Simanim 27:6-11 If One is Left-Handed

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #16: Siman 27:6-11

Pages 73-76


by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon







"The Sages taught: A left-handed person puts tefillin on his right arm, which is [the equivalent of] his left arm." (Menachot 37a)


That is to say, he puts the tefillin on his right, or weaker, arm.


            Let's say a person uses one hand for most things, but writes with the other.  Which determines where he puts on tefillin?  The Sefer Ha-teruma and the Mordekhai both rule that writing has no special status and one should therefore follow the majority of activities.  In contrast, R. Yechiel of Paris, the Smak, and others assert that that writing is indeed the determining factor; whichever hand one uses to write with is considered his right hand.


            [See M.B. 27:1, where he brings two limmudim from the gemara showing that tefillin should be placed on the left arm.  Each of the two opinions mentioned above bases itself upon a different one of the limmudim.  Which is based on which?]


            The Rema ruled in accordance with the second opinion, and the Gra with the first.  The Biur Halakha (s.v. Ve-hakhi nahug) and other Acharonim bring justifications for the minhag of the mass of people who follow the Rema in this matter.  (The Yad Eliahu [siman 3] wrote that in this situation, a Godfearing Jew will re-don his tefillin on the other hand after praying, so as to perform the mitzva according to both opinions.)


            An ambidextrous person should put tefillin on his left hand.  This, however, is the case only for a person to whom both hands are equivalent.  But if one finds it easier to write with his left hand than with his right, he is considered left-handed (M.B. and Biur Halakha s.v. Ve-hakhi).


            If a lefty trained himself to overcome this tendency, then his right hand is considered the same as any other person's (Piskei Tosafot Menachot 124; Hagahot of the Smak; and even though there are those who disagree, this is the accepted opinion).


            For the case of a lefty who borrowed regular tefillin, see above (se'if 3).





Menachot 35b:


"And what is its measure? ... R. Acha bar Yaakov tied it three times." 


And so rules the Shulchan Arukh:


"The length of the strap of the shel yad must be [long enough] in order that it will go around one's arm, and then he will tie the knot, and tighten it around his middle finger, and he will wind it around his finger three times."


            The Shulchan Arukh continues, "And people generally wind it around the arm six or seven times."  Some Acharonim explain that the Shulchan Arukh means that while everyone winds it seven times, there are those who count the two halves as part of the total (so that there would be six whole circles and two halves), and those who do seven full ones (see Ot Chayim Ve-shalom 10;  and Ben Ish Chai, Vayera 15).  The accepted minhag is to do seven full ones (Kaf Ha-chayim there and others). 


            [The reason behind the seven windings is Kabbalistic:  see the Shla in Mitzvat Tefillin p. 79 (citing the Zohar in Raiya Mehemna, Parashat Pinchas p. 254) who says that it represents the "seven maidens worthy to be given her from the king's house" (Esther 2:9).  And the Arukh Ha-shulchan 27:19 writes that they stand for the seven words of the verse "You open Your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing" (Tehillim 145:16).]


            Regarding the order of donning the tefillin - which comes first, the shel rosh or the winding of the shel yad? - see what we wrote above siman 25:11.


            The Rema writes at the end of the siman that one should not wind the strap around the titura in order to fasten it to the arm (see M.B. 27:32 for the reason).  However, Sephardim have the custom to do so (see the Ben Ish Chai, Vayera 15 - though he adds there that one should continue straight on to the forearm, which many Sephardim do not do; see also the Kaf Ha-chayim 25:67, and 27:13).



THE WINDINGS AROUND THE FINGER:  We have seen that these are mentioned in the gemara (Menachot 35a).  There are several minhagim regarding the method of winding, with the accepted one being that which appears in M.B. 27:30 in the name of "yesh omrim" (and also in the Siddur Ha-tanya) - to wind the strap once around the middle segment of the finger, then twice around the bottom one (that which is closest to the palm).  [Another minhag can be found there as well, and a third in Ashkavta De-rebbi - to wind it around the bottom, middle, and then bottom segment again.]


            The Shla (Mitzvat Tefillin p. 119) says in the name of Tikunei Ha-zohar that one should say "Ve-eirastikh li le-olam" with the first winding, "ve-eirastikh li be-chesed..." with the second, and "ve-eirastikh li be-emuna..." with the third (which represents a sort of betrothal - see the Shla there, and the Kaf Ha-chayim 25:68).



