An Upcoming and Very Needed Book

Tefillin, or phylacteries as they are known to many Christian readers, are a vital part of Jewish devotion. The practice of tefillin comes from four scriptures in the Torah, which speak of “a sign for you on your hand and a memorial on your forehead”:

Exodus 13:9
Exodus 13:16
Deuteronomy 6:8
Deuteronomy 11:18

There are at least three ways of looking at these passages:

1. Perhaps they are figurative, rather than literal. They mean the Torah should be close to the heart (mind/soul) and hand (vehicle of our actions).

2. Perhaps they refer to an ancient custom of amulets or jewelry worn with sayings relating to the gods, but which the Torah takes over with a requirement to wear Torah words on amulets and jewelry.

3. Or perhaps the custom of placing God’s words on scrolls in a leather box is as close to literally fulfilling these commands as we can get. And since this is the accepted tradition, we in Messianic Judaism should pay attention and comply. I should point out that tefillin are considered to be a mitzvah not only in Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, but also in Reform (and I would imagine Reconstructionist).

The great news is that a new and very needed book is coming out on this topic for Messianic Jewish readers. The producers and publishers are none other than First Fruits of Zion (ffoz.org), a Torah-teaching organization that is in the midst of producing a small library of much-needed volumes for our movement.

FFOZ is going about this project in a commendable manner. They are obtaining feedback during the development of these resources from a broad spectrum of people involved in Messianic Judaism and philo-Semitic Christianity. I am a volunteer reviewer myself, trying to bring the perspective of my circles of Messianic Judaism to bear on my reviews and critiques.

I am in the circle of the UMJC (umjc.net) / Hashivenu (hashivenu.org) / MJRC (ourrabbis.org) / MJTI (mjti.com) branch of Messianic Judaism. And we do not agree completely with FFOZ about certain definitions and boundaries. Yet I, speaking only for myself, am greatly encouraged by the rapid maturing and excellent scholarship at FFOZ. Besides that, I have come to count FFOZ’s director, Boaz Michael, as a good friend.

I have a review copy and the final version, due out in a few months, will have many improvements, but here are some features that should interest you in this new work. I think these features may persuade you it is a worthy tool for personal and congregational development of the mitzvah of laying tefillin:

— There is a section on the devotional significance of laying tefillin and I found it very moving as it draws from many streams of rabbinic and even Hasidic tradition.

— There is a concise, clear, thoroughly documented section on the halakhah of laying tefillin.

— The final book will have diagrams and how-to’s to make it easy to understand and practice.

— There is a fascinating discussion of the history of tefillin, including an appendix on the tefillin found at Qumran from 2,000 years ago.

— The book is very short, but has a ton of footnotes. The review copy is only 40 pages and I’d imagine the final book will be similarly short. So this is not something people will find a chore to read.

— The book deals with what must be the two most important questions for our movement:
1. Did Yeshua lay tefillin?
2. Is it acceptable for non-Jews to lay tefillin?

The FFOZ staff, primarily author Toby Janicki have done an amazing job. It is my prayer that many Jews, returning to their Jewish identity after the confusion of Christian influences and so on, will return to the mitzvah of laying tefillin. It is my prayer that Messianic Jewish leaders will use this resource or some resource to restore to our synagogue members the tradition of Israel about how to have a sign and a memorial on the head and hand. I know many leaders who lay tefillin, but I wonder if we are teaching our people to do so.

About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, FFOZ, Gentiles, Judaism, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Prayer. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to An Upcoming and Very Needed Book

  1. Gene Shlomovich says:

    Derek….

    I have not seen many MJ leaders wear tefillin in public. Would be interesting to learn about THEIR perspective.

    As far as FFOZ goes and their materials, I have a real problem with them (as I have a problem with the One Law and similar movements as a whole). It’s not a small problem in my opinion. I consider them a pseudo-Jewish organization, not really part of the mainstream JEWISH Messianic movement, led and staffed primarily by Gentiles (nothing wrongs with Gentiles, of course). Personally, I avoid using their materials to teach Jewish believers (although I am sure that they have many good and valid points to share – as many other movements and denominations do also).

