Texas death-row inmate wraps tefillin for first time


(JTA) — A Jewish death-row inmate in Texas wrapped tefillin for the first time.

Jedidiah Murphy, who has been on death row in Livingston for 15 years for killing a 79-year-old woman, performed the rite behind glass earlier this month with the help of a Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Dovid Goldstein, Chabad.org reported.

Goldstein, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of West Houston, told Chabad.org that he met Murphy several months ago while he was in the prison visiting another inmate. He said he spent three months securing permission for Murphy to put on tefillin. State law prevents death-row inmates from having direct contact with their visitors.

The rabbi said Murphy told him he was raised by his Jewish grandparents, but entered the foster system before he was 13 and never had a bar mitzvah, Chabad.org reported.

Goldstein said he provided a pair of tefillin and a kippah for Murphy and instructed him through the glass. The prisoner was prohibited from keeping the kippah after the brief bar mitzvah, which they celebrated with chips and soft drinks from a vending machine, the rabbi told Chabad.org.

Other rabbis who visited were prevented from putting the tefillin on him, Murphy told Goldstein.

Murphy shot and killed the elderly woman when he was 25, stole her car, and used her credit cards to purchase alcohol and cigarettes while high on cocaine, Chabad.org reported. He was placed on death row a year after the murder.

Goldstein had put tefillin on another death-row inmate, Douglas Feldman, a week before he was executed by lethal injection for murder in 2013. Feldman, 55, was the first Jewish person known to have been executed in Texas, according to Chabad.org. The rabbi was allowed direct contact with Feldman since the tefillin were considered part of his last rites.

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