Tefillin Retzuos, Maintenance, and Purchasing Instructions

Question #1: How are tefillin retzuos made?

Question #2: My tefillin did not come with an “owner’s manual.” What should I do to maintain them in good condition?

Question #3: How can I make sure I get “quality” tefillin?

Introduction:

This week’s parsha has a very indirect allusion to the mitzvah of tefillin, since it refers to the mitzvah of zakein mamrei, the rebellious elder. The details of zakein mamrei are rather extensive and will not be discussed in this article. However, the example chosen for establishing a person as a zakein mamrei is someone who declares that tefillin are supposed to contain five parshios rather than four (Rambam, Hilchos Mamrim 4:3).

As I sent out two articles on the topic of tefillin manufacture only weeks ago, this article will be our “wrap-up” of the topic, and will discuss the halachos of tefillin straps, what one should ask when purchasing them and how to maintain your tefillin in perfect “operating” order.

For the sake of tefillin!

Tefillin must be manufactured lishmah – for the sake of the mitzvah. In practical terms, this means that an observant Jew begins each process and declares that the production is for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 32:8).

The contemporary process of tanning hide for parchment, batim and straps is a multi-stage process, similar to the method used to tan leather for mundane uses, such as belts, shoes and handbags. However, as I mentioned above, the parchment, batim and straps for tefillin must be tanned lishmah, for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 32:37 and 33:3). For this reason, it is preferable that each step be performed, or at least begun, by an observant Jew, lishmah. Therefore, 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. handmade retzuos.

Is there a halachic preference for handmade retzuos?

In earlier days, tanning retzuos and other leather items involved salting the hide and then soaking it in lime wash. Today, although both salt and lime are still used in the tanning process, most of the tanning of retzuos is usually accomplished by the gradual, automated adding of other chemicals to the soaking leather after the salt and lime have been rinsed out. Thus, although many early poskim ruled that placing the hide into the water lishmah (after the salt and lime have been added) is sufficient to make retzuos lishmah, this may not be true today. The hide must be processed in a way that it meets the requirements of lishmah, which, in today’s world, probably requires that the other chemicals were added to the water lishmah by a Torah-observant person (Zichron Eliyahu).

Most Torah-observant Jews use hand matzos for the seder, because of concern that machine matzos are not considered lishmah. (I am not ruling that machine matzos are a problem for seder use. The majority of 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, for several reasons, including the fact that the processing of retzuos is not one continuous process, as I explained above. In addition, there are and were halachic authorities who preferred the use of machine matzos because they are baked much faster, and therefore might reduce the chance of chometz. This is not a factor in the manufacture of tefillin retzuos. It is clearly advantageous to use handmade retzuos, and, to the best of my knowledge, no disadvantage. When one realizes that the mitzvah of eating matzoh is only once a year, yet most people use only hand matzos rather than machine-made, whereas the tefillin will iy”h be worn daily for decades, I believe the choice is obvious.

An additional question is whether lishmah can be created by pushing the buttons that start the electric process. Although most, but not all, halachic authorities accept that this is considered lishmah, it is easier to comprehend that this works for matzoh than for retzuos.  The lishmah for matzoh is to make sure it does not become chometz and therefore an observant Jew supervising the process to make sure everything is kosher lepesach who starts the machine’s operation lishmah is sufficient.However, germane to retzuos and the like, the goal of tanning the leather lishmah is to create kedusha on the leather so that it can be used for a sacred purpose. It might follow that pushing buttons cannot be considered an act that creates kedusha.

Painting

After the tanning of the retzuos is completed, they are painted jet-black lishmah (Mishnah Berurah 33:18).

Must the side of the retzua be black?

The underside of the retzua, the part that lies on the skin, need not be dyed at all. There is an opinion that the edges of the retzuos must 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, Eishel Avraham 33:7).

Thoroughly black

Some manufacturers of tefillin retzuos soak the entire leather in a kosher black solution, so that the entire thickness of the strap is now black. Although I see no halachic requirement in this additional process, there is a practical advantage that is up to the consumer to decide. As the retzuos age, they develop cracks. If the retzua was originally soaked in black solution, when the leather cracks, the retzua may still be black and not require painting. However, if the retzua is not soaked, the now-showing cracked area is light colored and requires painting. I have found it annoying to constantly check to see whether my retzuos are still black, and therefore, when I purchase retzuos, I ask for those that have been soaked black to avoid this issue. (Although from my own observation, how black the inner part of the retzua gets when this is done varies tremendously from batch to batch, I still usually find it worthwhile.) From a consumer perspective, I think the additional cost is worthwhile, because it is probable that these retzuos can be used for a longer period of time before they become so difficult to paint constantly that one replaces them. Again, I note that this is not a halachic consideration.

How wide are my retzuos?

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

How to maintain your tefillin

What should I do to maintain my tefillin in good, kosher condition?

Maintaining the batim and parshios of 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. When going to mikvah before weekday davening, make sure to dry your hair well before putting on your tefillin.

Protect the corners of the batim 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 brocha. However, since most poskim permit leaving these covers on, one may be lenient.)

Checking retzuos

It is important to check periodically that the retzuos on one’s tefillin are still completely black and are not cracked or faded. Although a good quality pair of tefillin should last a lifetime, the straps on the tefillin do wear out and periodically need to be replaced.

The Mishnah Berurah, whom many people consider the finalauthority in these areas of halacha, implies that the entire length of the retzua must always be black (Biur Halacha 33:3 s.v. haretzuos). (There are authorities who disagree, most notably Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, who contends that it is adequate for most of the retzua to be black.) Check that the retzuos are black all the way to their tip. Be particular to check that they are black near where the retzua is tightened daily, because at that point the paint often rubs off. One should also check that the retzua is still wide enough where it is tightened near the knot and that the yud of the shel yad is touching the ketzitzah of the tefillin. If it is not, this can be corrected by a knowledgeable sofer or a batim macher (a trained tefillin manufacturer).

If the retzuos are no longer fully black, blacken them with kosher tefillin paint. Everyone who wears tefillin should have access to kosher tefillin paint or kosher tefillin markers.

Depending on where you live, this might be an easy item to purchase; it usually comes either as a pen-looking marker or in a small container reminiscent of correction fluid.

Before painting the retzuos, one must state that he is doing it lesheim kedushas tefillin. I once wrote a halachic teshuvah (in Hebrew) in which I concluded that someone who painted the faded parts of their retzuos, but forgot to say that they were doing it lishmah, has not invalidated the tefillin, and they may be worn as they are. Still, one should lechatchilah (the preferred way) be careful to say that one is blackening them lesheim kedushas tefillin.