THE WINDINGS AROUND THE PALM:  These are not mentioned in the Shulchan Arukh, who simply writes that after the winding around the finger "he should tie" ("yikshor").  However, the custom is to make a "shin" on the hand and only afterwards to tuck the end of the strap under the palm.  (Regarding the custom of tucking but not tying, see the Biur Ha-gra who explains that the gemara refers to the tightening on the arm.)





Menachot 37a:


"The House of Menashe taught: "Between your eyes" - this is the skull.  Where?  Said the House of R. Yanai: The place where a baby's brain pulsates [i.e., where a baby's skull is soft]."


Also found in the gemara there (37b) is the following:


"From where do you know that it should on the high part of the head?  The Sages taught, 'Between your eyes' - this is the high part of the head.  Could it not instead be literally between the eyes?  It says here 'between your eyes' and elsewhere 'Do not make a bald patch between your eyes for the dead (Devarim 14:1).'  Just as there [it refers to] the high part of the head in a place where one makes a bald patch, so too here [it refers to] the high part of the head in a place where one makes a bald patch."


            In other words, tefillin must be placed on the high part of the head, above the eyes, in a place where it is possible to make a bald patch - i.e., above the hairline.


            What is the connection between these two gemaras?


            The Rosh (Halakhot Ketanot, 19) and most Rishonim rule that the proper place for the tefillin shel rosh begins at the hairline and ends at the point that "a baby's brain pulsates."


            Where does "a baby's brain pulsate"? 


            The Sefer Ha-teruma (citing the Yerushalmi), Rabbeinu Yerucham (19:5) and others say that it is the whole high part of the head.  The Rambam (according to the Biur Halakha) and the Smak say that it is until half the slant of the head.


            Practically, it is preferable to make sure that one's tefillin are slightly inward and do not extend over the hairline at all (it is preferable not to have overly big tefillin in order to be able to act in accordance with all the opinions), since if even the titura went over the hairline one does not fulfill the mitzva (see Machatzit ha-shekel 27:15;  and also M.B. 27:43 and Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 10:3; Sha'ar Ha-tziyun at the beginning of siman 25 citing the Peri Megadim).


            One who has a receding hairline should put his tefillin on where he used to have hair (Ben Ish Chai, Chayei Sara 1).





The Rambam (Hilkhot Tefillin 4:1) rules that tefillin must be centered on the head, widthwise, and so rules the Shulchan Arukh.  How careful must one be about this?


            Eiruvin 95b teaches that there is room enough on the head for two tefillin.  However, the gemara does not make clear whether it refers to two side-by-side or one on top of the other.  Tosfot there (s.v. Makom) imply that it is the latter.  However, the Beit Yosef raises doubts about the opinion of the Rambam.  The difference (or nafka mina) manifests itself in the question of how careful one must be to center his tefillin.  See M.B. 27:36 who rules stringently.  (The Divrei Chayim in his responsa is lenient, explaining the gemara as referring to side-by-side tefillin and therefore dismissing those who use a mirror, and so writes the Tzitz Eliezer.)


            [See also the Rosh, Hilkhot Tefillin 4, and the addenda to Shulchan Arukh Ha-rav p. 156, for an additional reason which indicates that one should after all be exact in the centering of his tefillin.]





Menachot 35b:


"Said R. Yehuda: The knot of the tefillin must be above in order that Israel be above and not below."


            Rashi explains that this gemara is referring to the tefillin shel rosh and means that the knot should be at the top of the nape of the neck (see above in se'if 2 where we cited Rishonim who explain this gemara in context of the tefillin shel yad).


            The top of the dalet (which is the main part of the knot) should be placed at the bottom of the skull bone (above the indentation there), and the leg of the dalet should be below the indentation (M.B. 27:35).  Under no circumstances should one place it below the place where hair grows, for that is considered the neck and not the nape (M.B. ibid.).  Therefore, the strap should be made taut, and the loop should not be larger than the circumference of the head (ibid.). 





Menachot 35b:


            "Said R. Nachman: And their beauty should be outward."


            The Rishonim offer two interpretations of R. Nachman. 


            The first, found in Rashi and others, explains that he refers to the knot of the tefillin shel rosh, and he comes to teach that the the side of it in which the letter "dalet" appears must face out (and not inward toward the back of the neck). 


            The second, also found in Rashi and others, says that it is the black side of the strap which must face outward.


            In practice, we accept both of these interpretations (the first can be found at the end of se'if 10; the second, in se'if 11).


            The parts of the strap, regarding which one must take care that they not turn over, are the ones which wind around the arm (once) and wind around the head.  What about the rest of the circles around the arm and the part which hangs down in front from the head's strap?  See M.B. 27:38.


