How Are Tefillin Manufactured? (Part II)

What does one look for when purchasing a pair of tefillin? In my earlier article, I presented some of the basics of tefillin manufacture. The four parshios in which the Torah mentions mitzvas tefillin: “Kadeish li kol bechor” and “V’hayah ki y’viacha” in Parshas Bo, “Shema” in Parshas Va’eschanan, and “V’hayah im shamo’a” in Parsha Eikev are handwritten by a sofer. Each parsha of the tefillin shel rosh is written on a separate piece of parchment and placed in a separate compartment, whereas those of the shel yad are written on one parchment and placed in a single large compartment.

We also discussed certain problems that can occur while the parshios are written, the importance of using a skilled, knowledgeable, and G-d fearing sofer, and that the completed parshios should be checked carefully, preferably by two trained examiners and by computer.

As explained in the previous article, the batim consist of three parts: (a) the box part, called the ketzitzah, in which the parshios are placed, (b) the titura, the base on which the ketzitzah rests, and (c) the ma’avarta, through which the straps (retzuos) are inserted. The width of both the ketzitzah and the titura must be exactly the same as the corresponding length so that they are perfectly square, and there should be no nicks, dents, or bulges that ruin their perfect square-ness or the evenness of their sides. Someone concerned about the mitzvah should therefore purchase batim made from gasos, which means the hide of a mature animal. Gasos batim last much longer, have many hiddurim in halacha, and can be repaired if they become damaged.

We also discussed two halachic disputes regarding the manufacture of the shel rosh. One shaylah concerned gluing the compartments of the shel rosh together, and another concerned whether the shin on the outside must be pulled out manually before it is molded.

As explained in the first article, most stages of tefillin production, from tanning to painting and sewing, must be performed “lishmah.” Therefore, each stage is begun by an observant Jew who declares that his work is for the sake of kedushas tefillin.

Several steps of tefillin manufacture were not described in the first article, including painting, making the retzuos, and placing the parshios in the bayis and sealing it. We will resume our narration and guide at this point, beginning with the manufacture and laws of the titura, the wide base upon which the ketzitzah holding the parshios rests.

The titura consists of two parts, the widening at the bottom of the ketzitzah (upper titura) and the flap that closes and seals the parshios inside (lower titura). In gasos tefillin, the titura is formed out of the same piece of leather as the ketzitzah. The lower titura is bent 180 degrees until it is directly beneath the upper titura. The gap between the two is then filled with pieces of leather, and then the hide is shaved until it is perfectly square.

At one point in time, ordinary scrap leather was often used as filler, but this is rarely done today. Although these batim are kosher, it is preferable that the filler be hide that was tanned lishmah (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1). This is standard contemporary practice.

Some poskim contend that it is acceptable to fill small nicks in the side of the titura with glue. Others feel that it is not kosher l’chatchila to do this but that nicks should be patched with hide or parchment tanned lishmah  (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 6:1; Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 3:2; 9:4).

When the titura is completed and perfectly square, twelve holes are punched through it so that it can later be stitched closed. It is vital that these holes form a perfect square and that they are not too large (which may cause the stitching not to be square).

PAINTING

The batim are painted jet-black using paint containing only kosher ingredients (Shulchan Aruch 32:40). Because there is little space between the compartments of the shel rosh, it often happens that after the painting one can no longer see the separation between the compartments. Since the individual compartments must be visible, the batim macher carefully separates the compartments from one another with a razor.

On inferior batim, non-scrupulous batim machers may merely scratch the outside of the bayis to make it appear where the four compartments actually are. This is an invalid method of marking the batim. The actual, separate compartments must be visible from the outside. Alternatively, sometimes a deep groove is mistakenly scratched in the wrong place and does not demonstrate the actual separation between the compartments. This is also invalid. Therefore, to prevent this, a responsible batim macher cuts between the compartments to guarantee that they are indeed fully separate even after the painting.

Now that we have excellent parshios and batim for our tefillin, we will investigate what constitutes excellent retzuos.

IS THERE A HALACHIC PREFERENCE TO HANDMADE RETZUOS?

The contemporary process of tanning retzuos is similar to the method used to tan leather for mundane uses, such as belts and handbags. However, retzuos must be tanned lishmah, for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 33:3). After the tanning of the retzuos is complete, the retzuos are painted black in order to fulfill a halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai (Menachos 35a). The painting of the retzuos must also be performed lishmah (Mishnah Berurah 33:18).

