How Are Tefillin Manufactured?

A Tefillin Shopper’s Guide

clip_image002Question: I am in the process of purchasing tefillin for my son. This is a major purchase, since I hope that he will use these tefillin for many, many years to come, and tefillin are such an important mitzvah. Therefore, I have been making a lot of inquiries as to what to look for. Unfortunately, the more questions I ask, the more confused I become. Rather than gaining clarity, I am hearing many unfamiliar terms such as avodas yad (handmade), devek bein habatim (glue between the compartments of the tefillin shel rosh), perudos (separated), and gasos batim (hide of a mature animal). Could you please explain what I should be looking for in my search for mehudar tefillin?

Answer: Your questions are all very valid, and I am very glad that you have provided me the opportunity to explain these issues. Your quest is also complicated by the fact that, because most tefillin are made in Eretz Yisroel, it is sometimes difficult for someone in chutz la’aretz to find out all the details about their manufacture, especially since many rabbanim have never seen a pair of tefillin made! However, I hope to present you with enough halachic and practical basics to assist you in your search.

First, we need to understand the basics of tefillin manufacture.

As we will see, many details of the halachos of tefillin are halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai, meaning that they were taught to Moshe Rabbeinu directly by Hashem, even though there is no reference or even allusion to these halachos in the written Torah. The Rambam counts ten such examples (Hilchos Tefillin 3:1).

There are four places in the Torah where the mitzvah of tefillin is mentioned, twice in Parshas Bo, a third time in Parshas Va’eschanan and a fourth time in Parshas Eikev. Handwritten copies of these four sections of the Torah are placed inside specially made cases which comprise the tefillin worn on the arm and the head.

COMPONENTS OF THE TEFILLIN

Tefillin have three major components:

1.            The Parshiyos (singular, parsha). These are the parchments on which the sofer painstakingly and carefully writes the four sections of the Torah mentioned above. For the tefillin shel yad (arm tefillin), all four parshiyos are written on one piece of parchment, whereas for the tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin), each parsha is written on a separate piece of parchment.

2.            The Batim (singular bayis). These are the housing of the parshiyos. The bayis itself has three subcomponents. (a) The Ketzitzah, the cube-shaped box inside which the parshiyos are placed. (b) The Titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests. (c) The Ma’avarta (Aramaic for “bridge”), the extension of the titura through which the straps are inserted. In good quality tefillin, the entire bayis, that is the ketzitzah, titura, and ma’avarta, are all made from one piece of hide.

3.            The Retzuos, the straps.

MANUFACTURE OF THE HIDE

Every pair of tefillin contains parts made of three different types of animal hide: the parchment on which the parshiyos are written; the thick hide from which the batim are manufactured; and the softer leather used for the retzuos.

The parchment, the hide and the leather used for making tefillin as well as other devarim she’bi’kedusha (holy items) must come from a kosher species, although not necessarily from an animal that was slaughtered in a kosher way (Shabbos 108a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:12).

Tefillin must be manufactured “lishma,” for the sake of the mitzvah. Practically speaking, this means that the beginning of each process should be performed by an observant Jew who declares that the production is for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:8).

Modern tanning of hide for parchment, batim and straps is a multi-stage process. For this reason, it is preferable that each step be performed, or at least begun, by an observant Jew lishma. Because of this, one of the questions to be ascertained when purchasing tefillin is to what extent an observant Jew was involved in the processing of the hide. This issue impacts on the question of machine-made vs. hand-made parchment and retzuos, which I will discuss later.

WRITING THE PARSHIYOS

Before starting to write, the sofer must state that he is writing these parshiyos for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (see Rosh, Hilchos Sefer Torah Ch. 2; Tur Orach Chaim Chapter 32). In addition, every time he writes any of the names of Hashem, he must first state that he is writing the name for kedushas Hashem. If he did not make these statements verbally, it is questionable whether the tefillin are kosher (see Rama, Orach Chaim 32:19; Rabbi Akiva Eiger comments on Shulchan Aruch 32:8).

