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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

If I’m going to be a rabbi (one of these years) it’s about time I started acting the part… and not just on weekends. So today I went to morning minyan. A minyan is the quorum of 10 people required to say certain prayers, the idea being that if you force people to gather in order to recite important prayers, then you’re more likely to ensure that the Jewish community remains just that, a community, instead of a scattering of people all over the world. (Which to a great extent happened anyway, but that’s for another day. Today we’re talking about tefillin.)

Every morning, 10 or more people say the morning prayers together. Now, in an Orthodox synagogue, only the men count. In pretty much all of the rest of Judaism, women count too (hooray for Jewish feminism!) And women can choose to fulfill the commandment of wearing tefillin when praying on weekday mornings (i.e. any day except Shabbat).

If you’ve never seen it, a person who’s wearing tefillin looks decidedly odd. For one thing, they’ve got a small box attached to their forehead by leather straps. And there’s another one strapped to their forearm.

Why do such a thing? Because in Deuteronomy (chapter 6, verses 5-10) it says:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (translation by the Jewish Publication Society).

Being the literalists that we Jews are (sometimes) we figured out a way to fulfill the letter of the law. Hopefully the intent as well.

Want to see what it looks like? Here are couple of links, one to my very favorite, Tefillin Barbie, thanks to the Jewish Women’s Archives. The second one is to a VERY Orthodox website; not my cup of tea, but it’s got pretty good illustrations and directions on how to wear them.


Next time I make it to morning minyan — I’m shooting for at least twice a week — I’ll get someone to take a picture.