In earlier days, tanning retzuos involved salting the hide and then soaking it in lime wash. Today, although both salt and lime are used in the tanning process, most of the tanning of retzuos is usually accomplished by the gradual, automatic adding of other chemicals to the soaking leather after the salt and lime have been rinsed out. Thus, although early poskim ruled that placing the lime into the water lishmah is sufficient to make retzuos lishmah, this may not be true today. For this reason, most contemporary poskim rule that one should use “avodas yad” retzuos, meaning that the extra chemicals added to the water were done lishmah by a Torah-observant person (Zichron Eliyahu). However, most retzuos sold for tefillin are not avodas yad.

According to my information, most retzuos are painted by transporting them on a conveyor belt through a large, electrically powered paint sprayer. This provides an additional reason to use only avodas yad retzuos. Most Torah-observant Jews use hand matzos for the seder because of concern that machine matzos are not considered lishmah. (I am not suggesting that machine matzohs are a problem for Seder use. Many great poskim contend that they are fine.) In all likelihood, the manufacture and painting of machine-made retzuos has greater halachic concerns than the shaylos involved in machine matzos. When one realizes that the mitzvah of eating matzah is only once a year, whereas the tefillin will IY”H be worn daily for decades, I believe the choice is obvious.

Some poskim contend that one should also request that the parchment used for the parshios be only avodas yad. If one chooses to order avodas yad parchment, ask for extra thin parchment. This special parchment is less likely to crack when rolled and inserted into the batim, and thus there is less likelihood that the letters will eventually crack. It is also easier to fit the thin parchment properly into the batim. The difference in cost for this parchment is fairly small relative to the overall cost of the investment in the pair of tefillin.

It is important to check periodically that the retzuos are still completely black. Many authorities contend that the entire length of the retzua must always be black (Biur Halacha 33:3 s.v. retzuos). If the paint peels off, fades or cracks, one must blacken the retzuos with kosher black retzuos paint. Before painting the retzuos, one must state that he is doing it l’sheim kedushas tefillin

The reverse side of the retzua that lies on the skin need not be dyed at all. There is an opinion that the edges of the retzuos should also be painted black (Keses HaSofer 23:2). However, this opinion is not accepted in halachic practice (see for example, Mishnah Berurah 33:24 quoting Pri Megadim in Eishel Avraham 33:7).

ROLLING UP THE PARSHIOS

All the components of the tefillin are now complete, and it is time to insert the parshios into the bayis. Before being placed into the ketzitzah, each parsha is rolled from left to right, and then tied with a bovine tail hair (Elyah Rabbah 32:43). These hairs should preferably be from a calf to remind us of the sin of the eigel hazahav, the golden calf (Beis Yosef, quoting Shimusha Rabba). The parsha is then wrapped with a blank piece of parchment, and this parchment is then tied with another bovine hair. (According to Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1, these last two steps are both halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai.) After each parsha is placed inside its appropriate bayis, one or more of these hairs are pulled through the left hole in front of the bayis that will be used to stitch the titura closed. Thus, the hair used to tie the parsha closed is visible on the outside of the tefillin (Zohar).

According to Rashi’s opinion, which is the halacha, the parshios are now inserted according to the order that they appear in the Torah. Thus, the first parsha, Kadeish li kol bechor (Shmos 13:1-10), fills the leftmost compartment (from the perspective of the wearer), with V’hayah ki y’viacha  (Shmos 13:11-16) next to it. Shma (Devarim 6:4-9) is placed next to it; and V’hayah im shamo’a  (Devarim 11:13-21) is inserted inside the rightmost compartment. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, the last two parshios are reversed, with Shma in the right-most compartment and V’hayah im shamo’a next to it. (There are also at least two other opinions on this question.)

Although we fulfill the mitzvah with Rashi tefillin, the Shulchan Aruch states that a G-d fearing person should wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin in addition to wearing Rashi tefillin (Orach Chaim 34:2). However, the Shulchan Aruch qualifies this ruling by stating that only a person known to observe beyond the requirements of halacha is permitted to wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin (Orach Chaim 34:3). This is because of the prohibition against being pretentious in one’s Yiddishkeit. Ashkenazim follow the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling. However, the practice among many Sefardim and chassidim is that all married men wear Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. In their opinion once many people follow a certain practice, it is no longer ostentatious for an individual to observe it.

OTHER HALACHOS RELEVANT TO ASSEMBLING THE TEFILLIN

The parsha should fit completely inside its compartment. Sometimes the shel yad parsha is too tall to fit properly in the ketzitzah and the bottom of the parsha protrudes into the titura, a situation that should be avoided (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 3:3; Shu”t Yabia Omer 1:2:5). If the person who orders the tefillin coordinates the correct size with the sofer and the batim macher, this problem can be avoided.

