Shulhan Arukh Orah Hayyim,
siman 32, with the commentary of the Mishnah Berurah
Concerning writing tefillin.
This translation copyright 2006 Jen Taylor Friedman
1. The mitzvah of tefillin is to write four portions, which are
“Kadesh li kol bekhor” until “le-moadah mi-yamim yamimah” [Ex 13:1-10]; “Ve-hayah ki yeviakha” until “Ki behozek yad hotzianu haShem mi-Mitzrayim” [Ex 13:11-17]; the Shema 1 up to “U-vish-arekha” [Deut 6:4-9]; and “Ve-haya im shamoa” to “al ha-aretz” [Deut 11:13-22]. They must be written 2 in this order, 3such that the first written comes first in Torah. If one changes this, it is invalid. 4 Ideally one writes the shel yad before 5the shel rosh.
2. Each portion in the shel rosh is written on a separate piece of parchment, and the four portions of the shel yad are written on a single piece of parchment. 6
3. One writes them with black ink, 7 whether it contains gall-nut juice or not. Ideally, one should be stringent, and write with ink made with ash from trees 8 or oil, which has been soaked in gall-nut juice, as is explained in Yoreh Deah 271. If one wrote even one letter 9 with any other colour 10 or with gold, they are invalid. If one sprinkled gold dust on the letters, he can brush away the gold 11 and the writing which remains is valid. But if he sprinkled gold dust on the letters of a Divine Name, there is nothing he can do: it is forbidden to remove the gold, because this constitutes erasure of a Divine Name.
4. No letter should be stuck to its fellow; 12 each letter 13 must be surrounded by blank parchment. And the writing must be perfect, 14not lacking even the point of the yud, 15 and should have taggin as appropriate. 16 Ideally one writes with quite substantial letters, so that they won’t wear away too quickly. It is also proper to write them beautifully, from the outside and from the inside.
5. One must write with his right hand, 17 even if he is ambidextrous; if he writes with his left hand 18 they are invalid if it is possible to obtain tefillin written with the right hand. If one is left-handed, his left hand counts as “right” 19for the purpose of this discussion.
6. It is only necessary to rule the top line, 20 but if he doesn’t know how to keep his writing straight, he should rule all the lines. 21 One does not make the lines with lead, 22 because the place where the line was will remain coloured. Some opinions say that it is necessary to rule the lines at top, bottom and sides, even if he is able to keep his writing straight, and this is the custom.
7. It is halakha from Moses at Sinai that tefillin are written on klaf and not on duchsustos or gevil. One writes on klaf on the flesh side, and if he diverges from this, it is invalid. What is klaf and what duchsustos? When the skin is processed, it is split into two; the outer layer, on the hair side, is klaf, and the inner side which was attached to the flesh is duchsustos. Hence, when we say “we write on klaf on the flesh side” we mean the side which was closest to the flesh – the part which was connected to the duchsustos, while they were still joined. Our parchments, which are not split, fall into the category of klaf, and we write on the flesh side, since that which is scraped off the upper – hair – side is just part of the necessary processing and scraping, which must be done even when the hide is split into two. A great deal is scraped away from the flesh side, until only the klaf remains.
8. The klaf must be processed with gallnut juice or lime, 23 and it must be done lishmah. It is best that he should verbalise 24 his intent that it be processed for tefillin or a sefer Torah 25 at the beginning 26 of the processing, but if he processed it for a mezuzah, it is invalid. 27
9. If a non-Jew did the processing, Rambam says it is invalid even if 28 a Jew told him to process it lishmah, and Rosh says it is valid if a Jew supervised him and helped. With some 29 of the processing, and this is the custom. 30 See siman 11 sec. 2.
10. When he makes identifying marks such as letters with an awl, he need not worry that they may be forged, even if they are easy to forge, because the non-Jew will be aware that the Jew may recognise it anyway. 31
11. The question of whether hides which were not processed lishmah can be rescued and made lishmah is discussed in the Tur, Yoreh Deah 271.
12. Klaf must be made from ritually pure species of cattle, bird or beast, even ones which were not ritually slaughtered. It may not be made from the ritually impure species, as it is said “In order that God’s Torah shall be in your mouth” – from a species which is permitted as food. It is not made from fish skin, even if it is ritually pure, because it doesn’t stop smelling bad.
