Feb 22, 2011

He Never Put Tefillin On

There was an interesting story in the Mishpacha newspaper this past week, about someone who never put on tefillin over the course of his whole life. He didn't think so, as he attempted to put on tefillin every day, it just did not work out so well for him retroactively. And his son didn't put on tefillin either for many years.

45 years ago a pair of tefillin was written for a young men reaching the age of maturity, turning bar mitzvah. This boy, eventually turned man, donned the tefilling for 13 years, until he died at the unripe young age of 26 from an illness. Upon his death, the tefillin were put away and saved for the bar mitzvah of his then 6 month old orphan son.

The boy grew up and upon his bar mitzvah he began wearing his dead father's tefillin. A month before his marriage he decided to send his tefillin in to be checked by a sofer. The sofer found that these tefillin, that had never been checked since the day they were written, in 1965, had some serious flaws, including missing a whole word and another word that had an extra letter.

The math doesn't work out so well for me. The article says 45 years, as the tefillin had been written in 1965. He wore them until he died at age 26, which is 13 years (unless they got the age of his death wrong). Then his son waited 13 years to wear them. That makes the tefillin 26 years old at th time of the boys bar mitzvah. He checked them before he got married - that would be another 8-15 years, unless he got married at the  unusually old age of 43. Either way, let's assume they got the date wrong, and maybe the tefillin were less than 45 years old, this fellow retroactively never put on tefillin, and the son spent 13 years not putting on tefillin.

At least get your tefillin checked once after you buy them to make sure they had been written properly.


  1. I think it is unfair to say he never wore tefillin. I don't know the heshbonot in shamayim but he studiously put on tefillin every morning. Even if they were pasul that must be worth something (akin to skhar halikha).

  2. I think the gemara calls it a machshava tova. a mitzva, or an act, is really two parts - a machshava tova and the maaseh tov. the good intention and the good act. You can have one without the other, but preferrably you should have both.
    I remember the gemara somewhere discusses the level of schar received when you only have one without the other.

  3. Moreover, it could be said that the tefillin were be-chezkat kashrut until the time they were checked. The fact that they were declared passul when they were checked does not invalidate the fact that they were kosher, because of the chazaka, before then.

  4. The real test is if he found out they were possul in the middle of the day (after wearing them in the morning), does he have to go and put on tefillin again? The answer is clearly yes, and this demonstrates that he did not perform the mitzvah when he put them on that morning (even on a lower level).

    There is no chezkat kashrut here, as the tefillin were never kosher, as they were missing an entire word.

  5. Jenny, this is a very mechanistic view. He would need to go back and do it again because he has gained awareness that his tefillin are pasul which means they have left the hezkat kashrut and there is still time left to do the mitzva today. This does not mean that his intention to do the mitzva yesterday was worthless. As Rafi G said he had mahshava tova which is certainly worth some sakhar - he was doing his best to do the king's bidding but an unforeseen circumstance spoilt his actions.

  6. You are right that his intention to do the mitzva yesterday was not worthless. It is the mitzva itself that was worthless. I don't argue with this distinction (though the intention without the proper act is certainly not the central goal of the mitzva). Nevertheless, the fact remains that even if he was unaware of it, he in fact had an obligation to put on tefillin again the entire time.

    As I stated above, there is no chezkat kashrut in this instance, while if there was, it would get into the machloket (BH/BS and subsequent commentators) of when such a chazaka expires (i.e. at the moment he discovers the defect or at some point prior thereto).

  7. I happen to agree with Jenny. I think he did not do the mitzva, though he will get some schar for trying to do the mitzva

  8. These kinds of stories really stink - for the people it happens to. It's unfortunately not so unusual that the sofer or machon that puts a set of tefillin together gets some part wrong and it goes undetected for years. The only value to publicizing such an uncomfortable story is so others will think to check any tefillin they buy with a third party.

  9. At least get your tefillin checked once after you buy them to make sure they had been written properly.

    Huh? I've been told that the very act of opening up the tefillin and unrolling the klaf often damages them!

  10. Which is definitely why checking sta"m every Yamim Noraim is a foolish custom.

    But after the stories I've heard, it seems worth doing an inintial check on tefillin early on, and then relying on the chazakah for a long, long time.


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