The parshiyos must be written with meticulous care, since an error that affects the kashrus of a single letter invalidates the entire tefillin (Menachos 28a). Thus, if only one letter is missing or written incorrectly, the tefillin are posul and the person who wears these tefillin has not fulfilled the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:23). Furthermore, all the brachos he recites on the tefillin are in vain.

Here are some examples of mistakes that can occur while writing tefillin:

If two letters touch one another, the tefillin are posul (Menachos 34a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:4).

The same thing is true if the sofer intended to write one letter and instead wrote something that looks like a different letter or does not meet the halachic requirements of how the letter must be written. For example, if a sofer intended to write the letter “zayin” and made it so long that it could be read as a “nun sofis,” the tefillin are invalid. Similarly, if the sofer intended to write the letter “reish” that is supposed to have a rounded upper right corner, and instead wrote it with a square corner, the tefillin are invalid.

Sometimes the letters of the parshiyos may seem perfect, and yet the tefillin are absolutely posul. For example, the letters written in tefillin (as well as sifrei Torah and mezuzos) must be written or formed directly. A letter cannot be formed indirectly by scratching off ink around the letter until only the letter remains. This halacha is called “chok tochos,” which literally means, “he hollowed out the inside.”

(The origin of this expression is from a case in the Gemara where a get was written by carving a piece of wood until the letters projected. This get is invalid since the letters of the get were not written but formed indirectly by removing the area around them. This does not fulfill the Torah’s requirement that a get be written [Gittin 20a]. “Writing” requires that the letters must be formed and not created indirectly.)

Similarly, if a sofer wrote the letter “dalet” instead of a “reish,” it is halachically invalid to erase the sharp corner of the “dalet” and form a “reish” (Tur Orach Chaim Chapter 32, quoting Sefer HaTerumos). If someone did this, he has not written a “reish” but rather he formed a “reish” indirectly, and this is not considered “writing.” Any tefillin, sefer Torah or mezuzah made this way will be invalid (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:18).

If a sefer Torah was written through “chok tochos,” the letter can be erased and rewritten. However, if this problem occurs in tefillin or mezuzos, the parsha will usually be irreparable (Taz 32:16), and the parsha will have to be put into sheimos (genizah).

WHY CAN’T THIS MISTAKE BE CORRECTED?

Halacha requires that the parshiyos of tefillin and mezuzos be written in the order in which the words appear in the Torah (Rishonim, quoting Mechilta, end of Parshas Bo). This requirement is referred to as being written “kesidran,” in their proper sequence. For this reason, if a letter was skipped and filled in afterwards, the tefillin or mezuza is posul and cannot be corrected. Similarly, if a “reish” was mistakenly written as a “dalet,” and the problem was discovered after more letters were written, the parsha is posul, unless one erases all the letters written after the invalid “reish.”

The law of kesidran (in their proper sequence) applies only to tefillin and mezuzos. Sifrei Torah, megillos, and other holy writings do not have this rule; their letters may be written out of order. Therefore if some of their letters become posul, they can be corrected.

Thus, we see that when one purchases tefillin or mezuzos, one is dependent completely on the integrity of the sofer.

Here is another case where the buyer is completely dependent on the integrity of the sofer. After investing many hours writing a beautiful parsha, a sofer checks the parsha and discovers that one of its letters was written incorrectly in a way that might invalidate the parsha. He takes the parsha to his rav, who paskins that the parsha is indeed posul and cannot be rectified. If the sofer lacks integrity, what is to stop him from fixing the invalid letter so that it now appears a hundred percent kosher?

Fortunately, tefillin and mezuzos purchased from reputable sources should not have problems of dishonest practices like those just described. However, one should still try to find out about the sofer whose tefillin one’s son will be wearing. Although it is a difficult matter to check , one should at least attempt to ascertain whether the sofer appears to be a yarei Shamayim.

Furthermore, the sofer must be thoroughly familiar with the halachos of writing tefillin, or he will certainly produce posul tefillin. There are literally hundreds of ways that a non-knowledgeable sofer can write tefillin that will be invalid. Thus, when purchasing tefillin one should insist that the sofer who wrote them is knowledgeable in the halachos of safrus, and that he has up-to-date certification from a recognized organization or posek to be a sofer. Some of these organizations insist that the sofrim they certify take periodic, continuing examinations to ascertain that they are still competent in the halachos required for their profession.

