Wearing Tefillin At Night

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

     The mitzva of donning tefillin is defined as a zeman gerama for two reasons.  Firstly the mitzva is performed only on weekdays, to the exclusion of Shabbat and Chag; secondly, they are not worn at night.  The gemara in Menachot derives the absence of the mitzva of tefillin at night from several pesukim.  This shiur will examine the source and nature of the exemption from tefillin at night. 


NOTE: This shiur is based largely upon ideas developed by the Rav zt"l.  Many of these concepts do not appear in his writings but instead were collated from tapes of his shiurim and notes of his shiurim transcribed by his talmidim.  I have tried to indicate ideas which I heard or saw in his name and distinguish them from my own notions. 


     The gemara in Menachot (36b) cites the pasuk in Shemot 13:10, "ve-shamarta et ha-chuka ha-zot le-moada MIYAMIN YAMIMA" (you should heed this performance/law on a DAILY basis).  In a literal sense, the pasuk refers to korban Pesach.  The ensuing pasuk, however, addresses the mitzva of tefillin (and in fact this section, known as 'kadesh li kol bechor' (Shemot 13;1-10), is one of the four Torah sections included within the tefillin).  The gemara sees within the term "miyamim yamima" - a very flowery way to describe a daily routine - an allusion to time frames in which tefillin are not obligated.  Rabbi Yossi Haglili asserts that Shabbatot, Chagim and evenings are all excluded from this term 'yamim yamima.'  Rabbi Akiva argues, reading this verse as a reference to the Pesach sacrifice - its more natural setting in the text.  The gemara provides an alternate pasuk for Rabbi Akiva to disqualify festivals from tefillin, but does not search for a source according to Rabbi Akiva to exclude evenings.  The distinct impression from the gemara is that Rabbi Akiva extends tefillin into the evening hours and disputes Rabbi Yossi Haglili's interpretation.  Interestingly enough, the gemara contends that those who exclude the nighttime from tefillin might also admit a prohibition to wear tefillin at night.  Since the Torah informed us of this time limitation by employing the word ve-shamarta (you should guard), we might induce a violation for wearing tefillin at night. 


     How might we understand Rabbi Yossi Haglili's position?  Not only is tefillin excluded from evenings (as lulav or shofar might be), but one is Biblically forbidden from donning tefillin at night.  The Rav zt"l suggested that the evening exclusion can be viewed as more than just a formal parameter.  Evenings might be incompatible with a fundamental facet of the mitzva of tefillin.  This incompatibility might render the evenings as a time period in which it is literally impossible to properly fulfill the mitzva.  To grasp this notion, we must elaborate upon a very important duality within the mitzva of tefillin.


     Most mitzvot are preceded by the recital of one berakha; very rarely are two different berakhot recited upon one mitzva.  When such a situation arises, we expect the mitzva itself to be multi-dimensional and thereby warrant multiple berakhot (parallel cases include mila, neirot, Chanuka, megilla and erusin).  Evidently, the mitzva of tefillin, which also requires two berakhot, includes more than just the formal act of donning tefillin.  The Rambam in Hilkhot Tefillin 4:25 elaborates upon the higher religious consciousness which must be maintained while wearing tefillin.  According to the Rav, the Rambam is not elegizing tefillin as much as isolating a second facet of the mitzva.  A person wearing tefillin should be crowned with a higher spiritual level matched by a more focused and intense religious attitude.  This second aspect of the mitzva - not just formally donning but elevating one's religious-disposition warrants a second berakha.


     The Rav zt"l cited several halakhot which all indicate that indeed the mitzva of tefillin includes attaining a higher state.  Most compelling is the gemara in Succa (42a) which lists the ages at which a minor is introduced to certain mitzvot which he then performs for the purpose of chinukh.  Different ages are chosen for each mitzva based upon the child's capacity to properly perform the mitzva.  For example, instructing the child about Kri'at Shema is delayed until the child learns how to speak.  The gemara claims that we begin training a child towards tefillin from the point when he can preserve a clean body (and control his various excretions); this is the reason that according to our custom a child is introduced to tefillin a brief time before his bar-mitzva.  Why should control of bodily functions be a prerequisite for the performance of specifically this mitzva?  Why aren't we concerned that bodily secretions will violate the performance of other mitzvot and thus delay introducing them as we do regarding tefillin?  The Rav zt"l suggested that only with tefillin do we recognize as an inherent part of the mitzva the need to maintain a higher mental consciousness and of course a more refined physical state to mirror and generate this spirituality.  Not controlling physical secretions during tefillin doesn't merely 'offend' tefillin; the very mitzva itself in its entirety has not been performed if this physical state is not held.  Hence, the delay in tefillin is not based on a secondary factor such as the need to protect the holiness of tefillin against their being 'soiled' by the person's conduct.  Until someone can control his body he is simply not capable of performing the entire mitzva of tefillin and is comparable to a child who cannot speak.  This is just one of many halakhot which corroborates that the mitzva of tefillin entails a formal element - donning the actual tefillin - as well as an experiential factor - attaining a higher level of kedusha.  This second aspect can be performed only if the sanctity of the tefillin is maintained. 


