Distinguishing Between Parshiyot of Tefillin and Mezuza

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
In general, it is not permissible to produce a document using parchment and scribal tools that includes only a portion of the Torah. Doing so violates the principle that Torah cannot be rendered “megilla megilla;” rather, at a minimum, Torah texts must be written as an entire chumash of the five chumashim. However, in the case of tefillin and mezuza, the Torah specifically warrants the manufacture of fragments, and thus no prohibition applies. This shiur will explore differences between the sections included in tefillin and those included in mezuza based on various ideas that R. Soloveitchik developed.
 
Script of a sefer Torah must be accompanied by sirtut - carved out lines framing the actual text. The gemara in Menachot (32b) distinguishes between a mezuza, which requires sirtut like a sefer Torah, and parshiyot of tefillin, which do not. The gemara does not provide a reason for this distinction, and it appears as if the source is a Halakha Le-Moshe Mi-Sinai.
 
The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefillin Ve-mezuza 1:12) exempts tefillin from sirtut because the texts are covered (mechupin). Rav Soloveitchik presented three different manners of understanding this exemption of tefillin from sirtut based on the fact that the texts are “housed in the tefillin boxes.”
 
According to one approach, sirtut is only necessary when the writing conveys the ultimate status to the text, as it does for a sefer Torah and mezuza. Tefillin, in contrast, has an additional, unique level of kedusha, aside from that stemming from the texts that it contains. After all the boxes, straps, and sinews are not text, yet they possess kedushat tefillin. Evidently, tefillin possess two very different types of kedusha: the basic one, which stems from the actual text, similar to a mezua, and a “non-textual” kedusha of tefillin that it receives once the texts are inserted into the tefillin boxes. Since the text composition does not entail the final kedusha status, no sirtut is necessary. (See http://etzion.org.il/en/sirtut for a broader elaboration of sirtut.)
 
There are two additional discrepancies between tefillin texts and mezuza texts that may stem from this additional layer of kedusha that tefillin enjoys and mezuza does not. First, the Rambam rules that tefillin parchments must be crafted with lishma intent (cognitive intent to create tefillin parchment), whereas this is not necessary for mezuza parchments. Perhaps the extra intent necessary for tefillin parchment installs the added layer of kedusha. Since mezuza does not possess any additional kedusha beyond its basic text, it does not require ibud lishma, preparing the parchment with lishma intent.
 
Second, the tefillin and mezuza differ regarding which parchments may be used. Ideally, a sefer Torah is written on the inside of an animals’ hide, known as gvil. A mezuza is written on duchsustus, the outside of a hide that has been cleaved in half. Tefillin is written on the inner part of that sliced hide, known as klaf. This reflects the ideal of le-khatchila situation; be-dieved, in the absence of a split hide, a mezuza may be written on the complete hide or gvil (Shabbat 79). Tefillin, however, cannot be written on gvil, even in the absence of a split hide. This may further reflect the correspondence between mezuza and a sefer Torah. Each is purely a text; thus, a mezuza may resemble a sefer Torah and be written on gvil normally reserved for a sefer Torah. By contrast, tefillin will absorb an upgraded kedusha when inserted into its housing. It cannot be fashioned in a manner that evokes a sefer Torah, whose kedusha is complete at the textual level. Thus, tefillin cannot be fashioned upon gvil, because it would too closely resemble a sefer Torah.
 
A second reason for obviating the need for sirtut for tefillin and demanding it for mezuza may stem from the difference in the textual fragments themselves. Aside from the fact that tefillin will receive an upgraded kedusha, the textual fragments themselves may be defined differently. This difference can be discerned in the actual format of the texts. Sections in the Torah are separated by a space of at least nine empty letters. If this space occurs midline, in between texts on either end, the parasha is known as a setuma (closed). If the empty space occurs at the beginning or end of a line, the preceding parasha is known as petucha (open). How should the junctures between the two parshiyot of mezuza and the four parshiyot of tefillin be styled? Should the parshiyot be separated in a petucha/open fashion or a setuma/closed fashion?
 
The gemara debates the junctures of mezuza and rules that the two sections should be written in a setuma fashion. However, if they are written as petucha, the parshiyot are still valid. Although the gemara does not discuss the style of tefillin parshiyot, the Ramban (Hilkhot Tefilin Ve-mezuza 2:2) rules that the first three sections should be written as petucha, while the final one should be written as a setuma. In the instance of tefillin, the styles must be maintained; if the sections are written differently, the parshiyot are invalid.
 