After the parshios are placed into their appropriate compartments, the titura is sewn closed. There is a halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that this stitching must be made with sinews (giddin; singular gid) of a kosher animal (Shabbos 108a). There is another halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai that these stitches must form a perfect square (Menachos 35a). This is something that a person can readily check on his own tefillin. I have often seen tefillin where the stitching or the punching of the holes is sloppy, making the stitching not square. This makes the entire pair of tefillin posul!

The tefillin should be stitched with a single length thread of sinew (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 32:51). Although there are lenient opinions that one can tie two pieces of gid together, insist that your tefillin be stitched with a single gid.

Some batim machers glue the top and bottom titura together, in addition to the stitching, to help the titura stay closed. Some poskim contend that this practice invalidates the tefillin since the halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai is that the titura should be closed only by stitching with giddin and with no other materials (Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 11:10). One should consult with his rav whether to request that the titura not be glued.

The retzuos should be about ½ inch wide. When purchasing new retzuos, they should be wider so that they remain the proper width even after they become stretched out.

WHERE SHOULD I BUY MY TEFILLIN?

The individual selling tefillin should be a halachically reliable person and preferably a talmid chacham. Furthermore, he should be fully familiar not only with the halachos of tefillin, but also with the details of tefillin manufacture. From my personal experience, it is not uncommon that a person selling tefillin, although extremely ehrlich, is totally unfamiliar with the halachic issues and concerns involved. Unfortunately, many sofrim and rabbanim lack sufficient training in the practical details of tefillin manufacture.

Assuming that one is purchasing tefillin from someone familiar with the halachos and practical aspects of tefillin manufacture, be specific what level of tefillin kashrus you are looking for. If you don’t tell him that you want tefillin that are kosher l’chatchila (in the preferred way), you might receive tefillin that only meet the very minimum standards of kashrus. A person who discriminately buys food with high kashrus standards should not settle for less when purchasing tefillin. Such a person should order “kosher mehudar tefillin,” or “kosher tefillin with extra hiddurim.” These descriptions may also affect other questions that we have not discussed, such as the quality of the writing or the source of the batim.

THE PRICE OF TEFILLIN

Considering how much time, labor and trained skill are required to produce a kosher pair of tefillin, it amazes me how inexpensive tefillin are. Imagine purchasing an item that requires tens of hours of skilled expert workmanship! What would you expect to pay for such an item? Probably thousands of dollars! And note that one wears tefillin every weekday of one’s life, without exception. The tefillin are certainly hundreds of times more valuable than a top quality suit! Remember that a top quality pair of tefillin should last many decades. A pair of tefillin that costs $1000 and lasts for forty years are worn approximately 300 times a year or a total of 12,000 times. Thus, this pair of tefillin cost about 8 ½ cents a day. Compare this to how much value one gets per wearing from a nice suit!

WHAT TO ASK WHEN ORDERING TEFILLIN?

When ordering a pair of tefillin, one is entitled to ask as many questions about the tefillin as one chooses. After all, one is making a major purchase. In addition, asking these questions informs the seller that one wants tefillin that are mehadrin and are not simply minimally kosher.

Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to ask whether the seller knows the sofer personally or at least by reputation. Why did he choose this sofer? Is the sofer licensed by an organization that tests him periodically on the relevant halachos? One should definitely request that the sofer be instructed to write parshios that are kosher l’mehadrin, and not simply kosher or even kosher lichatchila.

Request that the parshios be checked by two different examiners and also by computer. Also insist that the examiner be instructed that the parshios should be kosher l’mehadrin. Usually, the examiners are only checking to see if the parshios are minimally kosher.

From which manufacturer are the batim being ordered? Why did the seller choose this batim macher? Do the batim carry a hechsher? Order batim that are kosher l’mehadrin.

Order batim where no glue is added to the titura. Clarify that the batim macher cuts between the compartments after painting to guarantee that they are properly separated. Specify that the seller should make sure that the parshios, both shel yad and shel rosh, fit completely inside the ketzitzah.

Of course, one needs to verify that the tefillin are set up for someone left-handed or right- handed, and whether the ksav (the script) and the knots are for nusach Ashkenaz, Sfard or Edot HaMizrah. Clarify in advance how large the batim of the tefillin will be. If the bar- mitzvah bochur is small, one may have a shaylah whether the tefillin are too large to fit on his arm correctly. Clarify this issue in advance with your tefillin seller and with your rav.