When parents of a soon-to-be Bar-Mitzvah bochur begin researching purchasing tefillin for their son, they should be aware that looking for a “bargain” will sacrifice quality. Tefillin should be viewed as a long-term investment, since a good pair should last many decades. That means that buying a more mehudar pair of tefillin that costs perhaps $400 more than a minimally kosher pair will translate into spending approximately a nickel a day, if the tefillin are worn for the next thirty years. What other investment costs only a nickel a day?

A MODERN INNOVATION IN HALACHA

After the sofer finishes writing the tefillin parshiyos, he reads them over several times, and then they are checked by a specially trained examiner, or even better, by two trained examiners. In our era, the checking process has been tremendously enhanced by a modern innovation – computer-checking. The written parshiyos are scanned into a computer that has a program comparing the written parshiyos with the computer’s version. The computer checks for missing and extra letters and words, for poorly and mistakenly formed letters, for connected or cracked letters and for other errors.

Experience has proven that computers have an infinite attention span and never get distracted by boredom or exhaustion. (Of course, the computer’s proper performance depends on an alert operator.) It is common for computers to catch mistakes that humans overlook. There is a recorded instance of a pair of tefillin that was checked nine different times without discovering that a word was missing, until it underwent a computer check! When purchasing tefillin, one should insist that the parshiyos be computer checked.

However, one may not rely only on a computer check of the tefillin since, at present, computers cannot check for certain items such as proper spacing between letters and words.

It should be noted that neither the examiner nor the computer can detect certain problems that occur, such as letters written out of order and letters formed through “chok tochos” (scratching out or erasing to create letters, instead of writing). This is why the sofer’s yiras shamayim and his halachic knowledge are absolutely indispensable.

MANUFACTURE OF THE BATIM

Until now we have discussed the preparation of the parshiyos that go inside the batim of the tefillin. Now we will investigate the complicated process of making proper tefillin batim. The manufacturer of batim is generally referred to by the Yiddish term “batim macher.”

Several basic types of tefillin batim are manufactured. The highest quality batim are called “gasos,” large ones, because they are made out of the hide of mature (large) cattle. Their leather is high-quality and very durable. From the buyer’s perspective, these batim are well worth the higher cost. In addition to their superior durability, gasos batim have halachic advantages. Furthermore, they can be repaired easily if the tefillin are damaged. These are the type of batim purchased by people concerned about doing mitzvos properly.

ANOTHER MODERN INNOVATION

In fact, gasos batim are a relatively new development, made possible through the invention of the modern hydraulic press. Until this invention, the tough gasos hide could not be worked into the intricate shapes required for tefillin. Only today can tons of pressure be applied to the leather with a hydraulic press to produce the finest tefillin from the thick hide of gasos animals.

Gasos batim take several months to manufacture. Since the hide is very strong and tough, each step requires moistening it to make it malleable, forming it with the assistance of molds and a hydraulic press, and then allowing several weeks for the hide to dry.

Forming the separate sections of the tefillin shel rosh into four compartments is a delicate task. The hide must be bent and squeezed into separate compartments without tearing it. Although one internal tear does not invalidate the batim, more than one tear can render the bayis posul. For this and other reasons, one must be confident in the expertise, halachic knowledge and yiras shamayim of the batim macher.

THE SHIN OF THE SHEL ROSH

There is a halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that the tefillin shel rosh must have the letter “shin” on each side, a normal three-headed shin on the right side of the wearer, and an unusual four-headed shin on the left side (Tosafos, Menachos 35a, quoting Shimusha Rabba; Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1). The commentaries cite many reasons why the left side of the tefillin must have a four-headed shin (see Smag, Smak, Beis Yosef, Bach). Some say that the four-headed shin is reminiscent of the letter shin as it appeared in the luchos. =Since the letters were carved through the stones of the luchos, the letter shin appeared to have four legs and heads (Taz 32:35).

