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The Necessity of Checking Tefilin & Mezuzos

You might have noticed someone in Shul with a brand new pair of Tefilin with shiny new Retzuos, thinking what a nice pair of Tefilin he has. Or you might have walked into someone’s house admiring the beautiful silver Mezuza holder affixed on the doorpost. Hopefully, the interior of these Tefilin & Mezuzos resemble the exterior. But often, this is not the case. The Parshiyos which are not visible to the eye, but are of course by far more important, may often be of very poor quality, and may have serious problems which render them invalid.

It should be mentioned that a common misconception exists regarding the nature of Bedikas Tefilin & Mezuzos. Tefilin & Mezuzos do not generally have to be checked because a letter or a word might be missing. This type of problem would show that they were never kosher to begin with. This is not the reason why they should be checked every few years. Even though if when they were bought, they were known to be of top quality, nevertheless, time can take its toll on them as will be explained shortly.

However, the fact remains that many Tefilin & Mezuzos were indeed never kosher to begin with. The explanations for this are simple. The Sofer could of assumed that they were already properly checked, while they actually weren’t. The Sofer could of simply overlooked certain problems. The Sofer simply didn’t know how to write certain letters properly, etc. In any case, the fact remains that a large percentage of Tefilin & Mezuzos had originally serious problems with them, which should never have been sold in such a state. Read The Archives to see many shocking revelations, which were revealed only recently when Tefilin & Mezuzos were brought for inspection

Cracked Letters

Cracked letters are the #1 problem occurring. This usually starts after many years when the ink starts coming off, but is not necessarily always the case.

People often ask: “How is it that my Tefilin & Mezuzos became Posul? - They’re not so old!” This question requires the following explanation: The parchment which Tefilin & Mezuzos are written on, is not merely a piece of paper out of a package of 500 sheets, where every sheet is exactly identical, whether it be regarding the thickness, size, color, etc. Parchment is the hide of an animal which must be manually processed. No two pieces of parchment are exactly alike just as no two parts of the animal are exactly alike. One of the advantages of an expert Sofer is to be able to manage the proper balance while writing; namely, that the parchment shouldn’t be too hairy, nor should it be too slippery. Neither of these extremes are ideal for writing. Too hairy - the parchment doesn't absorb the ink properly. Too slippery - the ink runs. The same goes for the ink. A Sofer should be able to control the ink; meaning it shouldn't be too thick, nor too watery. It is possible for a Sofer to write really nice Tefilin & Mezuzos, but since the parchment or ink are problematic, the letters can disintegrate in a rather short time. Another phenomenon; Often, pieces of the sinews of the animal, stay in the parchment. If care is not taken to properly remove them before writing, these pieces can later become detached from the parchment together with the letters written on them, presenting a serious problem.

But as explained before, even with the best balance possible, written by the most experienced Sofer, sooner or later, time will start taking its toll on them, thus causing this problem of cracked letters to occur.

How serious is this problem?

CracksEvery letter in Tefilin & Mezuzos Must be written in one piece. (besides letters Hay and Kuf). Just a minor crack in only one letter, would render them posul. However, some cracks are fixable, while others are not. For example: The Alef illustrated here, even though posul as is, is still salvageable by adding some ink to connect the letter. The Mem however is posul beyond repair, since the crack converted the letter into a Chaf & Vav. Tefilin & Mezuzos must be written in order. Therefore, once a letter looses its original form, it becomes irreversible. This is only one example, but there are numerous ways in which letters crack. It is the job of the Sofer to detect them, and to distinguish between the fixable, and the ones which are not.

Connected Letters

Just like every letter must be in one piece, similarly no two letters are allowed to be connected to each other. Now, someone might ask: “How Connectionscan letters become connected to each other?” But as explained earlier, often the Parshiyos were never properly checked to begin with, and some of these problems were overlooked. Another explanation how this can occur, is through water which managed to get inside. The contact between water and ink causes the ink to run causing great damage. This phenomenon is more common in outdoor Mezuzos which have more exposure to rain and snow.

Just like cracked letters discussed previously, the same applies to the problem of connected letters; namely, that sometimes they can be fixed, while sometimes they can not. For example: The Alef touching the Bais in this illustration can still be detached, while the Vav & Zayin touching can not. The attachment of these two letters has now transformed them into the letter Ches, which is now Posul beyond repair.

