Tefillin Or Not Tefillin
TEFILLIN: Tradition Or Scriptural?
Did the Jews of the first century practice wearing and praying upon placing Tefillin? I have seen several Messianic Jewish websites, and equally many Hebraic Roots Messianics (who define themselves as having come out of The Church. They have decided that “The Church” with its Changing of Appointed Times, Festivals and Sabbaths, has mislead the world.) Many of these groups are wrestling with the same questions that the First Century Church, and The Messianic Synagogue were. Once again, having exited the Church with its originally Pagan “Holidays”, many people have awakened to the idea that they are Lost Tribes of Israel. They are concluding that not merely engrafted into Israel by Yeshua as Paul preached to the Gentiles, they are the Lost Sheep of whom it was said will recognize the Voice of their Master. Thus they are concluding that they are not like Israel, but are a major pole of Israel.
Ancient Israel, as we know was somewhat polarized by those whose mother was Leah, and those who traced themselves back to Rachel. The functional firstborn of Leah became Judah. (Reuben, Simeon, and Levi fell short in various ways.) The firstborn of Rachel is Joseph. Leah, and Judah were not beautiful in the worldly sense. But the pair of promises to Abraham of 1. Numbering like the sand on the shore and 2. Being the one through whom the nations will count themselves blessed is fulfilled through David and Yeshua. The other pair of promises: 1. Number like the Stars, and 2. Stand in the gate of your foes, was fulfilled by the Worldly beautiful Rachel and her Worldly beautiful son, Joseph, and his powerful position in The World, (as typed by his being the vizier of Pharaoh).
After the death of Solomon, son of David, the United Kingdom split apart. The North, in which Joseph was predominant, broke away from Judah and Jerusalem in the South. Joseph and associated Tribes were conquered and exiled from History by Assyria. But, several important prophecies explicitly state that in the later days, in the time of Messiah, the two great halves will be reunified. It is to these prophecies many of those fleeing Babylon look.
But, the questions from the First Century once again are being debated. How much of Jewish Customs are derived from The Torah, and I mean the Written Torah, not the “Oral Torah”. The Oral Torah is claimed to be the secrets given to Moses at Sinai and passed down orally to Joshua to so on and so on. Much of “the oral Torah” is stories that elaborate upon the bare skeleton of the terse style of the Torah; stories about major and minor characters. Also included are Rabbinic Doctrines which are freely admitted to be no more than fences erected by wise sages to keep the people far from the edge of The law, so as to minimize any accidental trespassing against it. Judaism in its 2000 year Diaspora has stood the test of time. No doubt, the Traditions and their importance in Jewish cultures were a major factor in the miraculous cohesiveness of a Nation far from its Homeland. The question of whether or not a Jew brought up in this Tradition need change if he becomes a believer in Yeshua is an insulting one. “Hell no!” ought to be the answer. Perhaps, on another occasion a discussion should be had on how the return to Ha’arezt Israel might affect Jewish practice. Clearly for a non-Jew, a Sunday Schooled Christian has no standing to even venture an opinion. Even a Hebraic Roots Messianic if he questioned a Jew keeping Jewish Custom would rightly be told to “take a hike!” But, the question now is, “How much of Jewish Tradition is just that, tradition, and not incumbent upon non-Jewish Israelites. There, that is a way to think about it! Non-Jewish Israelites; Torah Observant, but not Rabbinically so. (Rabbinic Jews respond by saying that the Torah tells us ‘To Keep The Sabbath Holy”, but does not tell us how to do so. True. Perhaps there are many ways to do so! Like a quadratic equation can have more than one correct answer. So long as a consistent reference is made to a Torah Law, the exact agreement is unnecessary. Even today there are Jews; Sephardic and Ashkenazi, and Hasidic each perform certain Torah Obligations differently.) This is not license to make it up and change it as one goes. It should be discussed with one’s congregation and a common understanding of the range of actions or behaviors deemed acceptable regarding any specific Torah Law defined. This is the preface to comments on one aspect of Jewish Practice that I strongly believe is not incumbent upon non-Jewish Israelites. That is the practice of Tefillin.
Siddurim (prayer books) are pretty uniform across the Jewish world. My Art Scroll weekday Siddur states, ” four separate scriptural passages command Israel to put on Tefillin; all four are mentioned here (this is a foot note on the pages on which the Prayers associated with their placement are read from), and the parchments inserted into the Tefillin, contain these passages. Much of the language of this prayer comes from Rambam’s (comments) to Exodus 13:16, who explains that the arm Tefillin represents God’s Strength and our resolve to submit our hearts and our powers to Him. The Head Tefillin represents our resolve to dedicate the seat of our intellect to Him. Tefillin are described as a sign between God and Israel (Exodus 13:9, 16; Deut. 4:8 11:18)” (Schottenstein Edition Art Scroll Weekday Siddur)
Here is where it becomes Monty Pythonesque.
Exodus 13:9 “And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead…” THIS is what? It refers to the previous verses. This is a description of Passover. I will not waste time writing, but it is Exodus 13: 6-8. It is the INSTITUTION of Passover that is to be the sign and the reminder!!! Not the paper on which it is written placed on your head and arm!
Like Life of Brian, “Its the Holy Gourd of Brian!” “NO it’s the Holy Sandal Of Brian, follow me, not those heretics”. Concrete symbolism is an oxymoron!
Exodus 13:16 “And so it will be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol upon your forehead that with a mighty hand the LORD freed us from Egypt”. Clearly, again it is from the previous verses that sense is made. It is the recollection of what the LORD did to the firstborn of Egypt. And He demands redemption for the life of every firstborn that is male of Israel IS THE SIGN!
Deut. 11:18: Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul; and ye shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. OK what words are we to bind on our heart and soul and upon our hand and as frontlets on our eyes? To go back to see which words are meant, I flip back page by page to the last new beginning of this speech given by Moses.. It is from 6:1 through 11:17: it is the entire story of the Exodus up to that point! That is The Words to be laid up in our hearts and “hands” and “heads”. Notice how no one takes literally the “heart” part! Today, with endoscopic techniques, conceivably a micro-incised chip containing these words could be placed directly upon the heart. So, shall we do so? Or shall we see that the Heart means our heart, our emotions, our hand means our actions, and our head means our intellect.
When Messianic Jews become enamored of these practices, they are indulging not in the Judaism that Yeshua practiced. Notice how there is no running debate between Paul and the Jerusalem Church about whether or not gentile believers in Messiah must practice these rituals! Why not? Every other practice of Judaism was debated as to its Tradition or its Scriptural basis. Since no mention of Tefillin is made, I suspect it did not exist then!
So, what to conclude. Jews, steeped in Jewish prayer custom should be absolutely indifferent to anyone else’s’ daring to have an opinion. To the Messianic Jew, who became Messianic and then rediscovered his Judaism; it is not necessary to go to great lengths to get good at tying on Tefillin. Nor is it necessary to become so fluent at the Hebrew prayers associated with the ritual that it becomes easy to do both. Our hearts need not be troubled with Performance of Traditions. We have no right whatsoever to question those who maintain the Traditions that allowed us to survive as a recognizable nation until this time of Redemption. We should be grateful to those and their lineage for suffering and persevering, not so much for transmitting the Traditions, but for the Traditions transmitting the People. Hebraic Roots Non-Jewish Torah Observant Messianic Israelites, explore the meaning of the Laws. Determine a way to consistently perform them, and that will be as valid as any other solution to the Torah Equation.