The Phylacteries of Dialogue – תפילין הדיאלוג

Benjamin Z. Rudski בנימין צבי רודסקי


In Jewish prayer, there is a daily ritual of putting on phylacteries, known in Hebrew as Tefillin תפילין. These phylacteries consist of two leather boxes, which each contain passages from the Torah, our sacred text. The first two of these passages come from the book of Exodus. After God frees the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt, He commands them to remember the Exodus and to tie this memory for eternity to their arms and place it between their eyes. The other two passages containing similar instructions are the Shema prayer, derived from Deuteronomy. This prayer, which we recite twice daily, affirms our belief in God and is central to Judaism.


When putting on Tefillin, I first place one box, the arm-phylactery or Tefillin shel yad, on my non-dominant (left) arm. I wrap the attached leather strap seven times around my forearm. Next, I place the other leather box, the head-phylactery or Tefillin shel Rosh, on my forehead, near my hairline and position it to be between my eyes. I pull the attached straps forward to be in front of my body. Finally, I take the remainder of the leather strap from the shel yad and wrap it around my left hand. In the Ashkenazi tradition, practiced by most Jews from Europe, the strap forms the letters שדי Shaddai, a name of God that first appears in Genesis 17:1.



In my poem, I use Tefillin as a metaphor for interfaith dialogue. I use the shel yad to represent connection to my own faith and the shel rosh to represent looking outward to the Other to learn about their faith. The two come together when the strap from the shel yad is tied, spelling out Shaddai. I have taken this holy name and assigned to each Hebrew letter a pillar of interfaith dialogue: difference, similarity and togetherness.



The choice of this metaphor fulfills a verse from Psalms 122 that we say every Saturday as part of the Shabbat prayers:

״לְמַעַן אַחַי וְרֵעָי אֲדַבְּרָה־נָּא שָׁלוֹם בָּךְ״

“For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say: 'Peace be within thee.'”

-- Psalms 122:8, English from the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation (both from

I call upon my Jewish brethren to understand that we should wrap ourselves in interfaith dialogue like we wrap with the Tefillin. For my non-Jewish companions, I hope to help you better understand our daily traditions, including our most intimate prayer rituals. By learning our differences and finding our similarities, we will be able to peacefully live together in understanding.

״וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ״

“[T]herefore love ye truth and peace.”

-- Zechariah 8:19, English from the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation (both from


תפילין הדיאלוג

בנימין צבי רודסקי


שתי קופסאות עור לפני

,על השולחן, מול עיני

.עם היסטוריה במספר פסוקים

אני מוכן להניח תפילין

.ולהצטרף לעבר ולעתיד


אני פותח את הראשונה

ומניח את ה-״של יד״ באמונה

נגד הלב, סמל האהבה

ועל סמל הכח, הזרוע

.אני קושר את דתי אל נשמתי


,אני עוטף שבע פעמים

.כנגד שבוע של שבעה ימים

״מה העדות והחוקים״?[1]

,בחיפוש הסברת העניינים

.אני קושר את דתי ותורתי על ליבי


.ואחר כן, הקופסה השנייה שלי

,אני מניח על הראש, נגד מוחי

בין עיני, ה-״של ראש״ הוא אורי

בין עיני המראה את דרכי

.ופונה את לבבי לפני אל מחר


,אני פונה לפני ורואה את השביל

.הוא עקום ולא תמיד כרגיל

היש כאן גבולות

?או האם כולנו פועלים לטובות גדולות


.אך יש דבר שברור אלי

אני עומד כאן בתפילה

ואני רואה אותך

עיני מול עיניך

פני מול פניך

.נשמתי אל נשמתיך


סופו של דבר, עם דתי וכוחי

,ומוחי ושאלותי

אני מסתובב אליך להקשיב ולדבר

.ועל היד אני סוף-סוף קושר

שלוש אותיות

שין – שונה

דלת – דומה

.יוד – יחד. לעולם


The Phylacteries of Dialogue

Benjamin Z. Rudski


Two leather boxes catch my eye

On the table, by my side,

Capturing history on parchment.

I am prepared to wrap my tefillin

To tie myself to our past and future.


I open the first

And faithfully place the Shel Yad

Near my heart, the symbol of love

On the symbol of strength, my arm

And I tie my traditions to my soul.


I wrap seven times,

Matching the seven days of the week.

“What are these laws and the traditions?”

Searching for all the deeper meaning,

I tie my religion and Torah to my heart.


Next, I turn to the second box

And I place it on my head, near my mind,

Between my eyes, the Shel Rosh is a light,

Between my eyes, it shows the path,

Turning my heart from today to tomorrow.


I look before me and I see the path.

It is crooked and irregular.

Do borders divide us

Or do we all work for a greater good?


Yet there is one thing clear to me.

I stand here in prayer,

And I see you.

My eyes towards your eyes.

My face towards your face.

My soul towards your soul.


Finally, with my faith and my strength,

And my mind and my questions,

I turn towards you to listen and to speak

And I tie my Shel Yad to my hand.

Three letters:

Shin – Shoneh – different

Dalet – Domeh – same

Yud – Yachad – together. Forever.


[1] Hebrew text adapted from Deuteronomy 6:20 ( English is not a direct translation.


Benjamin Rudski is a second year PhD student in the QLS program. He is an Ashkenazi Jew from Montreal.

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