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Tefillin, What is it?

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Tefillin Our connection to Hashem

Tefillin are a set of black leather boxes that contain Hebrew parchment scrolls. Jewish men wear it on their arm and head during weekday morning prayer. A set of Tefillin includes the box, the strap, and the scrolls. Tefillin are among the most powerful mitzvahs in the Torah. It reminds the wearer that they should harness their actions, intellect, and emotions to the service of G‑d.

Tefillin

Tefillin are available in different sizes. Prices can vary significantly based on differences in quality. Tefillin are divided into three different categories based on the quality of the leather boxes. The simplest Tefillin are called Tefillin Peshutim. It’s made from two pieces of leather.

Those that are made from a thick piece of leather are known as Tefillin Gassot. This is the most expensive and durable type of Tefillin. You can also find a pair of Tefillin that is made from a thin piece of leather. It is called Tefillin Dakkot.

Male Jews after the age of 13 years have to lay a pair of Tefillin. Although women are usually exempted from the duty, some early codifiers allowed them, women, to do it as well. Some females kept the ceremony in medieval Germany and France. Today, both men and women choose to wear a pair of Tefillin. Wearing of Tefillin remains a male-only responsibility in the Orthodox movement. In egalitarian movements, women may do it as an obligation. For instance, girls in SAR High School are allowed to wrap Tefillin during morning prayers or Shacharit.

There are some exemptions as well. Those suffering from stomach-trouble or in pain and can’t focus their mind is exempt from wrapping Tefillin. A bridegroom on his wedding-day and mourners during the first day of their mourning period are also exempt. Those who are studying Law, as well as dealers and scribes of Tefillin, are exempt too if their work can’t be postponed.

About the mitzvah of Tefillin

man puts on tefillin

This mitzvah is said to be equivalent to the whole Torah and is one of the three mitzvot which constitute an “OT” – a sign. A Sign of the special connection between the Jewish people and God. (The other two mitzvahs that are considered a “sign” are circumcision and Shabbat).

The first encounter with tefillin takes place by the age of 13, the bar mitzvah, unlike other mitzvot which taught to children from an early age. According to Jewish law, this mitzvah takes place during the daytime and not at night, on a weekday and not on Shabbat and holidays, when women are exempt from having to participate in this mitzvah.

What is Tefillin?

Tefillin is made out of two black leather boxes, containing a leather sheet, on which are written four passages from the Torah (also called “the four parshiot”). There are two main methods regarding the order of the parshiot in it – the Rashi method and the Rabbeinu Tam method. Most people buy Rashi ones. Each of the leather boxes containing the four parshiot connected to black leather straps. This mitzvah divided into two parts: The part of the hand (shel yad) and The part of the head (shel Rosh).

How to put on Tefillin?

tefillin shel rosh
tefillin shel rosh

First, wear the tefillin of the hand (shel yad) and then the tefillin of the head (shel Rosh). The hand tefillin are placed on the weak hand – usually the left hand. If a person is right-handed, he will put it on his left arm, and if he is left-handed, he will place the tefillin on his right arm. (a left-handed person needs to pay attention when buying a Tefillin that it indeed meant for left-handed people.

It usually is mentioned in the product description). The head tefillin must be placed just ABOVE the natural hairline, precisely in the middle. After you put them on your arm, and before you tie the straps, you should say the blessing of putting on Tefillin. Immediately after placing the part of the hand, the part of the head should be set without interruption between them. When you say the blessing, also aim for the head part (shel Rosh).

Why are they painted black?

Tefillin What is it

The answer can found in the verses of Shema Yisrael, one of the central prayers recited during tefillin. At Shma Yisroel we proclaim that the Creator of the world is the One and Only: The Lord our God is One! The leather sheet inside the tefillin boxes also contains the verses of the Shema. Black color has a unique feature: it is absolute. Other colors cannot overcome it. This unique trait of black color symbolizes the perfect unity of God, a complete and total unity.

