Simanim 32-36 The Batim

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #18: Simanim 32 - 36, Part 1

Pages 80 - 128


by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon



In these simanim, which are long and technical, we will hit the highlights and discuss the basic points which contain essential knowledge for everyone (not just for sofrim!).



            For the form of the bayit of the tefillin shel yad, see what we wrote above in siman 27, se'if 2.  Definitions of the terms:


The box in which the scrolls are placed is called the KETZITZA.


The box rests upon a base, called the TITURA.  The titura is composed of three layers:

            upper - titura elyona

            middle - tosefet

            lower - titura tachtona.


The part of the base through which the strap passes is called the MA'AVARTA.


Menachot 35a (this relates to siman 32, se'ifim 39, 42, 44):


"Said R. Chananel in the name of Rav, 'The titura of the tefillin is halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.'

Said Abbaye, 'The ma'avarta of the tefillin is halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.'

And Abbaye said, 'The "shin" of the tefillin is halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.'

It was taught, 'Square tefillin are halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.'"



            In order for the titura to be thick, a piece of leather is stuck onto the upper titura (titura elyona).  This also serves to enable the strap to pass through, since there is now a gap created in the ma'avarta, which does not have this additional piece of leather.  Therefore, a cross-sectional view will not reveal the true thickness of the leather of the bayit.  In order to ascertain this (and consequently to know if the tefillin are made of the leather of a beheima daka or gasa, as discussed later), one must check the thickness of the leather of the ma'avarta.


            "Titura" in Aramaic means "bridge."  And in fact, the titura is a sort of a bridge over the space in which the parshiot are found (Shulchan Arukh 32:44).



            The two sides of the ma'avarta each have a cut-away piece so that the titura can be shaped like a square.  In the tefillin shel yad, the side closer to the heart has the bigger piece missing so that the yud will be adjacent to the ketzitza.


            "Ma'avarta" in Aramaic indicates a passageway;  aptly so, since through the ma'avarta passes the strap.



            Inside the titura, around the ketzitza, are twelve holes through which the sinew is passed for the stitching, or closing, of the tefillin.


            Between each hole is a furrow in which the thread or sinew enters.


            A thread is passed between each compartment of the tefillin shel rosh (the tefillin shel rosh is divided into four compartments, while the tefillin shel yad contains one large compartment).  Some say that this is done only if the parshiot were written on one klaf, in order to separate the parshiot, but if they were each written separately, there is no need.  Others, however, maintain that it is necessary in either case.  Be-di'avad, the lack of this does not invalidate the tefillin (Shulchan Arukh 32:47;  M.B. 32:217).



            Rashi in Menachot 35a states that the whole tefillin (ketzitza, titura, ma'avarta) must be made from one piece of leather.  The Rosh (siman 7), however, says that the general minhag was that the bayit and the titura were not made of the same piece (which seems to imply that the bayit itself should be of one piece).


            The Magen Avraham (32:52), citing the Aguda and Sefer Ha-teruma, permits even the bayit to be of more than one piece, provided that they are sewn together, since sewing is considered a valid method of binding.  In light of this, the Mishna Berura (32:172) debates the issue of pieces which are stuck together:  "If they were simply stuck together with glue, the Chatam Sofer rules stringently, but the Chayei Adam seems to accept it as well ... and this minhag has now become widespread among us; nevertheless, it is still best to make it from one solid piece of leather..."



            In the past, it was impossible to construct tefillin from one piece of the leather of  a "beheima gasa" (e.g., a cow) - but only from a "beheima daka" (goat, sheep, etc.).  This changed only about a hundred and fifty years ago.  The advantage of  a "beheima gasa" lies in its durability, plus the fact that one can achieve greater precision in the angle of the square and in other enhancements.



            The tefillin shel rosh must have three indentations (charitzim) which serve to separate the four compartments.  The gemara in Menachot 34b requires that these indentations be identifiable from the outside, and so rules the Shulchan Arukh in se'if 40. 


            These indentations must penetrate through the leather of the bayit:  "A mere scratch or mark is not sufficient because there must be at least a minimal separation between the batim such that the indentations are noticeable" (M.B. 32:188). 


            The lines drawn outside must match the inner indentations exactly (if these lines are not completely straight - for the depth, width, and depth on the other side - this would indicate a misalignment). 


            Ideally, the indentations should be deep, reaching till the seam (Shulchan Arukh 32:40).