     The Rav zt"l suggested that the ban on tefillin at night (the exclusion as well as the prohibition) might be understood in this light.  Lulav is exempted from evenings because of a formal limitation.  By declaring that we should take a lulav on the first day - day and not night- the Torah establishes the daytime as the period of this mitzva's performance.  There is nothing about the evening which precludes the fulfillment of lulav per se.  By contrast, as night is the time when people sleep and cannot control their bodily state, it entails a time period - in general - which subverts the very performance of tefillin.  Hence, not only is nighttime exempted from the performance of tefillin, but a prohibition applies as well.  The elimination of night is not formal; evenings constitute a time in which the mitzva of tefillin cannot be properly executed. 


     This view of the inapplicability of tefillin at night might produce several interesting results.  The gemara in Menachot (36b) suggests that tefillin may be worn during the evenings if the person intends thereby to protect or guard them by wearing them.  If this prohibition had been a purely formal ban, why should his attempts to protect the tefillin permit this violation?  If we view the prohibition itself as geared towards preserving the sanctity and holiness of the tefillin, we might issue an allowance to someone who can best preserve the tefillin's sanctity by wearing them during the evening. 


     This perspective might also impact upon the way we define night and day regarding tefillin.  In general, night and day have very absolute boundaries which tend to apply across the board.  Conventionally, we recognize dawn and sunrise as the two starting points of day, with sunset and the appearance of stars as the natural starts of night.  Yet, these stages are not necessarily adhered to regarding the prohibition of tefillin at night. 


     The gemara (36a) inquires as to the exact time in which tefillin must be removed.  Indeed, according to the Tana Kama they are removed at sunset, as we would certainly expect.  Yet Rav Yaakov allows them to be worn until people have arrived home for the evening, while a third position - the Chachamim - allow them to be worn until bedtime.  Had night been formally excluded from tefillin, they should clearly have been removed at sunset - the official onset of evening.  Evidently, the Rav zt"l claimed, evenings are excluded because they do not allow proper control of one's body and preservation of tefillin's sanctity.  Seen in this light, clearly the last position - forcing removal of tefillin at bedtime (either when one actually goes to bed or when people begin to 'turn in') - is the most logical choice.  We might possibly view the debate about which part of evening to remove tefillin as part of our question: if night is formally excluded from tefillin we might follow classic definitions regarding the start of evening.  If night is banned because the 'kedushat tefillin' cannot be sustained, we might be concerned only with parts of the evening which preclude this experience - either bedtime proper or the point at which people no longer leave their houses, some orienting themselves toward sleeping. 


     (It should be noted that there is some debate between Rashi, Tosafot and other Rishonim whether the positions regarding the removal of tefillin at night are based upon the biblical exclusion and prohibition, or a separate rabbinical injunction against wearing tefillin at night.) 


     A related question would pertain to the start of day.  The gemara (36a) allows someone who arises before daybreak for travel to don his tefillin and wait until sunrise to recite the berakha.  The Beit Yosef challenges that although he waits until daytime to recite the berakha and fulfill the mitzva of 'wearing tefillin,' he has still violated the prohibition against wearing tefillin at night.  He concludes that if we adopt the nighttime exclusion we cannot accept this scenario. 


     We might suggest that the definition of day and night is a product of a person's orientation toward sleep.  The entire prohibition of night is based upon the fear that a person will fall asleep in his tefillin and violate their kedusha.  If someone arises early for travel, it may no longer be considered nighttime - at least as far as his sleeping schedule is concerned.  He might be permitted to wear tefillin even though technically it is still dark, because it no longer is considered the time of night during which he might fall asleep and offend the tefillin. 


     To explain this case the Rav zt"l actually suggested a different approach.  Even though the tefillin are being donned at night, as the ultimate design is to perform the mitzva during the day (by waiting to recite the berakha at daybreak and following the recital with the act of resetting the tefillin upon his body), his placement of tefillin is considered a 'placement for the day.  The prohibition applies to night wearing; any donning which is motivated or geared towards wearing during the day is not prohibited. 


     It should be noted that the gemara in Kiddushin (34) classifies tefillin as a mitzva of zeman gerama (a mitzva limited by time).  According to this presentation, nighttime per se is not excluded from tefillin.  Instead, evenings provide a situation whereby proper performance of the mitzva is not possible.  Would this definition be sufficient to classify tefillin as zeman gerama?





1.  Whenever multiple berakhot are recited upon a mitzva, multiple components of the mitzva generally exist.


2.  When standard definitions are altered, strong indication exists for a novel definition of the halakha.  If the endpoints of day and night are changed regarding tefillin, we might suggest a different reason for tefillin's exemption from evening.




     There are many other halakhot which confirm the second aspect of tefillin - attaining a higher level of spiritual consciousness while wearing tefillin.  The gemara in Menachot (36a) demands that a person constantly touch or slightly move the tefillin while wearing them so that he should not forget them.  Furthermore, the gemara in Berakhot (44b) claims that some had the custom to recite a separate berakha upon tefillin when they removed them before nightfall.  If the removal were not just the departure from the mitzva but part of its performance - removing tefillin before night to preserve their holiness - we would easily justify the recital of a berakha.