Jul 142013

We recently received an inquiry from a college student interested in buying tefillin, who was wondering what the differences are between the tefillin we sell and very inexpensive tefillin he came across on Amazon.

I want to buy tefillin but I do not understand (because I do not know much about tefillin) why your cost is $250 for peshutim and on eBay there are mehudarim for $150. What is the difference?

The main factors that determine tefillin prices are as follows:

  • The integrity of the sofer (scribe) who wrote the parshiyos (parchments)
  • The quality of his writing
  • The type of construction of the battim (boxes)
  • The quality and workmanship of the battim (boxes)
  • The quality of the straps (namely which part of the animal the leather was taken from)

Obviously much of this you will never be able to ascertain. There are a lot of unscrupulous people out there making tefillin. For a year I worked closely with a highly reputable tefillin dealer in Bnei Brak, with 20 years’ experience in the field. He told me if I found a set of tefillin for under $200 it could not possibly be kosher.

Tefillin are normally graded as follows: Peshutim, Peshutim Mehudarim, Dakkot, Gassot. But every dealer defines their own tefillin. Therefore one dealer might call his tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim, whereas a dealer with higher standards would call the same set Tefillin Peshutim.

When I started selling tefillin it was easy for me to find sets for $250, but to find tefillin whose writing and construction was closely overseen by a highly qualified, G-d fearing professional took me quite a while. But eventually I found someone who meets that description , so that I have confidence the tefillin I sell are kosher and a good value.

Why is the process of writing the tefillin parchments so involved  and expensive?

Tefillin and mezuzot have an additional requirement which does not apply to the other holy scrolls: they must be written kesidran, in the same order that they appear in the Torah. This means that each respective parchment must be written in the sequence it appears in the Torah, and every word and letter within each section must also be written in the proper sequence. If the sofer omits a letter or writes it incorrectly, he must correct it immediately, before he moves on to the next letter. He is not permitted to correct it at a later time, as doing so amounts to writing the text out of order. This applies even if a letter becomes invalid after having originally been written properly,which can happen as a result of deterioration due to exposure to the elements (e.g. a mezuzah posted on an outside doorway). Additionally, no two letters can touch, even in the slightest degree, nor can there be the smallest crack in any letter, even at those points where the separate pen strokes connect.

Before the sofer begins to write, he must prepare himself for his holy task. He should purify himself by immersing in a mikveh in accordance with the takanah enacted by Ezra Hasofer. When he starts to write, he focuses on the mitzvah of writing by stating out loud his specific intent, e.g. if he is writing a mezuza, he states, “Leshem kedushat mezuzah,” (“I hereby affirm that I am intent on the holiness of mezuzah”). Similarly, before writing any of G-d’s names he states that he is about to write His holy name with the proper sanctity.

Even more important than the elegance of the sofer’s writing is his yirat Shamayim, personal integrity, and his mastery of the laws of STa”M.

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