697. Phylacteries

 •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Whether the commands in Exodus 13:9,169And 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. (Exodus 13:9)
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. (Exodus 13:16)
; Deuteronomy 6:88And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:8); and 11:18, concerning the duty of binding the word upon the hand and head, were designed to be interpreted figuratively or literally, is a disputed point among commentators. The Jews have for ages attached to them a literal meaning, though some writers claim that this was not done until after the captivity. Whatever the original design of the injunction may have been, in the time of the Saviour it was supposed by all the Jews (excepting the Karaites, who gave to the passages above cited a figurative meaning) to be a duty to wear upon their persons certain portions of the law.
The passages selected were Exodus 13:1-101And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 2Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine. 3And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye 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. 4This day came ye out in the month Abib. 5And it shall be when the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, that thou shalt keep this service in this month. 6Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, and in the seventh day shall be a feast to the Lord. 7Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters. 8And 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. 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. 10Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year. (Exodus 13:1‑10); Exodus 13:11-1611And it shall be when the Lord shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, 12That thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the Lord's. 13And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. 14And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the Lord brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: 15And 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 firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem. 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. (Exodus 13:11‑16); Deuteronomy 6:4-94Hear, 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. (Deuteronomy 6:4‑9); and Deuteronomy 11:13-2113And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil. 15And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full. 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: 21That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:13‑21). These four sections were written in Hebrew on strips of parchment with ink prepared especially for the purpose. There were two sorts of phylacteries—one for the arm, and one for the head. That for the arm consisted of one strip of parchment on which the above texts were written. This was enclosed in a small square case of parchment or black calfskin, and fastened with a long, narrow leather strap to the inside of the arm, between the bend of the elbow and the shoulder, that when the arm touched the body the law might be near the heart. The strap was carefully wound around the arm and the fingers until the ends came out by the tip of the middle finger. The Sadducees, however, wore the phylacteries in the palm of the left hand instead of on the arm. The case for the forehead consisted of four cells, and had four strips of parchment on which the before-mentioned texts were written. It was fastened by leather straps on the forehead, between the eyes, and near the roots of the hair; or, as the rabbins say, “where the pulse of an infant’s brain is.”
The phylacteries were worn by the men only. The common people wore them only during prayers, but the Pharisees wore them continually; and as they sought by inclosing the parchment strips in larger boxes than ordinary to attract the attention of the people, the Saviour denounces them for making “broad their phylacteries.” He does not condemn the wearing them, but the ostentation connection with it. They became badges of vanity and hypocrisy; and, not unlikely, were used as amulets, though some writers deny this.
Modern Jews continue the use of the phylacteries, which they call tephillin; that is, prayer-fillets, because they use them in time of prayer.