Nov 292015

If you are shopping for tefillin gassot online, you may have come across options labeled “Mehudar 1” or “Mehudar 2” or “Mehudar 3” etc. in reference to the parchments.

These labels are somewhat arbitrary and are determined by the tefillin seller. There is no universal scale for tefillin parchment writing quality. One tefillin dealer may consider a given set of parchments “kosher” or “kosher l’chatchila,” whereas another dealer would say the same parchments are “mehudar.” Options for “Mehudar 1” or “Mehudar 2” etc. are approximations. I know of one online tefillin dealer who offers Mehudar 1, Mehudar 2 and Mehudar 3 as options in the tefillin gassot he sells. These descriptions may be somewhat misleading, because in my opinion his Mehudar 1 should not be called “mehudar” but merely “kosher.”

Typically a tefillin dealer with have at least a dozen sets of tefillin parchments in stock. No two will be exactly the same level of writing quality. In fact, even two sets of parchments written by the same sofer will vary somewhat in quality.

Tefillin GassotThe key factor is that the parchments are kosher beyond a doubt from a halachic standpoint, i.e. no letters are touching, none of the letters looks like a different letter (e.g. a long yud, a short vav, a long vav that could be mistaken for a nun sofis). This is up to the sofer (scribe) and the magihah (parchment checker).

Beyond that, the level of artistry of the parchment is important to some, since we are enjoined to fulfill mitzvahs in an aesthetic manner (zeh Keli v’anveihu). Just as the battim should be painted nicely, the corners and edges should be shaped nicely, the straps should be crafted well, so too we want our tefillin to be attractice on the inside, to the extent that we can afford. A sofer with nicer writing can command a higher price for the parchments he writes.

For many people it’s not easy to shell out another $100 or $200 for mehudar parchments, but keep in mind that chances are good that the parchments you buy will last a lifetime. If you go out to buy a car or do renovation work, would you be willing to spend an extra $200 for better quality?

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Nov 292015

Recently I receive an interesting question from a prospective tefillin buyer looking for top quality, expensive tefillin:

For the ribua regel, does it make a noticeable difference having someone do that in terms of how precise the shaping of them is? I am trying to balance price with quality. At this point I have to rule out miksheh purely because of money. I would be able to afford ribua regel in about 6 weeks. Would you suggest I wait to buy until then?

With ribua regel, you’re not paying for better quality, you’re paying for a halachic hiddur. There are certain mitzvahs that require that you prepare the object with specific intent (e.g. see Kosher Tzitzit Strings: A Matter of Intent). In our generation the question has come up whether a machine can have intent to do a mitzvah. Let me clarify: of course a machine cannot have intent, but perhaps when the person operating the machine presses the button, his intent counts for what the machine then carries out. This is the question behind machine matzahs or hand matzahs, machine-spun tzitzit strings or hand-spun tzitzit strings, regular tefillin gassot battim or ribua regel. The question varies slightly according to certain small differences in these examples, but for the most part it’s the same question.

When it comes to getting the job done, i.e. making the matzahs, making the tzitzit strings, making the tefillin boxes, it makes a world of difference. In the case of tefillin, the tefillin maker has a big mishapen lump of leather that he has to trim down to a perfectly square box. To shave away leather he uses a cutting tool that works something like a spinning drill bit. With regular gassot, the machine is electric. With ribua regel the cutting tool is driven by leg power. Not only does the tefillin craftsman work up a sweat, but it also takes him longer to do the work.

If I’m not mistaken HaRav Eliashiv zt”l ruled that regular gassot are fine, but yours is definitely a question to ask a qualified rav.

Nov 022015

For our site visitors who would like an introduction to the basics of the mitzvah of tefillin, we are posting an excerpt from a book by the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

“There is no description of tefillin [in the Torah], nor any hints as to how they must be made. The Torah merely outlines their contents and tells us nothing more.

“It is most important to realize that God gave us the Torah in two parts. There is the Written Torah, which we keep in the ark. However, there is also the Unwritten or Oral Torah, consisting of the oral tradition handed down from Sinai. The Torah was not meant to be a mere book, lying on the shelf. It was meant to be part of the everyday life of the entire people. As such, it could only be transmitted by word of mouth.

