Israelis across the religious spectrum showed their support for “tefillin booths,” the small stands in Israeli cities where people can perform the biblical commandment of donning phylacteries.

By United with Israel Staff

While Jerusalem is both Israel’s capital and its religious center, residents of Tel Aviv rallied Israelis to show their support for the freedom of religion guaranteed to all Israelis.

Tel Avivians took action by patronizing local “tefillin booths” where they put on a Jewish ritual item called “tefillin,” or phylacteries, which are a set of two small black leather boxes.

Each box contains parchment inscribed with biblical verses in fulfillment of the commandment to “place these words of mine on your heart and on your soul” (Deuteronomy 1:18). One box is worn on the head, while the other is placed on the upper arm across from one’s heart, usually during morning prayers.

Tefillin booths are generally manned by emissaries of Chabad-Lubavitch, a global movement that focuses on Jewish outreach and the embrace of secular Jews through the performance of rituals such as tefillin, sabbath candle lighting, and Passover seders, among a wide range of other activities.

In February, Tel Aviv’s mayor sought to distance public prayer stands at least 100 meters away from schools, parks, community centers, or any other institution that serves children.

In response, a large group of Israelis from diverse backgrounds protested in front of Tel Aviv’s city hall. Mayors from various cities, media figures and citizens pubicly donned tefillin in solidarity.

“The Jewish spark was kindled,” reported Hamodia. “The tefillin were taken out of attics and dusted off. Last week, thousands of Jews put on tefillin” in response to the attempt to limit the spaces in which prayer booths may be located.

Boaz Golan, founder of the online news portal 0404, launched an initiative calling on Jews worldwide to put on tefillin. Thousands of Jews who may not otherwise have performed the commandment responded, 0404 reported.

Golan started his initiative by calling on mayors throughout Israel to set up tefillin stands in their municipal squares and throughout their cities. Many mayors responded to his request including those from Haifa, Kiryat Ata, Kiryat Motzkin, Lod, Nof Hagalil, Petach Tikvah, Tzfat, Maalot, and Zichron Yaakov.

One secular Israeli, Oren Yehudai, tweeted Golan his picture wearing the ritual item. He wrote, “I have been on a personal journey for a long time and I have not put on tefillin for many months. Thanks to you and the blessed Jewish activity you do, I again put on tefillin and it has done me so much good! A big thank you to Boaz. Continue with your actions. We are with you.”

“The traditional Jewish population has an affinity for mitzvot [fulfilling Jewish commandments] even if they do not observe them on a daily basis,” wrote Hamodia. “They might [lack knowledge], but they never totally threw off the yoke of mitzvos. They respect Jewish tradition, they know what tefillin are, and they do want booths which enable them to put on tefillin, which remind them of their parents’ and grandparents’ homes.”

Chabad emissaries are reporting an increase in requests to don tefillin since the ban was announced, reported Yeshiva World news.