Simanim 26-27:5 If One Has Only Half a Pair of Tefillin

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #15:Simanim 26 - 27:5


Pages 70 - 73


by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon






The mishna in Menachot 38a reads:


"The [absence of the] tefilla of the hand does not hinder the [fulfillment of the mitzva of the] tefilla of the head, and the [absence of the] tefilla of the head does not hinder the [fulfillment of the mitzva of the] tefilla of the hand."


The gemara (44a) explicates the matter:


"Said R. Chisda, 'This [i.e., the statement that one does not hinder the other] was taught only in a case where one has [both the shel yad and the shel rosh, though he only puts on one of them], but if he does not have [more than one], then each does hinder [i.e., he does not fulfill any mitzva at all]' . . . What is his reasoning?  It is a decree lest one transgress [by purposely refraining to purchase the other part of the tefillin]."


            The ruling of the Rambam (Hilkhot Tefillin 4:1-4) and the Rosh, and indeed the accepted halakha, states that one should put on whatever part he has, regardless of whether he owns both or only one.


            If one only has the shel rosh, the berakha to be said is dependent on the debate between the Shulchan Arukh and the Rema in se'if 2.


            If one only has the shel yad, even the Rema would agree that he should recite "le-hani'ach" (in accordance with the position of the Rambam, but unlike the Sefer Ha-teruma et al who believe that both berakhot should be said).








            The Shulchan Arukh instructs, "Shel yad [should be placed] on the left arm."  This ruling is based on a series of limmudim (midrashic derivations) which are located in Menachot 36b-37a and can be found in an abbreviated version in M.B. 27:1, where you will also find what to do if tefillin are mistakenly placed on the right arm.


            The Shulchan Arukh further specifies, "on the part of the limb which protrudes."  This too is based on Menachot 37a:  "The House of Menashe taught: 'On your hand' (Devarim 6:8) - this is the kibboret."  A kibboret, according to Tosafot, is a bundle of flesh, or in other words, the protruding part of the arm (Rambam, Hilkhot Tefillin 4:2).


            Where is this kibboret located?  Tosafot in Menachot 37a (s.v. Kibboret in the name of "yesh omrim," and others) assert that it is found between the palm and the elbow.  However, Rabbeinu Tam (in the aforementioned Tosafot), the Rosh, and the Rambam say that it is between the armpit and the elbow, and thus rules the Shulchan Arukh:  "between the kovdo (elbow) and the armpit."


            As explanation for the fact that tefillin lie above the elbow, the Acharonim (the Levush and the Taz) cite the gemara in Menachot 37b,  "'And it will be for you a sign upon your arm' (Shemot 13:9) - a sign for you but not for others" - meaning that the sign should be in a place that is not revealed to others, while below the elbow is certainly a visible place.





            The Shimusha Rabba (which is also cited in the Kolbo) and the Hagahot on the Smak (153) both aver that this is not the case.  Only the lower part of the bulge (closer to the elbow) is the proper place for tefillin, they say.  The upper part (closer to the shoulder) is not.  So too ruled the Rema:  "And it must be at the end of the limb which is adjacent to the elbow, but not the half which is adjacent to the armpit."  The Shulchan Arukh says this as well, in se'if 7 (see also the Shulchan Arukh Ha-rav 27:2, where he explains that the reason behind this is so that the tefillin will be opposite the heart).


            The Gra (Biur Ha-gra 27:1) disagrees, believing that any part of the protuberance is valid for tefillin, pointing to the fact that the gemara in Menachot simply said "kibboret" - i.e., the whole kibboret.  This opinion is expounded in the Biur Halakha s.v. Be-rosh ha-etzem.


            In practice, one must ideally put his tefillin on the lower half of the protruding part of his upper arm;  if this presents a problem (e.g., if he has a wound there, or if his tefillin are large) he may rely upon the Gra's opinion and place them on the upper part (M.B. end of 27:4, 27:9, and Arukh Ha-shulchan end of 27:4).


            One must take care not to place his tefillin below the bulge;  not even a portion of them may extend downwards (Biur Halakha s.v. Be-vasar ha-tafu'ach).  There are many who fail to fulfill this properly! 


NOTE:  The area in question begins about two etzba'ot (fingers or thumb-breadths, with an etzba equalling two cm according to R. Chaim Na'eh and 2.4 cm according to the Chazon Ish) above the elbow.  This should be measured off on the arm for future reference.





Menachot 37b:


            "R. Chiya and R. Acha the brother of R. Avya would direct their tefillin in the direction of their hearts." 


            Accordingly, one must point his tefillin slightly inwards toward the body, so that when his arm is hanging down at his side, the tefillin will be pointing toward his heart, as it is written in Devarim 6:6, "on your heart" (Rambam and Shulchan Arukh).





The following are some important definitions:


Ketzitza - the box of the tefillin itself.


Titura - the wider base underneath the ketzitza.


Ma'avarta - the hollow part of the base through which the strap passes.