From the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe about the tefillin

“In the midst of every human being there is a constant struggle between reason and emotion, and when the mind becomes powerless, and emotion dominates without straining, the results will be tragic. The tefillin of the head are worn on the head, the seat of the intellect, while those of the hand are placed on the left hand, facing the heart. The message: to harness the mind and emotion together with their main place of residence – the arm and the head – to the work of the Creator. “

How Are Tefillin Made?

There are hundreds of detailed rules that govern the manufacturing processes of the parchment scrolls and the boxes. The Tefillin were either cubical or cylindrical in the earlier Talmudic times, but the cylindrical form became outdated later on. Today, the boxes should be made from one piece of animal hide that is kosher and creates a base with an upper box to contain the scrolls. These boxes are made at different quality levels.

Tefillin Gassot
Tefillin Gassot

Peshutim is the most basic form, and it’s crafted from several pieces of parchment to create the head Tefillin’s inner walls. Dakkot is the higher quality Tefillin, and it’s made from a thin piece of leather. The most durable option is called Gassot, and it is made from one piece of hiding. Leather straps that are black in color pass secure the Tefillin onto the wearer’s body. The Hebrew letter shin is molded on both sides of the head Tefillin. The texts should be written with ink that is halachically acceptable. The parchment used should be halachically acceptable as well. The letters should be written in order. Any error invalidates the text.

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A sofer, a specially trained scribe, uses a quill pen to inscribe the scrolls in black ink. He needs to purify himself in the ritual bath or mikvah before he starts working on the scrolls. The parchment, straps, and boxes are made from a kosher animal. Each of the Tefillin boxes contains 1594 letters, which are personally written by the scribe. If one letter is incorrectly written or missing or an extra letter was written, the Tefillin are invalid.

Four passages from the Torah are inscribed on the scrolls. These passages include Kadesh, VeHayah Ki Yeviacha, The Shema and VeHayah Im Shamoa. The arm Tefillin has a single chamber, with all the passages written on one scroll. The head Tefillin has 4 chambers, with the passages written on 4 different scrolls. There’s also a raised Hebrew letter shin on each side of the head Tefillin. 

The scrolls are placed in small leather boxes that have been painted black and pressed into seamlessly geometrical shapes and smooth planes. The upper portion of the boxes is a perfect cube. The lower part is flatter and wider than the upper portion. It also has a slit through where the strap is threaded and knotted.  

The straps are painted black on one side. The arm Tefillin has a small loop that can be adjusted. The head Tefillin’s loop is large and fixed. The arm Tefillin’s knot is in the shape of the Hebrew letter “yud,” while the head strap is knotted in the shape of “daled.”

Jewish males over 13 years old should fulfill the mitzvah of Tefillin by wearing it anytime during the day. They recite a blessing and read the Shema prayer. Tefillin are traditionally worn during weekday morning prayers. It’s not worn on major Jewish holidays and Shabbat.

The head Tefillin are worn on the head like a crown. The box rests above the hairline in the center of the wearer’s forehead. The arm Tefillin are strapped either onto the right or left arm, with the box resting against the heart. The rest of the strap is wound around the arm 7 times.

Why Jewish Men Wear Tefillin

Mitzvah comes from the root word tzavta, which translates to the connection. A mitzvah establishes a bond between man and G-d. Tefillin can be considered as the ultimate mitzvah. One of the boxes is placed on the head, teaching a man to dedicate themselves to the service of G‑d in everything that they do, think and feel. The other box rests against the heart, the base of emotions.

How to Purchase Tefillin

Tallit and Tefillin together
Tallit and Tefillin together

A lot of effort and effort goes into making Tefillin, so expect the prices to be quite high. The raw materials are also expensive. Tefillin usually cost between $300 and $1,000. If you find one below this price range, you should be wary because it is most likely not authentic.

It’s also important to know which pair is right for you. Tefillin Gassot is the most expensive, but it is exceptionally durable and easier to repair than the other types. While Tefillin Peshutim is the most affordable option, it’s also the lowest quality. Consider your budget when buying a pair of Tefillin. Get the best one that you can afford. You can still accomplish the mitzvah of Tefillin with even the cheapest pair, but make sure that they are kosher.