            The Machatzit Ha-shekel (27:17) adds that one must also be careful about the three windings around the finger.


            Is this law - about the reversing of the straps around the arm and head - biblical or rabbinic in origin?  Rashi (Mo'ed Katan 25a) states, "The black of the strap must be seen outwardly - halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai."  And in fact the Peri Megadim writes that this is Rashi's opinion.  Regarding this, the Biur Halakha (33:3 s.v. Mi-bachutz) points out that according to the way the Peri Megadim understands Rashi, a huge stringency arises:  if one puts on tefillin with the black side facing inward (for the winding around the arm and the head), he did not fulfill the mitzva of tefillin at all and in fact was guilty of reciting a berakha le-vatala (useless berakha).  In contrast, the Rambam appears to believe that it is de-rabbanan (see the Biur Halakha there).





The gemara in Mo'ed Katan 25a relates that this happened to R. Huna, and he consequently undertook forty fast days.


            A responsum of the Geonim (cited in the Rosh, Halakhot Ketanot 12) says, "One who reversed the strap of his shel yad or shel rosh is obligated to undergo a fast since he is a sinner, and needs a fast.  But we do not obligate him forty fasts like R. Huna, for he acted out of exceeding piety."


            The Ma'adanei Yom Tov (commenting on the Rosh there, 90) specifies that it is only if one purposely reversed his strap that he is considered a sinner and is obligated to fast.  This is shown by the Ge'onim's words, "one who reversed" (as opposed to "one whose tefillin... became reversed").


            The Kenesset Ha-gedola, though, maintains that the wording of the gemara in Mo'ed Katan implies that even though R. Huna's reversing was inadvertent, he still fasted (it also stands to reason that it was inadvertent on his part).


            The Elia Rabba (27:13) agrees with this understanding of the gemara but says that R. Huna simply went beyond the call of duty; strictly speaking, one who accidentally reverses his straps is not held culpable and need not fast at all. 


            The Birkei Yosef (27) takes issue with the Ma'adanei Yom Tov and asserts that even if one's straps reversed accidentally, he is considered a sinner since he should have taken more care when he put on his tefillin.  (If, however, they became reversed and he righted them immediately, he is not a sinner.)


            See M.B. 27:38 for his ruling.





There are eight opinions within the Ge'onim regarding this matter (they are brought in the Beit Yosef).  See the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh and that of the Mishna Berura 27:41.  Is there an upper limit?  See M.B. 27:40.




This should be the equivalent of the length of a grain of barley (Rambam 3:12 and Shulchan Arukh, but unlike the Smag and the Smak who decrease it slightly to in between the lengths of a grain of barley and a grain of wheat). 


            The length of a grain of barley is 10 mm according to R. Chaim Na'eh and 11 mm according to the Chazon Ish.  Be-di'avad, one may rely upon the opinion of the Smag and the Smak, which comes out to 9 mm (M.B. 27:42).




The Mishna Berura (27:43) cites the Rambam (3:19), who disqualifies such tefillin even be-di'avad (post facto).  The Shimusha Rabba and the Smag (22 in the name of the Rif) accept them be-di'avad.  See the ruling of the Shulchan Arukh.  And see M.B. 27:42 for his determination of the minimal length and width of tefillin upon which a berakha may be recited. 


            It frequently happens that the part of the strap where it gets tightenened loses some of its breadth,and one must beware that it does not go below the minimum (M.B. 27:42).


            After putting on the tefillin shel rosh, one should fix the sleeve which got pushed up, since it is not respectful to pray with disarranged clothing (Kaf Ha-chayim 91:26).




Menachot 35b:


"'And all the nations of the land will see that the name of God is called upon you and they will fear you' (Devarim 28:10) - It was taught:  R. Eliezer the Great says, 'These are the tefillin shel rosh.'"


            The Sefer Ha-teruma, the Orchot Chayim and others learn from this gemara that it is preferable that the tefillin shel rosh be uncovered.


            The gemara recounts of Ameimar, who had a wound in his kibboret (the bulge of flesh in the upper arm), that his garment was torn in that place and his tefillin shel yad were visible through that hole.  In light of this, there is a difference of opinion regarding the importance of covering up the tefillin.


            The Rema rules, "For the shel yad one need not be concerned whether they are covered or uncovered."  He understands the dictum, "A sign for you but not for others" to mean that the tefillin must be in a place that is usually covered (i.e., the bulge of the upper arm), but it need not be presently covered (Shulchan Arukh Ha-rav 27:8).  See M.B. 27:47 for what is nevertheless the preferred custom.



(This shiur was translated by Pnina Baumgarten.)