Learning to put on tefillin (phylacteries) is one of a boy’s preparatory steps for the bar mitzvah ceremony. Traditionally, after he reaches bar mitzvah, the boy is required to put on tefillin every day for the morning prayers. This postcard shows an older man instructing a boy in the process of putting on phylacteries and teaching him the appropriate blessing, printed in Hebrew above the scene: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us regarding the commandment of tefillin.”
The biblical injunction regarding tefillin comes from the book of Deuteronomy: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a frontlet between your eyes.” This commandment is fulfilled literally by wrapping the black straps and black boxes of the tefillin around one’s head and arm. The black boxes contain the Hebrew text of four sets of biblical verses with commandments regarding the tefillin (Exodus 13:1-10, Exodus 13:11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21).
This postcard is typical of the innumerable New Year’s and congratulatory cards manufactured in the late 19th and early 20th century to acknowledge the bar mitzvah event.