Study finds that bizarre Jewish ritual can have health benefits

Study finds that bizarre Jewish ritual can have health benefits October 15, 2018

A religious ritual involving leather straps and two wooden boxes – one fixed to the head, the other to one arm – has always struck me as one of the most ridiculous of age-old Jewish customs.

But according to new research, the whole kit and caboodle known as teffilins or phylacteries can improve the health of pious Jewish men.

But what about women?  They aren’t permitted to wear them, thanks to the Torah’s prohibition of cross-dressing.

The Torah says:

A man’s attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman’s garment, because whoever does these [things] is an abomination to the L‑rd, your G‑d.

One exception was King David’s wife, Princess Michal. She was good to go with the leather and boxes malarky because she was “a reincarnation of a male soul”.

There’s also the suggestion that women may be too “impure” to engage in the ritual.

So, if you’re a Jewish female wanting to improve your cardiovascular health, try other methods – like regular aerobic exercises and eating more vegetables and fruit. What’s more, people won’t point and laugh.

The pilot study by researchers at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine found that regular users of tefillin may receive cardiovascular health benefits though remote ischemic preconditioning — that is, briefly restricting blood flow and oxygen to the heart and then restoring it.

The study involved 20 Jewish men from the Greater Cincinnati area including nine who wore tefillin daily and 11 who did not. A leather strap is wrapped tightly around either the right or left arm for about half an hour during morning prayers six days a week, often tight enough to leave grooves in the skin for a few minutes after they are removed. They are not worn on Shabbat.

This from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

The researchers measured participants’ vital signs, drew blood for analysis of circulating cytokines and monocyte function and also measured blood flow in the dominant arm which is not wrapped with the tefillin. Blood flow was higher for men who wore tefillin daily and improved in all participants after wearing it just once as part of the study.

The study was headed by Jack Rubinstein, UC Health cardiologist and associate professor in the Division of Cardiovascular Health and Disease. He said in an article posted on the university’s website that the binding of the arm and the discomfort users often report may serve as a form of preconditioning and offer a substantial degree of protection against acute ischemic reperfusion injury – when a section of the heart is deprived of oxygen and then damaged when re-oxygenated — that occurs as a result of a heart attack.

Ischemic preconditioning essentially mimics the effects of exercise by placing the heart and vessels under light stress.

“We found people who wear tefillin in either the short or long term, recorded a measurable positive effect on their blood flow. That has been associated with better outcomes in heart disease,” Rubinstein said.

Israeli studies have shown that Orthodox men have a lower risk of dying of heart disease compared to non-Orthodox men.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Martin Penwald

    A study on 20 people only? It looks limited, no?

  • TrickyDick


  • TrickyDick


  • Barry Duke

    Out soon: a study that shows objects with the fewest moving parts last the longest.

  • Richard B

    Only an handful of men were used for this study — hardly representative. And the exclusion of women – disgusting.

  • Stan Cook

    Once again I must thank my parents for not teaching me to believe in any of the gods humans have invented. I can wear any clothing that I want or not wear any clothing that I dislike. Thank you Mom and Dad.

  • guerillasurgeon

    And……….You can eat bacon!

  • Jim Jones
  • @we_vau_es

    A “study” like this is totally irrelevant due to the small number of participants – the statistical rules/methods require at least 120 people in order to rule out statistical error.

  • Jim X

    Now this is the kind of “scientific research” Republicans like to fund through big gubment !

  • 1859

    Like the Sun?

    Glad to see you posting (my wife helped me!) Any of the others around?

  • Erik

    To Barry aka David Duke: this custom of tefillin has been around since before Jesus and will be around long after you’re smouldering in your grave. People have a right to do the things they want if it doesn’t hurt other people and people who respect other people have a right to be respected. To mock tefillin, calling it “bizarre,” “one of the most ridiculous of age-old Jewish customs” and “malarky” shows that you and your editorial staff, if there is one, to be disrespectful at the very least and horribly anti-semitic. Just because you can spell and put a paragraph together doesn’t mean that you are a credible writer/journalist. In this article, your mocking, petty criticism of something that’s holy to Jews shows you have no respect and no clue.

  • Adrian

    You do know that Argument from Tradition is a fallacy, right? Also, crying anti-semitism just because a non-believer dares to state that he finds one of your customs strange or ridiculous makes you look like a very silly drama queen. Don’t have a (sacred) cow…

  • Erik

    You sound like you do not respect people in general, just like this author, and are helping to make the world a worse place.

  • Barry Duke

    Erik, let me assure you of three things. A. I am not an anti-Semitic. B. I am not related in any way to the KKK’s David Duke, and would punch his lights out if I ever met him. C. I won’t be “smouldering” (or even mouldering) in my grave because I have left specific instructions that when I fall off my perch I am to be cremated without a funeral.

    Finally, even Jews poke fun at tefillin:,7340,L-5263376,00.html

  • Erik

    If you are one, you can poke fun at it, if you aren’t one, you can’t. Ask the black community. They would have your head if you wrote a piece like this about them.

  • mehitable

    Some women now do wear tefillin. Not in an Orthodox community surely, but there are other, less traditional, denominations. Also, there is a basic misunderstanding as to why certain religious rituals or requirements are made only of men, not women. It is not actually about women being deemed inferior. It’s is a recognition that women’s traditional duties of keeping a house, taking care of family, raising children, participating in community, are sacred acts themselves and including these religious rituals on top of them would be a hardship. Women already do sacred things, they don’t have to do more, their natural traditional efforts are enough. It is MEN who are required to do more to achieve the same level.

  • mehitable

    Blacks also call each other the “N” word (which I wish they wouldn’t as the word should die out completely). That is not allowed for non-Blacks. Members of a group can tease or mock particular customs presumably because of their familiarity with and understanding of, the practices. For outsiders to do so, reflects their ignorance, both of the custom, and also of the importance of ritual in people’s lives. Especially one that may be thousands of years old in one form or another.

  • Richard B

    Thank you for this clarification. Not being Jewish, I don’t know all the ins and outs of that great faith.

  • Barry Duke

    Then why did his fellow Jews have a hissy fit?

  • Adrian

    /Santa-style belly laugh

    That’s pretty rich, coming from a guy whose primary tactic seems to be flinging ad hominems at your interlocutor to distract from his points. Seriously, I had missed the reference at first, but comparing someone to a Klan leader just because he dares to be less than unquestioningly reverent toward a silly ritual…? And was that “smouldering” line a threat of Hellfire? Not exactly respectful, and very silly when thrown at an atheist.

    Anyway, there is a difference between respecting people and respecting beliefs/rituals, particularly when the latter are of the silly/unsupported/undemonstrable variety. As for me, I do give people a default level of respect, which I then adjust as needed on an individual basis. So far you’re not exactly accruing any credits… Though honesty compels me to confess that I have noticed something of a tendency with me: the more stridently someone defends a sacred cow, the more I feel like having hamburgers. I’d probably already have forgotten about this article if not for your overreaction to it.

  • One exception was King David’s wife, Princess Michal. She was good to go with the leather and boxes malarky because she was “a reincarnation of a male soul”.

    So does that make King David a homosexual? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unless its an abomination before gawd. Maybe we’d better scrap the Abrahamic religions just to be on the safe side.