It is worth mentioning that not every expert Sofer is necessarily an expert Bodek. An expert Sofer has a good hand, while an expert Bodek has a good eye. More than once, I showed experienced Sofrim Tefilin & Mezuzos with clear spelling mistakes, and as much as they tried to find something wrong, they could not find the mistakes. If a Sofer makes a mistake while writing, this in itself does not render him an incompetent Sofer - This would make him a human. However, what he must do is to make sure that the Parshiyos he writes are checked properly by an expert Bodek if he himself is incapable of checking them, or if he has no time for it. As stated before, the facts show that very often, Tefilin & Mezuzos remain posul because they never underwent a proper examination.

Formation of the Letters

Posul & KosherThe laws which a Sofer must know regarding the forms of the letters, is a world for itself, and it is not possible in the limited confines of this site to elaborate on them. Let’s just give one example from the smallest letter in the Alef-Bais - the letter Yud, to show how easy Tefilin & Mezuzos can become Posul with very minor details which may seem irrelevant. The Yud must have a point protruding from the lower left side of its head. The absence of this point would render the Yud Posul. Even in nicely written Parshiyos, this problem can be found. Another example would be the Alef shown here on the left. Even though everyone would undoubtedly agree that this looks like an Alef, it is still Posul because the upper part is now missing its head. Look at the illustrations below and see how easy the small letter Yud can be transformed into another letter, unless great care is taken to write it properly. When Shailos as the ones below arise, a child who knows the Alef-Bais is summoned, and is asked his opinion. If he reads it properly, it’s Kosher. If not, it’s Posul. Again, this is only a very small example of literally thousands of Shailos which can arise, just to give an idea of how complicated and serious things can get.

Yuds

Proper Spacing

Another problem which often arises is when the letters and words are not spaced properly. A Sofer must leave proper spacing between two words so that they shouldn't seem as one word. Similarly, one word shouldn't have too much spacing between its letters so as not to seem as two separate words. If a child can not read the words properly, the Parshiyos are posul. This is a common scenario in cheaply written Parshiyos where the Sofer’s main concern was to finish writing as soon as possible without paying much attention to prevent this problem.

Black Ink

The color of each and every letter written in Tefilin & Mezuzos, must be totally black. Even only a small part of a letter written in a different color is posul. Usually this problem occurs in older Parshiyos where over the years the letters start gradually changing colors turning brown, red, or yellow. Much experience is needed to decide when fixing such a problem is possible, and when not. I even found Mezuzos which were fixed with blue and green ink. This was probably done by someone ignorant of the most basic laws of writing.

Foreign Words

Besides the actual words of the Parshiyos, no other words are allowed to exist on the parchment. Often the Bodek writes with a pencil the word “Muga” on the parchment to indicate that they passed inspection, or the Sofer notes on the parchment the date on which he wrote them. These words must be erased before being sold, but often is forgotten. To have any foreign letters visible on the face of the parchment, brings into question the validity of the Parshiyos. They should be erased right away.

Shaimos in Mezuzos

The Minhag is that on the other side of the Mezuza, certain Shaimos are written which are supposed to bring extra protection. Even though halachacly a Mezuza would still be kosher with the absence of these Shaimos, nevertheless, there are important elements of protection which these Shaimos add to a person. Often, these Shaimos are not taken seriously and will not be checked by anyone. It is common to find mistakes in these Shaimos, and care should definitely be given to check them in addition to the actual Parshiyos of the Mezuza.

Computer Check

It is important to mention one basic fact about the computer which I have found many people to be ignorant of: For all of the above mentioned problems, the computer is totally worthless. The computer can absolutely not be a substitute for a human Sofer & Bodek. The only thing the computer was designed for and programmed to do, is to detect spelling mistakes, just as any spell check on a computer would do. All other problems discussed, letters cracking, connecting, color, etc., must be seen by a human eye to determine their halachic status.

Batim of Tefilin

To understand the following problem regarding Batim of Tefilin, it is necessary to review a quick history of Batim. Most people today do not wear the same kind of Batim as their grandfathers had. Throughout the generations, Batim were made out of the hide of small animals (Dakos - sheep, goats). These animals have a thin hide and is easy to process them into Batim. The problem however with these Batim were that they become quickly warped and worn out. Usually they can not be repaired due to the thinness of its walls which can easily tear. Approximately 70 years ago, Batim out of large animals (Gasos - oxen, cows) were first made. These Batim which most people have today, if taken care of, can last a lifetime. Even if they eventually wear out, they can usually be repaired. Why then, might someone ask, weren't Batim always made this way? The answer is simple: It just wasn't possible. In those days, the proper tools necessary to process such a thick hide, was not available. Today’s heavy duty equipment makes this possible.

