Phylacteries and Fringes

Matthew 23:5. “But all their works they do for to be seen of men:  they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments.”

As Jesus continued His scathing indictment of the Pharisees, He made reference to their penchant for outward display, done only to be seen of men. Their first love was not God, but the praise of men and the high places of leadership.

So what on earth are phylacteries and borders? 

Phylacteries were used as observatories; that is, as reminders of the Law. In different parts of the Pentateuch, we read these words, “And thou shalt bind these words for a sign on thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between tine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and upon thy gates” Exodus 13:9-16, etc.).Orthodox Jews today write these words on a piece of parchment, enclose them in a tin box, and nail the box to their door posts. Tephillin, another form of phylactery,  are two strips of leather to each of which is attached a small box; in these boxes are pieces of parchment  with the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:4-8. One leather strip with this box is wound around the forehead, the box resting in the middle of the forehead, while the second strip is wound around the left arm, which is nearest to the heart.

Over the years, much ado has been made of these phylacteries and tephillin. It is even said in some Jewish writings that they keep demons from the home if they are worn at all times.

The enlarged borders were simply fringes, as shown in the first illustration.  The longer these fringes, the more ostentatious the wearer.  Long fringes were a sign of importance and authority.  The broad phylacteries were noticeable and drew attention to the wearer. Both of these symbols had been used by the Pharisees to establish hierarchy, and Jesus scorned them for exactly what they were:  Pride. Nothing more, nothing less.

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