If someone’s retzuos are cracking in several places, he should consider replacing them.

While checking the retzuos, check that the batim, titura, and stitches are all perfectly square. This means that, to the naked eye, the width and the length appear to be the same, 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 against them.  By the way, the edges of the ma’avarta (the part of the tefillin bayis  through which the straps (retzuos) are inserted) do not need to be square.

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.

Where should I buy my tefillin?

The individual selling tefillin and tefillin accessories (such as replacement retzuos) 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 for a person selling tefillin to be extremely ehrlich but totally unfamiliar with the halachic issues and concerns involved. Unfortunately, many sofrim and rabbanim lack sufficient training in the practical details of tefillin manufacture.

Where not to buy your tefillin!

I’ll share with you one frightening story of my personal experience. I was once “tipped off” by someone about a manufacturer of tefillin batim who was personally not observant. Shortly thereafter, I realized that an errand would require me to be in the same city in which this manufacturer was located. I presented myself to the owner, who was clearly not observant, as a rabbi from America looking for a supplier of tefillin for his congregation, but who would like to familiarize himself with the process of how tefillin are made. One would think that the manufacturer might be interested in the possibility of making some sales, but, indeed, he would not even let me past his front door! When one realizes the myriad details involved in tefillin manufacture that require yiras shamayim, one grasps how unlikely it is that these tefillin were kosher. We will never know how many pairs of tefillin this manufacturer produces annually, but clearly, lots of people are, unfortunately, purchasing these tefillin.

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 $1,500 and lasts for sixty years is worn approximately 300 times a year, or a total of 18,000 times. Thus, this pair of tefillin cost about 8½ cents a day. Compare this to the cost per wearing of a nice suit!

Ask for what you want

Assuming that one is purchasing tefillin from someone familiar with the halachos and practical aspects of tefillin manufacture, be specific as to the level of tefillin kashrus you are seeking. If you don’t tell him that you want tefillin that are kosher lechatchilah, you might receive tefillin that meet only 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 in this series of articles, such as the quality of the writing of the parshios or the source of the batim.

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 lemehadrin, and not simply kosher or even kosher lechatchilah.

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 lemehadrin. 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 lemehadrin. Clarify that the batim macher cuts between the compartments of the shel rosh after painting to guarantee that they are properly separated.

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 (Chassidish) 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 correctly on his arm. Clarify this issue in advance with your tefillin seller and with your rav.

None of the items above should cost anything additional, and therefore one should always ask for them, even if one’s budget is limited. These questions also make your seller aware that you are looking for tefillin that are kosher lemehadrin, just as you shop for food that is kosher lemehadrin.

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 that you order the tefillin more in advance.

1. Ask your rav whether you should order tefillin that were manufactured originally perudos ad hatefer legamrei, 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.

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. This is one of the many reasons why your rav or posek should be consulted.

If you are ordering tefillin that are perudos ad hatefer legamrei, 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 legamrei” will take a knife and attempt to cut through the glue that is holding the compartments of the bayis together, in order to separate them. If you are purchasing perudos ad hatefer legamrei, then you should ask not to have these batim. Firstly, the cutting could damage the batim. Secondly, if you are paying for tefillin that are mehudar, why settle for second best? Furthermore, the batim macher may have made his batim assuming that they will hold together with glue, and without glue in the middle, they will quickly separate and become posul.

2. Order batim, parshios, gidin, and retzuos that are avodas yad. Discuss with the sofer whether the parshios 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.

What should I check when the tefillin arrive?

The big day arrives. Your local seforim 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 periodically, the tefillin owner should know to periodically check certain things on his tefillin.

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 retzua is tightened daily, because at that point the paint often rubs off. 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.

The yud of the shel yad should be connected in such a way that it touches the ketzitzah of the tefillin.

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 mehadrin, they demonstrate their reverence for the sign that bonds us to Hashem.

A Tefillin Shoppers Guide, 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 “Vehayah ki yeviacha” in parshas Bo, “Shema” in parshas Va’eschanan, and “Vehayah im shamo’a” in parshas 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.

As explained in last week’s 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 squareness 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 last week, 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.

In last week’s article, I discussed the manufacturing of the batim. Several steps of tefillin manufacture were not described last week, including painting, making the retzuos, and placing the parshios in the bayis and sealing it. We also did not discuss at all the writing of the parshios, which is where we will begin this week’s article.

Writing the parshios

Before starting to write, the sofer must state that he is writing these parshios 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 parshios 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 required 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,” which 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 parshios 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, “hollowing 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 were 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.)

Therefore, 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 often be irreparable (Taz 32:16), and the parsha will have to be put into sheimos (genizah).

Why not fix it?

Why can’t this mistake be corrected?

Halacha requires that the parshios 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 mezuzah 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, and their letters may be written out of order. Therefore if some of their letters become posul, they can be corrected.

Thus, we see that there are instances that cannot be checked, in which we are 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 one hundred percent kosher?

Fortunately, tefillin and mezuzos purchased from reputable sources should not have problems of dishonesty like that just described. However, one should still try to find out about the sofer whose tefillin one’s son will be wearing. Although it is difficult to check whether someone is a yarei Shamayim, 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 must 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. Some of these organizations insist that the sofrim they certify take periodic examinations to ascertain that they are still competent in the halachos required for their profession.

A modern innovation

After the sofer finishes writing the tefillin parshios, 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 parshios are scanned into a computer that has a program comparing the written parshios 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.) So, 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 parshios 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.” This is why the sofer’s yiras shamayim and his halachic knowledge are absolutely indispensable.

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 mark where the four compartments actually are. This is invalid; there must be four separate compartments, both inside and 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. A responsible batim macher cuts between the compartments, to guarantee that they are indeed fully separate, even after the painting.

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.

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 closed 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 in a blank piece of parchment, and this parchment is then tied closed with another bovine hair. (According to Rambam, Hilchos Tefillin 3:1, these last two steps are both halacha leMoshe miSinai.) One or more of these hairs is pulled through a hole on the right side (from the perspective of the wearer) in front of the bayis. This hole is one of those that will be soon 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 (Shemos 13:1-10), fills the leftmost compartment (from the perspective of the wearer), with Vehayah ki yeviacha  (Shemos 13:11-16) next to it. Shema (Devorim 6:4-9) is placed next; and Vehayah im shamo’a  (Devorim 11:13-21) is inserted inside the rightmost compartment. However, according to Rabbeinu Tam, the last two parshios are reversed, with Shema in the rightmost compartment and Vehayah im shamo’a next to it. (There are, also, at least two other opinions concerning the correct order of the parshios.)

