Take a look at these images of people wearing tefillin.

From this: https://www.karaiteinsights.com/article/mamzer

You shall tie them as a sign on your arm and as frontlets between your eyes.”

and this: http://biblehub.com/deuteronomy/6-8.htm

have varying translations. Some mention forehead between the eyes. Some don't.

Which one is right?

Last time I checked, our forehead is not exactly between our eyes. Putting tefillin between the eyes would require a diagonal string to keep it in place. Or using glue I suppose.

But that's not how it's worn. Why?

  • Instead of English, you should be thinking in ancient near eastern where the expression between your eyes means medial not lateral on the head. The idiom was lost on many later on.
    – Double AA
    May 31, 2018 at 12:25
  • I see. This seems like the most sensible answers.
    – user4951
    Jun 7, 2018 at 10:04
  • @Double is that true? Do pashut pshat and the halchic pshat actually agree? From the sugya of yikrichu karcha I would assume they don't.
    – user6591
    Jul 17, 2018 at 18:05

3 Answers 3


This is a classic question. I'm quite surprised we didn't have a question like this already on this site. I will do my best to explain.

First of all, let's examine the actual passuk:

:וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ וְהָי֥וּ לְטֹֽטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֶֽיךָ

And you shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes.

The Hebrew word here most often translated as "between" (בֵּין) can also mean "opposite." With this in mind, we can translate the passuk as "...They shall be for a reminder opposite your eyes" and this would make more sense when we examine how tefillin are actually worn.

As you linked, the box is placed somewhere at the hairline, and not "between the eyes" on the bridge of the nose. As per Jewish Law, the tefillin shel rosh must be positioned centered between the eyes while remaining placed on the hairline. This would make them "opposite" the eyes.

The first link you brought is from a Karaite source. Karaites reject the Oral Torah and the instructions from the Rabbis and generally follow the Written Torah from a literal level. If one were to follow the Torah literally, he would place the tefillin between the eyes, on the bridge of the nose. (This would be incorrect as per Jewish Law.) But what's more interesting is that Karaites do not wear tefillin at all, they interpret this passage as non-literal, and that you do not have to literally have the words on your arm and head, but rather that the passuk means that you should constantly have the Torah on your mind and in all your actions. But we're not here to talk about what Karaites think. Let's get back to the subject.

The Gemara in Menachot 37b brings the reasoning behind placing the tefillin on the hairline:

גובה שבראש מנלן דת"ר בין עיניך זו גובה שבראש אתה אומר זו גובה שבראש או אינו אלא בין עיניך ממש נאמר כאן בין עיניך ונאמר להלן (דברים יד, א) לא תשימו קרחה בין עיניכם למת מה להלן בגובה שבראש מקום שעושה קרחה אף כאן בגובה של ראש מקום שעושה קרחה

From where do we learn that the tefillin shel rosh must be on the upper part of the head? For our Rabbis taught: "Between your eyes", that is, the upper part of the head. You say it is the upper part of the head, but maybe it means literally between the eyes? It is written here: "Between your eyes", and it is written there: "Nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead". In the latter case it means the upper part of the head where baldness can be made, so therefore in the former as well it means the upper part of the head where baldness can be made.

This the basic answer. There are many more things to say on this matter. I'd suggest reading the whole Gemara there in Menachot.

