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.

Inexpensive Tefillin Online: Buyer Beware!

 Tefillin  Comments Off on Inexpensive Tefillin Online: Buyer Beware!
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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Kosher Tefillin Gassot

 Tefillin  Comments Off on Kosher Tefillin Gassot
Jun 022013

Recently I got a call from the U.S. from a young man you was shopping for kosher tefillin gassot. He said he was interested in buying from us, but was a bit wary because our prices were lower than those of many of our competitors. He had a number of questions to ask about the kashrus of the tefillin gassot we sell.

“Are the tefillin parchments checked thoroughly?”

The parchments are checked using a special computer scanning program. Basically this only ensures there are no missing letters or added letters. This is important, but it’s certainly no replacement for a human check by a certified magiyah. Our tefillin parchments are then checked at second time by experienced magiyi’im under the guidance of Rabbi Chakshur.

The main things a magiyah looks for is connected letters (“dibbuk“) and misformed letters (“lo k’tzurasa“). In the case of the former, usually it can be repaired simply by scraping away the extra ink with a knife, but in the case of misformed letters you have to scrap the parchiyos from that point onward, because everything must be written in order (“k’sidran“) and if a letter was misformed it’s considered as if it wasn’t there, so you can’t go back and fix it.

In other words, a few days of work can go down the drain over what appears to be a very slight error. Recently I was speaking with a friend of mine who writes mezuzahs. He had asked a rav to take a look at a problem the magiyah had called to his attention. The problem was that the top part of a reish extended ever so slightly off to the right, so that it started to resemble a dalet. The rav declared it pasul. On the spot my friend took out a pair of scissors and made a deep cut into the parchment to ensure it would not mistakenly wind up on someone’s doorstep. He sighed. “I put a lot of work into that mezuzah,” he said.
“Are the tefillin you sell endorsed by a rabbinical organization?”

Our tefillin are endorsed by Rabbi Shimon Elitov of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

“Who produces the battim for the tefillin gassot you sell?”

The current supplier of battim for the gassot tefillin is under the kashrut certification of HaRav Yaakov Meir Stern of the beit din of HaRav Shmuel Wosner of Bnei Brak.

“So who does the overall supervision of the tefillin, including the parchments, battim, painting, straps, giddim and assembly?”

Tefillin production and assembly is overseen by Rabbi Eliron Chakshur, a graduate of Yeshivat Oz Meir. He himself wrote mezuzah, tefillin and Torah parchments for years, and has vast experience overseeing the production of tefillin, mezuzahs and sifrei Torah. Over the years, Rabbi Chakshur has mastered various aspect of the craft of tefillin making  scoring, writing and proofreading the parchments, inserting the parchments, sewing and painting the battim, and tying on the straps. Rabbi Chakshur personally knows every sofer who writes tefillin parchments, and ensures tefillin buyers get top value for their money.

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Tefillin Dakkot vs. Tefillin Dakkot Ohr Echad

 Tefillin  Comments Off on Tefillin Dakkot vs. Tefillin Dakkot Ohr Echad
Apr 092013

A prospective tefillin buyer recently sent in the following question regarding the types of tefillin we sell:

I’m doing some research before I buy my set of tefillin, and I was wondering what the difference is between the dakkot ones and the dakkot ohr echad?

Physically, the Tefillin Dakkot are slightly larger than the Tefillin Dakkot Ohr Echad and the finishing work is slightly superior.

Tefillin Dakkot Ohr Echad

The Shel Rosh must be made of a single piece of leather ("ohr echad").

In terms of halacha, the Dakkot Ohr Echad are superior. According to halacha, the Shel Rosh must be made of a single piece of leather (“ohr echad“). Among the Rishonim and Achronim there are various opinions as to what that requirement means.

1) Some say even various pieces of leather glued together (known as “Tefillin Peshutim”) are considered ohr echad.

2) According to other opinions the primary part of the Shel Rosh, known as the bayit, must be ohr echad, and then attached to the tatura (the base) and the maabarta (the back part of the base where the strap passes through).

3) According to stricter opinions, all three parts of the Tefillin Shel Rosh must be ohr echad. Almost all Tefillin Gassot today are ohr echad according to this definition.

Tefillin Dakkot Ohr Echad are made like the regular Dakkot, and then a very thin piece of leather is placed around the entire Shel Rosh, which gives it the status of ohr echad according to the stricter opinions.

However, keep in mind that all Tefillin Dakkot are easily damaged and are very difficult to repair, therefore if you have the means it is generally recommended that you invest in a set of Tefillin Gassot, which are very durable, an asset that generally pays off over time.

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Bar Mitzvah Planning – Tallit & Tefillin

 Tallit, Tefillin  Comments Off on Bar Mitzvah Planning – Tallit & Tefillin
Apr 072013

If you’re starting to look for a bar mitzvah tallit and tefillin, hopefully you still have plenty of time until the bar mitzvah. From my experience there are two types of parents: the type who start looking for a tallit and tefillin two or three months before the bar mitzvah, and others who start looking two or three weeks ahead of the big day.