After identifying the right pair for you, it is time to find a reputable source of Tefillin. If you don’t have any idea where to look, you can contact your local rabbi for some advice. Before you buy a pair of Tefillin, you have to discuss some matters with the source. Ask which nusach or custom they follow. Chabad, Ashkenaz, and Sefard are the standard customs. Different customs will affect the style of the Hebrew letters inscribed on the scroll and the way the straps are knotted. You should also consider your dominant arm when choosing a pair of Tefillin. Since the arm Tefillin’s box is placed on the less dominant arm, your choice will affect where the knot will be secured in the strap.

You should also know how to take care of your Tefillin. The ink on the scroll can fade or crack due to changes in weather or temperature. The leather of the straps and boxes can become damaged or warped over time. Avoiding hard knocks can help prevent most damage to the straps and boxes. Don’t rub the leather unnecessarily. You can also store your Tefillin in wood or plastic outer covers to protect it when it’s not being used. The cover should fit the box because if they don’t, they won’t be able to protect your Tefillin.

Don’t leave your Tefillin in the car for long periods. It should be stored at room temperature. You should also minimize its exposure to moisture to prevent discoloration. Have your Tefillin checked at least twice every seven years by a skilled scribe to make sure that the scrolls are still kosher. If the Tefillin hit something or fell, you should have it checked by a scribe immediately. Tefillin that are not used daily or lower quality ones should be checked often.

Purchasing Q & A

Tefillin Sephardic
Tefillin Sephardic

If you have small old Tefillin at home from your grandfather or father, should you check it before use?

Tefillin that haven’t been used regularly should be examined. Even if the Tefillin were kosher before, their kashrut had expired a long time ago. This is why it is essential to check them because there’s a high possibility that the moment the Tefillin are opened, they won’t be in the best shape.  

Why are the benefits of housings crafted from behaima gassa?

Housings crafted from behaima gassa are more durable and superior halachically. The housing’s thickness is about 0.2 inches, and due to this thickness, any damage or dent can be fixed. Housings crafted of behaima daka have to be changed even if they only have a slight damage. No matter how small damage is, it is irreparable. Housings made from leather of behaima daka are also halachically inferior.

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Why should your computer check a new parshiyot and how can you make ensure that this process has been done?

A computer check ensures that there’s no missing, invalid or extra letter on the scroll. Each computer test provides a photo and printout of a portion of the handwriting. If the source did not provide proof of this process, you should be wary because the source may not have conducted a computer check.

There are several “brands” in Israel, but is it better to buy from them?

Not all “brands” provide a high-quality product. Sometimes, a “brand name” serves an excuse for them to set higher prices for their products due to expensive advertising costs. The “brand name” is usually on the housing or boxes. These “brands” buy the parshiyot or portions from different sofrim or scribes. However, they don’t know all of these scribes personally. You have to purchase from a source that provides reliable professional and personal attention for their products. They should be able to tell you which scribe wrote the parshiyot. Reliable established manufacturers should produce the housings that they buy.

Why is a pair of Tefillin costly?

The cost of the Tefillin is affected by two factors – the written parshiyot and the housing. The parashiyot is the most significant part of the Tefillin. It can take 2 days or longer to write the parshiyot. Writing also requires great proficiency. The housings of the Tefillin are made from leather sourced from the hide of a special kosher animal. The hide is softened, folded or bended to create the housings. This is a lengthy process that can take months. Thicker leather or Behaima Gassa improves the Tefillin and increases its price. Tefillin made from thinner leather, or behaima daka is cheap, but its quality is poor.

What does parshiyot mehudarot mean? What level is considered superior?

You have to know the difference between the artistic writing at the “printing” level and superior writing on the halachic level. It is also important to consider the sofer’s unique attributes and devotion. This is where the costs of Tefillin increase. You should think carefully and decide if it is worth investing in it. There are mitzvah halachic rulings that can’t be seen by the public. You can look at the costs of parshiyot and rate them from 1 to 10. The lower levels might be barely kosher. When identifying the Tefillin’s level of superiority, you should consider the halachic aspect or write according to religious laws or halachot. Never compromise on the quality of your Tefillin.