  • 2
    But what's more interesting is that Karaites do not wear tefillin at all, they interpret this passage as non-literal, and that you do not have to literally have the words on your arm and head, but rather that the passuk means that you should constantly have the Torah on your mind and in all your actions. See Rashbam's commentary to Exodus 13:9.
    – Alex
    May 31, 2018 at 7:07
  • 3
    Can you bring an example for the opposite meaning in Tanakh? May 31, 2018 at 8:08
  • 1
    You may want to clarify in your answer whether you view the Karaites as being more literal vs. less. As it currently reads, the Karaites "follow the Written Torah from a literal level... they interpret this passage as non-literal". Perhaps, you may want to just explain that they rejected Torah Shebal Peh (the traditional oral law) with both more and less literal ramifications.
    – Loewian
    May 31, 2018 at 13:36
  • @alex ,the Rashbam is indeed known for having the most purest pshat explanations even more so than his grandfather (Rashi). Also I rem someone explain the 4 basic shittos of teffilin, (Rashi,R"T,Raavad,and Shimusha Rabbah) and someone said how about the 5th type...Rashbam. It's also obvious that the Rashbam many times explains the plain pshat which seems to contradict the chachamim,but he mentions that ofcourse the tradition of the Chachamim is always vaild,he just comes to give ideas in pshat not in practical application. Another such example is the day starting from day and not night
    – sam
    May 31, 2018 at 15:35
  • 1
    @Alex Rashbam hadn't read the epic of Baal and Anat. Baal kills Yam by hitting him over the head with an ax בין עיניו. The Pharisees got this one right. But I agree this answer is significantly lacking despite it's length.
    – Double AA
    May 31, 2018 at 16:37

Ralbag, commenting on the verse in Exodus 13:9, explains why we do not wear tefillin between our eyes. He lists three reasons why that cannot be what the Torah meant:

  1. There is no room between the eyes for tefillin.
  2. Tefillin worn between our eyes would block our vision.
  3. Tefillin worn between our eyes would cause the nations to laugh at us.

וכן אין הכוונה שנניח תפילין של ראש בין העינים מפני מה שאמרה התורה בהם ולזכרון בין עיניך ולטוטפת בין עיניך וזה כי אין שם מקום יתכן שיונחו בו עם שהם יהיו סנורים בעינינו רוצה לומר שכבר ימנעונו מראיית הדברים כהוגן עם שזה יהיה דבר יביא אותנו להיות ללעג ולשחוק לשאר העמים וזה הפך כוונת התורה כאומרו כי הוא חכמתכם ובינתכם לעיני העמים

And also the intent [of the Torah] is not that we should place the head-tefillin between the eyes on account of the Torah saying about them "and as a remembrance between your eyes" [and] "and as totafot between your eyes". This is because there is no space where it is possible to place it there, and they would be blinders in our eyes (meaning to say that they would prevent us from seeing things properly), and it would be something that would bring us to be a mockery and a laughingstock to the other nations – the opposite of the intent of the Torah when it says "for this is your wisdom and understanding to the eyes of the nations".

  • 1
    If the thefilin is small enough, say the verses are written in microchips, and you wear that with diagonal strap, that would still work. Still can't help for the 3 though. The current way to use it seems more fashionable.
    – user4951
    Jun 7, 2018 at 10:03
  • @J.Chang They actually do have really small tefillin (with the verses still written in parchment) that would probably fit between the eyes.
    – Alex
    Jun 7, 2018 at 21:20
  • @J.Chang And number 3 seems pretty subjective. Who is to say that between the eyes looks sillier than on the head? Or any other mitzvah like taking branches of palm, willow, and myrtle with a citron?
    – Alex
    Jun 7, 2018 at 21:26
  • I have no idea. It feels funny though. Someone should try it and we'll see if we chuckle or not. Did someone try it?
    – user4951
    Jun 8, 2018 at 14:14

I'll give a short answer the way I understand the mitzvah of tefillin- the shel rosh serves as a sign - witness Shmoth 33.6 : "and it shall be for a reminder between your eyes [and my eyes,"] that is, when each person sees the totafoth (shel rosh) on the head of a fellow Jew it shall serve as a reminder to discuss the Exodus; for as it says in Shmoth 13.9, "And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the law of the L-RD may be in thy mouth; for with a strong hand hath the L-RD brought thee out of Egypt. "

The Torah is using an euphemism for "between your eyes and my eyes" but is not saying we should place the shel rosh literally "between our eyes" that would as one posting said elicit mockery

Shmoth 13.8 stipulates that during the Pesach season we are to discuss the Exodus: "And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the L-RD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt."

Obviously, Shmoth 13.9 is teaching us that seeing the Shel Rosh serves to initiate discussion of Pesach and the Exodus; something the shel yad cannot do once it is placed opposite the heart!

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