    I see them as compelling Gentiles believers to live as Jews (judaizing) under the guise of Torah education, while at the same time seeking to blur or at least de-emphasize the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. I won’t speak for the G-d of Israel, but I can’t see Him being happy about this (at least if I read NT correctly).

    Anyway, looking forward to your book review.

    Shalom

  2. Gene:

    I’m glad you brought this up, because this is an important point. FFOZ is no longer One-Law. FFOZ makes a distinction between Jew and Gentile and recognizes Gentile freedom. They have changed.

    Where we still part ways is that they are still more prone to encourage non-Jews to be Torah observant than I am.

    I believe in some limited cases, non-Jews are called to participate with Jews, keeping some of the identity markers of Israel (Shabbat, diet, fringes, etc.) and in some cases (like mine) are called to convert. I do not encourage Gentiles to adopt Israel’s identity markers, but I think forbidding it is wrong too. I’d guess you and I are in the same place.

    Well, my point is, I perceive FFOZ as having moved quite a bit in our direction. And their materials are well-produced and well-researched.

    I encourage you to take a look at the new FFOZ.

    Derek

  3. Gene:

    About MJ leaders and tefillin, here is where I can challenge you a bit. I am in the UMJC and connected with Hashivenu and MJTI. The circle of rabbis I am learning with does lay tefillin. Maybe you should look into our neck of the MJ woods. I know the circles you are in and I’m not surprised you have not seen tefillin.

    Don’t shoot me.

    Derek

  4. Gene Shlomovich says:

    Derek…

    “FFOZ is no longer One-Law. FFOZ makes a distinction between Jew and Gentile and recognizes Gentile freedom. They have changed.”

    If they indeed have, than I say good for them!

    “I believe in some limited cases, non-Jews are called to participate with Jews, keeping some of the identity markers of Israel (Shabbat, diet, fringes, etc.) and in some cases (like mine) are called to convert.”

    I also believe that proselytes in Yeshua’s day who were part of the Jewish community (believing and not) have done so as well.

    “Well, my point is, I perceive FFOZ as having moved quite a bit in our direction.”

    Let’s hope so. I wonder what brought about that change of heart – do you know?

    “And their materials are well-produced and well-researched.”

    That I agree with.

    “About MJ leaders and tefillin, here is where I can challenge you a bit. I am in the UMJC and connected with Hashivenu and MJTI. The circle of rabbis I am learning with does lay tefillin. Maybe you should look into our neck of the MJ woods. I know the circles you are in and I’m not surprised you have not seen tefillin. Don’t shoot me.”

    For the record, I have no problem what-so-ever with Messianic Jews putting on the tefillin. I simply have not see this done very often in the South Florida congregations. Perhaps it’s different in your area. We probably should do it routinely, since we already follow the other Jewish traditions without reservations. I do believe that Yeshua wore tefillin (but he had a problem with those who put on a self-exalting show by making them oversize).

    “I know the circles you are in and I’m not surprised you have not seen tefillin.”

    The circles I am in are the UMJC circles (for the most part).

    Gene

  5. boazm says:

    What changed? Our language regarding Gentile obligation to the whole of Torah.

    Why the change? Our inability to reconcile Gentile obligation/mandate to the whole of the Torah with Acts 15, 21.

    Realizations that led to the change? Here are three:

    1. The division and bad fruit that was being produced in the Torah movement that removed biblical distinctions. The One-Law dogma not only obligated everyone, but gave everyone a sense of entitlement to redefine Torah, subtly removing the unique role of the Jewish people. Obviously there is only one Law, but that Law has various levels and legislative distinctions within it.

    2. Our need to personally grow in our own observances, integrating various levels of traditional Torah application without placing personal convictions and interpretations on others as “Divine Mandate.” For example, is it a sin for a Gentile to fail to strap on Tefillin in the morning? I think not.