            After the indentations have been made, may one join together the compartments of the tefillin shel rosh with glue?  If the tefillin are not made of one piece of leather, it is forbidden, since these tefillin are permissible only if one considers glue a valid method of binding and if so, gluing the compartments together renders them in effect a single compartment.  Even in tefillin which are made of one piece of leather, it is preferable that the compartments remain separate, lest glue really be a true binding (M.B. 32:172).



            Each compartment in the tefillin shel rosh should ideally be of equal width (Rema 32:39), but failing to fulfill this requirement does not render the tefillin invalid, be-di'avad (M.B. 32:182).



            There are three required squares in tefillin:  the bayit (ketzitza), the titura, and the seams (Menachot 35a; Rishonim there; Shulchan Arukh 32: 39). 


            Failure to fulfill this requirement renders the tefillin invalid, even be-di'avad (M.B. 32:173); however, if one has no others he should put them on without a berakha (M.B. there).


            The square should be as exact as possible: "Even though achieving a perfect square in the crafting of the batim is next to impossible, one is nevertheless required to do all that he is able in this regard" (M.B. 32:176).


            When would this invalidate tefillin?  There are many situations, and a variety of opinions.  However, if the tefillin still look square, albeit slightly rubbed-out, leniency is generally the rule: "There are those who wish to say that when the edges have lost some of their sharpness and begin to look roundish - that this is considered obliteration of the square.  But in my humble opinion, this is not so ... And furthermore, the Torah was not given to the angels... " (Arukh Ha-shulchan 32:77).


            To measure squareness, one length and one width should be measured to ascertain that they are equal, and then the diagonals should be compared (M.B. 32:175).


            The squareness of the titura must be both above and below (M.B. 32:177).


            The squareness of the stitches is the most important of all, since it is agreed that this requirement is halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.  But see M.B. 32:177, where he notes regretfully that people are frequently negligent in this matter.



            Menachot 35a states:


            "The shin of tefillin is halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai."


            On the right side of the tefillin shel rosh (the wearer's right) there is a "shin" with three "heads";  on the left, a shin with four.  This shin resembles the regular shin in "ktav stam" - as written by a sofer, with the variety of minhagim which this entails - except that for esthetic purposes the bottom of the shin (its "foot") is placed in the letter's center rather than to the left as it is ordinarily written.  The bottom of the shin must reach till the seam (Shulchan Arukh 32:43).


            The Beit Yosef writes in the name of the Ri Ascandrani that the shin represents the external face of the Tetragrammaton, that which is visible to the nations of the world:  "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).  And why specifically a shin?  The Tetragrammaton, in the at-bash numerology [substituting taf, the last letter of the alphabet, for aleph, the first;  shin for bet, and so forth], comes out mem-tzadi-pei-tzadi, and this in gimatria is the equivalent of shin (three hundred).


            Why the double shin?  According to the Smag (cited in the Beit Yosef), the writing of the Ten Commandments was sunken;  therefore the shin there had four walls and is commemorated by the four-headed shin in tefillin.  The other shin corresponds to the writing used in a sefer Torah, the standard (un-sunken) type, with a three-pointed shin.



            Menachot 35a continues: "Said R. Yitzchak, 'Black straps are halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.'"


            Though the gemara does not mention batim in this connection, the Elia Rabba and the Gra believe that they too must be black, halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.  In contrast, the Rambam (3:14) maintains that the tefillin themselves need not be black, though it is preferable for esthetic reasons.  This seems to be the opinion of the Shulchan Arukh as well, for he writes in 33:3, "It is halakha le-Moshe mi-Sinai that the straps be black," but in 32:40, "The leather of the batim - it is a mitzva to make it black."


            One must take great care that the straps be black.  Is it enough for the blackness to extend to the minimal length of the strap (for tefillin shel yad, see above 27:8; for tefillin shel rosh, 27:11 and M.B. 27:41), or, since it is all one piece, must the whole thing be black?  Must the piece which goes into the ma'avarta also be black?  See the Biur Halakha siman 33 (in se'if 3, s.v. Ha-retzu'ot shechorot) who wonders about these questions.


            One should be careful, too, that the batim be black.  However, if they are not, there is room for leniency, be-di'avad (Arukh Ha-shulchan 32:79; M.B. 32: 184).



(This shiur was translated by Pnina Baumgarten.)