When we study the Hebrew Scriptures (from Genesis to Revelations writen by Jews to Jews), we find some very interesting verses concerning the tzitzit / fringes. In Hebrew, we say tzitziyot. Specifically, these verses are Mattityahu 9:20; 14:36a, Mark 6:56; and Luke 8:44. Without a shadow of a doubt, they demonstrate that Yeshua definitely was a Torah-observant Jewish man who kept the Torah commandment to wear tzitziyot in the four corners of his garment as instructed in the Torah in Bamidbar 15:37-41. But what is the purpose of wearing tzitziyot? The purpose is to help remember the mitzvot of HaShem and to perform them. HaShem has given many object lessons to His children so that they (also we) would remember and keep His instructions and another one concerns the wrapping of tefillin. The reason for this mitzva is for shamar v’zachor (remembering, keeping, and observing) His instructions for our lives, that is, the Torah.
The Greek word phylakterion has been transliterated into English as the word "phylactery" and literally means a protecting charm or amulet. (remember that Maran Yeshua spoke Aramaic every day, thus He never thought of them as such) Through this unfortunate transliteration, the important spiritual meaning contained in the commandment and even in the word itself is lost. In Maran Yeshua’s time, phylacteries were not regarded as amulets or “lucky charms”. The Hebrew word is tefillin which is the plural of the word tefillah. The meaning of tefillah is diametrically opposed to amulet or lucky charm. Tefillah means prayer. The word phylactery does not even appear in the Tanach.
Tefillin consist of the two small leather boxes or batim, boxes that house small slips of parchment. The parchment slips are inscribed with the Scripture passages in Shemot 13:1-10, 11-16, Devarim 6:4-9, and Devarim 11:13-21. All components of tefillin are made from kosher materials. The central theme of wearing tefillin is the act of binding. The tefillin bind you not only physically but also spiritually. We, with our western mindset and culture, conjure up all kinds of negative “feelings” when we hear the word bind. Somehow we associate it with bondage. Yet when we read the Scripture references above in connection with tefillin they are associated with remembering, keeping, and observing HaShem’s instructions. Who would dare to consider that to be bondage? No one is 100% sure how the tefillin were worn in Maran Yeshua’s day (2000 years ago, when yemot hamashiach begun) except to say that the same two parts that are worn today were in existence 2000 years ago. The two components of tefillin are called shel yad, which is worn on the arm and fingers and shel rosh worn on the head.
Archeological discoveries have confirmed this as fact. Today, just as in Maran Yeshua’s day, the tefillin are strapped on the forehead and the arm. The shel yad, consists of one compartment containing a parchment on which all four Torah passages or parshiyot are written; the shel rosh is divided into four compartments each of which contains a parchment with one of the four Torah passages written on it. When you gaze upon them, as you would also upon the mezuzah and the tzitziyot, you are quickened to remember the words of the Torah for your life. The tefillin also serve as a memorial – a remembrance of the exodus from Mitzrayim. The remembrance also of the mitzvot of HaShem. The tefillin are a sign of where we have been, that is, Miztrayim or bondage and where we are going, that is, Malchut HaShem or the Kingdom of Heaven, the kingdom of Messiah here on earth (we are NOT going to heaven!). The tefillin are especially a sign of our recognition of HaShem even by their very construction. The Hebrew letters shin, dalet, and yod are evident through the wrapping of the straps around the fingers and across the palm of the hand and the knots in the straps.
The letter shin is also engraved upon the outside of the batim. The three Hebrew letter shin, dalet, and yod spell the word Shaddai which means HaShem, the one who is all-sufficient and sustains His people with spiritual nourishment. The literal meaning of Shaddai is the “many breasted one” implying a feminine side of HaShem that nourishes His children as a nursing mother breastfeeds her baby. The theme of binding is carried out by reciting the verses of Hoshea 2:21-22 while winding the strap around the fingers. “And I will betroth you to me forever. Yes I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, and in lovingkindness, and in compassion. And I will betroth you to me in faithfulness and you will know HaShem”. These verses consummate the binding in a betrothal between man and HaShem. This is a marriage ceremony of sorts each time the tefillin is worn.
In Maran Yeshua’s day, the wearing of tefillin was and is viewed as a fulfillment of the Torah mitzvah or commandment. Although the word tefillin is not found in the Tanach, the Talmud has interpreted the instruction literally and so the words of HaShem are literally bound around our arm (close to our heart) and are literally frontlets between our eyes (close to our minds). In all probability, tzitziyot and tefillin were part of ordinary dress of the Israelites 2000 years ago and even earlier. The custom of wrapping tefillin during weekday morning prayers as is practiced today, is a relatively modern custom (This writter does it daily). They were worn most likely all day only being removed for work or when entering a place that was deemed ritually unclean.
Archeological evidence of tefillin fragments dating back to the 1st century was unearthed in the Judean Desert in caves near the Dead Sea. The most dramatic find was a shel rosh approximately 2000 years old with 3 of the 4 original parchment slips still folded and securely ties in their original compartments. Announcement of this discovery was published by Israeli archeologist Yigael Yadin in "Tefillin from Qumran". 1969. The size of the shel rosh, or frontlet was so small and inconspicuous that it hardly would have been noticed. The bayit or box found at Qumran is rectangular and approximately ½” by ¾”. It was very inconspicuous to say the least. Is this what Yeshua was criticizing when we read the account in Mattityahu?
In Mattityahu 23:5, we read that our holy Rabbi, Maran Yeshua criticized those men who enlarged their batim or boxes and widened the straps that were securing them. Note that he never condemned them or criticized them for simply wearing tefillin. On the other hand, he was indeed criticizing them for enlarging their tefillin to appear to be a level above the rest spiritually yet were acting hypocritically. In all probability, Yeshua himself was wearing tefillin as he most certainly was wearing tzitziyot in the four corners of his outer garment, the tallit katan. These were not customs or traditions but rather acts of obedience to HaShem’s commandments in the Torah. There is no evidence to think that Yeshua condemned the wearing of tefillin. On the other hand, he supported the Halacha (Torah tradition) that interpreted the Scriptures literally concerning the fact that they are indeed to be “a sign upon your hand and as frontlets between your eyes”.