Perhaps this indicates that the fragments of a mezuza are direct excerpts of the Torah and do not combine to form a new text/narrative. Hence, there is no autonomous stream or flow of the texts, and their junctures can be rendered in multiple ways. Since the parshiyot of Shema and Ve-Haya im Shamo’a are not adjacent in the Torah, there is no juncture style that must be absolutely maintained.
 
By contrast, tefillin contain not simply reproduced text, but excerpted texts that recombine in the tefillin housing to tell a tefillin-specific story. Proof that tefillin does not merely reproduce Biblical fragments but excerpts them as part of a new tefillin-based story can be seen in the debate between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam as to the sequence of the sections. Rabbeinu Tam departs from the Torah’s sequence by placing the section of Ve-Haya im Shamo’a immediately after the section of Ve-Haya ki Yeviacha, even though in the Torah the Ve-Haya im shamo’a section follows the section of Shema Yisrael. Evidently, the tefillin possess an inherent narrative that is served by the unique styling of the junctures. If the style of these junctures is altered, the story changes and the tefillin are pasul. Since mezuza is merely an excerpt of the Torah, it contains no independent story and its juncture style is not imperative.
 
In a similar vein, since the mezuza is merely a reproduction of a sefer Torah, it should contain sirtut in the very same manner that a sefer Torah does. By contrast, since tefillin are not merely reproductions of a sefer Torah, but rather contain excerpted text recombining into a new text, sirtut should not be included, since that would suggest reproduction of a sefer Torah.
 
A third manner of analyzing the sirtut difference between mezuza and tefillin stems from the difference in readability. Ideally, written Torah cannot be rendered in partial form, nor can the written word be read from a non-halakhic text. Originally, the only texts from which Written Torah could be read were actual sifrei Torah or other allowable forms of rendered which classifies as Torah She-Bikhtav. The gemara in Gittin (60b) records that these guidelines were ultimately blurred, and written text can be read from non-halakhically rendered texts (just as oral law can be committed to writing).
 
Without question, mezuza and tefillin may be produced even though they each contain mere fragments. Were it not for the special mitzvot, however, these respective texts would not be considered halakhically rendered Torah She-Bikhtav, and reading from them would be forbidden.
 
Having sanctioned these respective renderings, does the Torah render these texts that also allow reading (under the original condition in which written Torah could not be read from non-halakhically rendered texts)? Perhaps tefillin and mezuza differ in this respect. Since mezuza is not housed in anything, it is theoretically possible to read from its texts. The housing of a mezuza is not fundamental, but merely practical – to protect the quality of the parchment against weather and corrosion. By contrast, tefillin are housed (as the Rambam emphasizes), and this housing does not easily allow reading. Since mezuza is meant to be read, it requires sirtut to ensure legible writing that can then be read. In contrast, tefillin is not meant to be read (since it is housed), and no sirtut is necessary.
 
This final difference between tefillin parshiyot and mezuza parshiyot is reinforced by the manner in which the rolling and fastening of these parshiyot is described. The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefillin Ve-Mezuza 3:1) attributes the rolling and fastening of tefillin parshiyot as part of the overall Halakha Le-Moshe Mi-Sinai detailing the manufacture of tefillin parshiyot. By contrast, he describes the mezuza rolling process in purely pragmatic terms, geared towards protecting the scrolls themselves (ibid. 5:6).
 
Further indication that the rolling of mezuza scrolls is purely practical is the possibility of writing a mezuza on a stone, which is seriously debated by the gemara in Menachot (34a). Clearly, stones cannot be rolled; the very consideration to draft a mezuza text upon a stone proves that there is no inherent need to roll a mezuza; the rolling and fastening is simply a protective measure. Ideally, mezuza texts should be visible and should enable reading by passersby.
 
Tefillin is different. Its texts are meant to be rolled, as reading-enabling is not an inherent part of the mitzva. After all, these texts are inserted into housing that will prevent easy reading. Since tefillin are not meant to be read, no sirtut is necessary to enhance the text and facilitate reading. Mezuza, which is meant (theoretically) to be read, must include sirtut