There is a dispute among early poskim whether the shin on the tefillin can be made completely by molding it. According to the lenient opinions, one can simply take a mold, soften the leather, push the mold onto the bayis and press out the shin on the tefillin shel rosh (Or Zarua, quoted by Darkei Moshe 32:18; Beis Yosef). However, the accepted practice is to be machmir and form the letter in a direct way first (many Rishonim quoted by Beis Yosef; Magen Avraham 32:57). This is done by painstakingly picking and pulling the leather until a kosher shin has been directly formed by hand. Only after the shin has been formed to the point that it is a halachically kosher letter is the mold applied to enhance and beautify it. This is permitted, since the minimum halachic requirements of the letter “shin” have been already created manually and directly. It is worthwhile to clarify how the shin of the tefillin one purchases was manufactured.

The dispute whether the shin may be molded takes us back to a previous discussion. Creating the shin through a mold is an act of “chok tochos,” indirectly creating a letter. As mentioned before, letters written for a sefer Torah, tefillin, mezuzos or a get are invalid when written as chok tochos. If so, why do so many poskim rule that the shin of the side of the shel rosh may be created through a mold?

The answer is that the Torah never states that one must “write” a shin on the side of the tefillin. The halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai merely states that there must be a shin on the side of the tefillin, without specifying that the shin must be written there. Therefore, the lenient opinions contend that there is no requirement to “write” a shin on the tefillin, and it is sufficient for the shin to be made in any way, even through “chok tochos.” As mentioned above, the accepted practice is to form the shin first directly.

THE TEFILLIN MUST BE SQUARE

There is another halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that the tefillin must be perfectly square (Menachos 35a). The Rishonim dispute whether min haTorah both the bayis and the titura must be square, or only one of them. Since this matter is a controversy, and furthermore, since some opinions require that they must both be square, we rule that both the bayis and the titura must be perfectly square.

The width of the bayis must be the exact same measurement as its length, and there may be no nicks, indentations, or bulges that ruin its perfect squareness. The height of the tefillin does not need to be the same as the width and length (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1).

Similarly, the titura is shaped so that its length and width are equal.

In order to get the four compartments of the shel rosh to form a perfect square, many batim machers paste the sections of the bayis to one another to help them hold together. Although there is much halachic controversy about gluing the compartments together, many prominent poskim in earlier generations permitted it (such as Yeshuas Yaakov 32:24; Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim #5 [however cf. Vol. 6 #68]; Shu”t Beis Yitzchok, Orach Chaim 7:6; Daas Torah 32:40).

Other poskim permit gluing the compartments only if the paste is applied to less than half the height of the wall of the compartment and is not applied along the outside edges. However, since there are poskim who disapprove of using any paste, it is certainly a hiddur not to use any at all (Chayei Odom 14:4). These batim are referred to as “perudos ad hatefer ligamri,” which literally means, separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top of the titura (which will be explained later).

Germane to this discussion is a well-known response from Rav Chaim Volozhiner. When asked whether pasting the compartments of the shel rosh together is permitted, he responded that he would not permit it, because the two gedolei hador of the previous generation, the Vilna Gaon and the Shaagas Aryeh, both contended that pasting the compartments invalidates the tefillin.

In earlier generations, when tefillin batim were made from much softer calf leather or even flimsier parchment, it was very difficult to make tefillin that would remain square if the compartments were not pasted together. However, today’s gasos batim are kept square through the stiffness of the hide and the pressure of the hydraulic press. Since the gasos batim are not dependent on paste to hold their shape, many contemporary poskim contend that one should refrain from placing any paste in the batim.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH GLUING THE COMPARTMENTS TOGETHER?

The problem is that the shel rosh is required to have four separate compartments, one for each parsha. The poskim who prohibit pasting the compartments contend that this makes them into one connected compartment, thus invalidating the tefillin. Those who are lenient contend that pasting the compartments together does not halachically make them into one compartment.

The compromise position contends that the compartments are considered separate if they are pasted less than half way up and the outside edge is clearly not connected. This makes the batim noticeably separate, which, they contend, is all that is required. One should ask his rav whether to request batim in which no paste was used at all.

