Buying Tefillin: What You Need to Know
What is the purpose of Tefillin?
The mitzvah of Tefillin is one of substantial spiritual significance. For thousands of years, this powerful practice has been observed to fulfill the Torah commandment of remembering the miracles that took Israel out of Egypt and for generations upon generations, many throughout history have considered the mitzvah of Tefillin to be a life-changing experience. However, the beauty of Tefillin goes beyond simply following the directive, “You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes,” (Deut. 6:8). Because of the way Tefillin are placed on the forehead and wrapped around one’s arm and hand with the arm box facing towards the wearer’s heart, Tefillin also serve the purpose of symbolically connecting the mind, body, and heart to emphasize the importance of serving God with our entire being. With the mind being the seat of thought and reason, the heart the center of emotion and spirit, and the hand being the facilitator of action, Tefillin essentially acts as a bridge between the physical and immaterial, creating unity and balance within a person.
Who should wear Tefillin?
Typically, the obligation for wearing Tefillin falls on men and boys over the age of thirteen, and within Orthodox communities, one of the most significant milestones for any young boy will come just ahead of his Bar Mitzvah, when his parents or grandparents present him with his own pair of Tefillin. However, men aren’t the only ones who have historically performed this mitzvah. The daughters of the famed scholar Rashi were also known to wear Tefillin and in modern times, the conservative movement has re-popularize the practice.
How are Tefillin made?
The process of making kosher Tefillin is extremely complex, requiring intensive training and methodical expertise to produce each pair according to Jewish law. Each set comprises of three basic components: the scroll, the box, and the straps and the quality of these components will determine the value of the Tefillin. Kosher Tefillin are classified into three categories:
- Tefillin Peshutim – these are the simplest of Tefillin. Made of thin pieces of leather glued together to form the boxes, these Tefillin are halachically acceptable and affordable, but are considered lower quality and may not be as long-lasting as a higher quality pair.
- Tefillin Dakkot – called ‘thin Tefillin,’ these are made using a single piece of thin leather stretched and molded into the correct shape. These Tefillin are considered to be high-quality and they fall within a middling price range.
- Tefillin Gassot – known as ‘thick Tefillin,’ these are the highest quality Tefillin and the most expensive. Made from a singular piece of thick, molded leather, these Tefillin are durable, easy to repair, and can last a lifetime with proper care.
Within these three categories, Tefillin can be found in a variety of subtle stylistic and customary differences to fit your preferences.
The most important component of Tefillin, the scrolls contained inside the head and arm boxes must be precisely written to absolute perfection as even the tiniest flaw or mistake can render the scroll invalid for spiritual use. Additionally, the parchment, ink, and pen used by the scribe (called a Sofer) must all be halachically acceptable and the Sofer must purify himself in the mikvah (ritual bath) before working the scrolls. Each set of Tefillin has five scrolls – one inside the arm Tefillin and four inside the head Tefillin and scrolls can be written in the Sephardic style, Ashkenazi, or Arizal depending on the wearer’s custom.
How to choose the right Tefillin for me?
To find the ideal set of Tefillin, it’s important to know what custom you follow, what your budget is, and which hand is your dominant one as all these aspects will factor into your choice. It’s also important to remember that buying Tefillin is an investment, so you get what you pay for. If you’re prepared to handle repairing or replacing your set every couple of years or you don’t intend on wearing yours often, then you can probably get by with a cheaper pair, but if you are looking for a sturdier, longer-lasting set, than a higher quality pair may be the better option for you. Once you’ve figured out what you're looking for, choosing Tefillin becomes much more straightforward and on Judaica Webstore, you’ll find a charming selection of outstanding kosher Tefillin from Israel to suit your needs as well as a range of lovely bags and cases to protect them. Just use this handy guide to help pick out the one for you!