Nov 282017

Before entering Mauthausen, Eliyahu hid his precious tefillin by carefully tying them to his leg. At the selection, someone whispered to him to lie about his age and profession. Eliyahu, a 15-year-old yeshiva student, told the camp commandant that he was a 28-year-old tailor. “I was sent to the right, to life, while the other boys my age were sent to the left, to death.”

When sent to the shower, Eliyahu miraculously managed to hide his tefillin under a rock. “That was the last time I was ever separated from my tefillin. I kept them with me throughout the war, and afterwards. Today, I take them with me wherever I go.” He pointed to the small velvet bag lying on the counter.

“Dressed in nothing more than thin pajamas, we slept that night in the snow. It was our mattress, our blanket, and our food. Back home, a maid would polish my shoes. Now I had no shoes. Not far from us were what appeared to be five small huts. When I woke up, I was horrified to discover they were really five enormous piles of frozen corpses. There was no fuel to burn them.”

Prayer: Take Me

“The first morning in that hell, I donned my tefillin and begged God to take me. I could not stand the suffering. But although I was no better than the others, God wanted me to remain alive.”

Eliyahu remained alive, and continued to don his tefillin and recite a quick prayer each morning before setting out to work. He had to be careful – if the Nazis were to discover him with the tefillin, he would be immediately shot.

If the Nazis were to discover him with the tefillin, he would be immediately shot.

“The camp commander took tremendous pleasure in torturing the prisoners. Afterwards, he would return to his house, located on the camp premises, and, together with his wife, listen to classical music, to Mozart!”

Head tefillin worn by another Jew on the same death march to Gunskirchen

Eliyahu recalled the special Divine providence in hiding his tefillin: “Twice a day, at roll call, the SS soldiers would surround us and check us with their dogs. Although these dogs always stopped to smell my leg, the one where the tefillin were tied, the Nazis never discovered my tefillin. I can only describe it as a miracle. There is no other explanation.”

Eliyahu spent some eight weeks in Mauthausen.

“The allied forces were closing in. One day, there was a selection. Most were sent to the crematorium. I was selected for life. Life? We were forced to march for 12 days in the heavy rain until we reached our destination, Gunskirchen. Of the 33,000 who left Mauthausen, 20,000 arrived in Gunskirchen.

“I had been positive there could be no place worse than Mauthausen. But I was wrong. Gunskirchen was much, much worse. The first thing the Nazis did upon our arrival was to set three huge German shepherds on my friend Chaim. They tore him to pieces.

“Gunskirchen was not a work camp. We did nothing all day, except remove the dead bodies from our barrack and wait for time to pass. A few times a week the Nazis would give us a bit of food and water.”


Eliyahu recalls his last day in the camp: “It was a Friday night. We were locked in our barrack, and had heard that the Germans placed explosives around it. They wanted to kill us and hide all the evidence. People were dying like flies, and I knew that if the Germans didn’t explode the barrack, I would die of hunger. I said to my friends, the Klein brothers, ‘If you’ll join me, let’s escape together.’ We began climbing over bodies to make our way toward the door.

“In front of the door, I saw a man named Yitzhak lying on the floor. He had converted to Christianity prior to the Holocaust. I bent down and asked him, ‘Do you want to return to the Jewish people?’ Although he was already unable to speak, his eyes told me that he did. My friends were upset with me. But I couldn’t leave him like that. I said the Shema with him. He died at the word ‘echad’ – one.

“We somehow found the strength – don’t ask me how – to break the door open and escape that death-filled room. Of course I had my tefillin with me. Once we were in the forest, we threw off our lice-infested prison pajamas and put on SS uniforms that we had removed from dead soldiers.

“Suddenly, we heard the sound of a car traveling. When we saw it was an American jeep, we emerged from our hiding place and stood at the side of the road. Three soldiers jumped out of the jeep, their guns trained on us, and requested that we show them our documents. Documents? We didn’t even have clothes, let alone documents!

“I didn’t have documents, so I showed the soldiers my tefillin. At first they thought it was a hand grenade! But then one of them recognized they were tefillin. He asked me, ‘Du bist a Yid?’ (Are you Jewish?)

“The Jewish soldier immediately phoned his commander and informed him that he had found the camp they had been looking for. ‘Please save the 35,000 Jews that are left there,’ I begged. ‘Most of them are on the verge of death. If you don’t get there quickly, most will die. Every minute is crucial.’

