Often our tefillin customers are buying tefillin for their first time. For example, this week we received the following inquiry from a young Britain named Jacob:
I am looking at buying my first pair of Tefillin. At my Synagogue congregants don’t use them. Well, actually some do, but it’s not the done thing. What type of set would be good for a beginner and will last for some time? Also take into account the fact I am not that well off.
The general rule when buying tefillin is you buy the best you can afford, whether that be Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim, Tefillin Dakkot or Tefillin Gassot.
In general, I don’t recommend Tefillin Peshutim. If you cannot afford at least Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim, push off the purchase until you can. Upgrading to Elyon straps is probably worth the money, because the straps are usually the first thing to go, and it can be a nuisance getting them replaced.
Tefillin Gassot are an investment that usually pays off in the long run, because they often last for decades, and every 10 years or so you just replace the straps and have a tefillin maker do some touch-up “body work.” They repair the corners if they have lost their shape and sometimes repaint them.
I bought my tefillin gassot over 15 years ago, and only recently took them to a tefillin repairman to check the parshiyot and change the straps. He said they were in very good condition and did not particularly need any repair work, but I went ahead and had him work on them a bit, so that now they are almost as good as new.
Tefillin prices range between $200 and $600; you can also find tefillin that adhere to various unusual stringencies priced up to $1,500. While the thought of spending $250 or $400 or $600 may sound like a lot, keep in mind that a lot of skill and hard work goes into making a pair of tefillin, and that the raw materials are not cheap. If you find bargain tefillin for below $2300 beware.
While the construction of the boxes, particularly the Shel Rosh (the tefillin placed on the head), requires special tools and machinery and a high level of expertise, the writing of the unseen parshiyot (parchment scrolls) is also very involved and demands a high level of skill and experience. Good writing means there are no problems that might render the parshiyot non-kosher, such as touching letters or misformed letters. Beyond that, the more mehudar levels of writing not only are free of halachic issues, but also show a degree of artistry in the writing.