What Is the Difference Between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Tefillin? Explained

If you’re Jewish, or even if you’re not, you may have heard of tefillin. Tefillin are small black leather boxes containing scrolls with verses from the Torah that are worn by observant Jews during morning prayer. However, not all tefillin are created equal. There are two different styles of tefillin, the Ashkenazi and Sephardic, which are used by Jews of different origins. While both types share the same basic function, there are distinct differences between the two that you may find interesting.

The biggest difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin is the physical appearance of the boxes themselves. Ashkenazi tefillin boxes are noticeably wider than their Sephardic counterparts, making them seem more square in shape. Additionally, the straps used to secure the tefillin to the arm and head are attached in a different fashion. The Ashkenazi version features 2 separate straps that are wrapped independently, while the Sephardic version has a single, long strap that wraps around the arm before being secured to the head.

The divergences don’t end there. Most prominent rabbis agree that there are differences in the script used to write the scrolls inside the tefillin boxes. Ashkenazi Jews typically use Ashkenazic script, which is commonly used in Hebrew book printing. Sephardic Jews, on the other hand, use the Sephardic script, which is more angular and suited for cursive writing. The differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin may seem small, but they are a clear reflection of the rich diversity within the Jewish community.

Ashkenazi Tefillin Components

Ashkenazi tefillin are a set of small black leather boxes containing Jewish texts, worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. The components of Ashkenazi tefillin include:

  • Batim: The leather boxes that house the scrolls. Ashkenazi batim are mostly square-shaped, but some are also rectangular. They are traditionally made from the hide of a kosher animal and must be constructed using a specific method that adheres to Jewish law.
  • Parshiot: The scrolls inside the batim that contain verses from the Torah. The Ashkenazi parshiot include four biblical passages, written on parchment animal skin by a Hebrew scribe with specially prepared black ink. Each passage is inserted into a separate slot in the tefillin box.
  • Retzuot: The leather straps that secure the tefillin to the arm and head. Ashkenazi retzuot are traditionally made from kosher cowhide, and their color is usually black.
  • Titura: The knot used to secure the retzuot to the arm and head. The knot is tied in a specific shape to resemble the Hebrew letter shin, symbolizing one of God’s names. The Ashkenazi titura is tied differently on the arm and head retzuot, with the former having three loops and the latter having four.

Sephardic Tefillin Components

Tefillin, also known as phylacteries, are a defined set of black leather boxes and leather straps that Jewish people wear during morning prayers as a reminder of God’s commandments. The tefillin consist of two separate items: the head-tefillin or shel rosh, and the arm-tefillin or shel yad. Both Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities use the tefillin, but there are differences in the components of the tefillin.

Sephardic Tefillin Components

  • Four Compartments: Sephardic tefillin contain four separate compartments in which to place parchment containing specific religious texts. In contrast, Ashkenazi tefillin have only one compartment.
  • Shel Yad vs. Shel Rosh: The Sephardic shel yad has one compartment, while the shel rosh has three. The smaller space is for the first paragraph of the Shema, while the larger ones house the other two paragraphs of the Shema. The fourth compartment is for the biblical text “And it shall come to pass if ye shall hearken” (Exodus 19:5-8). On the other hand, Ashkenazi tefillin shel yad and shel rosh include only one compartment each.
  • Texts on Parchment: The texts on the Sephardic parchments feature the blessing recited before donning the tefillin, the opening words of the Shema, and the passage commonly known as “Vehaya ki yeviacha.” The Ashkenazi version incorporates the same blessing but only contain the Shema and the “Vehaya ki yeviacha” passages in a single long parchment.

Leather Straps and Knots

The leather straps, or retzuot in Hebrew, that bind the tefillin to the arm and head can vary in length and style. The Sephardic tefillin straps are commonly made of multiple thin leather strips and are retied in a unique pattern each time they are worn. The knot on the Sephardic tefillin shel yad looks like the Hebrew letter dalet while the shel rosh knot is shaped like the Hebrew letter shin. The Ashkenazi tefillin straps are broader and are retied in a knot shape resembling the Hebrew letter yud.

Overall, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin uphold the same religious commandment but differ in design, materials, and components. Understanding the differences in the tefillin provides insight into the rich cultural and religious traditions of the Jewish people.

Ashkenazi Tefillin Binding Style

Ashkenazi and Sephardic Tefillin may look similar from afar, but upon closer inspection, the differences between the two become clear. For example, Ashkenazi Tefillin have a unique style of binding that differs from Sephardic Tefillin. Let’s take a closer look at the Ashkenazi Tefillin Binding Style.