The Problem of Glue

Now, even though the possibility to make “Gasos Batim” became available, it still wasn't perfect. Even after managing to press the hide into its proper form, many cracks and holes still existed due to its extreme thickness. In the early years of Gasos Batim production, certain producers used to fill up these cracks with glue. About 30 years ago, this became the issue of the day, culminating with the ruling of the leading RaDevekbanim in that time, that these Batim should not be used. The Batim must be made only out of the actual hide itself, and not out of any other foreign substance. The Batim producers then officially abandoned this method of making Batim.

Therefore, this is a problem commonly found with the Tefilin of older people, who still have their Batim since then. It is usually difficult to detect since the glue is hidden by the black paint which all Batim are painted with. Even a Sofer could overlook this problem if he is not specifically looking for it. Often older people bring in their Tefilin to have them checked, only now to reveal this problem. Repairing these Batim depends on how much glue was used, and therefore every Bayis should be judged individually. The above illustration shows where the glue is usually found.

The Ribuah

The most common question people in Shul will ask a Sofer while showing him their Tefilin is weather their Batim still have their proper Ribuah. Namely; everyone knows that the shape of the Batim must be an exact square, both the top and the bottom. Actually, people tend to make this problem worse then it really is. Often, the paint from the corners rub off giving the impression that it’s lacking its squareness. The truth of the matter may be that it just needs a bit of paint to touch it up, after which it will be fine. Even if the actual Bayis is indeed worn out, it can usually be repaired easily. If one wall does not seem to be the same size as the others, this can indicate a serious problem which should be taken care of right away.

TefirosWhat many people are not aware of is, that just as important as the squareness of the actual Batim, is the importance of the squareness of the sewing (Tefiros). Sometimes the holes were originally not properly made . This is usually more of a problem in older Batim. See illustration above.

Maintenance of Batim

The greatest harm done to Batim is when it comes in contact with water. It doesn't take a dip in a swimming pool to wreak havoc. Just making a habit of Deformityputting on Tefilin on a wet head, like right after a shower, is asking for trouble. People who naturally sweat often, have to deal with this problem. Sweating profusely is often the reason why Batim eventually get deformed. No Batim exists with a warranty against this. It is simply the nature of leather. It can not be made water proof just as wood can not be made fire proof. They must be maintained by taking good care of them.

The Saaros

If you will closely examine your Tefilin Shel Rosh, you will notice from the front, a few small hairs protruding from a hole. Each Parsha must have the hair of a calf wrapped around it. The hair Saaroswhich you see protruding from the hole, is actually the hair which is wrapped around the fourth Parsha which is Vehoya-Im-Shamoa. It is fascinating to mention the reason for these hairs which are sticking out. The Zohar Hakadosh says that the Mitzva of Tefilin is so great, that the Satan becomes extremely jealous of us, looking for our sins in order to harm us. These hairs actually bribe him. When he sees that even he has a part in this great Mitzva, he calms down and leaves us alone!

Sometimes these hairs fall back into the hole. If you do not see any hairs, this is probably what happened. The Batim should be reopened and repaired. It is also important to make sure that the length of these hairs do not reach a centimeter.

Talking about Tefilin, I would like to mention an episode which happened to myself. Upon opening someone’s Tefilin Shel Rosh, I noticed that even though he had very nice Parshiyos and very nice Batim, his Tefilin were posul. Why? Because the Sofer obviously wasn't concentrating on what he was doing. He accidentally inserted the Parshiyos in the wrong order. Parsha #2 which is Vehaya-Ki-Yeviacha was inserted in the fourth Bayis, while Parsha #4 which is Vehaya-Im-Shamoa was inserted in the second Bayis. Tefilin as such are posul unless they are put back in their proper place. Similarly, someone else had their Parshiyos Shel Yad inserted into the Bayis upside down, which is also Posul unless turned back rightside up. I relate these stories to show how much care must be given to Tefilin and how such easily avoidable problems can render the most expensive Tefilin Posul.

Retzuos must be totally black!

The problems concerning Retzuos can not be stressed enough. It is the simplest, easiest, and cheapest problem to take care of, and yet it is the most common even by people considered to be Talmidei Chachamim. The reason for this phenomenon is a simple oversight of a clear undisputed halacha: Retzuos must be 100% black. Unfortunately, it is all too common to see people with the most beautifully written Parshiyos, with the best Batim, but are Posul just because the Retzuos are worn out. It is especially common for the area of the Kesher to get worn out, and there too the blackness must be maintained.

