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Tefillin1 are boxes containing Torah verses, worn by Jews on the head and the upper arm, in accordance with instructions in Exodus 13:9, 13:16, and Deuteronomy 6:8, 11:18. There is a great deal of commentary in the Talmud and elsewhere about exactly how this should be done.

Jesus says that the Pharisees were ostentatious in their wearing of tefillin - Matthew 23:5 (NIV) reads:

Everything they do is done for people to see: they make their phylacteries1 wide and the tassels on their garments long.

It seems from Mt 9:20, 14:36, Mk 6:56 that Jesus may have worn the same kind of fringes or tassels (tzitziyot), similarly commanded in the Law, albeit presumably his were not as long as those of the Pharisees.

Would Jesus also have worn tefillin, and why/why not? If he did (and his disciples too?) then when did Christians stop? If he didn't, then was this unusual or scandalous?

1 Tefillin (תפילין), or totafot (טוטפת), or phylacteries (φυλακτήρια)

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This isn't an answer, but given that it was a Jewish practice, the Jewish Christians did it but did not require (as was generally the case) the Gentile Christians to do so. To get the Gentiles to do so would be have been regarded as Judaizing. – user304 Jun 20 '12 at 17:55
I'd be interested in finding out when these verses were first interpreted physically. Maybe a question for the Judaism site... – curiousdannii Jul 5 '14 at 22:23
up vote 4 down vote accepted

In the first council of Jerusalem (In the Acts of the Apostles), we see an outline of the practices which the Jews did that they thought were reasonable to ask of the Gentiles. The wearing of Tefillin is not among them.

In all likelihood after the destruction of Jerusalem and certainly after the Muslim incursions into the middle east, the number of culturally Jewish Christians was probably close to zero, and thus the practice of wearing Tefillin too would have disappeared.

Jesus may have worn Tefillin, we don't have a solid answer for that question. It is reasonable to assume that he didn't given his criticism of the practice. There are no records of him having worn them. It also would have been redundant.

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To be more precise, Jesus was criticizing not the practice itself, but being showy about it. Perhaps akin to someone carrying a 3-foot wide Bible today? Additionally, depending on how common it was for other teachers to wear these, Jesus' not having one could be seen as a statement in itself. – Clockwork-Muse Jun 20 '12 at 18:49
It could still be considered a criticism of the practice, as for instance he criticized their practice of fasting and praying as well. It may be more proper to say that he is not criticizing the idea of Tefillin, but rather the actual practice. Whether the Pharisees were 'doing it right' and that was exactly what was wrong or if they really were doing Tefillin wrong - that I can't answer. – user304 Jun 20 '12 at 20:53

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