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
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
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.
Is one obligated to fast if his Tefillin fall on the
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
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
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.