By 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.