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Notes on T’fillin

July 20, 2015

Dear ****,

I just wanted to point put some other things regarding t’fillin-related issues:
1. Rabbi Yehuda (Mo’ed Qatan, 19a) describes how one can obtain t’fillin for Hol Hamoed: the scribe pulls a trick by writing the t’fillin for himself, and then selling them to the guy who lacks t’fillin. Although professionally writing t’fillin would be included in the prohibition against m’lacha on Hol Hamo’ed, because t’fillin are necessary for the festival, it was allowed. In our day and age, what does someone without t’fillin do during the rest of the year? He borrows someone else’s t’fillin. The lender only needs his t’fillin, for what? An hour or so? If he prays at the first minyan, there’s still plenty of time for the borrower to also get in a good hour of t’fillin wearing at the second minyan. So why did the sages give such a sweeping permit to write new t’fillin on Hol Hamo’ed? Couldn’t they just allow the fellow to borrow t’fillin for the time he is praying? Rather, not only does this Gemara show that they used to wear t’fillin on Hol Hamo’ed, as per the opinion of many Rishonim and as per history, they also wore their t’fillin for as much of the day as possible, even on Hol Hamo’ed. The practice of t’fillin wearers’ removing their t’fillin after the amida is, historically speaking, very new and also illogical.

2. The Vilna Goan not only wore t’fillin all day long, he believed that it was proper for all Jews to do so as well. At the beginning of the Maaseh Rav (18), we read about how he permitted wearing t’fillin during what we would consider mundane activities, and that if someone was worried that others would think him arrogant for performing the commandment, he could suffice with just wearing his arm t’fillin, or making for himself some head t’fillin small enough to wear under his hat.

3. I believe that the reason the Jewish people elevated the style of wearing skullcaps to the level of constant obligation is because of the lack of t’fillin. In the olden days, t’fillin were as ubiquitous as yarmulkas are now. The yarmulka is the universal mark of an observant Jew, and that is what t’fillin used to be and were actually intended to be. When we painted ourselves into a halachic corner that prevents us from wearing our t’fillin as the Torah envisioned, the holy spark within, the one that seeks to perform commandments, created a replacement. This is similar to the inner urge to offer animal sacrifice that begat the mistaken ritual of kapparois given the millennia-long lack of the true sacrificial service.
4. We saw the Gemara’s advice (BT Eruvin 95a-b, MT Sabbath, 19:23) about how to bring found t’fillin back into the private domain from the public domain on the Sabbath. Instead of carrying them, which would be forbidden, one can wear a pair in the normal manner and then walk back into the private domain. He takes them off there, and then goes back out to the public domain to don another pair of t’fillin, and he can do this many times. Rabban Gamliel suggested wearing two pairs at a time, i.e., that he should wear two head t’fillin and two arm t’fillin for each trip, but his opinion was rejected. This teaches us that according to the sages, wearing two pairs of t’fillin simultaneously would not be considered the normal way of wearing t’fillin. However, you are also aware that there are two major types of t’fillin, “Rashi” and “Rabbeinu Tam,” and that the Rosh, Tur, and Shulhan Aruch (Orah Hayim 34), all recommend wearing both types in order to satisfy both opinions, and ideally this should be simultaneously. However, many others felt that this should not be done for one major reason: the halacha is actually like Rashi, and Rabbeinu Tam t’fillin are invalid. This is how Maimonides and the Vilna Gaon ruled, and is traditional Ashkenazi practice. Further, as we have seen, one would not even be “playing it safe” if he were to wear two pairs simultaneously, as that is not the way to perform the commandment. Further, although the Rosh brings R’ Shmuel B’ Yitzhak’s statement that there is enough room on the head for two t’fillin and the sages’ reasoning that the arm could similarly fit two t’fillin, that statement was brought to explain Rabban Gamliel’s (rejected) opinion, and on its own is not an endorsement of wearing two t’fillin simultaneously, but merely explains how large an area is available for placing the head t’fillin. Compare this with the other context where the statement is mentioned, Avoda Zara 44. There the Gemara explains how although the Davidic crown occupied a large portion of the wearer’s head, it still allowed enough space for the t’fillin, because the available place for the t’fillin is quite large, from the original hairline until the center of the skull. Had the sages believed that wearing two pairs of t’fillin simultaneously was a valid manner of performing the commandment, analogous to the way we often wear both a tallith qatan and tallith gadol during prayers, then they would have accepted Rabban Gamliel’s suggestion without an argument.

5. The Vilna Gaon (Maaseh Rav 20) himself felt that one should wear his head t’filin as high as possible. I figure this achieved two purposes: repudiating the heretical idea that the t’fillin should literally rest “between the eyes,” and to give the commandment greater prominence.

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