At this point, the batim are almost ready; they still need painting, and need to have the parshiyos inserted. We have not yet discussed the processing of the retzuos, the finishing and sewing of the titura, and various other hiddurim of tefillin. These subjects can be found in part II of this article.

More on Shatnez Laws

clip_image002In parshas Emor, we study about the unique role that the kohanim represented in Klal Yisrael. One of the unusual aspects of this role is that they wore the bigdei kehunah, which contained shatnez. Thus, that which otherwise would be prohibited, in this instance became a mitzvah. This provides an opportunity to continue our discussion of last week about the laws of shatnez, and yet still discuss a halachic theme related to the parsha.

Question #1:

Does wool felt sewn to linen present a shatnez concern?

Question #2:

What are reprocessed fibers, and do they present a shatnez problem?

Question #3:

Does a “sheepskin” blanket present a potential shatnez concern?

In the previous article, we discovered that the prohibition of shatnez exists only if the garment is made from a blend of sheep’s wool and linen, but that wool of other species, such as camel, llama, rabbit, or goat is not shatnez .Thus, a garment made of a blend of linen and either mohair or cashmere is not shatnez, since neither mohair nor cashmere are made from sheep’s wool, but from the hair of goats!

At this point, I want to mention an e-mail I received in response:

“You mentioned in the shatnez article that linen and non sheep wool such as cashmere or mohair are not an issue.
“I would strongly qualify that such a statement is true halachically but is not accurate in today’s textile world!! Sheep wool is much cheaper than cashmere and mohair and companies almost always blend them together. For advertising purposes, they often write ALL CASHMERE or ALL MOHAIR in big letters, but write “with wool” (in small letters) to fool consumers — but it is usually mostly sheep wool and is shatnez!
“Even if it would be a 100% cashmere coat, (which, by the way, costs over $2000) it still needs checking because labels never include the ingredients of internal components which could be both wool and/or linen that are not botul!!
“The consensus among the rabbonim in the vaad shatnez both here and in chutz L’aaretz is to tell  people that cashmere, mohair, alpaca (camel) and angora (rabbit or goat) wool does require checking as this advice prevents mistakes.

“Kol Tuv!”

Rav Yaakov Gurwitz
“Mishmeret Nosson” Shatnez Laboratories
Yerushalayim
rygur38@hotmail.com

Tel: 0526-334417

I now return to our article:

Another fact that we learned is that when a thread is spun from a mix of fibers, the halachic status is determined by what composes most of the fiber content, and ignores the existence of other fibers inside the thread. The minority is halachically bateil, or nullified, to the majority fiber content in the thread. Thus, threads spun from a mix of mostly cotton fiber with some linen fiber are considered cotton, and can be used lichatchilah in a woolen garment. Similarly, a garment consisting of threads made of a blend of mohair that is spun with some sheep’s wool fiber, which is woven or sewn with linen threads, is not shatnez. However, a thread of linen that is woven or otherwise attached into a woolen garment renders the garment shatnez, and there is no bitul and vice versa, a single sheep’s wool thread in a linen garment renders the entire garment shatnez.

And now for some new “material”:

A thread is made of fiber that is combed and then spun. However, not all material is made this way. For example, wool felt, a material often used in shoulderpads, underarm material, the neck backing of suits, and other places that require sturdiness or strengthening, is made of combed wool that is pressed, but not spun into thread. Is there any difference in regard to the laws of shatnez between spun wool thread and pressed wool felt?

Many authorities contend that the Torah-level prohibition of shatnez applies only to spun threads, but not to fiber or material that was never spun (Tosafos, Niddah 61b s.v. Shu’a). Following this approach, wool felt sewn with linen thread is shatnez only miderabbanan (on a Rabbinic level).

The Shach (300:1) concludes that this approach is accepted by most authorities, and that, furthermore, this is prohibited only in the instance of soft material. Thus, he concludes that stiff material made of wool felt combined with linen is not shatnez, even miderabbanan.

According to the Shach, then, a non-wool suit with shoulderpads made of wool felt sewn with linen thread is shatnez, but only miderabbanan. One would still need to replace the linen thread, the shoulderpad, or both to remove the shatnez from the garment.

