What in the World is a

  Lorraine Day, M.D

In speaking about the Pharisees, Jesus said: 

“But all their works they do to be seen of men, they make broad their phylacteries. . .”  Matt 23:5 

So, what is a Phylactery? 

Tefillin (Ashkenazic; Israeli Hebrew): also called phylactery (meaning “to guard, protect”) are a set of small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment inscribed with verses from the Old Testament, which are worn by observant (Orthodox) Jews during weekday morning prayers.  The hand-tefillin is placed on the upper arm, and the strap wrapped around the arm, hand and fingers; while the head-tefillin, is placed above the forehead.  

They are worn by Orthodox Jews because they believe that the Old Testament commands that they should be worn to serve as a “sign” and “remembrance” that God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt. 

See the attached picture of an Orthodox Jew wearing a small black box strapped to the top of his forehead and another strapped to his arm, with the straps winding around his hand and his forearm. 

Where did the Jews get this strange idea? 

This is a perfect example of “Sense Knowledge” vs. Revelation Knowledge.  One cannot understand God’s word unless he has the spirit of God in him.  As Paul said, 

“The natural (soulish) man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they (spiritual things) are spiritually discerned.”  1 Cor 2:14 

The word “natural” (literal “soulish”) refers to a person who only understand with his five senses.  He has no spiritual discernment. 

The texts the Orthodox Jews use to support their ritual of wearing phylacteries are the following: 

“And it shall be for a sign for you upon 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 did the Lord bring you out of Egypt.”  Ex 13:9 

“And it shall be for a sign upon your hand, and as a token between your eyes; for with a mighty hand did the Lord bring us forth out of Egypt.”  Ex 13:16 

The preceding passages come from Moses’ speech to the people reminding them to keep the Feast of unleavened bread when they come into the land of Canaan that God has promised them.  Moses continues: 

“And thou shalt show thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the Lord did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt.”  Ex 13:8 

God frequently uses the “forehead” to symbolize the frontal lobes of the brain where memory and judgment reside.  And the “hand” symbolizes the “action” that confirms what the individual “believes” in the “forehead” (judgment area of the brain). 

In this instance, God is telling the Israelites not to forget all the wonders God did for them when He delivered them from slavery in Egypt (which represents God delivering us from “sin”) and taking them to the “Promised Land” (which represents God making us one with Him – through the trials and tribulations in our life, symbolized by the literal trials endured by the Israelites for the forty years in the wilderness). 

God is instructing the Israelites to remember to tell their children and their grandchildren – and THEIR grandchildren - the mighty works of God during the Exodus, how He provided their food (manna from heaven), how He provided their water (often from a Rock – representing Jesus, the Living Water), how He kept them cool in the heat of the day with His cloud cover, and kept them warm at night with the Pillar of Fire, and how their clothes and shoes never wore out. 

And how their actions (signified by the “hand”) should confirm their belief.  They will obey God in all they do because He delivered them from slavery in Egypt to a “land of milk and honey” in Canaan.  He “never left them nor forsook them.”  Heb 13:5 

Unfortunately, the Pharisees of Jesus’ time and the Jews of today, have never understood Spiritual things.  They can only interpret them with “sense knowledge” not “revelation knowledge” because “revelation knowledge” – Spiritual discernment - only comes from a close relationship with Jesus Christ.

So, instead of understanding the spiritual nature of God’s command, they could only understand it in “sense knowledge” literal terms.  They have made tiny copies of the Ten Commandments, rolled them up in tiny scrolls and placed them in these black boxes to be literally tied on their forehead and on their hand. 

Two additional texts the orthodox Jews use to support the use of phylacteries are: 

“And you shall bind them as a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”  Deut 6:8 

“You shall put these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall tie them for a sign upon your arm and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.”  Deut 11:18 

In Deuteronomy, Chapter 6, Moses is speaking to the Israelites: 

“Now 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: 

“That thou mightest stand in awe of 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. 

“Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to observe and do it: that it may be well with thee, and that ye may multiply greatly, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee in the land that floweth with milk and honey.

“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord: 

“And thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

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

“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children and shall 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. 

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

“And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”  Deut 6:1-9 

It is also customary for orthodox Jews to actually “Write the ten commandments on their door posts.  I have personally seen tiny copies of the Ten Commandments glued to the door jamb of the front door of their home.

Sense Knowledge vs. Spiritual Understanding 

How pitiful it is to see that these orthodox Jews have no revelation knowledge, whatsoever.  They are unable to see the symbolic, spiritual nature of God’s commands.  They cannot understand spiritual things.  They can only understand literally – with sense knowledge. 

And they never seem to question how tying a box on their head or on their arm can make them holy. 

