For the week ending 13 June 2009 / 20 Sivan 5769

Tefillin Filling

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
Library Library Library

From: Zach

Dear Rabbi,

Would you please clarify something for me about tefillin? Are there different pairs of tefillin? The reason I’m asking is that I see people take off tefillin in the middle of shacharit and then put on another pair. Or sometimes they put on another pair after shacharit. Sometimes I actually see people wearing tefillin during mincha. Is this yet a third pair? As far as I know there’s only one type of tefillin. Thanks for your insights.

Dear Zach,

I see you are a very observant Jew.

The answer is yes, there are different types of tefillin. The difference has to do with the order of the Torah portions written on the parchments inside the tefillin.

Four different paragraphs from the Torah are written on one parchment in the compartment of the hand tefillin and on four separate parchments in each of the four separate compartments of the head tefillin.

The order of these passages as they occur in the Torah is: 1] "Kadesh Li" (Ex. 13:1-10), 2] "v'Hayah Ki Yevi'acha" (Ex. 13:11-16), 3] "Shema" (Deut. 6:4-9), and 4] "v'Hayah Im Shamo'a" (Deut. 11:13-21).

The difference of opinions regarding the order of the paragraphs in the tefillin is based on an uncertainty in the Talmud (Menachot 34b,35a) which states that paragraphs 1 and 2 are on one side of the tefillin and paragraphs 3 and 4 are on the other.

Rashi understands this to mean that the paragraphs are to placed in order from left to right of the one wearing the tefillin: 1 and 2 on the left followed by 3 and 4 to the right, so that from the wearer’s left the order is 1,2,3,4 (you can picture them on your head and arm as they appear in the text).

Rabbeinu Tam understands that since the Talmud discusses the passages in groups of two, 1 and 2 are to be placed on the left (from left to right, as Rashi) but 3 and 4 are to placed on the right, from right to left. From the wearer’s left the order is 1,2,4,3.

If Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam are of the opinion that the portions are ordered from left to right of the wearer, two other authorities understand from the Talmud that the portions are ordered from right to left of the wearer. Their order is therefore the reverse of the former opinions. From right to left of the wearer, Shimusha Raba asserts that the order is 1,2,3,4 (the reverse of Rashi since from left to right the order would be 4,3,2,1) and Ra’vad holds that the order is 1,2,4,3 (the reverse of R.T. since from left to right it would be 3,4,2,1).

The halacha accepts Rashi’s opinion as correct and everyone uses “Rashi” tefillin to fulfill the mitzvah. However, the halacha also states that a pious person who is meticulous in mitzvah observance should also wear tefillin according to Rabbeinu Tam (O.Ch. 34:1). This explains why you see some people either changing tefillin in the middle of shacharit (usually after completing their silent amida and before the chazan’s repetition) or putting on the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin after the prayers are over (in order to avoid distracting themselves and others from the prayers). A few such individuals actually wear both pairs simultaneously for the whole service, inconspicuously placing the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin under their tallit or kippa.

Regarding your seeing people wearing tefillin during mincha, there are several possible explanations: 1] They may have missed shacharit or wearing Rashi tefillin for whatever reason, so they endeavor to fulfill that day’s mitzvah of tefillin at least during the mincha prayer rather than at some other time of the day. 2] Since technically speaking the mitzvah of tefillin is to wear them all day long, even though this is not done, some choose to wear Rashi tefillin at least during mincha in addition to shacharit. 3] According to the kabbalists, in addition to using Rashi and R.T. tefillin in shacharit, one should use Shimusha Raba tefillin in mincha.

Since Shimusha Raba tefillin are quite uncommon, most people use only Rashi or both Rashi and R.T. Lest you wonder why these opinions are practiced while Shimusha Raba is hardly used and Ra’avad is never used, the answer is “reverse logic”. How so? Since tefillin worn backward (meaning the front side is reversed toward the back) does not disqualify the mitzvah (O.Ch.,M.B. 27:12), wearing Rashi or R.T. is like reversing Shimusha Raba or Ra’avad tefillin respectively. In this way, each pair of either Rashi or R.T. worn the right way simultaneously fulfills the corresponding opinion in the de facto, reversed way. Thus, all four opinions can be fulfilled with only two pair.

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