What are tefillin, and why should I buy
Tefillin are a pair of black leather boxes
containing Hebrew parchment scrolls. A set includes two tefillin—one for the head and one for the arm. Each consists of three main components: the scrolls, the box and the strap. The Torah commands Jewish men to bind the tefillin onto the head and upper arm every weekday, in fulfillment of the verse, “You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes” (Deut. 6:8).
Tefillin is one of the most potent
mitzvahs in the Torah. We bind the tefillin on the head and on the arm, close to the heart, as a reminder that we must harness our intellect, emotions and actions to the service of G‑d. Buying a pair allows you to fulfill this important mitzvah yourself each day.
Although all tefillin consist of the same basic components, the price of a pair can vary dramatically based on subtle distinctions in quality. Purchasing a first pair of tefillin can be a confusing experience. This guide will explain the different types of tefillin, and help you choose a pair that is right for you.
For more on tefillin, read tefillin 101. To learn how to put on tefillin check out our comprehensive tefillin Guide.
The different types of tefillin
Although all tefillin look very similar to the untrained eye, there are actually several different types. Tefillin boxes are molded from leather, and the verses inside the boxes are handwritten
on parchment by a specially trained scribe. The different types of tefillin are classified based on the quality of these components.
Tefillin are divided into three
categories based on the quality of the leather boxes:
- Tefillin crafted from two separate pieces of leather are known as tefillin peshutim, the simplest tefillin.
- Tefillin made from one very thin piece of leather are called tefillin dakkot, thin tefillin.
- Tefillin formed from one very thick piece of leather are called tefillin gassot, thick tefillin. These are the most durable (and expensive) kind.
Each of these three types can be purchased in
various sizes. According to tradition, the greatest sages wore large tefillin (40mm × 40mm), and it is considered praiseworthy to follow their example.
Tefillin prices range between $300 and $1,000, depending on quality. While that may seem steep, remember that a lot of skill and effort goes into making a pair of tefillin, and that the raw
materials are not cheap. If you find tefillin for below $250, be wary; they are very likely not authentic.
Which pair is right for me?
Looking at all the categories of tefillin, and considering their price differences, it can be hard to know which pair is right for you. Tefillin peshutim may be the cheapest, but they are also the lowest quality. And while tefillin gassot are most expensive, they are extremely durable and much easier to repair.
Ideally, we try to fulfill mitzvahs in the most beautiful manner we can. With your budget in mind, consider buying the highest quality tefillin that you can afford. Of course, you fulfill the mitzvah
of tefillin with even the most basic pair, provided they are kosher according to Jewish law.
Where should I buy my tefillin?
Once you’ve figured out which pair is right for you, you’ll need to find a reliable source from which to purchase them. Contact your local rabbi if you’re not sure where to look. Chabad.org’s team of rabbis
can also help. They can be reached at Ask the Rabbi.
Chabad.org offers high quality, certified kosher tefillin at reasonable prices. Visit our
Judaica store to view our selection of tefillin.
Before you check out
Before you take home your tefillin, make sure you discuss these two questions with the seller:
- Are you left- or right-handed? It is important to know this, because the box of the arm-tefillin is placed on the less dominant arm. This will affect where the knot will be tied in the strap.
- Which custom, or nusach, do you follow? The three standard customs are Ashkenaz, Sefard and Chabad. The different customs will affect the way the tefillin straps are knotted on the arm-tefillin, and the style of the Hebrew letters written on the parchment.
How to care for your tefillin
Once you’ve purchased your tefillin, it is important to continue to care for them. Changes in temperature or weather can cause the ink on the parchment to crack or fade, and over time the leather
of the boxes and straps can become misshapen or damaged. To prevent most damage to the boxes and straps, be careful to avoid hard knocks, and try not to rub the leather unnecessarily. Outer covers made from plastic or wood are available to protect the boxes when not in use. Make sure that the covers fit the boxes, otherwise they may do more harm than good.
To avoid discoloration, minimize your tefillin’s exposure to moisture. Store tefillin at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. Never leave them in your car for long periods of time.
All tefillin, no matter the quality or the amount of use, should be checked at least twice every seven years by a qualified scribe to make sure that the parchments are still kosher. Lower-quality tefillin, or tefillin that do not see daily use, may need
to be checked more often. Of course, if your tefillin fall or hit
something, you should have them checked by a qualified scribe immediately.
If you have additional questions about buying, using, or caring for tefillin, do not hesitate to contact one of the rabbis on
our Ask the Rabbi team.