The Jerusalem Scribe - Tefillin
are phylacteries, the leather boxes which Jewish men from the age of 13 bind with leather straps onto their left arm (unless they are left-handed, in which case they bind it onto their right arm) and on the crest of their foreheads during the morning prayers. They contain parchments on which are written the four sections of the Torah in which they are mentioned: "And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand and for a remembrance between your eyes" (Exodus XIII/9, and with slight variations in Exodus XIII/16, Deutoronomy VI/8 and XI/18).
The Biblical texts must be written by hand, in order, on parchment from a kosher animal. Tefillin for the head contain the four Biblical passages written on four different pieces of parchment and placed in four separate compartments; in tefillin for the arm all four passages are written consecutively on a single parchment and inserted into a single box. These parchments are known as parashot.
Three basic Hebrew SCRIPTS are used today:
The Beit Yoseph and Ari scripts are similar, differing only in the form of 5 or 6 letters. Vellish is generally a more rounded hand than the Ashkenazi scripts, and it can be written more quickly. Actually there is some variation also within these three scripts, such that various Sephardi communities write Vellish script differently in characteristic ways and the Lubovitch Chassidim have their own variant of the Ari script.
- Beit Yoseph is the script generally used by Ashkenazi Jews;
- Ari is the script generally used by Jews of Chassidic descent or influence;
- Vellish is the script generally used by Sephardi Jews.
The boxes of the tefillin (known as BATIM, "containers" for the written parchments) must be square. They vary in quality, in the way they are made, and in their halakhic desirability. On the market today there are four types:
- Peshutim ("Simple Ones") -- These are made using several pieces of parchment to form the inner walls of the head tefillin, glued within a slit square to divide it into the four required compartments. If the inserts are glued incorrectly--a common problem, unfortunately--then these batim are not kosher for use. Furthermore, the parchments inside commercially bought peshutim are generally of very poor quality, and often not kosher for use. BUYER BEWARE!!!!
- Peshutim Mehuddarim ("Superior Simple Ones") -- Using Jewish origami, these overcome the problem of Peshutim, and make the box of the tefillin out of a single piece as required. They are typically made with 32 mm sides to the boxes. These are the simplest and least expensive tefillin batim which The Jerusalem Scribe usually supplies.
- Dakkot ("Thin Ones") -- These 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, including the inner as well as the outer walls and also the base, which is halakhically desirable. Its extreme thinness, though, means that the tefillin can become halakhically invalid relatively easily if knocked or through normal wear and tear.
- Gassot ("Thick Ones") -- As their name implies, these are made entirely out of a single piece of thick leather (usually with inserts to ensure they close flat). This requires the repeated use of several tons of pressure in industrial presses as part of a complicated but delicate production plan. The resulting batim are so durable and thick that they can be renewed even if seriously damaged and they typically last a lifetime. Gassot are made with boxes varying in size from about 20 mm per side to over 40 mm, though sides of 31-36 mm are considered standard.
Almost all the tefillin written today are produced in Israel. Even the scribes working in the Diaspora generally import their merchandise from Israel.
According to the halakha (Jewish law), hundreds of laws govern every detail about the making of tefillin, including the most minute details of the materials and the writing. Due to the meticulous requirements, it is very easy for something to go wrong during the production of tefillin, sometimes in ways which cannot be seen at all afterwards. This is one of the reasons it is imperative to purchase tefillin only from an honest, authorized, reputable scribe.
Jewish law does not require checking tefillin which are in regular daily use unless some mishap befalls them, such as exposure to water or excessive sun. Nonetheless, it is customary that they be examined from time to time to ensure that they are kosher (some check yearly, some twice in seven years--like mezuzot, some less frequently). Our recommendations depend on the quality and kind of tefillin which you have. Tefillin which are not being used must be checked like mezuzot, twice in seven years.
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