There are a number of commandments that Jewish people observe that, frankly, are strange-looking. A perfect example of such a commandment is that of Phylacteries. Phylacteries are two, small, black, leather boxes that Jewish males over the age of thirteen wear in morning weekday prayers. One box is affixed to the right arm and one is affixed to the forehead. The boxes are affixed with the help of black leather straps that are attached to the boxes.
The source of Phylacteries is alluded to in the Bible in the timeless Shema prayer in which Jewish people are commanded to speak of G-d’s words with their children and to speak about them when they sit in their houses, travel, lie down and get up. Immediately after, they are commanded to tie them to their arms and they should be as signs between their eyes. In the original Hebrew text this features as follows,
“וקשרתם לאות על ידך והיו לטטפות בין עיניך”
This strangely vague commandment was explained by the Sages to mean Phylacteries. In Orthodox Judaism the Sages words are regarded as part and parcel of the Bible. The Bible is seen as being made up of the Written Law- that which features in the Bible, and the Oral Law- the commentary of the Sages on the Written Law. Therefore, the Sages’ interpretation of the Written Law is regarded just as important as the Written Law.
The Phylacteries are made from the hide of a cow and are dyed black. They contain several passages from the Bible. Before putting the Phylacteries on a blessing is recited over them- the usual behavior in Judaism regarding G-d-given Commandments. The blessing over the Phylacteries is recited in the original Hebrew as follows,
“ברוך אתה ה’ אלקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו להניח תפילין”
This translates to mean “Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with his commandments and commanded us to lay Phylacteries.”
Jewish boys are regarded as entering the adult world at the age of thirteen (girls mature earlier, entering the adult world a year earlier at the age of twelve). From their thirteenth birthday, Jewish males are obliged to uphold the commandment of wearing Phylacteries on a daily basis. The wearing of Phylacteries is a time-bound, positive commandment, meaning that it must be carried out in a specific time-frame (during daylight hours) and is phrased in a positive way in the Bible (as opposed to something that should not be done such as the commandment not to kill which is regarded as a negative commandment). In Judaism women are not obligated in time-bound commandments and therefore women do not wear Phylacteries.