1. What type of person is fit to write tefillin scrolls, mezuzos and sifrei Torah?
"He must possess great fear of Heaven" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:20).
2. Which sofer (scribe) is preferable – one whose fear of Heaven is exceptional or one whose writing is exceptional?
The main thing is fear of Heaven (Lishkat HaSofer).
3. If someone sells tefillin scrolls, mezuzos and sifrei Torah and recommends a certain sofer, can his words be trusted?
If he is an honest, reputable merchant and says that a certain scribe possesses fear of Heaven, as well as the necessary skills, one can assume that his words are true. (Shevet HaLevi, Chelek 1, Siman 4).
4. Can one suffice with kosher penmanship that is not "mehudar" (high quality)?
According to the straight letter of the law, if someone's tefillin or mezuzos are kosher but not "mehudar," he is not obligated to replace them with "mehudar" ones. On the other hand, unless the person has insufficient livelihood, it is best to purchase "mehudar" quality in the first place, spending up to one-third more than what he would have paid for kosher ones. (If the cost of the kosher is $60, some say that the one-third more is computed "from the outside" and he should be ready to pay up to $90 for the "mehudar" quality, while others say that the one-third is computed "from the inside" and paying $80 is sufficient (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 656).
5. What is the difference between "kosher" and "mehudar" penmanship? Does it depend upon the quality of the writing and the beauty of the letters?
"Mehudar" penmanship is that which meets the halachic requirements of all the major opinions. So, too, the shape and form of each letter and all its components exactly (or very closely) reflects those halachic requirements, and the words and verses are uniform in appearance. On the other hand, if the writing is not kosher according to all opinions, or the scribe wrote hastily so the letters and their components are not always the proper shape or size, or uniformity is lacking, the penmanship, at best, is only kosher. The level of kashrus of penmanship whose quality is somewhere in between these two descriptions is difficult to define.
6. What are the different kinds of writing?
Beis Yosef: Ashkenazic-Lithuanian; Ari: Ashkenazic-Chassidic; Vollish: Sephardic; Admor HaZaken: Chabad.
7. Is one permitted to change from the kind of writing used by one's father?
It is preferable not to do so, due to the verse (Mishlei 1:8), "Hear the instruction of thy father, and do not forsake the Torah of thy mother." Still, all the kinds of writing are kosher (Rosh, Responsa, Chelek 1, Teshuva 11). A baal teshuva should try to determine which kind of writing was used by his predecessors. However, if he desires to live in a place where the custom is different and his intention is to permanently adopt that place's custom, the change is permitted (Igeres Moshe, Chelek 2, Teshuva 24).
8. Can a Sephardic Jew fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin by putting on Ashkenazic tefillin? (Usually, one can tell what kind of writing is on the scrolls [within the tefillin] by looking at the letter "shin" written on the outside of the tefillin)
If the writing is according to the way set forth by the Taz, he fulfills the mitzvah, but he should not say the blessing. (Ohr L'Zion, Chelek 2, 83:7, and Yabiah Omer, there).
9. If someone follows the custom of Chabad, can he use Beis Yosef tefillin written according to the opinion of the Taz?
Yes, but he should not make the blessing over them (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Siman 52)
10. If someone has the custom of using Beis Yosef tefillin, can he fulfill the mitzvah by using Ari tefillin?
The poskim permit it, except for the Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 9:6). (Some say that the Chazon Ish retracted this ruling (Responsa of the Minchas Yitzchak, Responsa of Shibolei HaLecket), but the gaon Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky writes that one should not assume that this is true (Krina D'Igerta, Chelek 2, pg. 78).
11. Can an Ashkenaic Jew fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin by using Sephardic tefillin?
Halachically it is permitted (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 36:1, See Ramah).