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.

Big parshios

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.

Sewing the titura

After the parshios are placed into their appropriate compartments, the titura is sewn closed. There is a halacha leMoshe miSinai that this stitching must be made with sinews (giddin; singular, gid) of a kosher animal (Shabbos 108a). There is another halacha leMoshe miSinai 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 leMoshe miSinai 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.

We have now completed our lessons on the manufacture of the batim and the parshios. In our next and last installment, in two weeks, we will discuss the manufacture of the retzuos, proper maintenance of kosher tefillin, and how to purchase them.

A Tefillin Shoppers Guide

Question: 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 (tefillin made from the 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 who lives elsewhere to find out all the details about their manufacture. 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 leMoshe miSinai, meaning that they were taught to Moshe Rabbeinu directly by Hashem, even though there is no reference or allusion to these halachos in the written Torah. The Rambam counts ten such examples (Hilchos Tefillin 1:3, 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, and this comprises each of the tefillin worn on the arm and the head.

COMPONENTS OF THE TEFILLIN

Tefillin have three major components:

  1. The parshios (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 parshios 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 parshios. The bayis itself has three subcomponents: (a) the ketzitzah, the cube-shaped box inside which the parshios 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.

Processing of the hide

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

The parchment, hide and leather used for making tefillin and all 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 “lishmah,” 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, lishmah. 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.

Manufacture of the batim

At this point, 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 from 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 additional 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.

A modern innovation

In fact, gasos batim are a relatively new development, made possible through the invention of the hydraulic press. Until this invention, the tough gasos hide could not be worked into the form required for the shaping of tefillin. Today, a huge amount of pressure can 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 leMoshe miSinai 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 (Taz 32:35).

There is a dispute among early poskim whether the shin on the tefillin can be made completely by placing the leather of the batim in a mold. 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 met. It is worthwhile to clarify how the shin of the tefillin one purchases was made.

The dispute whether the shin may be molded takes us to a different discussion. Creating the shin through a mold is an act of “chok tochos,” indirectly creating a letter. Letters written for a sefer Torah, tefillin, mezuzos or a get, are invalid when written as chok tochos, but must be created “directly,” by forming the letter, not by scraping away around the letter. If so, why do so many poskim rule that the shin 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 leMoshe miSinai 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, we paskin that the shin should be formed in a direct way first.

Tefillin must be square

There is another halacha leMoshe miSinai 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, accepted practice is that both the bayis and the titura 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). As a matter of fact, some batim machers deliberately make tefillin that are taller than they are wide. This is so that the tefillin will fit properly on the arm, without requiring that the parshios be made very small.

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 together 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 Adam 14:4). These batim are referred to as “perudos ad hatefer legamri,” 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 ruling 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 unless the compartments were 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.

Why not glue?

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 glue 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. Ask one’s rav whether one should request batim in which no paste was used, at all.

The titura

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 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 batim using ordinary scrap leather as filler 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, lechatchilah, 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. The stitching must also be square. Therefore, 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).

At this point, the batim are almost ready, except that they need painting and the parshios have not yet been inserted. But we have not yet discussed the writing of the parshios. We also need to talk about the processing of the retzuos, the finishing and sewing of the titura, and various other hiddurim of tefillin. See part II of this article for more on this topic.

Carrying Him Home

According to some commentaries, the source for some of the laws regarding the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos is in this week’s parsha. This certainly provides an excellent reason to discuss:

Carrying Him Home

Question #1: My son

“We were returning home in an area without an eruv, when my two-year old decided that he was walking no farther. Is there a halachically acceptable way for me to carry him home?”

Question #2: Public safety

“There is something dangerous lying in the street. May we remove it on Shabbos before anyone gets hurt?”

Question #3: Tefillin

“While taking a Shabbos stroll through the woods outside my town, I discovered some pairs of tefillin lying on the ground! Presumably, these were taken by thieves who broke into a shul, but subsequently abandoned them. Is there any way that I can bring these tefillin back to town?”

Answer:

All of the above questions involve carrying something on Shabbos in a place where there is no eruv. Our topic will be whether there is a halachic basis to permit carrying under these circumstances. As always, the purpose of this article is not to render decisions for our readers, but to introduce background and have the reader refer any related questions to his or her rav or posek. But first, some basic background.

What is “carrying”?

As we know, one of the 39 melachos of Shabbos is hotza’ah, which is violated by transporting an item from a reshus harabim, a public thoroughfare or open marketplace, into a reshus hayachid, an enclosed area, or, vice versa, by transporting from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim. The melacha also includes carrying or otherwise transporting items four amos (about seven feet) or more within a reshus harabim (Shabbos 96b; Tosafos, Shabbos 2a s.v. pashat). With reference to the laws of Shabbos, the terms reshus hayachid and reshus harabim are not determined by ownership, but by the extent to which the area is enclosed and how it is used. An area could be either publicly-owned or ownerless and still qualify as a reshus hayachid; an area owned by an individual might still qualify as a reshus harabim.

Akirah and hanacha

Violating this melacha min haTorah is defined by three steps.

(1) The first step is called akirah, literally, uprooting, which means removing the item from a place where it is at rest. The item must be at rest before the melacha is performed. “At rest” does not have to mean that it is on the ground – it could be resting on an item or piece of furniture, and, sometimes could even be “resting” in someone’s hand. Removing it from its “place of rest” qualifies as an akirah.

(2) The second step is the actual movement of the item, as described above.

(3) The final step is called hanacha, placing, which means that when the melacha activity is completed, the item is again “at rest.”

Let me use the first Mishnah of Maseches Shabbos for examples that explain these rules: One person, whom we will call “the outsider,” is standing in a reshus harabim, picks up an item that is located in the reshus harabim and passes it to someone in a reshus hayachid, “the insider.” If the outsider places the item into the hand of the insider, then the outsider has violated Shabbos – he (1) performed the akirah, (2) transported the item from a reshus harabim into a reshus hayachid and (3) performed the hanacha. Placing the item into the insider’s hand is considered hanacha, since the item is now “at rest,” and, when it reaches its resting point, it is in the reshus hayachid.