“The Oral Torah was handed down from teacher to disciple for almost 1,500 years, until the harsh Roman persecutions finally threatened to extinguish it completely. Finally, some 1,700 years ago, it was written down to form the Talmud.

“The Talmud itself cites tefillin as a prime example of a case where the full description of the commandment is found only in the Oral Torah. If you think about it, you will realize that it was not necessary to write a description of Tefillin in the Torah. One need simply look at an older pair. Tefillin were worn by virtually every adult male throughout Jewish history, and they themselves provided as permanent a record as any book.”

Rabbi Kaplan also explains the effect tefillin have on the wearer: “Have you ever felt so close to another human being that every moment together was precious? Where every letter and memento from this person was something to be treasured? What if this person gave you a meaningful gift? Every time you looked at it or used it, would it not remind you of this special relationship?

“To the best of our understanding, God’s very act of creation was an act of chessed (giving) and of love. It was a love so immense that the human mind cannot begin to fathom it. Tefillin are a sign of this bond between God and man. Faith and love are very tenuous things. We can speak of them and think about them. But unless we do something about them we tend to forget; tefillin serve to help us remember…

“The essence of the Torah is its commandments, mitzvot in Hebrew. The word mitzvah comes from the root meaning ‘to bind.’ Every commandment or mitzvah serves to draw us close to God and strengthen this connection. With every mitzvah we forge a spiritual bond with God. In the case of tefillin, this bond is physical as well as spiritual. We literally bind God’s love symbol to our bodies. Thus, our Sages teach us that the commandment of tefillin encompasses all others. Here, we can actually see and feel the bond.”

The late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan wrote a booklet entitled Tefillin (NCSY/OU, New York, 1986), which has become a classic and is highly recommended.

Nov 022015

This week we got a question sent in from a grandmother in the US trying to buy a kosher set of tefillin for her soon-to-be-13-year-old grandson.

I’m in search of a set of tefillin and was directed to [name of webstore deleted]. I’m wondering if you could tell me the difference in cost for what seem to be the same items. Please advise me by comparing their basic kosher Tefillin Peshutim and your Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim. Thanks

“Buying a good set of tefillin isn’t easy,” I wrote her, “so if you’re feeling a bit lost, you’re not alone.”

I have the impression that the webstore in question is indeed a reputable vendor, but there really is no useful information on their tefillin product pages.

I can’t tell who makes the tefillin and I can’t tell the size of the boxes, but even were that information listed, it would not help much. When you purchase tefillin, especially in the $250-$450 range, you have to be sure the tefillin you’re receiving are definitely kosher.

Various little details in the production process can render a set of tefillin not kosher. Generally the main issue is the writing of the parchments inside.

Nearly every tefillin dealer online will assure you that the tefillin he sells are “100% kosher.” So you need to have complete confidence in the tefillin dealer you are buying from.

I really cannot know why that webstore prices tefillin peshutim so much higher than ours tefillin. It could be that their supplier is located in the U.S. and charges much more than our Israeli supplier. Or perhaps they have a bigger profit margin on the tefillin they sell. We have a very low profit margin on our tefillin, because we have found that a lot of people purchasing tefillin online are looking to spend under $300 for tefillin peshutim, and under $500 for tefillin gassot.

In general, you should buy the best tefillin you can afford, because upgrading to better quality tefillin is not just a matter of aesthetics.

Also, keep in mind that if you expect the recipient to wrap tefillin every day, you should try to buy tefillin gassot. Tefillin peshutim and tefillin dakkot are made of relatively thin leather, so they are prone to dents and other damage, and if they do incur damage or lose their shape over time, it may be impossible to repair them.

On the other hand, tefillin gassot can last 20 or 30 years. I bought my last set of tefillin (tefillin gassot) just before my wedding 18 years ago. Two or three years ago I had the straps replaced, and some light reshaping, and they were good as new.

Go to tallit, tzitzit & tefillin webstore>>


Oct 122015

The Shulchan Aruch tells us, “Those who are careful to wear a tallis katan should don it and lay tefillin at home, and then wallk, wearing tzitzis and crowned with tefillin, to the synagogue and there wrap himself in a tallis gadol” (O.C. 25, 2).