13. The klaf should be whole, without holes which are so large the ink cannot cover them, so that letters will not appear divided in two. 32
14. Painstaking scribes make three types of klaf: a thicker one for writing “Shema” since it is short, a slightly thinner 33 one for writing “Ve-haya im shamoa” which is slightly longer, and “Kadesh” and “Ve-haya ki yeviakha,” which are long, are written on very thin klaf. This is so that each box will be filled equally, which is the nicest way of doing tefillin.
15. If, after it had been written, 34 a hole formed in the middle of ה 35 or מ, it is valid, even if the hole filled the entire space. 36 The Yerushalmi, however, teaches that even the inside 37 of the letter must be surrounded by blank klaf. If the hole formed 38 in the inside leg of ה, it is valid according to Rosh even though only the smallest part remains. But other posekim
require that as much as a small letter 39 remain, and this is the rule. 40 If the right 41 leg became holed, 42 and as much as a small letter 43 remains, 44 it is valid, and if not, it is invalid.
16. If one of the letters broke 45 – the straight letters, 46ו or ז or the leg of ן 47 and similar – it is valid if a child 48 who is neither particularly smart 49 nor particularly ignorant 50 can read it. If not, it is invalid. It is not necessary to cover 51 the other letters, as is the custom. However, if we can see that the letter 52 does not have its correct form, it is invalid even if a child reads it correctly. This validating a broken letter 53 applies only when the letter was initially written correctly and then became broken, 54 but if when it was first written 55 there was a hole 56 there dividing the letter, or if the leg 57 of ך (etc.) ran into the edge of the klaf, so that it was never 58 surrounded 59 by blank klaf, it is invalid. 60
17. If a drop of ink 61 fell into 62 a letter such that it was no longer recognisable, 63 scraping 64 off the drop 65 to reveal the letter does not help, because it is hak tokhot, 66 and is invalid because it says “and write” not “and carve.” 67 This is also the rule if one mistakely wrote dalet instead of reish or beit instead of khaf; one cannot correct it 68 by scraping off the surplus, 69 because it is hak tokhot.
18. Similarly, if the opening of an open mem got stuck 70 closed, 71 it does not help to scrape away the stuck part and open it, 72 because this is hak tokhot. 73 One corrects it 74 by scraping away the whole snout, so that the form of a nun kefufa 75 remains, and then he rewrites the scraped part. One could be stringent about the reish 76 which was made like dalet, 77 and say that it is not sufficient to scrape the leg alone or the roof alone and rewrite as reish, because it was made invalid between the two of them, and therefore they should both be scraped. If a letter got stuck to another, either before or after it was completed, 78 it is invalid, but scraping away the join 79 does not constitute hak tokhot 80 since the letter itself was written correctly. 81 If the leg of hey 82 or kuf got stuck 83 to the roof, one erases 84 the leg 85 and rewrites it; he need not erase the entire letter, since the roof was written correctly. If the leg of aleph touched its roof, 86 or the inner face 87 touched the roof below it, it is invalid, and cannot be corrected by separating them; 88 this is hak tokhot. Instead, he must scrape everything 89 which was written while the letter was in an incorrect state and rewrite. This is also the rule for the yuds 90 in shin, tzaddi, ayin and peh: 91 if they touch the body in more than the place where they should be attached (Beit Yosef).
19. When he starts 92 to write, 93 he should say 94 out loud 95 “I am writing 96 with intent for the holiness of tefillin.” Besides this, every time 97 he writes a divine Name, he must say that he writes with intent for the holiness of the Name. Some say that it is sufficient he should only have in mind the holiness of the Name, if he said it out loud when he started writing 98 (Rosh, hilkhot tefillin & sefer Torah, and Tur, Yoreh Deah and Orah Hayyim). We may be lenient post facto. 99 If one becomes drowsy, he should not write since he will not be capable of the proper concentration (Or Zarua).
20. One must be very careful of the haser and yeter spellings, since if one adds or omits 100 a single letter 101 they are invalid. Then not only will their owner make blessings in vain every day, but will fail to perform the mitzvah of tefillin every day, and the punishment of the scribe shall be great. 102 Therefore, one who writes or makes tefillin must be Heaven-fearing and tremble at the word of God. 103
21. After he has written each portion, he should read it very carefully 104 two or three times, and should read it again before he puts it into the housing so as not to get them in the wrong order.