The Jews admit that “the scriptural texts for tefillin (phylactery) are obscure in literal meaning.  For example, the verse in Deut 11:18 does not designate what specifically to ‘bind upon your arm,’ and the definition of token (totafot in Hebrew) is not obvious.  It is the Talmud, the authoritative oral tradition for Rabbinic Judaism, which explains what are to be bound to the body and the form of tefillin.” 

So, the entire ritual is explained NOT in the word of God, but in the Talmud, the “written-down” Oral traditions of the Pharisees that Jesus so strongly rebuked! 

To show the oppressive rules for every aspect of the life of an orthodox Jew, here as just a few of the Talmudic rules regarding the phylacteries: 

Mode of writing:  The parchment on which the biblical passages are written need not be ruled (“Yad,” l.c.i.12), although the custom is to rule it.  A pointed instrument that leaves no blot should be used in ruling; the use of a pencil is forbidden (Orah Hayyim, 32,6, Isserles’ gloss).  The scribe should be very careful in writing the selections.  Before beginning to write he should pronounce the words, “I am writing this for the sake of the holiness of tefillin”: and before he begins to write any of the names of God occurring in the texts, he should say, “I am writing this for the sake of the holiness of the Name.”  Throughout the writing his attention must not be diverted;” even if the King of Israel should then greet him he is forbidden to reply” (“Yad,” l.c.i.15; Orah Hayyim, 32,19).  If he omits even one letter, the whole inscription becomes unfit.  If he inserts a superfluous letter at the  beginning or at the end of a word, he may erase it, but If in the middle of a word, the whole becomes unfit (“Yad,”l.c.ii.; Orah Hayyim, 32,23, and “Be’er Heteb,” ad loc.)  The letters must be distinct and not touch each other; space must be left between them, between the words, and between the lines, as also between the verses (Orah Hayyim, 32,32, Isserles’ loss; comp. “Magen Abraham” and “Be’er Heteb” ad loc.)  The letters where they occur in the selections are adorned with some fanciful ornamentation (Men. 29b; see Tosl, s.v. “Sham’atnez”); some scribes adorn other letters also (Orah Hayyim, 36, 3, and “Be’er Heteb,” ad loc.).  In writing the selections it is customary to devote seven lines to each paragraph in the hand-phylactery, and four lines to each paragraph in the head-phylactery (Orah Hayym, 35).” 

This gives a person a very good view of how the Talmud makes the life of an orthodox Jew a literal “hell.”  There are hundreds of rules that control every moment of the life of every orthodox Jew.  

That’s why Jesus rebuked the Oral Traditions of the Pharisees so strongly.  They “tied heavy burdens” on the people but didn’t follow all those rules themselves.  The control of the Talmud was, and is, for the rank and file Orthodox Jews, and the Kabbalah (Cabala) guides the life of the Rabbis and the elitists.  The Kabbalah is the Jewish “holy book” of degeneracy, witchcraft, and sex magic.  It says, “Do what thou wilt.  That is the whole law.” 

Literal, sense-knowledge interpretations of the Bible are the sign of spiritual immaturity. 

Unfortunately, the majority of Christians have the same problem – interpreting the Bible – particularly the New Testament – literally rather than Spiritually. 

Christians may look at the ritual of the orthodox Jew in tying on his forehead a little black box containing a copy of the Ten Commandments as downright foolishness.  But Christians shouldn’t be so critical.  They have their own rituals that are just as foolish. 

A perfect example is the ritual of Communion.  When Jesus said we must “drink His blood and eat His flesh” He was clearly not giving us directions to be taken literally.  Jesus described Himself as the “Word” – that “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1,14).  He described Himself as the “bread” from heaven (John 6:58).  

We are to eat physical food to keep us alive physically and we are to “eat” spiritual food (devouring of God’s Word) to keep us alive spiritually.  

Eating a cracker and drinking a thimble full of fermented wine or unfermented grape juice cannot make anyone holier anymore than tying around one’s head a little black box containing a copy of the Ten Commandments.  The only way to become one with Christ is to spend time daily in diligent Bible study and fervent prayer. 

God wants to write His law (the Ten Commandments) on our hearts and in our mind (“forehead”) in order to change our nature to become like His.  Rituals don’t accomplish that.  Diligent daily Bible study and fervent prayer can accomplish that.

Spiritual Immaturity 

The Bible tells us that signs and wonders are for the spiritually immature (Matt 24:24, Mark 13:22, John 4:48).  And so are rituals.  They are embraced by those who interpret the Bible in sense knowledge only – by those who have no spiritual understanding. 

“The natural (soulish) man receiveth not the things of the spirit.  They are foolishness to him.  Neither can he know them because spiritual things are (only) spiritually discerned.”  1 Cor 2:14  

“But all their works they do for to be seen of men, they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the places of honor in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Teacher (Rabbi), Teacher (Rabbi). 

“But be not ye called Rabbi (Teacher): for ONE is your Teacher, even Christ: and ALL ye are brethren.”  Matt 23: 5-8