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.
But 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.