Another application of this halachah: An ornament on a garment that should be shatnez-free was attached to a linen fabric that was in turn attached to a wool felt backing. The ornament itself is shatnez, albeit according to the Shach only miderabbanan. The ornament can be removed or replaced and thereby make the garment shatnez-free.

Another interesting case in which a garment may contain tufts of wool and linen threads and not be shatnez is if one takes a sheepskin (occasionally used as a very warm blanket) containing sheep’s hair, which is raw wool, and sews it with linen thread. It does not present a Torah-level prohibition of shatnez, because the wool has not been processed to the necessary stage to pose a problem.

Reprocessed Fibers

Many garments, particularly quilts and other bedding, contain “reprocessed fibers,” which is a nice way of saying that used clothes (also known as shmattes) were chopped up and used as stuffing. One can never know for certain what material is included in the reprocessed fibers. Are they automatically prohibited because of shatnez?

This actually depends on two factors:

Are the “reprocessed fibers” actual threads?

Are they sewn or glued into the garment or simply pressed together and inserted.

If the reprocessed fibers are threads and are sewn or glued into the material, the entire garment may be shatnez, at least according to the Rambam, because the “reprocessed” material includes threads of wool and threads of linen that have both been sewn into the same garment. If there are linen and woolen threads sewn together at any point, it is shatnez according to all opinions. If the wool and linen does not touch, but are in different parts of the garment, then the garment is shatnez according to the Rambam, but not according to the Rash. Rav Chayim Kaniyevski quotes in the name of the Chazon Ish that one could permit this clothing on the basis of a sefek sefeika: It is possibile that this garment does not contain both wool and linen, and even if it does contain both, the stitching may not have attached the wool to linen, in which case it is permitted according to most authorities (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Kilayim, 10:2 Biurei Halacha s.v. Levadim). Although he concludes that a G-d-fearing person should avoid use of this heter, he concludes that one may use a mattress stuffed with reprocessed fiber, since lying on shatnez is permitted min haTorah, and is prohibited miderabbanan only on soft items. The same rationale permits using baseball gloves, which are also usually stuffed with reprocessed fibers, since the rawhide surface of a baseball glove does not provide any warmth to the hand. Therefore, even yarei shamayim baseball players may continue to use their gloves.

We will continue our discussion on Shatnez in a future article.

Some Shatnez Basics

clip_image002Question #1:

I keep reading about shatnez showing up in strange places: ladies sweaters, children’s clothes, and even baseball gloves. Am I required to take my family’s entire wardrobe to a shatnez laboratory to have everything checked?

Question #2:

“What does a shatnez tester look for?”

Question #3:

“The importer told me that the garment was made from a blend of hemp and wool, which should involve no shatnez concern. As there was no authorized shatnez tester in town, I did what I thought was the next-best thing – I brought the garment to a local observant tailor, to have him check it. He carefully checked the threads and guaranteed me that the garment contained no linen. Only after I wore the garment many times did I meet a great Torah scholar and mention this incident in passing. The talmid chacham told me that I should not be so certain, and he offered to compare the material in my garment to linen threads he had available. And indeed, it was clear that he was correct. The threads in my garment were made from wool and linen, not hemp, and I had been violating a Torah prohibition the entire time!”

Does this story sound contemporary and familiar? As a matter of fact, this story happened in 1650 in the city of Vilna — twenty years before the Dutchman van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope. In those days, the only “scientific” means of checking whether a material was linen or hemp was to take a sample and see if a candle would get it to burn, since hemp is more flammable than linen (Rama, Yoreh Deah 302:2). Others opposed the reliability of this test (Piskei Teshuvah 302:1, quoting Shu”t Penei Yehoshua).

Thus, we see that shatnez problems are not exclusively a result of modern manufacture. However, in modern clothing one may find shatnez in everything from sweaters and skirts to scarves; and from bedding and button loops to baseball gloves.