12. When a person buys a new tallis or new tefillin, should he say the blessing, "Shehecheyahu"?
Regarding a tallis gadol one says the blessing after wrapping oneself in the tallis (Mishnah Berurah 22:3). One does not say the blessing on a tallis katan (Igeres Moshe, Chelek 3, Siman 80). Neither is the blessing said for new tefillin (Mishnah Berurah 23:2), but it is good to say the blessing over a new garment and have in mind that the blessing should apply to the tefillin, too (Biur Halacha).
13. If the straps of one's tefillin are old but still kosher, should one buy new ones in order to fulfill the mitzvah in a "mehudar" manner?
Yes (R. Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, writing in VaYishmah Moshe, pg. 36).
14. If one checks one's tefillin and finds that they are not kosher, does that mean that he deserves punishment for not fulfilling the mitzvah all the while beforehand?
No, for all that he could have done, he did. In fact, he is rewarded for having fulfilled the mitzvah (Responsa Rev Pe'ilim, Chelek 4, Siman 2).
15. Should one fulfill the mitzvah in the "mehudar" fashion by also donning tefillin that are according to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam?
The tefillin required by halacha are those that are in accordance to Rashi's opinion (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 34:1). Nevertheless, a person who possesses fear of Heaven should put on both types (Ibid. 34:2). For the parchments, one should use a scribe who himself puts on tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam. (Liskat HaSofer 26). According to Kabbalah one is obligated to put on both types (Shaarei Teshuva 34:1).
16. How many checks are needed for newly written sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos?
It is forbidden to read in public a sefer Torah that was checked only once. Once is insufficient for tefillin or mezuzos, too. It is proper to have two checks performed, each by a different person (Kol Yaakov 32:115). One cannot rely upon the check done by the sofer (Shevet HaLevi Chelek 7:2).
17. How often should checks be peformed on sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos?
A mezuzah should be checked every three and a half years (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 191:1). If it is hermetically sealed, however, it need not be checked at all (HaGaon R. Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, VaYishmah Moshe, Siman 307). If it is affixed in a place where the sun shines on it, it should be checked once a year (Orech HaShulchan 1). A mezuzah that is public property needs to be checked once every twenty-five years. The custom is to check sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos during the month of Elul (eeoiepprp 1:275).
According to the straight letter of the law, tefillin that are used on a steady basis need not be checked (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 191:1). If one leaves them in the sun, however, or in a car that is parked in the sun, they should be checked. Still, the custom is to have one's tefillin checked from time to time (Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah 83).
Experience shows that once tefillin are fifty years old, the writing on the parchments very often starts to crumble away, so a check is necessary. Always, once should ask the checker about the writing's status.
18. How can a person tell the difference between Rashi tefillin and those of Rabbeinu Tam?
As to the tefillin of the head, one looks at the thread that emerges from where the box intersects the base. As one faces the box, regarding Rashi tefillin the thread emerges towards the left side of the box, while regarding Rabbeinu Tam tefillin it emerges in the center.
As to the tefillin of the arm, it is advisable to make one's own distinguishing sign. (For example, one cuts the end of the strap into an unusual shape. One should not create a distinguishing sign on the tefillin themselves.)
The custom is to make Rabbeinu Tam tefillin smaller than those of Rashi (Mishnah Berurah 34:5). If a person uses both types, he should place a distinguishing sign on the bag in which the tefillin are carried and stored, and so, too, on the protective casings, in order to avoid an inadvertent switch.
19. When one takes down a mezuzah in order to check it, must one affix another in its place for in the meantime?
It is unnecessary, unless completion of the check is very much delayed (Shevet HaKehati 1:25).
20. When one takes down the mezuzos of one's dwelling in order to check them, must he leave in place the mezuzah at the main entrance?
It is unnecessary. This custom has no basis or source.
21. If someone changes his residence, is he allowed to remove his mezuzos and take them with him?
It is forbidden unless he replaces them with others (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 191:2). The replacements can be of a comparatively lower quality, but they must be kosher (Shevet HaLevi, Chelek 1, 159:2). The person moving in after him must pay him for the mezuzos (Ramah) and even if they are high quality, the new occupant need pay him only the price of kosher mezuzos (Divrei Sofrim 135). If a person sells his house and no mention is made of the mezuzos, the mezuzos are included in the price (Shivat Tzion 110).
