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Tefillin Purchasing Q & A

Questions I wanted to ask about…


The answers follow halachic guidelines. As with any question, it is best to consult with a qualified orthodox rabbi for more specific advice.

1. In Israel, several “brands” are available. Isn’t it preferable to purchase them?
Not every “brand” is worthy of its name. The fact that it is a “brand name” sometimes serves as an excuse for higher prices, due to high advertising costs. The “brand names” are generally on the boxes, or housing. These manufacturers purchase the parshiyot (portions) from a variety of sofrim (scribes), not all of whom are personally known to them. With us, the situation is different. We offer trustworthy personal and professional attention. If you wish the information, we will tell you which sofer wrote your parshiyot. The housings that we purchase are produced by reputable established manufacturers.

2. Why does a pair of tefillin cost so much money?
The price of the tefillin is derived from two main components: the housing and the written parshiyot.
The most important part of the tefillin is the parshiyot. Writing the parshiyot requires extraordinary proficiency. It can take two days or longer to write the tefillin. It is no coincidence that the majority of the sofrei STAM (scribes) refrain from writing the parshiyot.
The housings are made of leather taken from the hide of a special kosher animal, entailing a prolonged process of softening and folding, or bending. This process takes many months. Behaima gassa (thicker leather) enhances the tefillin, making them more expensive. A pair of tefilin from THINNER? hide of a special kosher animal- behaima daka (thin leather) drastically lowers the price. See below.

3. Maybe it’s sensible at first to buy a pair of tfillin boxes made from behaima daka and when he grows up, we can upgrade to superior boxes.
Yes, some parents feel that their young son may forget his tefillin somewhere and that it would be a waste of money to buy the expensive ones. On the other hand, we want the child to learn to enhance the mitzvoth (good deeds) when he becomes a bar mitzvah, or, in Israel, during his army service.
It is advisable to clearly write on the tefillin bag or container, and on the boxes containing the tefillin, the child’s name and your phone number, so that if they are lost, chas veshalom (G-d forbid), they can be returned. In any case, we recommend that you do not compromise on the price of the parshiyot.

4. Can you explain to me what the phrase “parshiyot mehudarot” means? I understand that there are several different levels of what is considered to be superior.
Yes, this is a very important question and it has several significant financial aspects.
Up until today, there is no universal classification in the field. There is great importance to the differentiation between superior writing on the halachic level, to the artistic writing at the level of “printing”, to the writing taking into consideration the devotion and the special attributes of the sofer. This is where the prices skyrocket and one should use his better judgment, and decide if it is worthwhile to invest at this age and in this situation.
It’s important to know, that there are halachic rulings, for a mitzvah that can not be seen by the public. There isn’t any reason for excessive attention to the mitzvah (bearing in mind “this is my G-d and I will be modest.”) In this instance, we can look at the different prices of the parshiyot and rate them on a scale of 10. It is possible to say that at the lower levels, they are barely very kosher.

One can say that the level of reasonable superiority for everyone, should take into account the halachic aspect, in other words writing according to the halachot (religious laws) from the beginning. At this level, it is important and worthwhile not to compromise.
5. Can tefillin be sent in the mail?
Yes. They must be wrapped in several protective layers and clearly labeled as fragile, so that the package receives the special attention due a sacred object.

6. What is the advantage to housings made from behaima gassa?
These housings are superior halachically and more durable in general. Because of the thickness of the housing-- about 0.2”-- any dent or damage can be corrected. With housings made of behaima daka—SHOULD INCLUDE THEIR MEASUREMENT FOR CONTRAST-- any slight damage necessitates changing them. Every blow causes irreparable damage.
Housings from leather of behaima daka are halachically inferior and remind us of the old adage “I’m too poor to buy cheap.”

7. Why is it important to computer check the new parshiyot? How can I be sure that this examination has actually been carried out?
A computer check assures you that there are no invalid letters, an extra or a missing letter. Each test provides you with a printout and a photo of a part of the handwriting. Absent evidence of this written authorization, it is doubtful that such a test has taken place.
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8. Is a computer test sufficient?
Absolutely not. The computer is an excellent tool for spotting what is omitted or superfluous, but other flaws require personal examination by means of the proofreader’s good eyes. Therefore is is important and necessary that the parshiyot go through proofreading by a certified proofreader. At subsequent scheduled check ups, on the other hand, there is no need for a computer examination. There is no suspicion that the letters have disappeared with time.

9. Does buying housing composed of behaima daka require purchase of parshiyot carelessly written and kashrut ex post facto?
Although they are not connected, it turns out that the “market” wants a cheap “package” so they offer a complete package, with inferior parshiyot also. The most important part of the tefillin is the parshiyot. It is therefore advisable to ask, if economically feasible, for nice superior parshiyot.

10. What is the difference between housings that are of leather from a behaima daka and are called “simple or plain”, and housings that are of behaima daka and called “superior plain”?
The boxes or housings that are called “superior plain” are not of truly superior quality, except in comparison to the regular “plain”. What are the differences? The plain ones are made of raw materials that are comprised of many very thin pieces glued together and they are borderline kosher. The “plain” ones are definitely not recommended because they are so inferior.

11. Is there any commandment to own one’s own tefillin? Can one fulfill the mitzvah using borrowed tefillin?
There is no halachic problem in using borrowed tefillin, even on a regular basis, as long as they properly fit on the head. In contrast to the mitzvah of the arba minim (the four species), where it is written that “you shall take for yourselves,” the tefillin used can belong to anyone. It is important, however, that the fit and placement of the boxes be correct. As it says in the passuk (verse) “and you shall bind them as a sign”. the essence of the mitzvah is the fact that we are “indicating/ signing” our link with the deeper contents of the text within the tefillin.

