Eidah Hachareidis and Bais Horaah of Lakewood Rule on Retzuos

Wednesday August 29, 2012 3:42 PM - 11 Comments

tefillinBy Rabbi Yair Hoffman

As a follow up to our article last week regarding tefillin straps, there have been three very important developments. These developments will, unfortunately, cause a bit of a panic in regard to the Retzuos market across the country and, indeed, internationally.

The first is that the Beis Din of the Eida Hachareidis in Yerushalayim did, in fact, meet this week and they ruled that the said Tefillin straps, if they have the potential of peeling and are of that type, are indeed Posul and are unfit for use. Anyone who purchased Tefillin within the past 16 months should ascertain whether they are of the peelable type with a Sofer or Rav familiar with this latest development. This was also the ruling of Rav Shlomo Miller, head of the Beis Din Shel Horaah of Lakewood, New Jersey, issued this week.

Last week, Dayan Roth of Karlsburg issued a ruling prohibiting as well. This ruling supercedes the letter issued to a Rabbi Oberlander earlier, according to Dayan Roth’s Av Beis Din. Rav Shmuel Fuerst of Chicago last week also issued a ruling forbidding it. Sofrim should be aware that Retzuos that came from “W” or “YK” from April of 2011 until July of 2012 are suspect.

It is interesting to note that Rav Bakshi Doron, the Sfardi Chief Rabbi of Haifa had issued a ruling prohibiting these very Retzuos in his responsa book.

The second development, perhaps even more significant than the first development, is that our lab results came back. The Five Towns Jewish Times had the leather samples tested at a laboratory. The leather samples that came from “W” that were tested are actually made from something called “leatherboard.” Leatherboard is for all essential purposes a type of recycled leather and is half of the price of regular skin. In a ruling issued on Wednesday morning by the chief Eidah Chareidis Posek on STAM, Rav Mordechai Friedlander to Rabbi Yair Hoffman, leatherboard is completely posul. “All of the Ibud (leather working) must be completely Lishma (done for the sake of Tefillin) and even if part of that process was not done Lishma - it is forbidden.” This is a very significant point.

The third development is that a number of other samples were also tested and found to be a form of laminate as well. These laminates may perhaps be halachically permitted due to the existence of a special chemical that causes the blackness to seep into the Retzuah itself. As a public service the Five Towns Jewish Times has been underwriting many of the costs associated with this ongoing investigation. Members of the Eida Chareidis agreed to meet with this author next week in Jerusalem to review both the lab results and samples.

The laboratory results do indicate that this was not a matter of error, but that there may even be a possibility of fraud involved in Retzuos manufacturing. In response to questions as to how these Retzuos could have had a Hechsher issued from one of the senior halachic personalities in Bnei Brak on it, an associate of the Rav involved explained, “This Rav’s position is that the hechsher is on the individual and not that he is overseeing the process. It is a position regarding Hechsherim that has fallen into question, of late.” Rabbi Avrohom Berkowitz of Five Towns Judaica explained, “The BaDatz of Yerushalayim will not take this position, they must ensure that they observe every step of the process.”

It is a very sad observation that there could be many thousands of people who have been wearing tefillin that were posul from the onset. As a reminder, perhaps, post facto, one may rely upon the opinion of the Aishel Avrohom (Orach Chaim, Siman 39) that it was not a Bracha Levatala nor a non-fulfillment of the mitzvah. Similarly, according to the Vilna Gaon in the Maaseh Rav, the Ibud of the retzuos does not need to be Lishma. Although we do not rule like this Vilna Gaon, and it is debatable whether he said it because it was in the Maaseh Rav, these two opinions may be a source of consolation.

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

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11 Responses to “Eidah Hachareidis and Bais Horaah of Lakewood Rule on Retzuos”

1. Comment from Reuven
Time August 29, 2012 at 4:36 PM

Don’t understand. During the times of Tenaach, there must have been Hundreds of Thousands of pairs of Tefillin all over Eretz Yisroel (800 Years). No-where, not even one Posuk, do we see a mention of a Posula Tefillin.
We don’t see any story about a Posulla Mezuza or Sefer Torah or Tzitzus either, but maybe they just didn’t check?
I dont know used to write Gitten in those times.

2. Comment from Anonymus
Time August 29, 2012 at 5:43 PM

Reuven, Is this the only thing you don’t understand? There is alot we don’t understand, but we must rely on our Mesora & Chachamim (Rishonim & Achronim, including the Shulchan Aruch, to determine the Din.

3. Comment from Anonymous
Time August 29, 2012 at 5:48 PM

There is a Chusheve Talmid Chochum in Lakewood who is an expert in Gitten his name is Rav Yisroel Aryeh Knupfler

4. Comment from Uncle George.
Time August 29, 2012 at 5:55 PM

What does the Rav mean that the ” Hescher is on the person, not on the product”.
Many of the Tfillen that the Zaydes buy in Israel are problematic.. Shop at your local Sofer. It would be good to know the name of the Rav HAmacher, so we can avoid his products.

