And what about the Reform movement?
In general, as Rabbi David Vaisberg of Temple Emanuel in Edison points out, “The first thing you have to do to wear tefillin is pray in the morning during the week.”
In other words, because tefillin are worn only during weekday Shacharit services, they are rarely seen in Reform synagogues, which as a rule do not offer such services.
Rabbi Vaisberg, who positions himself on the right wing of the mainly left-wing movement, centered his senior sermon, delivered two years ago, on the issue of wearing tefillin. As he stood on the bimah in the synagogue at HUC-Hebrew Union College in Manhattan, he was one of three people at the service who had wrapped them.
Because the Reform movement approaches the concept of religious obligation in a way that sets it apart from the movements to its right, “I don’t think that I’m obliged to wear tefillin,” Rabbi Vaisberg said. “But I see it as something the tradition knows to be a valid technique to go with prayer.
“It is valuable. It builds up your sense of prayer. I feel it worthwhile to experiment with facets of tradition, and this is one that very much resonates with me.
“And there is the fact that it’s what the Jewish people do, and so I do it. It takes something that could be very esoteric and head-focused and turns it into a very physical experience.
“Prayer is in your head – your singing, your talking. It is not physical. Yes, you wrap a tallit around yourself, but it’s light. It floats on your shoulders. It’s comfortable.
“The tefillin is very intense. You are suppose to wrap it tightly, to the point where it leaves marks on your skin all morning. I am very tactile, and it makes prayer a very tactile and therefore more meaningful experience for me.”