The reason is that the Zohar says it is a mitzvah to leave your home already wearing tzitzis and tefillin. Therefore, if you do not wear a tallis katan, you should put on your tallis gadol at home.

The Rema emends the practice brought in the Shulchan Aruch, saying that the prevailing custom is to put on your tallis gadol at home before laying tefillin, even if you are already wearing a tallis katan.

The Mishnah Berurah (s.v. 10) notes that if there are non-Jews passing in the streets you can hold off wrapping yourself in the tallis gadol until you reach the synagogue courtyard, and put it on there.

In Israel the practice of wearing tallis and tefillin on the way to shul is fairly common. Many years ago I was in Morristown, NJ for Shabbos and asked a local whether it would be okay to walkt to shul the next day wearing tallis and tefillin.

This halacha always seemed to be a remnant from centuries past, but in light of rising anti-Semitism in various parts of the world, unfortunately this halacha has become much easier to understand. For example, I would certainly be wary about wearing tallis and tefillin walking in most parts of Paris, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen and other European cities.

Just this week two days ago a young Arab stabbed two elderly Jews walking home from shul on Shabbos, presumable while wearing talleisim.

And I noticed that in this vile video encouraging young Arabs to become “heroes” by stabbing Jews, the second victim was clearly identified as a worthy target by his tallis.

Jun 042015

Making the battim (the leather boxes which house the tefillin parchments) of Shel Yad in relatively simple since it’s just a simple compartment that’s smooth on the outside.

On the other hand, the Shel Rosh not only has a letter ש painstakingly embossed on both sides, but also it is formed of four separate but unified boxes.

Types of tefillin

The terms Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim, Tefillin Gasssot, Tefillin Gassot Prudot and Miksheh refer to how the battim, particularly the Shel Rosh, are constructed. Because the materials, the tools and the level of craftsmanship used to make Tefillin Gassot are more expensive, expect to pay significantly more for Tefillin Gassot than for Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim.

Also keep in mind that tefillin makers almost invariably insert mediocre parchments in Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim; the more expensive the battim, the better the parchments on the inside will be.

Ohr Echad

Tefillin must be made of a single piece of leather (“ohr echad“).  The big question which then arises is whether several pieces of leather glued together are considered ohr echad.

Types of Tefillin - Gassot

Checking a parchment before inserting it into the Shel Rosh

The problem used to be especially acute before the advent of Tefillin Gassot, when Tefillin Dakkot were the norm. Because Tefillin Dakkot are made of thinner hide, glue had to be applied in the crevices between the four compartments of the Shel Rosh to insure it kept a square shape over time. The problem is that from a halachic standpoint, if you say glue unifies the compartments, you have now created a single compartment instead of four separtment compartments, as required.

(The Vilna Gaon, upon coming across someone whose Shel Rosh was constructed with glue, would quip, “Why are you wearing a Shel Yad on your head?”)

On the other hand, if you use no glue (a method which today is referred to as Tefillin Prudot), the Shel Rosh is liable to lose its square shape. (Because today’s Tefillin Prudot are made of thick leather, they maintain their shape much better.)

The Chassam Sofer argued that you can’t have it both ways: You can’t make Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim using glue to unify several pieces of leather — and then use glue to hold the compartments together, now saying glue does not unify them.

Various Achronim hold that in fact the four compartments of the Shel Rosh do not have to be truly separate, rather you only need slits visible from the outside.

The Chassam Sofer wrote that if the tefillin maker does not have the intention to glue the compartments together, but rather uses a small amount of glue just to prevent them from separating, then they would be considered four separate and distinct compartments.

Jul 112014

UPDATE: All of these tefillin have now been returned to their owners. The story of how the tefillin owners were found is a good read in and of itself.


We are posting the following as a “public service message.”


Subject: Lost tefillin in unclaimed baggage store in Alabama

HELP! HELP! HELP! Hashovas Aveida!

We went to a store today in Alabama that sells unclaimed baggage from all over the world.
We found Tefillin!!! People are missing their tefillin! Most were probably left on airplanes or at airports.

Please send on all around the world and if these lost tefillin are yours please email to claim them!