However, if the outsider merely extends his hand containing the item into the reshus hayachid, and the insider takes the item from the outsider’s hand, neither of them has performed a Torah violation of Shabbos. Although the outsider performed akirah and moved the item into the reshus hayachid (thereby performing steps 1 and 2), he did not complete the hanacha (step 3). Since the item was still in the suspended hand of the outsider, who himself was standing in a different area, it is not considered to be at rest in a reshus hayachid.

In this situation, the Mishnah explains that neither the outsider nor the insider has violated a melacha min haTorah. Nevertheless, both have violated rabbinic prohibitions, because Chazal prohibited performing akirah without hanacha and also prohibited performing hanacha without akirah. In addition, Chazal prohibited carrying something in the reshus harabim without either akirah or hanacha, and transporting something from a reshus hayachid to a reshus harabim, or vice versa, without akirah or hanacha.

Akirah and hanacha both within a reshus harabim

Similarly, the Torah’s prohibition to carry something or otherwise transport it four amos or more within a reshus harabim is only when there is both an akirah and a hanacha. If one transports it more than four amos, but did not perform both an akirah and a hanacha, the prohibition is only miderabbanan. Thus, if someone picks up an item in a reshus harabim, carries it four amos, but did not stop, and a different person removes it from his hand, neither of them has desecrated Shabbos min haTorah, although both violated rabbinic prohibitions for performing part of the melacha act.

What is a hanacha?

Here is another example of a case where no hanacha was performed. Someone picks up a bundle in a reshus harabim, places it on his shoulder, and walks with it more than four amos. At this point, he stops to adjust the bundle. The Gemara (Shabbos 5b) teaches that this is not considered a hanacha, and therefore the person has not desecrated Shabbos min haTorah.

However, if the person carrying the bundle stopped to rest, it is considered hanacha. (We will explain shortly what we mean that he “stopped to rest.”) Therefore, if he performed an akirah, carried a bundle more than four amos in a reshus harabim and then stopped to rest, he has performed a melacha, whereas if he stopped simply to rearrange his bundle and then continued on his way, he did not yet perform a melacha.

Less than four amos

In addition to the requirements of akirah and hanacha, one violates the melacha of carrying within a reshus harabim only when one transports the item at least four amos. Carrying an item less than four amos, called pachos mei’arba amos, in a reshus harabim does not violate Torah law. Whether this is prohibited by the Sages is the subject of a dispute among tana’im. According to the Rambam, it is permitted even miderabbanan to move an item less than four amos in a reshus harabim, whereas according to the Raavad, this is prohibited miderabbanan, except in extenuating situations.

A lenient hanacha

Until now, both akirah and hanacha have been sources of stringency, meaning that they have created a Torah prohibition, and without both of them, one does not violate the melacha of carrying min haTorah. However, there is actually a leniency that can be created by performing a hanacha. Here is the case: Someone transported an item less than four amos through a reshus harabim and then performed a hanacha, thereby completing this act of carrying. He then performs a new akirah and carries the item an additional short distance, but again less than four amos. Although, as we will soon see, it is prohibited to do this on Shabbos, there is no violation min haTorah; each time he carried the item, it was for less than four amos, since the two acts were separated by a hanacha.

Pachos pachos

What is the halacha regarding the following scenario: Reuven notices an item in a reshus harabim that he would like to move to a different location, more than four amos from where it currently is. He knows that it is prohibited min haTorah for him to pick it up, move it there, and put it down in its new location, since this constitutes akirah, moving it more than four amos, and hanacha. Instead, Reuven decides to do the following: he will pick up the item, move it less than four amos and put it down. Although he did both an akirah and a hanacha, since he moved the item less than four amos, this does not constitute a Torah violation, and, according to many rishonim, it is permitted lechatchilah. However, moving the item less than four amos does not accomplish what Reuven wants. In order to get the item to where he would like it to be, Reuven performs this process again – that is, he picks it up, moves it less than four amos, and puts it down again. This type of carrying is called pachos pachos mei’arba amos, meaning that although each time he carries the item he transports it less than four amos, he carries it this way more than one time. Reuven would like to repeat this process until he gets the item where he wants it. Is this permitted?

Indeed, Reuven’s plan will avoid desecrating a Torah prohibition of Shabbos, since he has successfully avoided performing melacha. However, Chazal prohibited someone from transporting an item this way out of concern that he may err, even once, and carry the item four amos or more and then perform the hanacha, thereby violating Shabbos min haTorah (Shabbos 153b).

However, the Gemara mentions that, under certain extraordinary circumstances, someone is permitted to transport an item in this manner. For example, someone walking through a reshus harabim discovers a pair of tefillin! He is concerned that, should he leave the tefillin where they are, they will be desecrated. The Gemara rules that, should the finder have no other option, he may transport the tefillin to a secure place via pachos pachos (Eruvin 97b). In other words, in order to avoid the desecration of the tefillin, Chazal relaxed the prohibition of carrying pachos pachos.

Babies and thorns

Similarly, the Gemara discusses this in the context of a baby who is outside of an eruv, and permits use of the heter of pachos pachos to transport him to an appropriate place.

In yet another example, the Gemara permits removing a thorn from a reshus harabim so that no one gets hurt (Shabbos 42a). Again, in an extenuating situation, Chazal permitted one to carry this way, even though it is usually not permitted.

At this point, we can address a different one of our above questions: “There is something dangerous lying in the street. May we remove it before anyone gets hurt?”

The answer is that one may remove it by carrying it less than four amos, stopping, and then repeating, as described above.

Must he sit down?

As I explained above, transporting something pachos pachos can be accomplished only when there is a proper hanacha to divide the two carrying acts into two separate halachic activities. What constitutes a proper hanacha in this instance?

There is a dispute between rishonim whether, in this instance, the person transporting the tefillin must sit down, or whether it is sufficient that he stop to rest while remaining standing.  Rashi (Avodah Zarah 70a) rules that it is sufficient for someone to stop to rest within four amos of his last stop. He does not explain how long he must rest for it to be considered a hanacha.

There are those who disagree with Rashi, contending that stopping to rest qualifies as a hanacha only when one truly wants to rest. However, when one’s goal is not to rest, but simply to avoid desecrating Shabbos, stopping of this nature while still standing does not constitute hanacha. According to this opinion, to avoid the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos, the tefillin transporter must actually sit down to qualify as having performed hanacha (Rabbeinu Yerucham, quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 266 and 349, as explained by Magen Avraham 266:9).

How do we rule?

