Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Checking Tefillin

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Contrary to popular misconception, there is actually no true obligation for one to ever check one's tefillin. In fact, there were a number of great sages who never did so.[1] Indeed, one who personally prepared his own tefillin or purchased them from a reliable individual is not required to ever have them checked unless they get damaged or otherwise show extensive signs of wear or aging.[2] This is based on the principle of "chazaka", presumption, which teaches that once something is established there is no reason to suspect that its status has changed. In this case, once tefillin are pronounced kosher they are assumed to remain permanently kosher unless there is reason to suggest that the chazaka has changed.[3]

Click here for moreNevertheless, one who neglects to at least periodically check one's tefillin is not conducting himself properly and such conduct is an inappropriate deviation from universal practice. As the Aruch Hashulchan writes: "It is well known that after a few years the ink peels off the parchments…therefore it seems to me that one is halachically required to check one's tefillin periodically and one should be sure to do so."[4] There are, however, many different opinions and customs as to what exactly is to be defined as "periodically".

According to the Talmud one should check one's tefillin once a year.[5] Indeed, some authorities note that this is a practice alluded to in the Torah itself.[6] It seems that this was the strict custom of the Jewish communities in France.[7] Another, more popular custom is to check one's tefillin "twice in seven years" or approximately every three and a half years.[8] It is more than likely that this custom was adopted from the halachot of mezuzot, where checking one's mezuzot "twice in seven years" is actually halachically required.[9]

It is considered meritorious to check one's tefillin every year in the month of Elul - an initiative which is said to assist one in favorably tipping the scales of judgment ahead of the High Holidays.[10] One who finds tefillin may not wear them until they are checked. Similarly, one who inherits tefillin or is given the tefillin of one who had passed away should have them checked before using them.[11] One who had a dream that his tefillin are not kosher may want to consider having them checked, as well.[12]

One who wears a pair of tefillin infrequently, such as one who has multiple pairs of tefillin and rotates between them, is required to check them from time to time.[13] Additionally, sweat is known to slowly seep into the tefillin which can ruin the letters on the parchments and cause the batim to warp out of shape. Therefore, one who sweats while wearing tefillin should certainly ensure that they are checked with some frequency, as well.[14] One whose tefillin fell into water is obligated to check them and they may not be worn until this has been done.[15] So too, one who for whatever reason feels that his tefillin should be checked but there is simply no one in the vicinity who is able to do so may continue to wear such tefillin, though the accompanying blessings should not be recited.[16]


[1] Yerushalmi Eruvin 26a, O.C. 39:10
[2] Menachot 35a
[3] Rambam Tefillin 2:11, Tur O.C. 39
[4] Aruch Hashulchan 39:6
[5] Yerushalmi Eruvin 26a
[6] Shemot 13:10
[7] Orchot Chaim;Tefillin 29
[8] Tosfot;Menachot 43a
[9] Tur O.C. 39
[10] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 128:3
[11] Lishkat Hasofer 18
[12] Mekor Chaim 39:10
[13] O.C. 39:1
[14] Knesset Hagedola O.C. 29, Magen Avraham 39:14, Mishna Berura 39:26
[15] Masechet Tefillin 8
[16] Rema O.C. 39:10, Mishna Berura 39:26

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