5. Comment from Volvy
Time August 29, 2012 at 6:15 PM

To #1

You could ask, who did Geirus, any story of Kidushin Nisiyun in the times of Tenaach. Any episode of counting Sefirah, Pidyon Habchor, Tkiyas Shofar on RH, Fasting on Yom Kippur, Kiddush Hachodesh, Learning Torah, Reading Parshas Amalek Btzibbur, making Kiddush on Shabos.
Our Yeshivos must teach more Tenaach.

6. Comment from josh
Time August 29, 2012 at 7:16 PM

When did the problem start and what should I look for in my tefillin straps

7. Comment from letter
Time August 29, 2012 at 7:53 PM

there will be a letter signed by harav shlomo Miller and harav forsheimer stating that one should have his retzuas tested
a letter from harav freidlander written yesterday will also be hung up

8. Comment from Maier A
Time August 29, 2012 at 7:58 PM

#1 Reuven,
The Tanach is not a Halacha sefer. We may refer to different pasukim to bring out Halacha, or how ‘things were done’ those days. But Nach is pretty much Torah Ba’al Peh. See the Sefer ‘Bais Elokim’ from the Mahabi”t that speaks at length on this topic.

A story that happened about 40 years ago might shed some light on your dilemma.

A certain sofer in Yerushalayim, CK, after checking many tfilin, realized that there was a major problem with the kashrus status of many batim - mostly the shel rosh. In the manufacturing stage, when the leather was pressed, it seemed to leave some empty spaces (sort of like air pockets). So a certain ‘batim macher’ found a solution by filling it in with (kosher) glue. After a nice painting no one was the wiser.
This sofer thought that it was a ‘chisoren’ in the din that the batim must be perfectly square.
Pretty much the same Rabbinik chilukie daos came out at that time. Don’t forget no Rav wanted to pasul thousands of tfilin in a single pen stroke. What about all the people that used such tfilin all those years? Eventually everyone pasuled the batin lichatchila.
At the time I asked a leading sofer how a major batim macher can make such a major halachik mistake. His answer was: years ago people in the Sta”m field were tremendous Talmiday Chachamim. Then as the business was passed from father to son to great grandson … The halachik end was sort of shortened, but manufacturing went on.
After checking out his theory at length, I was convinced.

9. Comment from Newt
Time August 29, 2012 at 10:19 PM

What is this business about maybe the vilna Goan did not say it, because “it was in the Maaseh Rav”? Tha Maasah Rav is extremelly reliable as Rav chaim Volozin attests to in the preface, and in fact the /Mishnah Berura quotes him quite a number of times!

10. Comment from Clarifier
Time August 30, 2012 at 5:49 AM

To #7: I just googled retzuos tester and found 29 in my area. Really, where do we go to get them tested!? Should we also test them for Indian hair content at same time?

11. Comment from www.stam.net
Time September 7, 2012 at 8:57 AM

Regarding comment #4.
Shopping at your local sofer has no bearing on the matter. This renown posek, who gives a hechsher on many of the batim and avodas yad retzuos, are sold worldwide, even by your local sofrim. There are a limited amount of batim made under hechsher from other machshirim and there are avodas yad retzuos available under the Edah Hacharedis and Rav Landau, who provide a more thorough supervision. Consult your sofer for more information about each option and get guidance from your rav as to what you should purchase.

Regarding comment #6
The problem may have started around 18 months ago. I spoke to the maker and he isn’t certain when and why it happened. He is working to prevent it in future. The psak of the Edah/Rav Friedlander among others is that the retzuos need to be checked to see if they are the type that peel. This is done, preferably by a sofer, by trying to lift the edge of the paint with a knife and to see if it can be peeled off like a strip of tape. If yes, the reztuos are and were pasul and if not, they are fine. Note that the Karlsburger Rav paskens that until they peel they are kosher bedieved. Rav Moshe Shaul Klein also paskens that they are kosher (possibly lechatchila) until they peel.

Note:
1)The black through and through reztuos are not a problem since even if they’d peel, they remain black underneath.

2) Do not confuse this with a small area of peeling paint on the retzuah. Firstly, there usually remains a thin layer of paint so it would still be black. Even if paint wouldn’t remain, this is usually caused by wear and build up of oils and sweat into the leather. In such a case, if the small area totally peeled, leaving no paint, the spot would need to be reblackened and no more.

As an aside, only handmade retzuos are made under hechsher. Furthermore, many consider machine made retzuos to be bedieved. Hence, it is worthwhile to choose retzuos avodas yad.

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