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Tefillin (Phylacteries)

(Taking a brief break from transcribing.)


By the time I was born my father had become an atheist, and remained so for the rest of his life. After he died I found relics of his earlier life in the bottom drawer of his dresser. These tefillin had been stored with a tallit (prayer shawl) and prayer books. I was fascinated to find these, since I grew up largely non-observant. My own spirituality is not tied to any one religion, though Judaism (and my interpretation of it) is where my roots lie.


According to "The Mitzvah of Tefillin" from BeingJewish.com, The Torah specifies in four places that one should wear tefillin: Deut. 6:4-9, Deut. 11:13-21, Exodus 13:1-10, and Exodus 13:11-16. ("And you shall bind them as a sign on your arm, and they shall be as frontlets on your head between your eyes" -- Deuteronomy 6:8.) Unlike the modern chapter and verse system introduced by Christians, the original scriptures had these four sections as separate chapters in the Torah.


Each chapter is written on a small piece of parchment and placed into a leather housing, which a man places on the arm and the head, along with special leather straps, for morning prayers.


The aged condition of the tefillin shown here makes them unsuitable for prayer. Since there are two sets, I suspect one had been my father's and the other had been his father's, though I don't know which. Assuming each had received the tefillin during his bar mitzvah, that would date my father's to 1931 and his father's to 1899.

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Uploaded on February 24, 2006