Kefel ha-retzu'a - the loop of the strap, through which the rest of the strap passes as it is pulled in order to be tightened on the arm.




side                         |                  |

view                        |                  |

of                            |     ketzitza     |

tefillin          |                  |

                               |                  |


                        |                             |

ma'avarta->| XXX         titura          |

                        | XXX                         |



(x's are the hollow part for the strap to pass through)





Menachot 35b:


            "Said R. Yehuda: The knot of the tefillin must be above, [symbolizing] that Israel will be above and not below.  And it must be facing inward [penim], that Israel will be            ahead [le-fanim] and not behind."


            The Ittur in the name of R. Hai Gaon, the Rosh (siman 12) in the name of R. Amram Gaon, and the Nimukei Yosef all interpret this gemara to mean that the kesher shel yud (the yud-shaped knot) of the tefillin shel yad must be pointing inward toward the heart and not out (unlike the opinion of th Ba'al Ha-ma'or, s.v. Le-ma'ala velo le-mata, that the kesher shel yud should point outward), and that the knot must be close to the tefillin, since if it is far, it will slip downward.


            The Shulchan Arukh writes regarding this matter, "The PROPER MINHAG is that the yud of the tefillin shel yad should be on the side of the heart."  In light of the interpretation assigned by the Ge'onim et al to the gemara, would you phrase this somewhat differently?  Indeed, so would the Gra (in Biur Ha-gra; cited in M.B. 27:7).





According to the above-mentioned explanation of the Ge'onim, the kesher shel yud must be close to the bayit (le-ma'ala velo le-mata).  The Shulchan Arukh writes, "One should beware lest the yud of the knot move away from the tefilla," and the Gra comments (as above) that this halakha finds its source in the gemara (brought in the Biur Halakha s.v. Yesh).


            This halakha is mentioned explicitly in the Zohar:


"The yud must not move away from the tefillin shel yad at all, so that there not be a separation ... for he who does distance it from the tefillin will himself be distanced from the heavenly pleasure ... "





The Teshurat Shai (2nd ed., responsum 93) writes that the yud must indeed be close to the ketzitza, and so rules M.B. 27:11 (unlike the Avnei Nezer who says that it is sufficient for it to be close only to the ma'avarta).  We therefore make a furrow in the ma'avarta in order that the yud be adjacent to the ketzitza as well.  According to the Teshurat Shai, the Mor U-ketzia (27), and M.B. 27:10, the yud must be adjacent to the bayit even when not worn.





There are two minhagim regarding the placement of the kefel ha-retzu'a (the loop the strap is pulled through for tightening).


Minhag A:  The kefel ha-retzu'a also faces the heart (inward toward the body).  This means that the kefel ha-retzu'a is to the right of the yud.  Consequently, the winding around the arm goes inward.


Minhag B:  The kefel ha-retzu'a goes on the other side of the tefillin - through the ma'avarta, and the strap through it.  The winding around the arm goes outward.


            The Rishonim appear to be divided between these two minhagim;  see the Biur Halakha s.v. Ha-minhag nachon she-yihei.  The Shulchan Arukh appears to choose minhag B (see the Biur Halakha there), while the Darkhei Moshe prefers minhag A.


Note to minhag A:  Since according to this minhag, the kefel ha-retzu'a must also be adjacent to the bayit, one must make the loop narrow, no wider than the strap which passes through it (Biur Halakha there; and it seems to me that people are lax about this).





In minhag B, the yud automatically stays close to the bayit (which according to the Biur Halakha is a plus for this minhag, despite the fact that he advocates the other).  In minhag A, the yud must be fastened to the bayit. This may be accomplished in one of two ways: (1) by means of a sinew binding the yud to the bayit, though one must be sure that the sinew does not pass under the bayit (so that there is no separation between the bayit and the arm) but rather through the ma'avarta or over it, or (2) by inserting a bit of klaf (halakhically acceptable parchment) into the hole of the ma'avarta, so that the strap cannot move (Beit Barukh 13:74).


            What if a person who follows minhag A (i.e., an Ashkenazi) borrows tefillin from one who follows minhag B (a Sephardi)?  These tefillin are hard to wind inward (as is usually done in minhag A).  Should he force them to do so against their natural inclination? (Base your answer on the reason behind the variation of the minhagim.)





The Terumat Ha-deshen (siman 49) mentions two minhagim in this matter.  The minhag of "bnei Haryanus" is to have the ma'avarta facing up, toward the shoulder, with  the ketzitza closer to the hand.  The minhag of "bnei Ostreich" is the opposite - the ma'avarta down and the ketzitza up.  The Terumat Ha-deshen finds both these minhagim equally acceptable.  However, the Beit Yosef writes that the first is the one that is generally practiced, and in the Shulchan Arukh he decrees, "The proper minhag is to fix the ma'avarta ... facing the shoulder and the ketzitza facing the hand."





There are three options, with difficulties inherent in each one.


(1) He can put them on the way he normally does, but if so, the yud will be pointing outward (see above, se'if 2).


(2) He can put them on upside down - i.e., with the ma'avarta facing his shoulder and the tefilla facing his hand.  However, the Shulchan Arukh in se'if 3 ruled that the ma'avarta should face down.


(3) He can take out the strap and replace it through the other side, so that the yud will come out in the right place.  Unfortunately, the yud is now not pointing toward the bayit, and perhaps in such a case cannot be considered a yud at all.


