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E6. Tzitzit, Tefillin, & Mezuzot    [Make a Comment]

We are to be reminded of and teach God's Word through tzitzit, tefillin, & mezuzot.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Key Scriptures

Exodus 13:9 (Maimonides RP12, RP13; Chinuch C421)
Moreover, it will serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder between your eyes, so that ADONAI's Torah may be on your lips; because with a strong hand ADONAI brought you out of Egypt.

Exodus 13:16 (Maimonides RP13; Meir MP9; Chinuch C421)
This will serve as a sign on your hand and at the front of a headband around your forehead that with a strong hand ADONAI brought us out of Egypt.

Numbers 15:38-40 (Maimonides RP14; Meir MP10; Chinuch C386)
Speak to the people of Isra'el, instructing them to make, through all their generations, tzitziyot on the corners of their garments, and to put with the tzitzit on each corner a blue thread. It is to be a tzitzit for you to look at and thereby remember all of ADONAI's mitzvot and obey them, so that you won't go around wherever your own heart and eyes lead you to prostitute yourselves; but it will help you remember and obey all my mitzvot and be holy for your God.

Deuteronomy 4:9-10 (Meir MP14)
Only be careful, and watch yourselves diligently as long as you live, so that you won't forget what you saw with your own eyes, so that these things won't vanish from your hearts. Rather, make them known to your children and grandchildren - the day you stood before ADONAI your God at Horev, when ADONAI said to me, 'Gather the people to me, and I will make them hear my very words, so that they will learn to hold me in awe as long as they live on earth, and so that they will teach their children.'

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (Maimonides RP11-RP13, RP15; Meir MP8-MP9, MP12, MP14; Chinuch C419, C421-C423)
Sh'ma, Yisra'el! ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI echad [Hear, Isra'el! ADONAI our God, ADONAI is one]; and you are to love ADONAI your God with all your heart, all your being and all your resources. These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart; and you are to teach them carefully to your children. You are to talk about them when you sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them on your hand as a sign, put them at the front of a headband around your forehead, and write them on the door-frames of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 11:13-21 (Maimonides RP11, RP13, RP15; Meir MP12; Chinuch C419, C421, C423)
So if you listen carefully to my mitzvot which I am giving you today, to love ADONAI your God and serve him with all your heart and all your being; then, [says ADONAI,] 'I will give your land its rain at the right seasons, including the early fall rains and the late spring rains; so that you can gather in your wheat, new wine and olive oil; and I will give your fields grass for your livestock; with the result that you will eat and be satisfied.' But be careful not to let yourselves be seduced, so that you turn aside, serving other gods and worshipping them. If you do, the anger of ADONAI will blaze up against you. He will shut up the sky, so that there will be no rain. The ground will not yield its produce, and you will quickly pass away from the good land ADONAI is giving you. Therefore, you are to store up these words of mine in your heart and in all your being; tie them on your hand as a sign; put them at the front of a headband around your forehead; teach them carefully to your children, talking about them when you sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up; and write them on the door-frames of your house and on your gates - so that you and your children will live long on the land ADONAI swore to your ancestors that he would give them for as long as there is sky above the earth.

Matthew 23:5
Everything they do is done to be seen by others; for they make their t'fillin broad and their tzitziyot long ...

Mark 6:56
Wherever he went, in towns, cities or country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the tzitzit on his robe, and all who touched it were healed. (See also, Matthew 9:20, 14:36; Luke 8:44)


What is common to tzitzit, tefillin, & mezuzot, is that all three are visible reminders of the Word of God, and teaching and remembering God's Word through their use appears to be a Jewish covenant responsibility. The question that must be answered, however, is whether tefillin (phylacteries) and tzitzit (fringes) must be physically worn (and in what circumstances), and mezuzot physically affixed to our doorposts and gates, or whether the Scriptural commandments regarding them are intended to be metaphoric. Orthodox Judaism has concluded that they are all meant to be physically applied, while the Conservative and Reform Jewish community has concluded that the requirement of mezuzot is physical, and the others are symbolic or metaphoric. Practical as this latter interpretation seems to be, it is not likely correct because the commandments regarding tefillin and mezuzot are contained in the very same verses of Scripture, and they should both, therefore, be understood to be either one way or the other. My conclusion is that the tefillin and mezuzot are meant to be metaphoric but the requirement to wear fringes with a cord of blue is meant to be physical. Putting God's words on our foreheads and tying them to our arms most likely means that God should always be in our thoughts and in what we do, and writing them on our door-frames most likely means that our homes should be dedicated to all that is godly. No harm is done, however, if one elects to apply them all physically, or to physically wear tzitzit and display mezuzot but decline to wear tefillin.

