin. Interesting.

Even Constantinian Christians seem to agree with this:

Frontlets: (Exodus 13:16; 6:8; 11:18; Matthew 23:5) These “frontlets” or “phylacteries” were strips of parchment, on which were written four passages of Scripture, (Exodus 13:2-10,11-17; 6:4-9,13-23) in an ink prepared for the purpose. They were then rolled up in a case of black calfskin, which was attached to a stiffer piece of leather, having a thong one finger broad and one and a half cubits long. They were placed at the bend of the left arm. Those worn on the forehead were written on four strips of parchment, and put into four little cells within a square case on which the letter was written. The square had two thongs, on which Hebrew letters were inscribed. That phylacteries were used as amulets is certain, and was very natural. The expression “they make broad their phylacteries,” (Matthew 23:5) refers not so much to the phylactery itself, which seems to have been of a prescribed breadth, as to the case in which the parchment was kept, which the Pharisees, among their other pretentious customs, (Mark 7:3,4; Luke 5:33) etc., made as conspicuous as they could. It is said that the Pharisees wore them always, whereas the common people only used them at prayers.

What’s really interesting is that not all Jews seem to agree:

It should be noted that the difficult word “Totafot” which the Rabbis arbitrarily interpret to mean “Tefillin”, actually means “Remembrance”. This is clear from Ex 13,9 (one of the four “Tefillin” passages) which substitutes the word “Totafot” with the equivalent but more familiar “Zicharon” (Remembrance).

This passage comes from The Karaite Korner.  Karaite Judaism is different from Rabbinical Judaism in that they reject the oral Torah and only belive in the validity of written scriptures.  They also expect each believer to read the scriptures for themselves and not to rely on the interpretations provided by others.

Most Karaites reject the use of Tefillin because they say it is not found in the scriptures, instead they believe that it is a figure of speech and they point to various verses in the Tanakh for support:

Proverbs 6

21Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck.

Proverbs 3

3Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:

Proverbs 1

9For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.

It’s obvious that not every commandment in Torah is to be taken literally; As they note, when God tells us to circumcise our hearts, he doesn’t want us to commit suicide.  So where do Tefillin fall? Literal or figurative? I mean, even if “frontlets” actually means remembrances, you can still have an actual physical reminder of something couldn’t you?

Let’s recap –

Is this commandment done away with because it is written on our hearts and Minds?

  • I don’t think so; if that were the case wouldn’t it follow that all the other commandments are similarly done away with?
  • Are we still to be God-fearing? In my life I strive to Fear Only God and Hate Only Sin.
  • Do we want Yahweh to bless us or curse us?

Is the commandment literal or figurative?

  • It is hard, for me, to say with certainty, however:
  1. The possible prophetic foreshadowing
  2. The fact that Yeshua did not completely condemn the practice

To me this indicates that it is not wrong to consider the commandment to be literal.

What are the prophetic implications of this commandment?

  • As hard as it is to know for sure the meanings of prophecy, there are two classes of people who will receive marks in the later days:
  1. Believers will receive a mark of life
  2. The Beast will give the mark of death

What did the Messiah Teach?

  • The only teaching of Yeshua that seems to relate to Tefillin is that they are not to be worn in order to demonstrate your righteousness to the masses.
  • He did not condemn the practice all together.

Are Tefillin scriptural?

  • They are neither explicitly approved or condemned.

If the commandment is interpreted literally, are Tefillin the only correct way to observe this commandment?

  • Tefillin are not explicitly commanded in Torah or the rest of the Tanakh, They are however explicitly commanded in the Talmud.
  • If viewed as a way to fulfill the commandments to remember the Exodus and the Torah, they may be helpful to the practice of the believer, however as scripture does not directly state that Tefillin are the only way to fulfill this, I belive that there may be other acceptable alternatives as well.

In discussing Tefillin, a friend told me: The frontal lobe they say controls planning and motivation.  Your actions are the result of your brains planning and motivation.  If our lives are centered around Torah, we will plan and be motivated by it and thus our actions will follow (work of the hands).

Fascinatingly, A study was published in The Chinese Journal of Medicine stating that putting on Tefillin is a unique way of stimulating a very precise set of acupuncture points that appears designed to “clear the mind and harmonise the spirit”. Interesting that the points of contact for the Tefillin are precisely the same as those used in acupuncture to increase spirituality and purify thoughts.

Yahweh wants us to Remember the Exodus and how we were brought out of Egypt, even as he prepares us for the future Exodus; He wants is to Remember the Torah. It is important to both hear and do The Word – Live Torah with our hands and our minds.

Psalm 1

1Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

2But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

After this was published, I was deep in prayer one evening and Abba told me to clean my house.  I am a single man, and my house is not as tidy as it could be. Despite this it seemed odd to me that the Creator of the Universe would take time out of ruling the Heavens and the Earth to tell me pick up around the place.  Although I did not intend to question him, he could tell that I thought it was an odd thing for him to say to me. Then I understood that although he did mean that I was to literally clean my house, he also meant it metaphorically.  As I continued to pray it was revealed to me that he wasn’t just talking about my house, he was telling me about this as well. It doesn’t have to be just Literal or Metaphorical.  It can be both.

One Comment leave one →
  1. K. Fox permalink
    March 30, 2012 14:23

    A good study brother. I think we can leave the literal wearing to conviction, and the figurative wearing certainly agrees with the New Covenant scripture you already quoted In Hebrews 10:16.

    I think this bit of scripture gives us a clue: 9And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD’s law may be in thy mouth: to have his Law in your mouth, you need to know it, memorize it, understand it, it needs to be written on your heart, because what comes out of your mouth is what is in your heart.

    Mat 15:16 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?
    Mat 15:17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?
    Mat 15:18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.
    Mat 15:19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
    Mat 15:20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

    The written on your hand, or bound to your hand to me, in an action oriented Hebraic context, would mean DOING the commandments.

    Therefore, by reading, memorizing, studying the commandments, they are in your mind, they are a frontlet to your eyes just as a bridle steers a horse, and they are in or on your hand when you DO them.

    Just my 2 cents worth.
    Thank you for your study brother, Shalom.

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