Thursday, April 24, 2008

What Are Tefillin - Where To Wear Tefillin

“And you shall bind them [the words that I command you today] for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes... (Deuteronomy 6:8)”

The above verse refers to the mitzvah of tefillin. (The common translation of tefillin is “phylacteries.”)
Tefillin are small black leather boxes that are strapped to the arm (tefillin shel yad) and to the head (tefillin shel rosh). In order to be kosher: 1) The scrolls with the Torah verses must be written on parchment with ink, bound by the hair of a kosher animal and wrapped in a strip of cloth. 2) The black boxes (made from the hides of kosher animals) and their stitches (sewn with the sinew of a kosher animal) must be perfectly square with an opening made for the straps. The tefillin shel rosh must have the letter shin embossed on both its right and left sides. 3) The straps must be colored black.

The box of the tefillin shel yad (arm) has a single compartment in which is placed a single scroll containing the four Torah passages that refer to this mitzvah: Exodus 13:1-10, Exodus 13:11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Deuteronomy 11:13-21.  The tefillin shel yad (of the arm) is always placed on the “weaker” arm. Thus righties place them on their left arms and lefties on their right arms. The placement of the tefillin on one’s less dominant hand demonstrates the desire to use one’s entire body to fulfill the commandments. The box of the tefillin shel yad is placed on the inner arm above the elbow, on top of the muscle, and is lined up to aim at one’s heart, the center of one’s emotions and desires. The strap of the tefillin shel yad is wrapped around the lower arm seven times. Finally, the strap is wrapped around one’s hand so that the different criss-crossings create the letters shin, daled and yud, Sha’dai, a name of God representing “He Who sets boundaries on the world.”

The box of the tefillin shel rosh has four separate compartments formed from one piece of leather--each of the four Biblical sections is written on a separate scroll and placed in its own individual compartment. The box of the tefillin shel rosh (of the head) is placed centrally just above the forehead, while the knot that ties the two ends of the strap of the tefillin rests just above the nape of the neck. Just as the tefillin shel yad symbolically represents dedicating one’s emotions to serving God, the tefillin shel rosh represents the dedication of one’s intellect to serving the Almighty.


It should be noted that the way in which the tefillin are worn is profoundly symbolic. The actual method for “laying tefillin,” as it is called, is intricate and should be reviewed with a rabbi or one experienced in putting on tefillin.

Can You Spare A Lung - A Gift For Life

Did you know that Jewish law frowns upon elective surgery? After all, as any doctor will tell you (or all those release forms will make you realize), there is no surgery that is totally risk-free.

However, the mitzvah of saving a life (pikuach nefesh) is so great that it precedes most other mitzvot. So what should one do if asked to donate a kidney or part of a liver -- both forms of transplant surgery that can save a life without necessarily threatening the donor’s life?

As organ transplant procedures only began to meet with regular success in the middle of the 20th century, this is a fairly recent question for Jewish law. After ascertaining that transplant surgeries have a low rate of danger to the donor, most Jewish legal authorities determined that such procedures, while voluntary, are permissible.

Since a transplant is only done in dire circumstances, usually to save a person’s life, does this mean that one would then be obligated to donate one’s organs? The answer to this question is “No.” While the medical statistics have shown that transplant procedures usually present low risk to donors, they are not risk free and Jewish law does not, and will not, require it.

On the other hand, post-mortem organ donations seem like a thoroughly altruistic act. However, from a Jewish perspective, there are certain other issues that must be taken into consideration:

1) Is the donor dead? This may seem like a bizarre question. But, by whose definition of death has the person been declared dead? Organs are often harvested from the “brain-dead” donor - when the donor’s brain shows no signs of activity - because many of the organs that are sought for donation must be removed from the donor while the heart is still pumping. Many Jewish authorities, however, define halachic death as cessation of heartbeat. According to these authorities, the doctor might be killing a living donor in order to harvest the organ.

2) How is the organ going to be used? If there is an immediate need for the organ to save a life, then there is no question that an organ may be used (assuming the donor is halachically deceased). Often, however, organs are harvested and kept for organ banks (waiting for a donor) or for research. This is problematic according to Jewish law, which normally requires the entire body to be buried.

Because of the complexity of these laws, it is suggested that those who wish to donate their organs should consult with their local rabbi or stipulate in their living will that, should such a situation occur, their rabbi must be consulted.

As this is a very important topic and can result in the saving of a life, Jewish Treats recommends that our readers seek more information through the websites of Halachic Organ Donor Society or Renewal.