    3. When you see a mistake you fix it. Our message was flawed by dogmatic insistence of full Torah “obligation” for Gentiles. It conflicted with the general posture of the apostolic community. It seemed to us that we were pushing the issue much further than they ever did; we felt uncomfortable being more dogmatic than the apostles, and the heavy-mandate position was unsustainable. We do teach that the Torah is the trajectory for all who believe—thus we teach Torah, lay it out there and let the Spirit do the drawing and convicting.

    What about Jewish believers?
    We do teach a mandate for Jewish believers to keep the whole Torah. Gene’s concern with blurring the line of distinction works both ways. If a Jew does not keep the commandments of Torah, is he not looking like the nations?

    What about Gentile believers?
    Please don’t misunderstand me. FFOZ is still encouraging Gentiles to keep Torah. We want to see all people embrace the commandments within the proper context, out of a love for HaShem and as a matter of discipleship to the Master. Not out of a sense of misplaced obligation. We think that this approach is in greater alignment with the teaching and direction of the apostolic community. We love to see people reorder their lives around God’s commandments—we think that this was the message of the Prophets to the nations.

    I feel very vulnerable responding to such complicated issues in a blog dialog. These are matters that are difficult, emotionally charged, and unfortunately, in some cases, not clearly addressed in the Scriptures. We often find ourselves assuming upon the Scriptures when they are silent—that is why we at FFOZ choose to err on the side of caution as the Didache states, “For if thou art able to bear all the yoke of the Lord, thou wilt be perfect; but if thou art not able, what thou art able that do” (Didache 6:2).

  6. Gene Shlomovich says:

    Thank you Boaz, for clarifying your position. I have been, on and off, observing FFOZ for some time, and did not think such a change was ever possible.

    Although I still have some concerns that FFOZ position regarding Gentiles keeping the Torah as given to Moshe (other than its moral aspects) has been only somewhat softened in language but still largely unchanged at its core, I am very encouraged by this new development.

    Only time will tell. Shalom to all whose intentions are pure.

    Gene

  7. Boaz:

    Your response was so good, I’d like to make it a blog post so more will see it.

    Gene:

    I love it when good dialogue like this happens. I see you are still quite cautious. That’s alright. Progress happens and we get closer to speaking that one language of Zephaniah 3:9.

    Derek

  8. Thomas says:

    It sounds like an interesting book. I wasn’t aware that Messianic Jews felt the need to wear these.
    I am wondering if Revelation 14:1 speaks to this issue in that the name of Jesus and his Father will be written on the foreheads of the 144,000. This seems to stand in opposition to those who have accepted the mark of the beast (Rome) and a replacement for the tefillin that you are speaking of. The sign and memorial is now Jesus and his Father’s sending him to accomplish their exodus from the world rather than the Exodus from Egypt.
    Are there any thoughts along those lines?

  9. tbyjanicki says:

    Derek,

    Thanks very much for the kind words!

    Thomas,

    I think you have some valid points there. I talk a little bit the connection between tefillin and the mark in my book.

    Shalom,
    Toby

  10. Thomas says:

    Hi Toby,
    I’m sure Derek will let us know when the book comes out. I look forward to hearing about what you have to say.
    Thomas

  11. I also noticed the FFOZ change … it’s a step in the right direction.

    The very practical reality that “it feels funny” in the 21st century when non-Jews begin living quasi-frum (without converting to Judaism) is not going to go away.

    I wonder if FFOZ has done any further sociological/anthropological thinking on the costs/benefits of promoting “Torah for Gentiles,” even if they’ve abandoned their prior position that it’s obligatory.

    On the issue of laying tefillin, I was under the impression that MJews don’t do it publicly because our morning services usually begin too late to pray Shacharit!

  12. err … what I meant to say is that most MJ congregations only have one service, on Saturday morning … when we DON’T lay tefillin.

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