There is a dispute among early acharonim whether we follow Rashi or Rabbeinu Yerucham in this matter, but the majority follow Rashi’s approach that stopping to rest is adequate as a hanacha, even in this situation (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 266:1; Magen Avraham 266:9; cf. Taz, Orach Chayim 266:4 who rules like Rabbeinu Yerucham).

Found tefillin

At this point, we can address one of our opening questions: “While taking a Shabbos stroll through the woods outside my town, I discovered some pairs of tefillin lying on the ground! Presumably, these were taken by thieves who broke into a shul, but subsequently abandoned them. Is there any way that I can bring these tefillin back to town?”

In this context, the Gemara rules that if one cannot safely remain with the tefillin until Shabbos ends, one may bring them back via the method of pachos pachos, meaning that one carries the tefillin for less than four amos, stops to rest, and then continues. According to Rabbeinu Yerucham, one should actually sit down when one stops to rest, whereas according to Rashi, this is unnecessary.

Karmelis

Until this point, we have been discussing the halachic rules that exist min haTorah, and we have dealt with areas that are either reshus harabim or reshus hayachid. However, there are many areas that do not qualify as either reshus harabim or reshus hayachid. A reshus harabim must be meant for public use or thoroughfare (Shabbos 6a) and must also meet other specific requirements, which I discussed in a different article. Any area that does not meet the Torah’s definition of a reshus harabim, and yet is not enclosed, is called a karmelis. Min haTorah, one may carry inside, into and from a karmelis. However, Chazal ruled that a karmelis must be treated with the stringencies of both a reshus hayachid and a reshus harabim. This means that it is forbidden to carry inside, into, or from any area that is not completely enclosed. This is the way we are familiar with observing Shabbos – one does not carry in any unenclosed area.

Nevertheless, the Gemara rules that there are exceptional situations when Chazal permitted one to carry in a karmelis. The Gemara mentions explicitly that should one find a thorn in a karmelis that might hurt someone, one can simply pick it up and remove it, since the prohibition of carrying within and out of a karmelis is only miderabbanan.

Pachos pachos in a karmelis

Is it permitted to carry pachos pachos in a karmelis? In other words, since carrying in a karmelis is, itself, prohibited only miderabbanan, and carrying pachos pachos in a reshus harabim is prohibited only miderabbanan, if we combine both of these aspects in one case, is it permitted to carry?

This question is discussed neither in the Gemara nor by most of the rishonim. Although there are several attempts to demonstrate proof one way or the other from the Gemara and the early authorities, none of the proofs is conclusive. There is a dispute among the later authorities, many contending that pachos pachos is prohibited in a karmelis (Tashbeitz 2:281; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 349:5; Gra), whereas others feel that there should be no halachic problem at all with carrying pachos pachos in a karmelis (Even Ha’ozer and Maamar Mordechai, Orach Chayim 349; Shu”t Avodas Hagershuni #104). Common practice is to prohibit carrying pachos pachos in a karmelis, following the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch.

Conclusion

Let us now examine our opening question: “We were returning home in an area without an eruv when my two-year old decided that he was walking no farther. Is there a halachically acceptable way for me to carry him home?”

According to what we have now learned, even if the area in question qualifies as a reshus harabim, if one were to pick up the child, carry him less than four amos, and then stop, this would be permitted under the circumstances. Assuming that there are two people to carry the child, there is even a better solution, one that space-constraints does not allow us to explain fully, and that is to have the two people hand the child from one to the other and back without either walking four amos at any given time. There is also another reason to be lenient in the case of a child old enough to walk, in that carrying him in a reshus harabim is not prohibited min haTorah, because of a principle called chai nosei es atzmo, which we will have to leave for a future article.

Difference of carrying

The melacha of hotza’ah, carrying, is qualitatively different from the other 38 melachos. Every other melacha results in some type of change, either physical or chemical, to the item on which the melacha is performed. In the case of carrying, the only thing being changed is the item’s location. Furthermore, the rules governing what is permitted min haTorah and what violates Torah law seem strange and arbitrary. Yet, we understand that these rules are part of our Torah shebe’al peh, and we have to study to learn how to apply them. The Navi Yirmiyohu (17:19-27) was concerned about carrying on Shabbos; it is a melacha like any other, yet people mistakenly think that it is not important. Indeed, we would not usually define transporting something as changing it functionally, which is what most melachos accomplish. Yet, this does not make the melacha of hotza’ah any less important than any other melacha.

Rav Hirsch (Shemos 35:2) explains that whereas other melachos demonstrate man’s mastery over the physical world, carrying demonstrates his mastery over the social sphere. The actions that show the responsibility of the individual to the community and vice versa are often acts of hotza’ah. Thus, the prohibition to carry on Shabbos is to demonstrate man’s subordination to Hashem, in regard to his role and position in his social and national life.

 

The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

Our parsha opens by mentioning the supremacy of the importance of observing Shabbos. We therefore bring…

The Spectrum of Muktzah Utensils

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the period of the construction of the second Beis HaMikdash, Nechemiah noticed that many Jews were extremely lax in Shabbos observance. In his own words, “In those days, I saw people in Judea operating their winepresses on Shabbos and loading their harvest on donkeys; and also their wine, grapes, and figs and all other burdens; and transporting them to Yerushalayim on Shabbos… the Tyrians would bring fish and other merchandise and sell them to the Jews” (Nechemiah 13:15-16). Nechemiah then describes how he succeeded in closing the city gates the entire Shabbos in order to keep the markets closed.

To strengthen Shabbos observance, Nechemiah established very strict rules concerning which utensils one may move on Shabbos. These rules form the foundation of the halachos of muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 123b). Initially, he prohibited using and moving on Shabbos virtually all utensils, excluding only basic eating appliances such as table knives. We will call this Nechemiah’s “First Takanah.” By prohibiting the moving of items even indoors, he reinforced the strictness of not carrying outdoors on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124b; Raavad, Hilchos Shabbos 24:13). Furthermore, observing the laws of muktzah protects people from mistakenly doing forbidden melacha with these tools. In addition, the laws of muktzah guarantee that Shabbos is qualitatively different from the rest of the week even for someone whose daily life does not involve any manual labor (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 24:12-13).

As the Jews became more careful in their Shabbos observance, Nechemiah gradually relaxed the rules of muktzah, permitting limited use of some utensils on Shabbos. Eventually, Nechemiah established rules whereby most utensils may be moved and used on Shabbos when necessary, whereas certain utensils that one usually would not use on Shabbos remained prohibited (except for unusual circumstances such as danger). When discussing the halachos of muktzah as they apply today, I will refer to Nechemiah’s “Final Takanah.”

