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Tefillin on Shabbat (Early Childhood Education)

  • Why don't small children “lay” tefillin?
  • Why aren't tefillin worn on Shabbatot and holidays?
  • Why are the tefillin removed before mussaf (the additional prayer on the first day of the month) on Rosh Chodesh?


At the age of 9 and up, when a child is capable of education in religious observance, we begin teaching our children the mitzvot (precepts).  We may, sometimes, begin even earlier.


This being the case, why then don't we get our children used to putting on tefillin before they are officially obligated to do so, even before the bar mitzvah?


The most popular reason is that the tefillin have to be clean- because they contain Hashem's names and a child under the age of twelve does not always keep himself immaculate (for instance, upon leaving the toilet.)


Even if this was so, the problem should resolve itself by the age of 9 or 10.  Therefore, it seems to me that the answer could be concealed in my comment in my last article (STAM Column 13) with relation to the passages contained within the tefillin. 
Given that the heart of the mitzvah is as stated, a spiritual matter, the connection with the basic nationalistic elements- the Eretz (Land of Israel), Am Yisrael (the nation of Israel), and the Torah, apparently, the comprehension of a child under the age of 13 cannot encompass these complex ideas.


Please note that this order- Eretz, Am Yisrael, and Torah- pertain also to birkat hamazon (Grace after Meals):  "We thank The L-rd our G-d for having given us a lovely and spacious land".  At first,"May Hashem our G-d have mercy on His people Israel…”


This is, apparently, the reason for waiting to begin its observance. In fact, the mitzvah of tefillin applies to someone who is able to comprehend and who also is capable of differentiatiating between these issues: What distinguishes Eretz Yisrael from the other countries, what is the distinction between Am Yisrael "the sheep" and the rest of the "wolves", and what is the difference between the Torah and the road of non- Torah observance?


Internalizing the concepts raised by these questions is facilitated by emotional maturity, which develops with the passage of time.

Attention should be paid to the fact that, despite the careful use of words describing this mitzvah, there are still four places where the mitzvah is emphasized in the word "le'ot" (as a sign): "And you shall bind them as a sign".  This emphasis serves to strengthen the essence of the mitzvah, and that is: as a signal.  In other words, laying tefillin is likened to a daily demonstration and the proclamation of our connection with the three elements mentioned above.


In the mitzvah of sukka, on the other hand, it says: "you will sit" and this can be performed unintentionally, even in one's sleep.  Here, with tefillin, we announce intention and "signal" the contents as mentioned above. 
It is possible that had it been written thus: "and bind them upon your arm" without the words "as a sign" we would not be aware of their lack but evidently, in order to emphasize the signal, the words were not removed from four of the sources where the mitzvah is mentioned.


On Shabbat, of course, we do not put on tefillin, and this because the Shabbat itself is a "sign".  In the parsha (weekly portion), "ki tissa" in Shemot (Exodus) 31:13: "Verily my Shabbats you shall keep: for it [is] a sign between Me and you throughout your generations; that [you] may know that I [am] Hashem sanctifies you."  Rashi explains: "- a sign of greatness… so that all the nations will know that I sanctify you."


The term “sign” in the verses on tefillin and Shabbat are not just a play on words but have genuine meaning.


The Shabbat is more than a "demonstration". It administers our individuality, and we therefore have no need for tefillin, in the sense of, no need to use a flashlight in the middle of the day.

This, too, is the reason that one does not put on tefillin on the holidays, and one removes them before the mussaf of Rosh Chodesh as Rosh Chodesh is considered a mo'ed katan (a minor holiday).

In line with this philosophy, one can explain why there were places in Europe where every Jew who was forced to work during chol hamo'ed (the intermediary days), put on his tefillin, so as not to forget the sign of his individuality as a Jew, something that he was  not required to do had he not worked, as the holiday expresses this uniqueness and the tefillin is "redundant".


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