22. A scribe should test his quill before he starts 105 to write, so that it should not have too much ink on it and splodge off. Likewise, before he writes a Name he should say all that he has written, 106 so that it will not become invalid by his hand. 107
23. If one finds that he omitted a letter, there is nothing he can do 108 about it, since any fixing would be writing out of sequence, and then they would be invalid, since it says “Ve-hayu” – they shall be as they were. 109 If he wrote an extra letter, 110 it may be erased 111 if it is at the beginning or end of a word, but not if it is in the middle since that word would then look like two words. 112
25. There is no remedy if one wrote a letter 113 incorrectly, such that it did not have its form 114 – such as the leg of the aleph 115 touching 116 the roof; the face of aleph touching the roof below; the leg of hey or kuf touching; one letter divided into two letters, such as tzaddi as yud and nun, 117 shin as ayin and yud, 118 or het as two zayins 119 – and subsequently wrote more after it, since this is writing out of order, and they are invalid. However, separating two letters which were stuck together after he had subsequently written on is permitted, since the letters had their form, and separating them is not like writing. This is also the rule if a small part of the yuds of aleph, 120 shin and ayin, or the leg of tav, did not touch the body of the letter; if a child 121 recognised them he may correct them even if he had written letters after them, since it does not count as writing out of order if they had their form. One opinion says 122 this is also the rule for the hump of het if it doesn’t connect the two sides: provided they are not obviously 123 disconnected, they may be connected 124 even if a child read them as two zayins.
27. If letters or words have become a bit worn, 127 but their imprint is sufficiently clear that a child recognises it, one may rewrite the letters over the top, and this does not constitute writing out of order.
24. One may write, even a Name, on a place where a word was scraped off 128 or erased.
30. It is not appropriate for one to write unless he knows how to read. 135
32. One must leave a gap at the top 139 the size of the roof of lamed so that it will also be surrounded by blank klaf (Responsa of Maharil, 134/137, and B”S). Below, the size of khaf or nun peshuta, 140 and at the beginning and end he need not leave anything at all. 141 However, it is the scribal custom to leave a little 142
at the beginning and end (Igur, Rokeah). One must leave a space the size of a letter 143 between each word, and a space the size of a line 144 between each line, and a space the width of a hair 145 between each letter, as in a sefer Torah and as explained in the Tur, Yoreh Deah. It is also necessary to leave a small space 146 between each verse.
33. He should make all the lines of equal length, so that none are overly long 147 or short. He should take care not to write more than three letters 148 outside the line, but if he does, 149 it is not invalid. 150
34. If two letters form a word, 151 they may not be written outside the line.
36. All its portions 155 are petuha except 156 the last one, “ve-haya im shemoa,” which is
setuma. If one does it differently, 157 they are invalid (although some say it is all right 158 if they are all petuha 159). [source] Our 160 custom 161 is to put “Ve-haya im” at the beginning of a line also, like the other portions. Therefore, we put “Kadesh li,” “Ve-haya ki,” and “Shema” at the beginnings of lines. 162 At the end of “Kadesh li” and “Ve-haya ki” we leave a gap the size of nine letters, 163 and we don’t leave a gap at all at the end of “Shema,” or if we do leave a gap, it is smaller than nine letters. “Ve-haya im” starts in the middle of the top line, and we leave nine letters’ worth of space before it. The three petuha portions are petuha according to both Rambam and Rosh, and the last portion is setuma according to the Rambam. 164
37. The leather for the housings 165 must be from a ritually pure 166 species of bird or animal, and can be from ones which weren’t ritually slaughtered. It is better to make it from leather or klaf 167 shalil [foetal]. 168 Likewise the straps may be made from leather or klaf 169 shalil (Mordechai p.94). It must be processed lishmah 170 where this is possible. 171
38. One makes four housings from one hide 172 for the shel rosh, and one housing for the shel yad.
39. It is a halakha from Moses at Sinai that tefillin, both the shel rosh and the shel yad, must be squared 173 in the sewing and the diagonals, that is to say they should be square 174 in width and length, so that the diagonal will be 175 as described by the sages: a square cubit has a diagonal of one and two-fifth cubits. The base 176 and the housing 177 must both be square. 178 But if the height of the housing is more than the length and width, he need not worry (Beit Yosef in the name of Ashiri, SMa”K, Mordechai and Rambam ch. 3). If they were made square and after time lost their squareness, 179 there is an opinion 180 which says they should be made square 181 again. And each of the four housings should be 182 the same, so that one is not bigger than the other.