Choosing a Bar Mitzvah Tallit

If you’re looking for a traditional tallit, be sure it is made of wool tallit. Wool looks nicer, lasts longer and is the fabric of choice from a halachic standpoint. When comparing prices, be aware that the same tallit made of a synthetic material (typically acrylic) will cost at least 30% less. Most tallits are either all wool or all acrylic, but there are a few out there made of a wool/acrylic blend.

The more expensive type of wool tallit is made of a denser weave and may include special features such as wool corners and stain-resistant fabric. Many parents want a traditional-looking tallit, but want it personalized for their son. They may want to have a special atara (neckband) sewn on or have the bar mitzvah boy’s name embroidered on the tallit. Personally, I discourage name embroidery on the tallit, but certainly it’s very appropriate to have a name embroidered, in Hebrew or English, on a tallit bag. Expect to pay at least $1 per letter.

Thinking of buying a handwoven tallit? Although handwoven wool tallits are common, you will also come across cotton and silk. Gabrieli is the only tallit maker I know of that works with all three materials. Their wool and cotton look very similar, although the cotton is a bit thinner and smoother in texture. A handwoven silk tallit is not the sheer silk of a silk blouse, because thick silk yarns are used. Compared to wool and cotton, a handmade silk tallit is somewhat thinner, more details and has higher sheen.

Keep in mind that a handmade wool tallit can cost anywhere from $200 to $600 and up.

Tallit Color Options

As noted above, the age-old wool tallit is invariably white with black stripes. Some Sephardic Jews have a custom of opting for a white tallit with white stripes, which has a very elegant and distinguished look. Ivory and off-white handwoven tallits look traditional, yet unique and distinctive at the same time. White with blue stripes seems to be a popular choice among bar mitzvah tallit buyers, possibly because it is not too eccentric, yet adds a bit of color and flare.

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Bar Mitzvah Tefillin

Keep in mind that the halacha specifically states that one should spend more money on tefillin than on the tallit (Mishnah Berurah). Beware of bar mitzvah packages, which usually come with very poor quality tefillin that could easily be not kosher. In fact, often the tallit that comes with such package deals is also mediocre quality.

What is inside the boxes?
The box of the tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin) has four separated compartments, each with a specially prepared parchment or vellum (known as klaf) on which a different passage from the Torah is written? The tefillin shel yad (arm tefillin) has a single compartment containing a parchment with verses.

How are the Torah passages on the tefillin parchments written?
The texts must be written on properly prepared parchment or vellum called klaf. The style of the lettering varies among Jews of different backgrounds (e.g. Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Chabad), but the halachic requirements are almost identical.
The parchments placed inside a set of tefillin must be written by a trained sofer, or ritual scribe. A sofer should be stricty observant, have exemplary character and be knowledgeable about the laws of sofrut. After learning the halachic intricacies of sofrut the sofer-in-training generally does an apprenticeship (shimush) under an expert scribe. By the time a sofer writes his first set of tefillin he has typically spent 2-3 years learning his craft.

How much should a pair of kosher tefillin cost?
If you find tefillin for $200 beware!  For “bar mitzvah tefillin” or a first set of inexpensive tefillin, expect to pay at least $200 if you want to be certain they are really kosher. Inexpensive types of tefillin are referred to as tefillin peshutim, tefillin peshutim mehudarim and tefillin dakkot. Tefillin with very well-written parchments, well-crafted boxes, thick leather and quality straps generally cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000, and top quality tefillin with all the strictest halachic features and frills can run upwards of $1,200.

What are “tefillin peshutim?”
Tefillin peshutim employ a simple design. The head tefillin (“tefillin shel rosh“) is made using several pieces of parchment to form the inner walls and glued within a slit square to divide it into the four required compartments. The parchments are often written on klaf mashuach, which is much less durable.

What are “tefillin peshutim mehudarim?”
Tefillin peshutim mehudarim can be roughly translated as “superior simple design.” The boxes are made from a single piece of leather as required. When complete, tefillin peshutim mehudarim look almost identical to the more expensive cowhide type, but are less durable.

What are “tefillin dakkot?”
Dak” means thin in Hebrew. Tefillin dakkot are made by stretching a thin layer of parchment over a structural base similar to the peshutim. This outer parchment forms the entire box of the tefillin, which is halachically preferable. Because of its thin design the tefillin can become halachically invalid relatively easily. Today tefillin dakkot can be hard to find. But keep in mind that until 100 years ago all tefillin were tefillin dakkot.

What are “tefillin gassot?”
“Gas” means “coarse” or “thick.” Tefillin gassot are made entirely out of a single piece of thick leather, from the cheeks and the neck of the cow, where the hide is thickest. Working such thick leather into a finely finished product requires the repeated use of several tons of pressure in industrial presses as part of a complicated, but delicate production process. The resulting battim (boxes) are so durable and thick they typically last a lifetime.

