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May a non-Jew or a person who is in the conversion process don tefillin? If not, what are the reasons that they cannot?

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Ger, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for this interesting question! I look forward to seeing you around. –  Isaac Moses Jul 18 '12 at 11:53
Ger I'll remind you to use the information you learn here as background for a discussion with a qualified rabbi, and not to rely just on the answers here. –  Double AA Jul 18 '12 at 13:42
This is anecdotal, but of the three gerim I knew well during their geirus, two were instructed not to wear tefilin until they were megayer and one was due to a safek on his status as a Jew in the first place. –  yoel Jul 18 '12 at 16:16

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A non-Jew certainly may wear tefillin (in other words, there is no law against them doing so), but they will not be fulfilling a mitzvah. From that perspective, they might be viewed in the same way that one views a Jewish woman who lays tefillin: the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 38:3) exempts her but allows her to wear them if she wishes. Note, however, that the Rema does not permit women to wear tefillin (although he does not comment on a non-Jewish man doing so), and you can see the explanation of the Magen Avraham for this in situ.

The Shulchan Arukh prohibits non-Jews from writing the scrolls that go into tefillin (Orach Chaim 39:1), but it also mentions that if a non-Jew is in possession of tefillin one makes the assumption that they are kosher. Nowhere, however, does it refer to non-Jews who choose to wear them.

That said, the Rambam does speak about non-Jews choosing to perform mitzvot in which they've not been commanded (Hilkhot Melachim 10:10), and even suggests that they receive some measure of reward for doing so. If you look at what the Radbaz has to say on this point, you'll see that he mentions tefillin in particular:

ומכל מקום במצוה שצריכין קדושה וטהרה כגון תפילין ס"ת ומזוזה אני חוכך להחמיר שלא יניחו אותם לעשותן

In any case, when it comes to mitzvot that require sanctity and purity, such as [wearing] tefillin or [writing] a sefer Torah or a mezuzah, I deliberated and am stringent¹: we should not allow them [non-Jews] to do so.

In other words, while the law appears to be in favour of them doing so, if they should wish to do so, and while it may even be possible to construe the Rambam's words as suggesting that they even receive some degree of merit (despite not performing a mitzvah), there is also scope for a less lenient position, as per the Radbaz, and as per a possible extrapolation from the writings of the Rema and the Magen Avraham.


¹ The expression that I have translated above as "I deliberated and am stringent" appears in the Mishna, Nedarim 1:1. It literally translates to "I hesitate to be stringent", but its meaning is as I have rendered it above (cf: Jastrow, חכך II; Kehati, Ned 1:1).

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The Shulchan Aruch YD 291 does prohibit giving a non-Jew a mezuzah; it's hard to imagine why one would be allowed to give a non-Jew tefillin. –  Curiouser Jul 18 '12 at 19:46
You might also consider citing Jastrow in your footnote...tyndalearchive.com/tabs/jastrow –  Curiouser Jul 18 '12 at 19:58
Re: the referencing, that is fair. Can you explain what you mean by your first point? I'm not sure what it's referring to. Have I misread one of my sources? –  Shimon bM Jul 19 '12 at 0:50
Not misread, I just wonder if one is not allowed to give a mezuzah to a non-Jew (and I would argue kal v'chomer tefillin, based on the level of kedusha -- since one of the reasons for mezuzah is that the non-Jew might mistreat it) then it would seem like a non-Jew should never come into possession of tefillin, which implicitly means they shouldn't be putting them on. –  Curiouser Jul 19 '12 at 1:23
I was surprised recently to learn that Rabbi Barry Fruendel, who has worked on behalf of the Rabbinical Council of America to align conversion standards with those of Israel's, told a candidate for conversion that he should wear a tallis and teffilin before officially becoming Jewish as part of his training. When I converted in 1980, the Rabbinical Council would not let me wear a tallis or tefillin, or even keep Shabbos fully, until my conversion was final. –  Bruce James Jan 8 '13 at 15:17

Rabbi Barry Fruendel, who has been representing the RCA in negotiations with the Israeli rabbinate to establish standards for American conversions acceptable to the Israel rabbinate, instructed one convert I know to put on tefillin and to wear a tallis (he was married) before completing his conversion. Frankly, I was suprised. When I was working to get an Orthodox conversion -- I had a Conservative conversion first and thereafter wore tefillin -- I had to stop wearing tefillin until I completed my conversion.

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I'm very curious about this issue. If a ger is required to wear tefillin starting on the day of his conversion, how can he do the mitzvah if he's wholly unfamiliar with it. –  Ben - Ben's Tallit Shop Dec 12 '13 at 22:16
Also, it seems to me that a distinction should be drawn between tallit and tefillin. We don't sell tefillin to a non-Jew because we don't trust him to be careful enough when it comes to kedushas tefillin, but the Gemara gives a very different reason (really two reasons) not to sell a tallit to a non-Jew (see Menachos 43a). –  Ben - Ben's Tallit Shop Dec 12 '13 at 22:27

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