  • The Ashkenazi Tefillin have three separate compartments, each with its own parchment scroll. Each compartment contains a different prayer, with one compartment containing the “Shema Yisrael” prayer.
  • The Tefillin are strapped onto the left arm, with one end of the strap attached to the Tefillin and the other end wrapped around the arm seven times. This is followed by a series of further wraps in a specific binding sequence, which serves as a symbolization of binding oneself to God.
  • The strap is then wrapped around the middle finger of the left hand and the remaining length of the strap is wrapped around the Tefillin box.

The binding process of the Ashkenazi Tefillin is intricate and meaningful, with each wrap holding significant symbolism. The seven arm wraps are meant to represent the seven emotional attributes of God, while the binding around the middle finger symbolizes the connection between God and the wearer. The wrapping around the Tefillin box represents the binding of the entire body to God’s will.

Below is a table summarizing the binding sequence:

Wrap # Description
1 Wrap around the hand, below the knuckles
2-4 Wrap around the arm, above the elbow
5 Wrap around the hand, between the thumb and forefinger
6 Wrap around the arm, just below the shoulder
7 Wrap around the hand, just above the knuckles
8-10 Wrap around the arm, above the elbow
11 Wrap around the middle finger of the left hand
12-14 Wrap around the Tefillin box and arm

Overall, the Ashkenazi Tefillin Binding Style is emblematic of the connection between man and God. The intricate binding process serves as a reminder of the wearer’s commitment to fulfilling God’s will and living a life guided by the principles of Judaism.

Sephardic Tefillin Binding Style

While both Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities use tefillin in their daily prayer routine, the way they bind their tefillin can vary. Sephardic tefillin binding style has its own unique characteristics and symbolism.

  • One of the most noticeable differences is the shape of the tefillin boxes. Sephardic tefillin boxes are wider and flatter than their Ashkenazi counterparts. This is because they follow the opinion that the boxes should be square, as opposed to rectangular.
  • Another distinctive aspect of Sephardic tefillin is the knot used to tie the straps. The knot is tied in a way that resembles the Hebrew letter “dalet,” which represents the four-letter name of God. This symbolizes the binding of the Divine presence to the worshipper’s head and arm.
  • Additionally, Sephardic tefillin straps are wrapped in a different way than Ashkenazi tefillin straps. Sephardic Jews wrap the strap around their middle finger before wrapping it around their hand and forearm, while Ashkenazi Jews do not.

Here is a table summarizing the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin:

Aspect Ashkenazi Tefillin Sephardic Tefillin
Box Shape Rectangular Square
Knot No specific form “Dalet” symbol
Strap Wrapping No middle finger wrapping Wrap around middle finger

Overall, Sephardic tefillin binding style has its own unique meaning and serves as an important symbol of Jewish faith and practice.

Ashkenazi Tefillin Traditions

When it comes to tefillin, the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition has its own set of unique customs and rituals. Here are some of the distinct features of Ashkenazi tefillin:

  • The Number 5: Ashkenazi tefillin are made up of five separate compartments, representing the five books of Moses (the Torah). Each compartment contains a scroll with a different passage inscribed on it.
  • The Shel Yad: The box for the arm tefillin, known as the shel yad, is typically square with straight edges in the Ashkenazi tradition. The leather straps are also made in a distinctive Ashkenazi style.
  • Placement: The Ashkenazi tradition places the arm tefillin in a lower position on the bicep compared to the Sephardic tradition. The head tefillin is also often placed slightly higher on the forehead than in the Sephardic tradition. These differences in placement reflect variations in interpretation of halakhah (Jewish law) regarding the correct placement of tefillin.

Additionally, the Ashkenazi tradition specifies certain prayers and blessings that are to be recited before, during, and after the tefillin-wearing ceremony. These prayers include the Ein Keilokeinu, the Shema, and the Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto L’Olam Vaed.

The following table outlines the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin:

Ashkenazi Tefillin Sephardic Tefillin
Number of Scrolls 5 1
Shape of Shel Yad Square with Straight Edges Rectangular with Rounded Edges
Placement on Arm Lower on Bicep Higher on Bicep
Placement on Forehead Slightly Higher Slightly Lower

Understanding the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin can help one appreciate the diverse traditions of Judaism and the rich tapestry of Jewish culture.

Sephardic Tefillin Traditions

When it comes to Sephardic Tefillin traditions, there are numerous unique aspects that differentiate them from the Ashkenazi Tefillin traditions. One of the most significant differences between the two is the wrapping style of the Tefillin.