“The army immediately sent medical care to Gunskirchen, and in doing so, thousands of lives were saved. My tefillin saved my life, and the lives of thousands of Jews, because in their merit, the American army arrived at the camp quickly,” Eliyahu concludes with deep emotion.


Feb 212017

If you are shopping for tallis and tefillin bags, take a look here. This post is not about the bags themselves, but how to use them.

Personally, I prefer keeping my tallit and tefillin bags sans plastic. To explain why, first I have to take you back nearly 40 years to my aunt’s living room on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. I have three strong memories of my Aunt Enus a”h: her walker (she fell and broke her hip), her big, fat cat Leonard and her couches.

I don’t remember the couches’ color or fabric, all I remember is the thick vinyl covering on them. Whenever relatives came to visit, they almost invariably made a snide comment about the sticky vinyl in the aftermath of the visit. I imagine some of those remarks reached her ears, but she was willing to sacrifice comfort to protect her sofas from Leonard’s claws. Those side comments about the vinyl lodged deep in my six-year-old mind so that to this day I find vinyl a real turnoff.

Tallit and tefillin bag coverBut everyone puts their tallis and tefillin bags in those hefty transparent PVC zippered covers! At some point I became a rebel, and when my bag cover tore (tears always form sooner or later), instead of replacing it immediately I tried managing sans plastic. To my amazement, I discovered that unless it’s really pouring rain, you can live without the plastic. The only problem is combining them into a single item to carry. Eventually I figured out that you could leave the tefillin bag at home and keep your tefillin wrapped inside the tallit. You simply fold the tallit around the tefillin, making sure to put the tallit in the tallit bag with the fold near the zipper, so that you can pull it out and leave the tefillin inside. (If you grasp the tefillin before the tallit, you run into a sticky halachic problem.) I liked the idea of living simply, and not taking up a lot of space in shul with a pile of accessories.

Today, things have changed, since I started walking to and from Shacharis wearing tallis and tefillin, so the velvet bags stay at home. I have a special placed reserved for them in our bookcase, and I always put the tefillin behind the tallis for two reasons: 1) So that I always come in contact with the tallit before the tefillin and 2) so that on Shabbos the tefillin (which are muktzeh) are safely out of the way.

Jan 242017

Toward the very beginning of the Gemara is a well-known breisa:

                אמר רבי יוחנן הרוצה לקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים שלימה יפנה ויטול ידיו ויניח תפילין ויתפלל

Translation: “R’ Yochanan said one who seeks to accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in a complete manner should empty his bowels, do the ritual hand-washing, lay tefillin and recite the prayers” (Brachos 14b).

Some readers might have noticed that something seems to be missing from the list: What about the mitzvah of tzitzis? Shouldn’t he put on a tallis?

This breisa is quoted by the Tur (O.C. 2, 6) in his description of how one should conduct himself upon rising in the morning. The Bach comments on the apparent omission, suggesting several possible explanations. His third suggestion reads as follows:

תפילין שבראש שאדם משעבד לבורא יתברך שהנשמה שהיא במוח וכו’ הני יש
ענין לקבלת עול מלכות שמים, מה שאין כן בציצית שאינה אלא לזכור את כל מצות ה

Translation: “The concept of tefillin on one’s head is to subjugate the mind to the Creator, for the soul is in the mind; yet this does not apply to tzitzis, which is merely to remember Hashem’s mitzvahs.”

Merely to remember Hashem’s miracles?! That’s no small matter! Apparently then the mitzvah of tzitzit is sort of a starting point. It makes you acutely aware of the deeds Hashem wants and expects of you, and serves as a constant reminder. This may explain why we put on the tallis before laying tefillin.

The Bach (O.C. 8, 1 s.v. Umiyad achar) writes that we put on tzitzis before tefillin because tzitzis are worn as a constant reminder of the mitzvahs, whereas the mitzvah of tefillin is primarily during Krias Shema and prayers, in order to accept upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven in a complete manner.

Thus the act of donning tzitzis is a prelude to the process of accepting the yoke of Heaven.

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 $150 or $250 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?

Go to tefillin page>>>


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.

Types of tefillin: What’s the difference?

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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.

Lost Tefillin

 Tefillin  Comments Off on Lost Tefillin
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