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Weekly Halacha

Selected Halachos relating to Parshas Lech-Lecha

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.

Are your Tefillin Retzuous kosher?

According to the Talmud (1), Avraham's firm refusal to share in the spoils of war with the King of Sodom and his proud, righteous proclamation that Hashem alone is his benefactor, had far reaching results. In the merit of his statement, "If so much as a thread to a shoestrap (2)," Hashem rewarded his descendants with the Mitzvah of Retzuah Shel Tefillin. The term "Retzuah Shel Tefillin" signifies that aside from the Tefillin themselves, there is a special significance to the Retzuah, the straps, of the Tefillin. A review of the related Halachos is in order:

The Retzuah of the Tefillin Shel Yad must be at least long enough to encircle one's upper arm, form the Kesher and tighten it, and extend further to the middle finger. It is preferable to have a Retzuah long enough that it can be wrapped around the arm seven times and encircle the middle finger three times (3).

The Retzuah Shel Rosh must be at least long enough to encircle one's head with an additional two Tefachim [about 7-8 inches] on each side (4). It is preferable to have a Retzuah long enough to extend even further, the right side until the Millah and the left side until the navel (5).

The minimum width of the Retzuah is 11 millimeters. In case of necessity, 9 millimeters is sufficient (6). Frequently, from wear and tear, a Retzuah may narrow at the point at which it is tightened and fall below the required width (7).

The Retzuos must be painted black, "black as a raven", L'chatchilla. To obtain this intense shade of black, the Retzuos must be blackened, allowed to dry, and blackened a second and third time. Bedieved, Retzuos are kosher as long as they can be considered black. Even if they look closer to blue, they are still kosher (8).

When Retzuos get old and the blackness peels off, they must be blackened again. Special care must be taken at the point of tightening, since frequently, the paint peels off just at that spot (9).

It is questionable if the entire Retzuah must be black, or only the length that is the minimum Shiur (10). Harav Moshe Feinstein was asked: How much whiteness on the Tefillin straps renders them invalid? He is quoted (11) as answering: "For what is needed for the Shiur, we are stringent - even if a tiny drop is not black the area must be repainted. Beyond that, the amount does not matter unless it is really noticeable."

The blackening must be done L'shem Mitzvas Tefillin. If a Jew blackened them but forgot to state explicitly or to bear in mind that he is blackening them Lishmah, he may repaint the Retzuos with the proper concentration (12).

A woman may blacken Retzuos. A minor may only do so if an adult is supervising him while instructing him to blacken them L'shem Mitzvas Tefillin (13).

The Retzuos may be blackened at night.

QUESTION: Is one obligated to fast if his Tefillin fall on the ground?

ANSWER: It is customary to fast (14) if one sees his Tefillin fall to the ground (15). If he is the owner of the Tefillin that fell but he did not see them fall, or if he saw somebody else's Tefillin fall, he need not fast (16).

If Tefillin fall to the floor when they are covered, fasting is not required (17). Even the thin plastic boxes used nowadays for Tefillin protectors can be considered as "covers" in regard to this Halacha (18). Instead of fasting, he should give charity (19). There is a view that holds that if Tefillin fall from a height of less than three Tefachim (approx. 10 in.), fasting is not required (20).

The following people may be lenient about fasting and give charity instead, if fasting will pose a hardship and deter them from their work:

  • A physically weak person,
  • a Torah scholar,
  • a Torah teacher,
  • a communal activist (Askan) (21).


1 Chulin 89a

2 Bereishis 14:23.

3 OC 27:8. Mishnah Berurah 27:44.

4 Mishnah Berurah 27:44.

5 Mishna Berura 27:41.

6 OC 27:11 and Mishnah Berurah 42. The exact measurements are taken from Siddur Minchas Yerushalyim.

7 Mishnah Berurah 27:42.

8 Biur Halacha 33:3.

9 Mishnah Berurah 33:19.

10 Biur Halacha 33:3

11 Guide to Practical Halacha pg. 158.

12 Biur Halacha 33:4.

13 Mishnah Berurah 33:23.

14 Be'er Heitev OC 571:1 says that the fast should be on the day that the Teffillin fell. Other Poskim hold that it is better to fast the next day, in order to accept the fast during the previous day's Mincha - Yalkut Yosef (Tefillin 15).

15 Mishnah Berurah 40:3; Igros Moshe OC 3:3. There are some Poskim who imply that if the Tefillin fell by accident and not due to his negligence, than charity is sufficient, see Daas Torah 44:1.

16 Shaarei Teshuva 40:1; Igros Moshe OC 3:3.

17 Mishnah Berurah 40:3.

18 Oral ruling of Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Avnei Yashfe 2:1). Note that according to the view of the Gr"a, quoted in Mishnah Berura 44:8 without dissention, the box that holds the Tefillin must be at least a Tefach (approx. 3.5 inches) large. Otherwise, it becomes secondary to the Teffillin, and is not Halachically considered as a covering.

19 Shaarei Teshuva 40:1; Mishna Berurah 40:3.

20 Kaf Hachayim 40:7.

21 Chida (Chaim Shoal 12); Ben Ish Chai (Chayei Sarah 18). Yabia Omer 2:28. See also OC 571:1 and Mishnah Berurah there.

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc. Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra



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