Width of Retzuos

ReyzuosAnother common problem is when after a while, the Retzuos become stretched out losing its minimum required width which is 1 centimeter. If it becomes narrower, the Retzuah must be replaced. Ideally it should be no less than 11 millimeters wide.

Once Retzuos start actually ripping, it is only a matter of time before they rip totally. It is strongly recommended to replace them right away, and not wait until they rip off at an unconvenient time, right after making the Bracha before putting them on in the morning, where it’s not possible to have them replaced right away.

Kesher Shel Yad

People commonly try to make sure that the Kesher Hayud from the Shel Yad should actually be touching the Bayis permanently. This is indeed important as stressed in Shulchan Aruch and in Zohar Hakadosh. However, there are other common problems regarding the Kesher Shel Yad which many people are not aware of. Look at the illustrations below, and see if your Kesher looks like one of the two at the right. If it does, you should have it repaired immediately. It’s very simple to correct them, but it is important to do so. The Kesher Hayud must always have its proper form.

Kesher

Mezuzos

There is a basic difference in the attitude people have towards Mezuzos as opposed to Tefilin. Tefilin are actually worn every day, while Mezuzos is merely hanging on the doorpost, often neglected for many years. The Halacha is that Mezuzos must be checked twice in seven years. Checking Mezuzos is a greater obligation then checking Tefilin, due to the fact that Mezuzos are more exposed to the rain and to other harsh weather conditions. Often many years pass until unfortunately a misfortune or tragedy befalls a household which only then causes people to start taking their Mezuzos seriously, often revealing serious problems.

Checking Mezuzos

I would like to touch upon a few points regarding the checking of Mezuzos which is not commonly known to the general public. While removing Mezuzos to have them checked, a notation should preferably be made from which doors they have been removed. Certain doorways have an obligation to place a Mezuza onto them Min Hatorah, while certain doors do not (this subject is explained at a sepearate link). Therefore, preferably a Mezuza affixed on a door with a greater obligation, should not be moved to a minor obligation. Another reason is, to take into account the Poskim who are of the opinion that a new Bracha is necessary by changing the Mezuzos.

Besides, it’s more practical. Usually not all Mezuzos are of the same size. By mixing them up, new holes will have to be made in the wall. Another reason - often when there is a problem with one of the Mezuzos, people want to know where it came from. Obviously, without noting its location while removing them, there is no way to know.

If the Mezuzos are replaced the same day it was removed, it is generally accepted that a new Bracha is not required. As long as the sun did not actually rise the next morning from when they were removed, it is accepted by many Poskim that a new Bracha is not required. However, if a Mezuza was found to be Posul, then a Bracha is certainly required on the new Mezuza. (Attention should be paid whether this doorway was a definite obligation to begin with. As stated before, this will be discussed seperately.)

While replacing the Mezuzos, it is very important to make sure that the Mezuza is not placed in the holder upside down, as many instances have shown. And how many times have Mezuza holders been removed to have them checked, while discovering the interior - empty! - with the owner wondering where it disappeared to!

One who moves into another house, must not remove the Mezuzos from his old home. It is simply dangerous as stated in the Gemara. If he left there expensive Mezuzos, he may take them along as long as he leaves cheaper kosher ones in their place. If a Goy is taking over the apartment, than they should be removed. Any questions regarding this subject should not be taken lightly, and should be discussed with a Rav.

Affixing Mezuzos

This subject requires special attention. A special section on this site will discuss this topic in detail. After many years of my experience in making “Mezuza house calls”, I realize the necessity of producing this work. Before a boy becomes Bar Mitzva, it is self understood that he should prepare himself by learning the Halachos of Tefilin. The same goes for Mezuza. When a person builds himself a house, he should at least know the basic Halachos of Mezuza. I was once in someone’s house in Boro Park. For some reason, it wasn’t very convenient for him to place the Mezuza on the right side of his bedroom door. So he had a simple solution - he placed the Mezuza on the left side! Now, this person would never dream of putting his Tefilin on his right hand instead of the left, but out of ignorance, he didn’t know that placing a Mezuza on the left side of a doorway, is as if there is no Mezuza at all.

True - the above story is an extreme example. But very often, even people with the general knowledge of these Halachos, tend to overlook certain important factors which may render their Mezuzos posul. Hopefully, through time, I wish to explain in detail many aspects of these Halachos B’ezras Hashem.

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