Can Tefillin be delivered through the mail?

Tefillin can be sent through the mail, but it should be labeled as fragile and wrapped in protective layers. Since the Tefillin are a sacred object, they should get special attention.

Is it better to purchase Tefillin boxes crafted from behaima daka at first and then upgrade to superior boxes once he grows up?

Yes, it is. Some parents think that their child will forget his pair of Tefillin somewhere, so they buy a cheaper one at first. They believe that it is a waste of money to purchase the expensive ones because their child will lose it. You should write your phone number and your child’s name on the boxes that contain the Tefillin or on the Tefillin container or bag. This way, the Tefillin can be returned if your child loses it. Your child can learn to improve the good deeds or mitzvoth when he turns 13. In Israel, man can learn to enhance the mitzvoth during their army service. Never compromise on the cost of the parshiyot.

Is a computer test enough?

What you need to realize is that a computer test is not enough. While the computer is an excellent tool for identifying what is extra or missing, other defects need personal examination by a certified proofreader. In other words, the parshiyot should undergo proofreading by a qualified proofreader. A computer test is not needed during subsequently scheduled checkups because it is unlikely that the letters have vanished with time.

What’s the difference between housings made from behaima daka and housings crafted from a behaima daka?

Housings crafted from behaima daka are called superior plain, while housings made of behaima daka are called plain or simple. The housings or boxes called superior plain are not of genuinely superior quality, except when being compared to the usual “plain.” The plain options are not recommended as they are extremely inferior. This is because they are made of raw materials, which are composed of many extremely thin pieces of leather glued together. These options are borderline kosher.

Is there a commandment to own a pair of Tefillin? Is it okay to use borrowed Tefillin to fulfill the mitzvah?

You can still fulfill the mitzvah using a pair of borrowed Tefillin. There’s nothing wrong with using borrowed Tefillin, provided that they properly fit on your head. You can use borrowed Tefillin even regularly. The Tefillin used can belong to any person, but the placement of the boxes and the fit should be correct. Through mitzvah, you are signing or indicating your connection with the more in-depth contents of the text in the Tefillin.

Do you need to settle for carelessly written parshiyot when buying housing made of behaima daka?

Since the “market” wishes for a cheaper package, they provide a complete package that contains inferior parshiyot. Remember that the parshiyot is the important component of the Tefillin. If it’s economically feasible, try to invest in superior parshiyot.

When should you check the pair of Tefilin?

Most halachic authorities or poskim say that if a pair of Tefillin has been checked correctly, there’s no need to check again provided that it comes with a kashrut certification. If the Tefillin are used often and the paint shows no external signs of swelling, which could be a sign of the harsh effects of humidity or the sun, you can depend on the earlier examination. The test itself can damage the ink and the housings.

If the corners of the boxes or straps are showing signs of damage or the external paint has peeled, you should get the Tefillin fixed. However, repairing the outside of the Tefillin doesn’t involve any form of interference with the inside of the boxes. This is applicable after the Tefillin have gone through proper preliminary tests. Boxes with noticeable damage on the corners should be fixed as well. The perfect square shape of the boxes will be affected if the corners are worn out.

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How do large families handle the expenses involved in bar mitzvah?

Bar mitzvah involves a catered meal in an extravagant hall, an impressive ceremony and the Tefillin. Some families spend a significant amount of money on the child’s bar mitzvah. There’s no halachic ruling which requires a person to have an expensive ceremony. They are not even obligated to purchase a pair of Tefillin. They only need to “lay” Tefillin. A simple celebration of bar mitzvah includes a family gathering, some light refreshment, and Torah reading.  The primary concern of families is getting a set of Tefillin. The bar mitzvah will wear the Tefillin for the rest of his life.

When should you replace the leather straps?