Nechemiah’s Final Takanah established four distinct categories of utensils:

  1. Not Muktzah. Items that one may move without any reason whatsoever. This category includes food, sifrei kodesh and, according to many poskim, tableware (Mishnah Berurah 308:23) and clothing (see Shitah La’Ran 123b s.v. Barishonah).
  2. Kli she’me’lachto l’heter, which means a utensil whose primary use is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow. One may move this utensil if one needs to use it, if it is in the way, or if it may become damaged. However, one may not move it without any reason (Gemara Shabbos 123b-124a; Shulchan Aruch 308:4).
  3. Kli she’me’lachto l’issur, which means a utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, a saw, or a needle. Items in this category may be moved if they are in the way or if one has a need to use it for a purpose that is permitted on Shabbos (Gemara Shabbos 124a). Under normal circumstances, one may not move it for any other purpose.
  4. Completely Muktzah. These are utensils that one may not move under normal circumstances.

I will now explain the four categories.

  1. NOT MUKTZAH

One may move food and sifrei kodesh without any reason, and, according to many poskim, also tableware and clothing. Why may I move certain items on Shabbos without any purpose, whereas I may move other items only if I have a purpose?

The answer to this halachic question is historical. When Nechemiah declared his original gezeirah prohibiting muktzah, he applied the gezeirah only to utensils, not to food, and also excluded table knives and similar appliances. Thus, Nechemiah never declared food and table knives muktzah, even during the First Takanah. However, a kli she’me’lachto l’heter was included in the First Takanah, and at that time was completely muktzah. Later, Nechemiah relaxed the takanah to permit moving these utensils under the circumstances mentioned above; however, when these circumstances do not apply, the original prohibition declaring them muktzah remains in effect.

As mentioned above, many poskim rule that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are also excluded from any halachos of muktzah (Mishnah Berurah 308:23, quoting Shiltei HaGibborim), although there are opinions who consider them keilim she’me’lachtam l’heter (Ben Ish Chai, 2:Mikeitz). The lenient opinion contends that Nechemiah permitted moving tableware just as he permitted moving table knives. The strict opinion contends that Nechemiah excluded only table knives, but no other tableware. They hold that forks, spoons, dishes, and drinking glasses are included in the gezeirah of muktzah as members of category # 2, kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (This means that they may be moved when needed but not otherwise.) I will soon explain the practical difference between these opinions.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER

A utensil that is used primarily for a task that is permitted on Shabbos, such as a chair or pillow, is categorized as a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. I may move such a utensil for one of three reasons:

  1. I want to use it on Shabbos. The Gemara (Shabbos 123b) calls this l’tzorech gufo, literally, for its own use.
  2. It is in my way. The Gemara calls this l’tzorech m’komo, literally, to use its place.
  3. I am concerned that it might become damaged. The Gemara refers to this as moving the utensil from the sun to the shade.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter without any purpose, nor may I use it when I do not really need a utensil. Thus, I may not use a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to help me with a task that I can do it without any tool (Gemara Shabbos 124a; Shaar HaTziyun 308:13).

I mentioned above that the poskim dispute whether we categorize tableware as not muktzah at all, or as kli she’me’lachto l’heter. Ben Ish Chai and others, who contend that it should be considered kli she’me’lachto l’heter, rule that if one placed extra pieces of silverware on the table, one may not move them back into the kitchen simply because they serve no purpose on the table. He points out that this fulfills none of the three conditions mentioned above necessary to move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. (Ben Ish Chai agrees that one may remove the silverware from the table if they are in the way or if one is concerned that they might become damaged.) However, the other opinion contends that silverware is not muktzah at all and may be returned it to its correct storage place even without any other need.

  1. KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

A utensil whose primary use is forbidden on Shabbos, such as a hammer, saw, or needle, may be moved if I need to use it for something permitted on Shabbos or if it is in the way of something I need to do. Thus, I may use a hammer to crack open a coconut on Shabbos or a needle to remove a splinter (Mishnah Shabbos 122b). (When removing the splinter, one must be careful not to intentionally cause bleeding [Magen Avraham 328:32; see also Biur Halacha 308:11]. Also, one may not sterilize the needle on Shabbos [Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 12:1]. ) Similarly, on Shabbos I may remove a hammer or saw that was left on a table, counter, or chair, if I need to put something else there.

However, I may not move a kli she’me’lachto l’issur to save it from becoming broken. When Nechemiah relaxed the takanah that treated kli she’me’lachto l’issur as completely muktzah, he only allowed it to be moved if I need it or its place on Shabbos, but for no other reason.

If I know I will need a kli she’me’lachto l’issur later today, and I am afraid it will get broken or ruined and be unusable by then, I may save it from breaking (Tehillah LeDavid 308:5). This is because moving it now makes it available to me later and thus it is considered l’tzorech gufo.

Once someone picks up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur for a permitted reason, he may put it wherever he chooses (Gemara Shabbos 43a). Some poskim extend this rule further, permitting someone who picked up a kli she’me’lachto l’issur by mistake to place it down wherever he pleases since the item is already in his hand (Magen Avraham 308:7). However, many poskim dispute this, arguing that this lenience applies only when one has permission to pick up the utensil but not when it was picked up in error (Gra, Yoreh Deah 266:12). Thus, someone who picked up a hammer, saw, or needle by mistake may not continue to hold it. Mishnah Berurah (308:13) implies that one may follow the lenient approach when necessary. Therefore, in an extenuating situation, one may hold the kli she’me’lachto l’issur until he finds a convenient place to put it down.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN KLI SHE’ME’LACHTO L’HETER AND SHE’ME’LACHTO L’ISSUR

After Nechemiah’s later takanos, both kli she’me’lachto l’heter and kli she’me’lachto l’issur have an interesting status: sometimes they are muktzah and sometimes not, depending on why one wants to move them. Even within this in-between category of sometimes-muktzah items, there is a “pecking order” whereby kli she’me’lachto l’heter is less muktzah than kli she’me’lachto l’issur. Several differences in halacha result:

  1. As mentioned above, one may move a kli she’me’lachto l’heter if one is concerned it may become damaged, whereas a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved.
  2. A kli she’me’lachto l’issur may not be moved when a kli she’me’lachto l’heter is available to do the job (Mishnah Berurah 308:12; Elyah Rabbah 308:32).
  3. One may carry a kli she’me’lachto l’heter early in the day even though he does not anticipate needing it until much later that day (Taz 308:2). This is considered as using the kli. On the other hand, a kli she’me’lachto l’issur may only be picked up when one needs to use it.
  4. Many poskim contend that a kli she’me’lachto l’issur that was intentionally left for Shabbos lying on top of a permitted item conveys the law of a kli she’me’lachto l’issur onto the lower item (Tehillah LeDavid 266:7 & 308:1; Aruch HaShulchan 310:9). The lower item becomes a “bosis l’davar ha’asur,” literally, a base for a prohibited item. Thus according to these poskim, if a hammer was intentionally left on a chair in the backyard for Shabbos, one may not move the chair afterwards if one is concerned that the chair may become damaged, just as one may not move the hammer itself. However, according to the poskim who contend that there is no concept of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a kli she’me’lachto l’issur, one may bring the chair into the house to save it from damage (Pri Megadim, introduction to 308). (We will leave a full discussion of the subject of bosis l’davar ha’asur for a different time.)