LostTefillin-1 LostTefillin-3 LostTefillin-4 LostTefillin-5 LostTefillin-2 Lost Tefillin

Bar Mitzvah Sets

 Tallit, Tefillin  Comments Off on Bar Mitzvah Sets
Dec 122013

To tell you the truth, we avoid using the term bar mitzvah set because it can mean different things to different people. Often a bar mitzvah set consists of a tallit, matching bag and matching kippah. In other cases a bar mitzvah set revolves around a set of tefillin and often includes a siddur as well. Some bar mitzvah boys won’t want a matching kippah, and what they really need is a matching bag with custom name embroidery.

Our solution is to invite parents to browse our tallit and tefillin webstore, where they should be able to find whatever they need, and put together a bar mitzvah set of their own. Since we charge a low fixed price for shipping, essentially you only pay shipping for one item and the rest ship for free. For discounts, be sure to see our coupon listings.

Bar Mitzvah Set with Tefillin

If you would like a pair of tefillin for your bar mitzvah boy, Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim is a popular choice. You can then choose a traditional tallit, a modern tallit or even a handwoven tallit set.

Tallit with Matching Bag and Matching Kippah

All of our Gabrieli and Maaseh Oreg handwoven tallit sets are available with matching tallit bag and kippah. Most of our tallits are also available with a matching bag and you can generally find a nice kippah that matches well among the Raw Silk Yair Emanuel kippot we offer.

If you have any questions about tefillin, tallit sizing, letter embroidery, shipping time etc., be sure to see the many resources listed at the top of our webstore, and of course you can contact us with questions, and we’ll reply right away.

Quality Tefillin

 Tefillin  Comments Off on Quality Tefillin
Nov 242013

It’s quite common for people to dig out a set of tefillin abandoned in a closet for years, have it checked and get back a report that the tefillin are not kosher. Recently a customer who bought a tallit from me consulted me on his tefillin problem:

Shalom. Well, I just heard back from the Chabad rabbi and I was told that the tefillin I had checked are not kosher…I don’t know why, the rabbi said he would have the tefillin shipped back and would have the reason explained so that he could go over it with me. Seems I need to buy a pair of new tefillin…I’m thinking of going with Gassot Tefillin, Ashkenazi, Mehudar 2, Avodat Yad black-black straps.  I’m not sure I understand the difference between a square knot and a dalet knot. What I really need to understand is the difference between the different Mehudar (2 vs. 3), and the difference between Gassot and Gassot Mehudarot. Sorry to fill up your inbox with questions.

I sent him a long-winded answer which I later realized might be useful to my tallit and tefillin blog readers, so I’m posting it here:

How long will it be until your tefillin reach you? It might be worthwhile to wait for the report. If your present tefillin are gassot, they might tell you the battim are fantastic, but the parshiyot inside are pasul.

The difference between Mehudar 2 and Mehudar 3 is the elegance of the writing. Writing tefillin parchments is not easy. With inexpensive but kosher parchments there could be places where there were issues with the writing, but according to halacha there was room to be lenient.

Mehudar means you don’t have to rely on leniences. Mehudar 2 and 3 mean no leniencies and the writing is especially beautiful. Some sofrim simply have more attractive writing (which does not always depend on experience) and can command higher prices for their work.

The Torah says we should enhance our mitzvah observance by using beautiful articles for our mitzvah observance. So we should buy a nice tallit and replace it before it gets raggedy, keep our tzitzit looking nice, wear quality tefillin with a good paint job, replace the tefillin straps when they get worn and have a mezuzah and tefillin and sefer Torah with attractive writing.

I once came across a Rishon — Rabbenu Manuach, who has a commentary on the Rambam — who held that with mezuzah scrolls we should have beautiful ktav (writing), because sometimes people will take it out of the case and read it, whereas tefillin almost never get opened up so the injunction to beautify the mitzvah (zeh Keli v’anveihu) does not apply, but I don’t think anyone really holds by that opinion.

Beginner’s Tefillin: Tips for First-Time Buyers

 Tefillin  Comments Off on Beginner’s Tefillin: Tips for First-Time Buyers
Nov 032013
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.