22. What care must be taken after a mezuzah is checked?
- Ask the one who checked it what kind of writing it is (e.g. Ashkenazim use Beis Yosef or Ari, and writing that is according to the opinion of the Taz is problematic for Sephardim or Chabad. See above). Also ask whether the mezuzah is kosher and in what condition is the writing (if it looks as if some of the letters are about to start to peel off, it is best to replace the mezuzah).
- If the one who checked it made markings in pencil, erase them (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah, Chelek 2, Siman 140). If he made a dark pencil mark over a letter, consult a competent rabbi.
- Carefully wrap the mezuzah in nylon foil so that moisture cannot enter.
- Put the mezuzah back into its case, right side-up (if it is affixed upside down the blessing was in vain).
- It is best to affix each mezuzah in the same doorway where it was beforehand. Therefore, as one takes the mezuzos down to check them, it is best to mark them to facilitate their return to their proper places.
- A mezuzah should be affixed in a slanting position on the doorpost, its top slanting inwards towards the room. A slight slant is sufficient (Daas Kedoshim 289:18). The Sephardic custom is to affix them in an erect position (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 289:6).
- Affix the mezuzah in the hollow of the doorway, on the right hand doorpost as one enters the room, and at the start of the upper third of the doorpost. If the mezuzah is affixed higher than this, it is kosher, so long as it is not within a hand's breath of the lintel (Ramah 289:2).
- If one reaffixes all of the mezuzos on the same day, and each one is put back where it was beforehand, the Ashkenazic custom is to not say the blessing (Orech HaShulchan 4, Biur Halacha). The custom of Sephardim is to say the blessing.
- The blessing is required in all of the following cases: if one of the mezuzos was found to be posul (unfit for the mitzvah) and it was repaired, or one or more of them was simply replaced (Har Zvi 236), or one fell off (Pischei Teshuva 289), or the mezuzah initially was not properly affixed (dldsjfljsj1:274).
- One blesses "asher kideshanu b'mitzvosav v'tzivanu likvo-ah mezuzah." If one forgot to bless one still can do so, even long afterwards (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah Chelek 1, Siman 179).
- One even is allowed to affix a mezuzah by means of strong adhesive tape, so long as the mezuzah remains stationary and secure in its place.
- It is good to use a transparent case so the mezuzah parchment itself is visible (Yoreh Deah 286:5) but only if the mezuzah is in a place free of filth and all other unseemly things.
23. What care must be taken after tefillin scrolls are checked?
- As above, ask the one who checked them what kind of writing it is, whether the mezuzah is kosher and in what condition is the writing.
- Check whether the knot for the tefillin of the head was put back in the proper position. Sometimes an adjustment of the size will be needed.
- Check the underside of each base, which were cleaned of remnants of sweat, and make sure that no paint is there that easily can be scraped off, for such constitutes a chatzitza (substance that unlawfully intervenes between the person and the tefillin).
– It is advisable to be on hand when the parchments are put back into the boxes, to be sure that it is done properly, without any inadvertent error, G-d forbid.
- Make sure that the knot of the arm tefillin is touching the box.
24. What if one bought on credit and cannot make the payments?
"Those who are careful about their deeds do not buy on credit" (Machaneh Ephraim, cited by the Biur Halacha, Orach Chaim 11, "M'tzemer").
If one bought on credit, has not made the payments and the seller continually is asking for payment, the mezuzah, tefillin or sefer Torah are considered stolen and the buyer has not fulfilled any mitzvah with them (Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chaim 11:27).
Some authorities maintain that if the buyer knows that even if he delays in paying for the item, the seller will not demand the item back and will be willing to wait for payment for a long time, the item, at least for the meantime, is not considered stolen (Orech HaShulchan 22).