12. When is it wise to check the tefilin?
According to most poskim (halacic authorities), if the tefillin has been checked properly. there is no reason to check again as long as there is a kashrut certification attached. In other words, if the tefillin are used frequently and there are no outward signs of swelling in the paint (which could be a sign of the effects of the sun or humidity), one can rely on the previous examination. The examination itself can, in fact, damage the housings and the ink.
However, if the outside paint has peeled or the straps or the corners of the housings show signs of damage, it is important that they be repaired. But the repair of the outside does not warrant interference with the inside. This is all applicable, of course, after the tefillin have undergone careful preliminary examination.
Housings that have noticeable damage on even one of the corners must be repaired. if the corners are worn down then the perfect square shape is affected.

13. I buy kosher for my house, why must I have super kosher tefillin?
First of all one must remember that tefillin is a very unique and important mitzvah (good deed) that is observed daily on most days of the year. In addition, the definition of kosher with relation to the writing of a sofer STAM differs from what is customary in relation to the other issues.
The housings of the tefillin, on the kosher level, are made of a thin nonrepairable kosher animal skin. IF one is obliged to buy newer housings or boxes even if only a short time has passed.
The heart of the tefillin are the parshiyot (portions) contained within. Cheap parshiyot are sloppily and hastily written; sometimes it is difficult even to recognize the shape of the letters. Please see the answer to question 4 on this topic.

If one has the opportunity, it is highly recommended to buy at least the higher quality parshiyot even at the expense of cheaper housings. There are several levels of kashrut mehuderet (superior kosher). We recommend no less than the basic level of mehuderet, halachically sound at the outset (as opposed to the other levels of superiority that take into account the character of the sofer or the beauty of the writing).

The durability and long life of the tefillin will more than compensate for the expense.

14. How do people with large families handle the heavy bar mitzvah expenses: tefillin and the impressive ceremony, a catered meal in a fancy hall?
There are those who spend small fortunes.
It is important to emphasize that there is no halachic ruling that says that one must have a costly ceremony. As mentioned earlier, there isn’t even an obligation to buy tefillin, only to “lay” tefillin.
There is the simcha celebration of becoming a bar mitzvah. This entire ceremony which includes, perhaps being called up to the Torah reading, a family gathering and some light refreshment is sufficient.

It is obvious that the primary concern is acquiring a set of tefillin. These tefillin will be worn by the bar mitzvah for the rest of his life to the satisfaction of all.
See more on the topic of “bar mitzvah”.

15. When should the leather straps be replaced?
The width of the strap should be a minimum of 0.4”. Even a very slight tear will invalidate the entire strap. If the tear is at the tip of the strap on surplus length on the hand, there is no problem, but if found at other places, the strap must be changed. However, if the strap from the tefillin from the head until the length at stomach level is intact, these tefillin are kosher.
The strap of the tefillin where some of the color has rubbed off should be re-colored on the damaged spots. One can purchase an appropriate felt marker for this purpose at a Judaica store. The price of a new set of straps is not high, about NIS100.

16. Where can one find tips on tefillin maintenance?
Look for them on this site.

17. I have some old very small tefillin at home, from my father or grandfather. Is it sensible to check them before use?
This is a very common question. We have already explained that tefillin that have not been used constantly must be examined.
It is our experience that these smaller tefillin are of such low quality that their kashrut has expired long ago, if they were even kosher at some time. Therefore one must check them; chances are that the minute they are opened they will be relegated to a museum exhibit.

18. Is it possible to pass parshiyot from old housings to new housings?
Do the parshiyot from the arm and the head both have to be from the same sofer
It is totally acceptable to move parshiyot from old housing to new. Therefore, if someone has old tefillin it’s possible that the parshiyot are well preserved and can be returned to use in new housing. Parshiyot of the head and arm need not be from the same sofer.

19. The sewing thread from the tefillin has torn in some places. Is it possible to continue “laying” the tefillin with a bracha (blessing)?
If it is ripped in three places, one cannot make a bracha. If torn in fewer places, a bracha can still be made.

20. When does one begin “laying” tefillin?
The obligation to lay tefillin begins at the age of thirteen and one day. There are various customs predominant in the community. Some boys lay tefillin two or even three months before they become bar mitzvah, while others wait for the big day and the Torah obligation.

21. Since the time of tefillin is all day (daylight hours of the day) why is it the practice to lay tefillin during shacharit (morning prayers)?
Although the time allotment is all day, in tefillat shacharit we say the Shema and remind ourselves of the mitzvoth of tefillin; therefore it is appropriate that our words be bolstered by our deeds.
Whoever does not have tefillin during shacharit can daven (pray) without them, and lay tefillin at another point during the day when the Shema is said (DID I CHANGE THIS CORRECTLY?) This is also the practice on Tisha B’Av, when one does not put on tefillin till noon.

22. Where is the place of the head tefillin?
Not on the forhead and not between the eyes. Although it says in the Torah “between the eyes,” our sages have brought down in the Oral Law that one must not lay tefillin anywhere else but above the front hairline above the eyes (in line with the nose).

23. Where is the place for the arm tefillin?
First they must be put on the hand that is not used for writing. The housing is placed at the height of the heart, and before tightening a bracha is made.

24. Some of the new housings for the head have a kosher sticker at the bottom. What does this mean?
Why isn’t there a sticker on the housing of the arm tefil
This sticker, placed during the manufacture of the housing, certifies that the housing for the head is superior quality kosher. It is important to remember, however, that this has nothing to do with the quality of the parshiyot on the inside. The sticker should be removed before use. There is no sticker on the arm tefillin because these are fairly simple to manufacture and there is no possibility of fraud.
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