This is one of those calls that (short of God revealing it prophetically) cannot be proven, but I offer several considerations that lean to the literal. First, hanging a m'zuzah on the doorpost of a house has the actual effect of reminding those who enter of God's commandments and that only holy thoughts and deeds are welcome within. Second, because displaying m'zuzot is entirely a Jewish custom, it has the additional benefit of announcing to all who enter that sons and daughters of the Covenant live there, thus promoting God's primary purpose for Israel, which is to be a nation of priests and a light to the Gentiles.

I cannot help but think of another occasion in the Scriptures where the children of Israel were commanded to put something on the doorposts of their homes - the blood of the Pesachi - the Passover lamb sacrifice as described in Exodus 12:7, 13:

They are to take some of the blood and smear it on the two sides and top of the door-frame at the entrance of the house in which they eat it ... The blood will serve you as a sign marking the houses where you are; when I see the blood, I will pass over you - when I strike the land of Egypt, the death blow will not strike you.

Although one can see how God's instruction to the Israelites could have been interpreted metaphorically (as in the case of the Deuteronomy 6 and 11 mitzvah), several things were accomplished by their complying literally. First, it served to identify the houses' occupants as believers in God and trusters in His Word. Second, it served to identify the houses' occupants as probably being Israelites. Third, treating God's commandment metaphorically and failing to physically apply the blood to the doorposts would not have been sufficient and would have resulted in death of the firstborn for that house.

As I have already said, in Orthodox Jewish communities all men wear tzitziyot, and there is discussion about whether they are also appropriate for women; Orthodox women normally do not wear them. In communities that have not adopted policies regarding tzitziyot, each individual must make his own decision about whether to wear them as described in Scripture, or substitute some other article of clothing or accessory that will accomplish the same thing - reminding anyone seeing it of the commandments of God.

What fringes are is self-evident, so our decisions (other than whether to wear them at all) are what to make them of, whether and how to knot them, what the color and origin of the dye for the blue thread should be, and to what articles of clothing they should be attached. Since the only requirement in Scripture is that they be placed on the corners of garments, unless one's community defines the particulars of acceptable tzitziyot, the wearer can use his own judgment on all of these. The orthodox Jewish community has adopted detailed rules for the construction of tzitziyot, which their male members attach to a special four-cornered garment called a tallit katan, and wear under their shirts or vests. Tzitziyot are also worn on the traditional rectangular prayer shawl, the tallit gadol. Both the tallit katan and the tallit gadol are often intentionally lacking the prescribed blue thread.1

It is important to not to get so involved in the details of how to make tzitziyot, that we forget what they are supposed to remind us of, which are the commandments of God. We are not only to be reminded, but to be made continually aware of God's commandments as we proceed through each day.

I believe that the commandment to wear tzitziyot is applicable for both Jewish men and Jewish women, notwithstanding the prevailing modern practice of their only being worn by men. The principle of wearing tzitziyot is also applicable to Gentiles, but there is greater liberty for them and, in fact, it may be preferable that Gentiles (other than K'rovei Yisrael) not wear fringes because the wearing of fringes today has become almost completely associated with being a Jew. If there is a concern, some kind of substitution to accomplish the same purpose is easily adaptable.

It is interesting to note that not all references to tefillin are for the purpose of remembering God's Word broadly. Exodus 13:9 connects the tefillin to remembering how God brought the Jewish people out of Egypt.

1. The practice among some to not include the blue thread has its origin in the scarcity of the chilazon - a sea creature from which the blue dye was originally extracted.

Daniel C. Juster

Whether or not a physical literal application is intended for all times is debatable even if one holds to the literal application as originally intended. Or was this a culturally fitting way of remembering? So for example, wearing the tzizit on a four cornered garment fits the culture of the time when such garments were commonly worn. They are not today, so perhap the general principle to take steps to remember the covenant and its commandments is sufficient.

It is probably a good thing when Messianic Jews do seek ways to apply this mitzvah literally - wearing a tallit gadol in worship services and wearing fringes daily, because they show covenant loyalty. The same can, of course, be said of putting on tefillin for prayer. It is important, however, to remember that we cannot prove that these ways of remembering are required for all times.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch adopt the Orthodox view that tzitzit, tefillin, & mezuzot are meant to be applied physically, and they address each one (including the tefillin of the arm and head) as a separate mitzvah. They also construe the particulars of each (i.e. their shapes, appearances, contents, and how they are applied) according to that which is written in the Talmud.


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