40. It is a mitzvah 183 to make the leather of the housings 184 black 185 (see siman 33 186). The grooves between the housings must extend to touch the stitches, but if they don’t touch it is valid provided 187 the grooves are recognisable, 188 so that its four parts are clearly visible.
41. There is no given size for the width, length 189 or height of the tefillin.
42. It is a halakha from Moses at Sinai 190 that the shin shape 191 which is made in the leather of the shel rosh should be embossed 192 by creasing the leather, 193 one on the left and one on the right. The one on the wearer’s right 194 has three heads, and one on the wearer’s left has four heads. If he reverses them, it is not invalidated 195 (Mordechai, SMa”K, Tosafot perek Ha-kometz).
43. The groove of the shin, 196 that is, the bottom point, should extend to touch the stitches. 197 The yud of the shin 198 must touch the base 199 of the shin (SMa”G). The shin shouldn’t extend too far, so that the base of the shin 200 is also visible at the stitching (Barukh she-Amar).
44. It is halakha from Moses at Sinai that tefillin should have a titura – that is, one should put leather 201 underneath, to cover the entrances to the housings. It looks like the plank of a bridge, which is why it is called titura. It is halakha from Moses at Sinai that tefillin should have a ma-abarta – that is, the titura should be longer 202 on one side, from which extra part is made the ma-abarta. How? By cutting into it on two sides so that it’s narrower than the titura, so that the titura still looks square 203. The straps pass through the ma-abarta, which is why it is called ma-abarta. The shel yad also has a titura and ma-abarta. Each portion is rolled from the end to the beginning, 204 and wrapped 205 in a little piece of klaf 206. Some are careful to use only kosher klaf. 207 It is halakha from Moses at Sinai 208 that a hair from a ritually pure beast should be wrapped around the bundle. The custom 209 is to wrap a hair around the portion, and then wrap a piece of kosher klaf around it, and finish up with another hair. (Igur, siman 45.) We generally use calf-hair, 210 but if one can’t get calf, he uses cow or ox, and one washes the hair thoroughly before use to make sure it is clean. A little of this hair 211 protrudes 212 from the housings.
45. One puts the portions into the housings such that they are standing upright. 213
46. The upper margin goes in first, that is, the top line, and the lower margin towards the opening 214 of the housing. The beginning of the section goes in to the right of the reader, so that they will be correctly 215 placed if he should read them (Trumat ha-Deshen, Beit Yosef in the name of Orhot Hayyim).
47. If one wrote all the portions on one piece of klaf, they are valid, even if 216 there is no gap between them, provided there is a thread or a string 217 between each of the housings. One writes all the portions of the shel yad on one piece of klaf, and rolls it from end to beginning, wraps it in klaf and calf hair, and puts it into the housing, as for the shel rosh. If he wrote them on four pieces of klaf and puts them in four housings, 218 he discharges his obligation in the mitzvah, but he must put leather over the four housings (that is, a cover) so that they look like one. The custom 219 is to glue them together so that they look like one piece of klaf, and one must take care to use kosher glue. 220 (Barukh she-Amar, siman 57.)
48. If one covered the housings with gold or with leather from a ritually impure 221 beast, they are invalid.
50. One should not buy sinew from non-Jews, because they are considered likely to be 225 from ritually impure animals. If sinews aren’t available, one should make do with טאליאדורש 226 made from klaf, until he can find 227 some sinews.
51. One makes three stitches on each side, 228 and the sewing-thread goes round it in two directions, 229 passing between each section of the housing. However, 230 if he made ten stitches or less, it is still valid. (Mordechai.) There is an opinion which says that all twelve stitches should be made with one thread. 231
52. One passes the straps through the ma-abarta, and makes a knot 232 like a dalet 233 for the shel rosh and a knot like a yud for the shel yad, to make the word “Shaddai” with the shin on the shel rosh. It is the custom to put a piece of leather the width of the housing over 234
the shel yad, laterally with respect to the arm. (Tur.) One should not make the knots until 235he has made the shin on the tefillin, and then he should make the dalet and the yud in that order, in the order of the letters of the Name.