However, to the best of my knowledge, no posek contends that a kli she’me’lachto l’heter creates a “bosis l’davar ha’asur.” Thus, if someone intentionally left an ice cream scoop on top of a basket of fruit, the fruit does not have the laws of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter but retains the status of the fruit, which is not muktzah at all.

IS SOMETHING MELACHTO L’HETER OR MELACHTO L’ISSUR?

What is the halacha of an appliance that has two equal usages, one l’heter and the other l’issur? This appliance has the halachic status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter (Magen Avraham 308:9). Thus, if I use an index card as a place mark although I also might write on it, it is melachto l’heter.

What about a utensil whose primary use is for a prohibited purpose, but its typical use includes a permitted purpose, such as a pot? Its primary use, cooking, renders it a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. However, it also functions as a storage vessel after the food finishes cooking, which is a permitted purpose on Shabbos. What is its status?

A FIFTH CATEGORY OF MUKZTAH UTENSIL

This type of utensil has an interesting status: It changes in the course of Shabbos from being a kli she’me’lachto l’heter to a kli she’me’lachto l’issur and back again. When storing food, it has the status of a kli she’me’lachto l’heter. However, when the food is emptied out, it reverts to its primary status and again becomes a kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Rashba, Shabbos 123a s.v. ha disnan, quoted by Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 308:9 and Mishnah Berurah 308:26).

Therefore, while it has food inside it, I may move it if I am concerned it might become damaged. However, once the food has been removed, I may not. I may still move it if I want to use the pot or it is in the way. (Furthermore, I may move a used pot out of the way because it looks disgusting [Gemara Shabbos 124a]. However, this is another topic that we will leave for a different article.)

  1. COMPLETELY MUKTZAH

Most items categorized as muktzah are not utensils and are muktzah because they usually have no Shabbos use. Thus, pieces of scrap wood, dirt, money, ashes and a useless broken item are all muktzah because we do not expect to use them on Shabbos. Even if a use presents itself on Shabbos, or the item is in one’s way, one may not use or move them.

(There are a few instances when one may move such items, such as when someone might get hurt, or when they are very disgusting.)

MUKTZAH MACHMAS CHISARON KIS

Several utensils are completely muktzah. One category includes specialized tools whose primary use is prohibited on Shabbos and are not used for other purposes lest they become damaged. Such utensils are muktzah machmas chisaron kis, muktzah because of financial loss. Since the owner would never use them for any other use, and their primary use is prohibited on Shabbos, he never expects to use them on Shabbos, which renders them muktzah (Tosafos Shabbos 123a s.v. basichi). Thus, a musical instrument, a mohel’s or shocheit’s knife, craftsman’s tools or any other specialty equipment whose owner would not allow it to be used except for its intended purpose is muktzah. Since a shocheit will not use his knife to carve a turkey or slice salami his knife is muktzah. However, an old shechitah knife that its owner no longer uses for shechitah is not muktzah.

MERCHANDISE

Merchandise that one intends to sell is usually muktzah on Shabbos, since one does not intend to use it oneself (Rama 308:1).

A kli that is muktzah machmas chisaron kis that becomes damaged on Shabbos so that it is no longer valuable, remains muktzah machmas chisaron kis for that Shabbos, although for future Shabbosos it will be treated like a kli she’me’lachto l’issur. This is because once a utensil is muktzah at the beginning of Shabbos, it remains muktzah the whole Shabbos (Magen Avraham 308:19; Tosafos Beitzah 2b).

Example: I sell fancy merchandise out of my house that I would never use myself.

On Shabbos, a child opens the package and uses one of the items, so that I could never sell it. Although I will now use the item myself, I must treat it as muktzah until Shabbos is over, since it was muktzah when Shabbos began.

BROKEN UTENSIL

A utensil that broke or tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah unless it has no use whatsoever. This is true even if you immediately threw it into the garbage. However, if it broke before Shabbos and you threw it into the garbage before Shabbos, it becomes muktzah (Gemara Shabbos 124b). Since it was in the garbage when Shabbos arrived, that renders it muktzah.

Thus, a shirt that tore on Shabbos does not become muktzah since you might use it as a rag, even if you threw the torn shirt into the garbage on Shabbos. However, if it tore before Shabbos and you disposed of it before Shabbos, it is muktzah.

TEFILLIN

Where do tefillin fit into the muktzah spectrum? Most people assume that Tefillin are muktzah since we do not wear them on Shabbos. However, the halacha is otherwise. Some poskim rule that Tefillin are kli she’me’lachto l’heter since one may don tefillin on Shabbos as long as one does not intend to fulfill the mitzvah (see Rama 308:4), whereas most poskim treat them as kli she’me’lachto l’issur (Taz, Magen Avraham and others ad loc.). Therefore, if a pair of tefillin are lying in an inconvenient place, one may remove them and then put them wherever is convenient.

Of course, this article cannot serve even as a primer in hilchos muktzah, but merely intends to mention some interesting aspects of the halachos of muktzah.

The entire takanah of muktzah is highly unusual. While observing Shabbos, we constantly need to focus on what we move and how we use it. Thus, hilchos muktzah become more absorbing than the halachos of Shabbos that the Torah itself mandated. Nechemiah instituted these halachos precisely for these reasons. By implementing the laws of muktzah, he accomplished that Shabbos observance is constantly on our minds.

 

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.

How Are Tefillin Retzuos Made?

