In part because the materials are fairly expensive, but primarily because production is labor intensive and requires a high degree of expertise, tefillin prices are high.
I’ll start with tefillin gassot, and then discuss options for budget tefillin below.
Tefillin are basically comprised of three parts, the boxes, the parchments and the straps.
The difference in cost between mediocre straps and very good straps is not so much.
Very basic, barely kosher parchments are around $100-$150. Top quality writing on good quality parchment can cost $400 or $500. You pay not only for a sofer who is graced with nice writing, but also for his reputation as a G-d fearing Jew, who adheres very carefully to halacha in writing the parchments, and keeps his body and mind pure while working on them.
With the battim (boxes), you are paying for good leather and fine craftsmanship. There are a lot of shortcuts to take in constructing the boxes. If you want tefillin that are going to last (15-20+ years), you won’t want to buy Tefillin Peshutim, Tefillin Peshutim Mehudarim or even Tefillin Dakkot. Only Tefillin Gassot, which are made of very sturdy leather.
Good boxes cost $200-$300 and great boxes can cost $500-$600 or more. Top-end boxes are made with various stringencies that were very uncommon until our generation. In other words, they are more kosher than the tefillin the Chafetz Chaim wore!
The bottom line is that you will want to budget $450-$750 for a pair of good quality tefillin gassot. Top-end tefillin gassot can cost $1,000-$1,500 or more.
If you are looking for budget tefillin, be aware that if the tefillin are used regularly, you probably won’t wind up saving money in the long run, because less expensive tefillin cannot be reshaped and will start to come apart after a few years of use.
For someone who wears tefillin daily, tefillin gassot are the way to go; unless you lay tefillin only occasionally, tefillin gassot are definitely worth the investment. And although $500 may sound like a lot of money at first, isn’t your spiritual life worth a relatively minor investment? Consider: Would you be willing to spend a similar amount on a sofa, a new computer, a vacation?
Take out a calculator and see how much a pair of tefillin will cost you over time. Let’s assume they last for 20 years. That’s about 6,000 tefillin-wearing days. If you spend $600 on a set of tefillin gassot, it’s costing you just $0.10 per day to connect to the Creator. That’s quite a deal if you ask me!
Inexpensive Tefillin Options
Despite the above, I realize some people simply are not in a position to lay out $500. For them, less expensive tefillin options are tefillin dakkot, tefillin peshutim mehudarim and tefillin peshutim (sometimes referred to as “bar mitzvah tefillin”), which range in price from $200 to $400.
If you are shopping in this price range, you should be extra careful to buy from a reliable dealer to insure the tefillin you are getting are really kosher.