  • In Sephardic tradition, the Tefillin straps are wrapped six times around the arm, which is done in remembrance of the six words in Deuteronomy 11:18 that discuss binding God’s commandments on the arm.
  • The Shin, the Hebrew letter placed on the Tefillin box, is also written in a distinct manner in Sephardic tradition, with three branches instead of four.
  • Another tradition involves the minhagim or customs of Sephardic communities, which include the use of specific kabbalistic formulas while donning the Tefillin. These “Psakim” or sayings are not used in Ashkenazi Tefillin traditions.

While the overall structure and materials used in constructing the Tefillin remain consistent across both Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions, these unique customs showcase the rich diversity within Judaism.

Comparison Ashkenazi Tefillin Sephardic Tefillin
Wrap Around Arm 7 times 6 times
Shin Written with 4 branches Written with 3 branches
Psakim Not used Used

Overall, the Sephardic Tefillin traditions not only emphasize the importance of following God’s commandments but also highlight the unique and diverse customs within the Jewish faith.

Ashkenazi Tefillin vs. Sephardic Tefillin: Which is Right for You?

There are two main types of tefillin: Ashkenazi and Sephardic. Knowing the difference between the two can help you choose which one is right for you. In this article, we will be exploring the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin to help you make an informed decision.

The Number 7

  • One of the most significant differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin is the number seven. Ashkenazi tefillin have seven compartments, while Sephardic tefillin have only four.
  • The significance of the number seven in Ashkenazi tefillin is based on a Midrash which teaches that God wrote seven Names on the tefillin. These names are written in seven different compartments which correspond to the seven channels of divine energy that allow God’s blessings to flow into the world.
  • On the other hand, Sephardic tefillin reflects the view that the number seven is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah. Instead, they believe that the four compartments represent the four parts of the body that the Torah commands we should bind the tefillin on- the head, the hand, the arm, and the fingers.

While the number seven is significant in Ashkenazi tefillin, it is not essential for a Jew to wear them to fulfill the commandment of tefillin. Similarly, Sephardic Jews may choose to wear Ashkenazi tefillin if they prefer the design or feel a connection to the tradition.

Other Differences

Aside from the number of compartments, there are other differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin:

  • Writing style: Ashkenazi tefillin are written in a square script, while Sephardic tefillin are written in a script that is more rounded.
  • Knot placement: In Ashkenazi tefillin, the knots that hold the straps in place are placed on the sides of the head phylacteries. In Sephardic tefillin, the knots are placed on the back.
  • Strap length: The straps on Ashkenazi tefillin are longer than those on Sephardic tefillin.

These differences may seem minor, but they reflect the unique perspectives and customs of each community.


Choosing between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin depends on your personal preferences and traditions. Whether you opt for Ashkenazi or Sephardic tefillin, the most important thing is to cherish the Jewish tradition, follow its commandments, and wear the tefillin with reverence and devotion.

Ashkenazi Tefillin Sephardic Tefillin
Seven compartments Four compartments
Square script Rounded script
Knots on the sides Knots on the back
Longer straps Shorter straps

Ultimately, both Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin are meaningful expressions of devotion to God and the Jewish tradition. The choice between the two should be made according to personal preference and custom.

What is the Difference Between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Tefillin?

1. What is tefillin and why is it important in Judaism?

Tefillin are small black boxes containing religious texts and worn during weekday morning prayers by observant Jewish men. They are a symbol of the Jewish peoples’ bond with God and remind the wearer of the importance of following the commandments of the Torah.

2. What is the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin?

Ashkenazi tefillin are typically wider and rounder in shape and the leather straps are usually shorter. Sephardic tefillin, on the other hand, are typically narrower and more elongated in shape, and the leather straps are usually longer.

3. Which communities use Ashkenazi tefillin and which use Sephardic tefillin?

Ashkenazi Jews, who come from Eastern Europe, Poland, and Russia, usually use the wider tefillin. Sephardic Jews, who come from North Africa, the Middle East, and Spain, usually use the narrower tefillin.

4. Is there any religious significance to the difference in tefillin shape and size?

The difference in shape and size of tefillin between Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities is generally a matter of tradition and custom. Most rabbis agree that both types of tefillin are acceptable and valid for use in prayer.

5. Can a person use both Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin?

Yes, a Jewish man can choose which type of tefillin to wear based on his personal preference or the customs of his community. However, it is important to follow the guidelines of a qualified rabbi when making this decision.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about the differences between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin. Religious practices and customs are an essential part of many cultures and religions, and it is always important to respect and understand them. If you have any further questions or comments, please feel free to visit our website again in the future.