Before delving into contemporary questions, we must first understand some of the laws taught in this week’s parsha. The prohibition of shatnez exists only if the garment is made from a blend of sheep’s wool and linen, but that wool of other species does not make shatnez. Thus, wool made of camel’s, rabbit’s or goat’s hair mixed with linen is not shatnez (Mishnah, Kilayim 9:1; see Rambam, Hilchos Kilayim 10:2). (“Wool” is simply hair that is soft and can be used as cloth.) The Mishnah (Kilayim 9:2) records that certain combinations, such as silk and wool, were prohibited because of maris ayin, since this raises suspicion or may be misinterpreted that someone is wearing shatnez. However, the Rishonim already conclude that this concern exists only when the material that may be confused with wool or linen is not commonly obtainable, but that no prohibition of maris ayin exists once people become familiar with its availability (Rosh, Hilchos Kilayim).

Most people are surprised to discover that a garment made of a blend of linen and either mohair or cashmere is not shatnez! Why is this? Because neither mohair nor cashmere are made from sheep’s wool, but from the hair of goats! Mohair is processed from the hair of an angora goat. Although goats of this variety are now raised around the world, originally they were developed in Turkey. (The current capital of Turkey, Ankara, used to be called Angora.)

Cashmere is the wool of the Kashmir goat, which was originally native to central Asia, as its name indicates. Thus, if no sheep’s wool thread was mixed into the mohair or the cashmere, the existence of linen in the garment will not make it shatnez.

The Majority Rules

By the way, a garment could contain both linen and sheep’s wool and still not be shatnez! How could this be?

When a thread is spun from a mix of fibers, the halachic status of the thread is determined by what composes most of the thread’s fiber content and ignores the existence of other fibers inside the thread (Mishnah Kilayim 9:1). The minority of fiber is halachically bateil, or nullified, to the majority fiber content in the thread. Thus, threads spun from a mix of mostly cotton fiber with some linen fiber are considered cotton and can be used lichatchilah in a woolen garment. Similarly, a garment consisting of threads made of a blend of mostly mohair but including some sheep’s wool fiber that are woven or sewn with linen threads is not shatnez and may be worn.

Here is a very practical example of this case – in a dress that was tested recently in a shatnez laboratory.

A knit dress whose content label listed 70% wool and 30% silk, which should not be a shatnez problem, was brought to a shatnez checking service. However, the tester noticed that the front panel of the dress was made of thread that was a blend of linen and cotton fibers. If the cotton is the majority, there is no halachic problem with this garment, since this would be considered a cotton thread. However, if the majority component of the threads is linen, the garment is shatnez.

Here is another recent case where the halacha is more complicated:

The label of a sweater brought to a shatnez checking service accurately described its content as: 28% viscose, 20% nylon, 15% lamb’s wool, 15% cotton, 10% polyester, 6% metallic fiber, 3% cashmere and 3% angora. A decorative cloth ornament, whose content was not included on the label, was sewn onto the sweater. The shatnez checker tested the ornament and discovered that it was made of a blend of linen and cotton, where linen was the majority. Thus, the decorative fabric was halachically considered linen, and the material of the main sweater included wool. However, it is possible that there is no shatnez problem here because the wool in the sweater fabric was a minority component. Thus, although there was both linen thread and wool fiber in the garment, it would not be shatnez.

Why did I say only that “it is possible that there is no shatnez problem?”

The authorities dispute whether shatnez exists when there is noticeable wool fiber in a thread which is mostly made from a different fiber. The Rosh (Shu”t 2:5), Mishnah Rishonah and Tiferes Yisrael (both to Kilayim 9:1) consider this shatnez, since the wool is noticeable; whereas the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 181:9) rules that this is not shatnez, contending that the definition of a thread is its majority component, and that the minority wool component of the thread is bateil. In the case at hand, the wool may be noticeable in the thread, since there is a sizable amount of lamb’s wool in a blend that contains many very non-wool type fibers. It may indeed be that according to the Rosh the wool is not bateil in this case, and that this sweater is therefore shatnez. On the other hand, according to the Chazon Ish, since most of the fiber in the thread is not wool, the wool component of the thread is bateil.

