Do I Need to Check My Tefillin?

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

Question:

1. The last time my tefillin were checked was 10 years ago. Nothing major has happened to them. Should they be checked again?


2. The black straps are getting worn. May I just paint them with the special black ink I already possess?


Answer:

1. If you know that your tefillin were kasher when you bought or received them – i.e. they were purchased from a reliable source – you need never check them unless something untoward happened such as the T’philin falling into water. In the M’khilatha of R. Yishm’ael (end of Parashath Bo) it relates that Hillel the Elder (according to some versions Shamai the Elder) wore the t’philin of his mother’s father without checking them; this is mentioned in order to prove that one is not required to check one’s t’philin. This is the nearly unanimous view of the Pos’qim (see Rambam’s MT T’philin Chap. 2 at the end; Tur & SA OH 39:10). Ran (M’ghila 5b in the Riph) writes that t’philin need only be checked “once in a jubilee” (see below), as opposed to a m’zuza which must be checked twice in 7 years.


2. Rav Amram Gaon z’l, concurring with the above, wrote in a responsum (Sha’are T’shuva 153) that if one wears the t’philin regularly they need not be checked “even after 40 or 50 years”. He qualifies this, however, and states that if the t’philin are rarely worn and packed away, they must be checked every 3.5 years because the parchment may become mildewy and rot.


3. The foregoing is the halacha. (The Tur does mention a view that t’philin must be checked every 3.5 years but rejects it saying that this is not the custom.) Certain latter day pos’qim recommend checking one’s t’philin “due to possible damage caused by perspiration” (see Maghen Avraham on SA ad loc. quoted by Mishna B’rura). I fail to see the logic of this argument; I believe people perspired in ancient times as well and nevertheless Hazal and all early authorities state that they need not be checked. This is a good (so to speak) example of a baseless humra which contradicts Hazal.


4. Regarding the straps: they do indeed have to be black. However, if after some years of use lighter-shaded lines or cracks due to wear and tear appear on the straps, there is no need to paint or replace them. You may continue to wear them until the strap simply snaps due to age. Of course, if you wish to either replace them or give them a “face lift” with some black ink/paint, you may do so.


Wednesday, 02 February 2011

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