Iclip_image002n this week’s parsha, Avraham tells the King of Sodom that he (Avraham) will not keep "even a thread or even a shoelace" from the booty of Sodom, although all of Sodom and its populace are rightfully his property as spoils of war. The Gemara teaches that as a reward for this, Avraham’s descendents were given two mitzvos, the techeiles thread of tzitzis and the strap of the tefillin. As I have written several articles on the topic of techeiles in the past, this article will discuss the halachos of tefillin straps, and what one should ask about when purchasing them.

Although a good quality pair of tefillin should last a lifetime, the straps on the tefillin do wear out and need replacement periodically.

Of what are Tefillin made?

All parts of tefillin and all other devarim she’bi’kedusha (holy items) must come from kosher species, although not necessarily from an animal that was slaughtered in a kosher way (Shabbos 108a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 32:12). The different parts of tefillin come from dissimilar parts of the hide of the animal, the variation being the thickness of the hide and how it is processed.

Tefillin have three major components:

1. The Parshiyos (singular, parsha). These are the parchments, which are the processed skin on which the sofer carefully writes the four sections of the Torah that are inserted into Tefillin. 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 and are made from thick hide. The bayis itself has three subcomponents. (a) The Ketzitzah, the cube-shaped box inside which the parshiyos are placed. (Note that it is perfectly kosher and sometimes preferred for the height of the ketzitzah to be greater than its other two dimensions; however, most pairs of tefillin are made with a cubic ketzitzah. I have written another article in which I explained this issue more thoroughly.)  (b) The Titura, the square 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 (singular, retzua), the straps, which are made from softer leather than that used for the batim.

For the sake of Tefillin!

Tefillin must be manufactured “lishma,” for the sake of the mitzvah. In practical terms, this means that an observant Jew begins each process and declares that the production is for the sake of the mitzvah of tefillin (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 32:8).

The contemporary process of tanning hide for parchment, batim and straps is a multi-stage process, similar to the method used to tan leather for mundane uses, such as belts, shoes and handbags. However, as I mentioned above, the parchment, batim and straps for tefillin must be tanned lishmah, for the sake of the mitzvah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 32:37 and 33:3). 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. handmade retzuos, which I will discuss shortly, and on many other important questions of tefillin manufacture.

Painting

After the tanning of the retzuos is completed, they are painted jet-black to fulfill a halacha le’Moshe mi’Sinai (Menachos 35a). The paint used may contain only kosher ingredients, and the painting of the retzuos must also be performed lishmah (Mishnah Berurah 33:18).

Is there a halachic preference for handmade retzuos?

In earlier days, tanning retzuos and other leather items 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 ruling that machine matzohs are a problem for Seder use. Most 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, because of several facts, including that the processing of retzuos is not one continuous process, as I explained above. (In addition, there are and were halachic authorities who preferred use of machine matzohs because they are baked much faster, and therefore might reduce the chance of chometz. This is not a factor in the manufacture of tefillin retzuos – there is only an advantage to use of handmade retzuos, and, to the best of my knowledge, no disadvantage.) When one realizes that the mitzvah of eating matzah is only once a year, yet most people use only hand matzohs rather than machine-made, whereas the tefillin will IY”H be worn daily for decades, I believe the choice is obvious.

Checking one’s retzuos

It is important to check periodically that the retzuos on one’s tefillin are still completely black and are not cracked or faded. The Mishnah Berurah, whom many people consider the final halachic authority in these areas of halacha, rules that the entire length of the retzua must always be black (Biur Halacha 33:3 s.v. retzuos). (There are authorities who disagree, most notably Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, who contend that it is adequate if most of the retzuah is black.) Also check that the retzuos are 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 and that the knot of the shel yad is touching the ketzitzah of the tefillin. If it is not, this can be corrected by a knowledgeable sofer.

While checking the retzuos, check that the batim, titura, and stitches are all 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 against them.  By the way, the edges of the Ma’avarta do not need to be square.

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.

If the retzuos are no longer fully black, blacken them with kosher tefillin paint. Everyone who wears tefillin should have access to kosher tefillin paint or markers.

Depending on where you live, this might be an easy item to purchase and usually comes either in a pen looking like a marker or in a small container reminiscent of correction fluid.

If someone’s retzuos are cracking in several places, he should consider replacing them.

Before painting the retzuos, one must state that he is doing it l’sheim kedushas tefillin. I once wrote a halachic teshuvah (in Hebrew) in which I concluded that someone who painted the faded parts of their retzuos, but forgot to say that they were doing it lishma, has not invalidated the tefillin and they may be worn as they are. Still, one should lechatchilah (the preferred way) be careful to say that one is blackening them l’sheim kedushas tefillin.

Must the side of the retzua be black?

The 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).

Thoroughly black

Some manufacturers of tefillin retzuos soak the entire leather in a kosher black solution so that the entire thickness of the strap is now black. From my own observation, how black the inner part of the retzua gets when this is done varies tremendously from batch to batch. Although I see no halachic requirement in this additional process, there is a practical advantage that is up to the consumer to decide. As the retzuos age, they develop more cracks. If the retzua was originally soaked in black solution, then when the leather cracks, the retzua still appears black and does not require painting. However, if the retzua is not soaked, the cracked area now appears light colored and requires painting. I have found constantly checking to see whether my retzuos are still black to be annoying, and therefore, when I purchase retzuos, I ask for those that have been soaked black to avoid this issue. From a consumer perspective, I think the added price is worthwhile, because it is probable that these retzuos can be used for a longer period of time before they become so difficult to paint constantly that one replaces them.

How wide are my retzuos?

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 and tefillin accessories (such as replacement retzuos) 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.

Where not to buy your tefillin!

I’ll share with you one frightening story of my personal experience. I was once "tipped off" by someone about a manufacturer of tefillin batim who was personally not observant. Shortly thereafter, I realized that an errand would require me to be in the same city in which this manufacturer was located. I presented myself to the owner, who was clearly not observant, as a rabbi from America looking for a supplier for tefillin for his congregation, but who would like to familiarize himself with the process of how tefillin are made. One might think that the manufacturer might be interested in the possibility of making some sales, but, indeed, he would not even let me past his front door! When one realizes the myriad details involved in tefillin manufacture that require yiras shamayim, one grasps how unlikely it is that these tefillin were kosher. Yet, lots of people are purchasing these tefillin.

Ask for what you want

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 lechatchilah, 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 in this article, such as the quality of the writing of the parshiyos or the source of the batim.

How to maintain your tefillin

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 the corners of the batim 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 mehadrin only, they demonstrate their reverence for the sign that bonds us to Hashem.

image_print