None of the items above should cost anything extra and therefore one should always ask for them even if one’s budget is limited.
WHAT EXTRA ITEMS SHOULD I ASK FOR WHEN ORDERING TEFILLIN?

There are several other hiddurim one can order when purchasing new tefillin. Bear in mind that each of these items will add to the price of your tefillin and may require more advance time to order your tefillin.

1. Ask your rav whether you should order tefillin that were manufactured originally “perudos ad hatefer le’gamrei,” literally, separated completely down to the stitch, referring to the stitching on the top of the titura. This means that the batim were manufactured without any glue between the compartments of the batim.

When ordering tefillin that are perudos ad hatefer le’gamrei, ask for batim that were made originally this way from the beginning of their manufacture. Sometimes a batim macher receiving an order for “perudos ad hatefer le’gamrei” will take a knife and attempt to cut through the compartments of the bayis in order to separate them. You do not want these batim. Firstly, the cutting could damage the batim. Furthermore, the batim macher may not have succeeded in separating all the glue.

Although all poskim agree that it is halachically preferable to have batim that are constructed without any glue between the compartments, there is a risk that these batim could separate with time and thus no longer be properly square. For this reason, if the person wearing the tefillin will not be checking periodically to ensure that his tefillin are still properly square, it may be preferable to have the compartments glued together. Your rav should be consulted.

2. Order parshios and retzuos that are avodas yad. If ordering parshios that are avodas yad, instruct the sofer that they should be written on extra thin parchment.

3. Order tefillin where the shin was pulled out by hand and the mold was used only to enhance an existing shin. (See part one article for the explanation.)

WHAT SHOULD I CHECK WHEN THE TEFILLIN ARRIVE?

The big day arrives. Your local sefarim store, sofer, or rav tells you that your tefillin have arrived!  Is there anything you should check on the tefillin?

Check if the batim, titura and stitching are all properly square. You do not need to have a trained eye to check. Look if they appear perfectly square to you. Pay special attention that the titura area that faces the ma’avarta is smooth. It is not unusual that this area is not finished to the extent that it should be.

WHAT SHOULD I BE CHECKING ON MY OWN TEFILLIN?

Just as a car owner knows that he must check the level of the motor oil every fill-up or two, the tefillin owner should know to periodically check certain things on his tefillin.

First, check that the retzuos and batim are completely black and are not rubbed out, cracked or faded. Are the retzuos black all the way to their tip? Be particular to check that they are black near where the knot is tightened, because at that point the paint often rubs out. One should also check that the retzua is still wide enough near the knot. If they are not fully black, blacken them with kosher tefillin paint. (Everyone who wears tefillin should have access to kosher tefillin paint or markers.) If someone’s retzuos are cracking in several places, perhaps he should consider replacing them.

The knot of the shel yad should be connected that it touches the ketzitzah of the tefillin.

Check that the batim, titura, and stitches are still perfectly square. This means that the width and the length appear to be the same length to the naked eye, and that there are no dents, nicks, or projections along the sides or in the corners of the bayis. The back corners of the batim often become rounded because of hats or taleisim that are constantly rubbing them.

If the stitch of the titura is not taut or it loops in the middle, it is not kosher and you should contact your batim expert. With time or damage, the stitches often loosen or move, or the batim get banged or nicked and are no longer properly square. Your local batim expert has the equipment and know-how to repair them.

Know a batim macher or batim repair expert. Every major Jewish community should have at least one person who is trained and has the equipment to repair batim. Just as the community has shatnez testers, a mohel, a butcher, a mikvah for dishes, sefarim stores, and talmidei chachamim who are trained to check mezuzos, a community must have a talmid chacham who is trained properly in the repair of batim.

HOW TO MAINTAIN YOUR TEFILLIN PROPERLY

Maintaining your tefillin is fairly easy. Never leave your tefillin in direct sunlight, in a very hot place, or inside your car during the daytime. As much as possible, your hair should be dry while wearing your tefillin. Protect corners by leaving the cover on the shel yad. (It should be noted that some poskim contend that one should not place these covers on the shel yad while one is wearing them or while making the bracha. However, since most poskim permit leaving these covers on, one may be lenient.)

Tefillin are one of the special signs that Hashem gave the Jewish people, and we should certainly excel in treating this mitzvah with the appropriate dignity. When Yidden request that their tefillin be only mehadrin, they demonstrate their reverence for the sign that bonds us to Hashem.

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.

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