It’s important to know when to replace the leather straps. The width of the straps should be at least 0.4 inches. Even a small tear will make the straps invalid. If the damage is at the tip of the straps on an extra length on the arm Tefillin, there’s no problem. However, the entire strap should be changed if the tear is found at other places. If the whole strap of the head Tefillin is intact, you can relax because it is kosher.  If some of the ink has rubbed off, the damaged parts should be re-colored. You can buy a suitable felt marker to fix this damage. A new set of straps is not expensive.

If you purchase kosher for your house, should you get the super kosher tefillin?

Wearing Tefillin is a critical mitzvah. It’s observed every day on most days of the year. The boxes of the Tefillin are made of a thin kosher animal skin that is non-repairable. You will be obliged to purchase newer boxes or housings even if only a short period has passed. The parshiyot inside the boxes are the heart of the Tefillin. Cheap parshiyot are written hastily and carelessly that sometimes, it is hard to recognize the shape of the letters.

If you have the opportunity and enough money, it is best that you purchase higher quality parshiyot and cheaper housings. Although there are several levels of superior kosher or kashrut mehuderet, it is best that you get no less than the basic mehuderet level. Some people buy Tefillin after considering the splendor of the writing or the character of the sofer. The Tefillin should be halachically sound at the beginning. The Tefillin’s long life and durability will be enough to compensate for the cost.

Can you move parshiyot from old boxes to new ones?

You can move parshiyot from old boxes to new ones. If you have a pair of Tefillin, there’s a good chance that the parshiyot have appropriately been preserved and can use again when transferred to new boxes.

Do you need to get the parshiyot from the head and arm from the same sofer?

You don’t need to get the parshiyot from the head and arm from the same sofer. If you want to buy the parshiyot from a different scribe, you are free to do so.

Why is it common to lay Tefillin during morning prayers or Shacharit?

The time allotment of Tefillin is all day, but most people lay Tefillin during morning prayers or Shacharit. If you don’t have a pair of Tefillin during morning prayers, you can pray or daven without them. You can lay Tefillin at another point during the day.

When should you start laying the Tefillin?

The responsibility to lay Tefillin starts at the age of 13 and 1 day. Different customs are observed in the community. Some boys wait for the Torah obligation and the big day, while others lay Tefillin 2 or 3 months before becoming bar mitzvah.

What if the sewing thread has torn in some parts? Can you continue to lay Tefillin with a blessing or bracha?

If the sewing thread is torn in 3 places, you can’t make a bracha. You can still make a bracha if the sewing thread is ripped in fewer places.

Where should you place the arm Tefillin?

You should put the arm Tefillin on your non-dominant hand. The box is placed at the height of your heart.

Where should you place the head Tefillin?

You should not place the head Tefillin between the eyes or on the forehead. Don’t rest the Tefillin anywhere else. It should be placed above the front hairline above your eyes.

What if there’s a kosher sticker at the bottom of the box for the head Tefillin?

The kosher sticker is placed during the production of the boxes. It confirms that the box for the head is superior quality kosher. However, you should keep in mind that this sticker doesn’t have anything to do with the parashiyot quality. You have to remove the sticker before using the box.

Why is there no sticker on the box of the arm Tefillin?

The arm Tefillin doesn’t have a sticker because it is quite simple to produce and there’s no chance of fraud.

When you wear the Tefillin, you will be connecting to and fulfilling the will of G‑d. You have to remind yourself to become a better person and that you are doing something that your ancestors did. Moreover, you are improving the chances that your descendants will want to do it as well. The straps connect you to past, present, and future and G-d.

Different Types:

TEFILLIN DAKKOT – FROM GOAT/SHEEP’S SKIN:

Those are considered good Tefillin and are less pricey, but aren’t considered as preferable as the next kind.

TEFILLIN GASSOT – FROM CATTLE SKIN:

Those are more expensive and are considered superior to Tefillin Dakot, according to Halacha.

TEFILLIN GASSOT – FROM CATTLE SKIN – MEHUDAR:

These Tefillin are made from cattle skin as well but created with more “hidoorim” than the regular Tefillin Gassot. Considered to be the best of the best, they are also the most sturdy and expensive ones.

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