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Tefillin FAQ

How much should a pair of kosher tefillin cost?
If you want durable tefillin with very well-written parchments, well-crafted boxes, thick leather and quality straps, expect to pay around $500 to $700. (This is not so expensive if you consider that they can be used some 300 days a year for several decades.) Top quality tefillin with all the strictest halachic features and frills can run upwards of $1,000. Inexpensive types of tefillin are referred to as tefillin dakkot, tefillin peshutim mehudarim and tefillin peshutim. They range in price from under $200 to around $400.

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. Since it is unclear whether this can be viewed as a single piece, you have to rely on halachic leniencies to considered kosher. Generally tefillin peshutim should only be purchased when there is no alternative.

What are tefillin peshutim mehudarim?
Tefillin peshutim mehudarim can be roughly translated as “superior simple design.” The boxes are made of a single piece of leather as required. When finished, 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 more readily than tefillin gassot.

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 is the difference between the different levels of Tefillin Gassot shown?
The boxes and straps are the same. The difference is the level of hiddur of the parchments, i.e. the beauty of the writing. Some sofrim were graced with more attractive writing than others, and their work commands a higher price.

What are Tefillin Gassot Prudot?
The Shel Rosh must be divided into four compartments. Most tefillin gassot are rov prudot, which means they are separate most of the way down, but some glue is applied toward the bottom to help the tefillin keep their shape over time. Tefillin Prudot are completely separated, to meet the stricter opinions. However, note that in some cases they do not retain their shape and have to be reshaped after a few years. Standard tefillin gassot and prudot look almost identical on the outside.

What are Miksheh Tefillin?
Miksheh Tefillin really means as follows: Tefillin have to be formed out of a single piece of hide ("ohr echad"). This is then folded in half with the box on the top portion and the base ("titura") on the bottom portion. The bridge where the strap goes through ("maabarta") is the point where the hide is folded. Since a tunnel for the strap to pass through has to be left in the maabarta, the top and bottom need a spacer in between to keep the tefillin properly aligned. This spacer is sometimes referred to as a "fitum."

Sometimes you can get leather from a very young, meaty - rather than fatty - cow, though this type of hide is somewhat of a rarity.  But when this type of hide can be obtained. The thickness of the hide allows the tefillin maker to fold it without leaving a gap, and therefore there is no need for a spacer. Most poskim rule that this stringency is superfluous, but in recent years it has come into demand.

There is another halachic stringency, sometimes referred to as "ribua regel," which is required by a number of poskim. Tefillin ribua regel are formed with a cutting tool operated by leg power, rather than electricity. Sometimes tefillin ribua regel are referred to as Miksheh B, which is not such an apt name.

What are bar mitzvah tefillin?
Some tefillin sellers refer to their least expensive type of tefillin as “bar mitzvah tefillin.” Typically they are tefillin peshutim or tefillin peshutim mehudarim (see above). About a month before the bar mitzvah (though 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 Chabad chassidim, are 40 mm. The smallest size, often worn by Sephardim who wear both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam tefillin at the same time, are typically 20-22 mm and are actually more expensive than the standard size.

How are the verses on the tefillin parchment written?
The texts must be written on properly prepared parchment or vellum known as 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 inside a set of tefillin must be written by a qualified sofer, or ritual scribe. A sofer should be religiously 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 the trade.

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.

Why should I buy tefillin online from Israel, when I can easily purchase a set of tefillin at my local synagogue gift shop or Judaica store?

  • Chances are your local Judaica store does not have real expertise and know-how to sell tefillin. Even if they claim to, the reliability of that claim may be questionable.
  • You get good value for your money because the main cost in producing kosher tefillin is labor, and Israeli labor is less expensive than what you may find locally.
  • Many of the sofrim (scribes) in the Land of Israel live in surroundings imbued with piety and holiness. After all, the whole point of laying tefillin is to sanctify your mind and heart, so it doesn’t pay to take chances with the sofer who wrote the parchments.
  • Israel’s international shipping rates are very low.
  • Your tefillin purchase helps support the Israeli economy and Torah scholars.

 

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