            The Nahalat Shiva in his responsa (vol. II, 40) chooses the first option.


            In contrast, the Shevut Yaakov (responsum 3) prefers the second, because the placement of the yud is apparently a Talmudic rule (as above se'if 2), while the facing of the ma'avarta toward the shoulder is only a minhag.


            The Biur Halakha (s.v. Ha-minhag ha-nachon le-takken etc.) also opts for the second.  Though he notes that if option 3 is feasible then its relative merits must be weighed, he still believes it likely that option 2 is better because the possible problem with the third is a fundamental one.





The Rosh (Halakhot Ketanot - Tefillin 18; responsa 3, 4) points out that the gemara in Zevachim 19a states that tefillin are a chatzitza (unacceptable separation or interposition) for kohanim between their priestly garments and their skin.  Consequently, says the gemara, kohanim are exempt from the mitzva of tefillin.  Why, asks the Rosh, did the gemara not simply suggest that kohanim put their tefillin on over their garments?  This must mean, he concludes, that tefillin have to be placed directly on the skin.


            As a reason for this, the Rosh offers the verse "as a sign upon your arm," (Devarim 6:8) meaning that nothing should intervene between the the tefillin and the arm;  similarly, "totafot between your eyes" implies that the tefillin shel rosh should have nothing between them and the eyes (or rather the place on the head that is in line with midpoint of the eyes).


            The Rashba (responsum 827; vol. II, 283; Meyuchasot 233; Megilla 24b) asserts that it is permissible to don tefillin on top of a hat and the like.  However, tefillin shel yad should not be put on over a garment because of the requirement of "and it will be for you a sign" - for you but not for others.  Over clothing, the tefillin would be revealed to others.


            It appears from the words of the Rashba that chatzitza is not a problem with regard to tefillin - simply that for tefillin shel yad there are separate resons for not putting it on over clothing.  The Magen Avraham concurs (unlike the Bach who understod that for tefillin shel yad the Rashba agreed that there is an issue of chatzitza).


            See the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh in se'ifim 4 and 5.





Hair is not considered a chatzitza.  However, regarding long hair the Machatzit Ha-shekel (27:4) writes as follows, "I am displeased by the practice of those who grow a lock of hair over their foreheads;  not only is it arrogant and conceited, but it also involves a transgression in the wearing of their tefillin..."  These words are brought by the Mishna Berura (27:15), the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, the Ben Ish Chai (Chayei Sara) and others.


            This is rather difficult to accept, since we do not find that a nazir (who is forbidden to cut his hair) is exempt from tefillin.  Furthermore, there exists an opinion that a mourner may not cut his hair for several months.  How could this be if all the while he cannot put on tefillin?!


            In any case, for a "ben Torah" the issue does not really arise, since there are other considerations which keep him from having long hair (see YD 178).  But there are nevertheless some possible implications:


(1) If, for some reason, one has not managed to have a haircut for a length of time, he should be aware that he runs into a problem with his tefillin (since the Acharonim cite the Machatzit Ha-shekel).  What should he do?  He should refrain from combing his hair to the sides but rather leave it in its natural state, at least the part which is beneath the tefillin (see Arukh Ha-shulchan 27:14).


(2) If a long-haired person wishes to borrow his tefillin (as frequently happens at Chabad tefillin stations on the street), one may rely upon those who are lenient (see Keren Le-david responsum 10) and need not worry about the problem of placing "a stumbling block before the blind."





See Shulchan Arukh se'if 5.  And see M.B. 27:18 who extends this to the shel yad (though it is clear that under no circumstance should he put his tefillin on the other arm - see M.B. 27:1).  See the Rema and the Mishna Berura there regarding the berakhot. 





The Rema rules,"[This is problematic] specifically for the tefillin, but for the straps one need not be concerned."  From this general statement one may conclude that a chatzitza anywhere under the straps presents no problem.  However, the Magen Avraham (27:5) and the Taz (27:4), which are cited in M.B. 27:16, both rule that there must be no chatzitza under the part which surrounds the arm at the point of tightening or under the part which surrounds the head.  Despite this, if one has a wound on his arm or head, he may follow the Rema's leniency and even recite the berakha if the tefillin themelves are directly on his body and only the straps are on the bandage (M.B. there, citing the Magen Avraham and the Chayei Adam).


            It follows that for the rest of the length of the strap (after what goes around the arm) there is no problem of chatzitza, and so rules the Yechaveh Da'at.  Still, one who chooses to be stringent and takes off his watch merits a blessing (Yechaveh Da'at; and see Peri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav 27:4).





An example of this is if his sleeve got caught.  The Eshel Avraham in 27:4 and the Har Tzvi (23) rule that he need only pull out the chatzitza; he does not have to take the tefillin off and put them on again (because the essence of the mitzva is the placing of it upon his arm, not the tightening of it).  And it appears that he should not say a berakha again, since he already fulfilled the mitzva according to the Rashba (but see the Eshel Avraham, and the Misgeret Zahav on the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 10:4).



(This shiur was translated by Pnina Baumgarten.)