Rav Elyashiv: Tefillin Compartments Must Be Separated


rav-elyashiv2“All yirei Shomayim who are uncertain whether their tefillin [are constructed] in accordance with halacha, should have them checked to ensure [that the four head compartments] are separate and distinct,” wrote Maran Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv in a note appended to a letter by Rav Dovid Morgenstern in response to an inquiry by a US Jew who repairs and refurbishes tefillin. One year ago, an investigative report in the Hebrew-language Yated Ne’eman revealed that thousands of Jews unwittingly use tefillin rendered posul because the slits in the tefillin shel rosh are not constructed properly. According to the report, many tefillin factories make no real effort to uphold the clear halachic requirements of a visible separation between the compartments. They even cover up the faults in their work by making the tefillin look aesthetically pleasing with false slits, while disregarding the primary requirement of ensuring the tefillin are indeed kosher.According to a follow-up report, among the thousands of Jews who were alerted to the problem and had their tefillin checked, many found that their tefillin were not constructed properly. In Yerushalayim’s Bayit Vegan neighborhood alone, hundreds of pairs of tefillin owned by residents and yeshiva students were checked in the past year and nearly 30 percent were found to be invalid; and even larger number were found kosher only bedi’eved.

The reports have led to heightened awareness of the problem both in Israel and the US. In response to the inquiry sent by the abovementioned tefillin worker, Rav Morgenstern wrote: “I’ve been instructed by [HaRav Elyashiv] shlita to answer that the following points must be clarified: The slits between the shel rosh compartments should be visible from the outside, ideally all the way to the stitching (as the Tur relates in Siman 32) and at the least up to the head of the compartments (as the Shulchan Oruch relates, ibid., based on the ruling in the Gemara), meaning that the entire upper side and the top of the sides should have a visible slit. And if the slits are covered with paint, etc., and are not apparent externally, the slits are not considered distinct.

“When lines are etched into the paint or the leather [beyond] the part of the compartments that is actually separated, this does not improve the kashrus of the tefillin at all (and might mar the squareness-ribu’a).

“It makes no difference how close the false lines come to the actual slit. The actual separation between the compartments must be externally visible. Here, too, it makes no difference if the interior walls are separate and extend to the stitching, as explicated in the Mishnah Berurah, 32, 187. If the slits are covered with paint and separate lines are etched on the outside parallel to the separation between the compartments under the paint – but the separation itself is not visible from the outside – and the lines on the outside are just etched into the paint and do not reach the leather so that if all of the thickness of the paint is rubbed off the slit will not be visible at all, then it is considered to have no externally visible slit, as found in the Chayei Odom and the Mishnah Berurah 32, 188 regarding `tit veglantz.’ If the compartments were glued together at the top even with only a slight amount of glue, it does not help that the lower portion is not glued, even if that portion is the majority. Care should be taken not to adhere them together with the paint that penetrates between the compartments or on the outside.

“Since all of the above can be clarified and easily rectified by inserting a knife between the compartments and separating them from one another, it is a mitzvah to do so if one has any concerns.

“However, this should be done with the proper tool by someone experienced, to avoid ruining the compartments. And sofrim should be alerted to this matter because through a lack of attentiveness while painting, this cherished mitzvas aseih can easily be lost. And certainly tefillin production supervisors must oversee this matter so that buyers who are not thoroughly conversant with the details of this requirement and the practical aspects rely on them to supervise the process.”

Rav Eliashiv also appended a note to the letter reading, “Since according to the above, a minority of tefillin housings are not properly separated in an externally visible manner, any yirei Shomayim who is uncertain should have his tefillin checked to ensure they are distinct and separate.”

{Yechiel Sever-Deiah veDibur/Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel}