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Putting on Tefillin by Those of Other Religious Backgrounds

Normally I would simply assign the ritual of donning tefillin (prayer boxes) and anything that promotes it to the “inside.” In other words, I think that such rituals are almost exclusively conducted by those already deeply engaged in the inside of the Jewish community, even though our colleagues from Chabad encourage the ritual as part of its outreach strategy. But I was really intrigued by the rabbi’s approach at tefillinblog.blogspot.com.

He says something that I have been saying for a long time—the Rambam (Rabbi Moses Maimonides, perhaps the greatest of all Jewish philosopher/theologians, who hails from the Medieval Period) teaches that those of other religious backgrounds—those who aren’t Jewish—are permitted to don tefillin. Now it is true that Maimonides makes the argument in the context of those who are exploring Judaism or considering conversion. And we know that those who are exploring Judaism or considering conversion are taught not to take on everything at once. So it makes sense.

If this is the case, then this is one more strike against the barrier of what I like to call social visibility, that is, the “stuff” that is a visible separation between Jews and those of other religious backgrounds—such as the father of another religious background who is standing on the bimah (raised platform in the front of the synagogue) while his Jewish son is celebrating his bar mitzvah or his Jewish daughter is celebrating her bat mitzvah.

So if Maimonides is behind such an approach, why can’t the rest of the Jewish community join him?



6 Comments

  1. If having non-Jews wear tefilin (assuming it is permissible for them in non-conversion cases)is the way to get Jews to do it, then I’m all for it.

    …seems it’s starting to work with Kashrut!

    Comment by marc — September 18, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

  2. There is a difference between positive commandments and negative commandments. All of the world can benefit from negative commandments (such as previous comment’s note about eating kosher - which is actually the fulfillment of a “negative commandment,” namely, the prohibition on eating forbidden foods) because negative commandments are fulfilled through avoidance, or no action. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Don’t kidnap. Don’t commit adultery.
    Positive commandments, however, are binding on people who are committed to the system.

    Having said that, I don’t know if anyone, including a non-Jew, who wants to try something and has the means to do will be stopped by a human from doing it. But I don’t get the aura of tefillin to a non-Jew, especially when the significance of tefillin is completely meaningless in your faith? There is nothing even objectively pleasurable about wearing tefillin if one is not doing it for the sake of fulfilling a mitzvah, a commandment that is binding on Jews.

    Comment by Sheldon — September 19, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

  3. For me, the wearing of tefillin is a spiritual experience that transcends the obligation of mitzvot. Perhaps that is something to expose others to, as well.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — September 19, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  4. The reform never, the conservative rarely, the Orthodox frequently put on teffilin. That’s the reverse order in which they ‘outreach’ to Gentiles.

    Comment by Dave — September 21, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

  5. Fortunately you are incorrect–as a Reform rabbi who puts on tefillin each day and has for many, many years, as do many of my Reform colleagues and lay friends, as well as in the Conservative movement. A meaningful fast…

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — September 21, 2007 @ 2:51 pm

  6. concerning tefilim
    they are 2 generator of waveform
    the talith is the artefact who permit the head and arm to work together.
    it is a powerful artifact easy to use.
    but take care about your mind because it can be dangerous if badly used.
    The time is coming to open the kwoledge to the peoples who are faith
    shalom
    the Sarfat

    Comment by elyahu hannavi — May 26, 2014 @ 4:46 am

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