What are bar mitzvah tefillin?
Some tefillin dealers refer to their least expensive type of tefillin as “bar mitzvah tefillin.” Typically they are tefillin peshutim (see above). About a month before the bar mitzvah (customs vary) the father or a rabbi or mentor teaches the young man how to lay tefillin correctly and with reverence.

What sizes do tefillin come in?
Standard tefillin boxes measure 31-36 mm. Very large tefillin boxes, typically worn by Lubavitcher chassidim, are 40 mm or more. The smallest size, often worn by Sephardim who wear both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam tefillin at the same time, are typically 22 mm and are actually more expensive than the standard size.

How are tefillin straps made?
The straps must also be made of leather from the skin of a kosher animal and be painted black on the upper side. The tefillin straps pass through a passageway at the back of the lower base (the ma’avarta) and are tied into special knots that form the letters dalet and yud.

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Dec 232012

Recently we had a customer who told me he weighs 200 pounds and that standard 32 mm tefillin boxes “look silly” on him.

“Let me take a guess,” I wrote to him by email, “were your previous set of tefillin – the ones that were stolen from your car last week – Chabad tefillin?”

It turned out I was right. How did I know? Because Chabad likes to do things in a big way. Just as their mezuzahs are enormous, the tefillin they wear are also jumbo size, 40 mm x 40 mm. And they are much more expensive.

However, that is not to say that bigger tefillin are invariably more expensive. Some people want tiny tefillin, as small as 20 mm (e.g. Sephardim who want to wear both Rashi and Rabbenu Tam simultaneously), which cost a small fortune, and it’s very challenging to write such small parchments properly.

Years ago there were some tefillin makers in Eretz Yisrael that made 35 mm battim, but today that is very rare in tefillin peshutim, tefillin peshutim mehudarim, tefillin dakkot and tefillin dakkot ohr echad. In fact, tefillin dakkot ohr echad are even a bit smaller, at around 31 mm. Even tefillin gassot are usually 32-34 mm, although you can find a 35 mm set here and there.

One dealer I’ve closely familiar with sells Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim in two sizes: 32 mm and 35 mm, but that size difference is generally not very significant.

Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic Tefillin: What’s the Difference?

 Tefillin  Comments Off on Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic Tefillin: What’s the Difference?
Oct 282012

If you are buying tefillin for the first time, or are buying tefillin for a bar mitzvah boy, some aspects of tefillin are probably a mystery to you. Some aspects remain a mystery to all of us – as indeed it was meant to be – but certainly basic consumer information for the prospective tefillin buyer should be readily available.

On common question is what are the differences between Sephardic tefillin and Ashkenazi tefillin. There are basically three distinctions: the Shin, the writing of the parchments and the way the Shel Yad straps are tied.

A difference the tefillin buyer will never see

Parchment being inserted into the Shel Yad

The first distinction – and the only one not visible to the eye – is the writing on the parchments. The writing style used by the sofer (ritual scribe) differs somewhat, depending on the custom. Most Ashkenazi use a writing style known as Beit Yosef, while Sephardic Jews use a writing style knows as Vellish.

The second difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic tefillin is the Shin, which is embossed on both sides of the Shel Rosh (the part worn on the top of the forehead). The form of the Shin differs somewhat, in accordance with various customs. On the Shel Rosh of Ashkenazi tefillin the Shin has three branches, and a pointy triangular base. In contrast, on the Shel Rosh of Sephardic tefillin the Shin has four branches and a more square base.

Finally, the way the strap on the Shel Yad is tied also differs, because Ashkenazim and Sephardim wrap the strap around the arm differently.

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Tefillin Found After Bulgaria Bombing

 Tefillin  Comments Off on Tefillin Found After Bulgaria Bombing
Jul 222012

A member of the ZAKA team that flew from Israel to Bulgaria following the bombing attack on a bus carrying Israeli tourists found an intact set of tefillin in the wreckage.

Tefillin at scene of bomb attack in Bulgaria

ZAKA photo

According to a report on Arutz Sheva, he was deeply moved when he came across the tefillin. “Reuven lifted [the tefillin] and kissed them… In painful situations like that, when you see unbearable things, to suddenly see something positive, that’s what breaks you,” he said. “It’s something that gives strength in the midst of tremendous pain.”

The delegation of ZAKA volunteers sent from Israel was tasked with identifying the remains of the Israeli victims, recovering the bodies and returning them to Israel for a proper burial. During the course of their work at Burgas Airport in Bulgaria they found a set of tefillin that was undamaged in the blast.

Shortly after midnight the ZAKA team to Bulgaria returned home to Israel with the bodies of the five Israelis killed by a suicide bomber at Burgas Airport.

The ZAKA rescue and recovery volunteers arrived late Thursday night at Ben-Gurion Airport, where a brief ceremony was held.