Hanging by a Thread

Linen or wool fiber is bateil only as fiber. However, a thread of linen that is woven or otherwise attached into a woolen garment renders the garment shatnez, and there is no bitul (Rosh, Hilchos Kilaei Begadim #5 quoting Tosefta; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 299:1). Even a single linen thread in a large woolen garment renders the entire garment shatnez. In addition, if a spun thread is mixed into a larger thread, then there is a shatnez problem min haTorah even if there is only one linen thread in a large garment.

This distinction is extremely important, as we see from the following case:

A 100% pure wool sweater contained a long green thread knotted into its seam. The green thread consisted of a cotton braid, which was not mentioned on the label, but should not present any problem either. However, the core of the cotton braid contained a linen thread. Thus, the 100% pure wool sweater contained a linen thread. (We will soon see that according to many authorities this particular sweater was not shatnez for a different reason.)

What if they do not touch?

If a garment contains wool thread on one side and linen in a different place — so that the wool and linen do not touch, is the garment shatnez?

This issue is disputed by the Rishonim. The Rash (Kilayim 9:1, 9) one of the early Baalei Tosafos, (this is Rabbeinu Shimshon, author of the Tosafos commentary to Zera’im, Taharos, Pesachim and Kesubos, and should not be confused with the more frequently quoted Rosh, Rabbeinu Asher, who also authored commentaries on the Mishnah, Gemara and Halacha, and lived somewhat later than the Rash), rules that shatnez requires that the linen and the wool actually touch, but that one is permitted to wear a garment containing wool and linen threads that are on different parts of the garment. According to the Rash, the prohibition of shatnez is that there is a “combination” of wool and linen, but this is avoided when the wool and linen are separated by other materials.

Based on this Rash, a common custom was to attach a linen atarah to a wool talis by having cotton cloth act as the “mechitzah” between the wool and the linen.

However, the Rambam rules that wool and linen threads on different parts of a garment constitutes shatnez min haTorah. In his opinion, the Torah prohibited a garment containing both wool and linen, even if the linen and wool themselves do not touch. Thus, according to the Rambam, the separating cotton does not change the garment from being shatnez, and wearing the above-mentioned talis is a mitzvah habaah be’aveirah.

Similarly, whether the wool sweater with the cotton green thread containing a core that is a linen thread is shatnez or not is dependent on this dispute between the Rash and the Rambam, since the linen thread does not touch the wool but is surrounded by cotton. According to the Rambam, wearing this sweater involves a Torah prohibition of shatnez, whereas according to the Rash, it is permitted!

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 299:2) rules like the Rambam that a garment is shatnez even if the wool and the linen threads are separated by other materials. Thus, Sefardim, who follow the Shulchan Aruch’s rulings, are certainly prohibited from wearing this sweater. Among Ashkenazi authorities, the Rosh, the Rama  (Yoreh Deah 299:2), the Magen Avraham (9:8) and the Eliyah Rabbah (Orach Chayim 9:6) rule like the Rash, whereas the Mishkenos Yaakov (Yoreh Deah Shu”t #70) Shenos Eliyahu (9:1)[1], Artzos Hachayim rule like the Rambam. I note that Rav Chayim Kanievski notes that the prevalent practice is to rule like the lenient opinion (Derech Emunah, Hilchos Kilayim, Hilchos Kilayim 10:41).

What have we learned so far?

1. We have learned that shatnez exists only when there is sheep’s wool, but not when the wool is from other species, and that therefore pure cashmere or mohair blended with linen is not a shatnez concern.

2. We have also learned that some testing for shatnez existed even before the microscope, but there was halachic controversy concerning whether one could rely that this testing is reliable.

3. In addition, we have learned that threads spun from a mix of cotton and linen fibers are considered cotton and when blended in a woolen garment are not shatnez. However, threads of linen woven into a garment that is a cotton/wool blend is shatnez, even when the blend is mostly cotton thread.

What have we not yet learned?

1. Are baseball gloves a shatnez problem?

2. Which garments must be checked for shatnez.

3. How a shatnez tester works.

To answer these and other shatnez questions, we will need to read a future article.


[1] We should note that in his notes to Shulchan Aruch (299:8), the Gra, who also authored Shenos Eliyahu, appears to accept the Rash‘s approach.

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