hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Feb. 20th, 2015 02:32 pm)

Some people expressed an interest in reading this paper. Here it is:

The Variegated Career of Exodus 13:16, being a summary of the antics real and perceived of a biblical verse from antiquity until the rabbinic period

Bear in mind that it’s a term paper, not a polished publication or anything, ok? But some of the content is pretty interesting, regardless.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Jun. 19th, 2013 04:09 pm)

Been taking some photos of tefillin for a piece about how tefillin are made, creatively entitled How Tefillin Are Made. Can’t figure out how to get this image into the text, but I like it, so I’m sharing it here. Tefillin shel rosh, four-headed shin side, gazing monumentally into distance

Or possibly like this.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.


Presenting the latest iteration of Tefillin Barbie.

I’d keep making them like the original ones, but the ones with the long denim skirts are more or less impossible to find for a reasonable price now. I think this one’s quite cute; it’s the sort of outfit bat mitzvah girls wear.

She’s available here. Now with free shipping.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Mar. 28th, 2013 10:02 am)

Anyone want to tell me about their experiences with kids and tefillin? In particular:

If they lay tefillin, why you got them started doing it and when you started them
What you told them about why we do it.

If you lay tefillin and they don’t, how/why that works.

Whether they play tefillin.

Who in the family wears them.

If they’re still babies, what you plan to do when they get old enough.

If you have teenagers, whether they do or don’t, whether they’re boy or girl, and what they think about it. (Or if you’re actually a real teen and you’re reading this, hi! and tell me about it yourselves.)

Anything else you think is relevant to parents considering tefillin for their kid?

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)


( May. 2nd, 2012 11:20 am)

Something you do not need to see when you open tefillin: BUGS.

The vacated exoskeletons of bugs, I grant you (note the hole in the centre one where the bug burst its way out), but still, ick. At least a dozen of them.

Perhaps surprisingly, the klafim were ok, once I’d brushed the crumbled bugs out of the folds (ick).

I’m swapping out the batim, though. Ick.

Fortunately this was a donated set so I have no idea whose head was wearing all those bugs. Not something I would want to know.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

In short – the amount of time it takes to produce them. Every bit of a pair of tefillin is made by hand, and the longer it takes to do, the more it costs.

Tefillin klaf and fingersThe biggest price factor of a set of tefillin is the parchments. They have a lot of writing on them, and the writing is very small, even in big tefillin like in the picture (see? Big tefillin have four lines of writing in a space narrower than my finger. BIG tefillin). Small writing is hard to do well, so a good set of tefillin parchments takes a lot of time and effort to produce, which makes good parchments expensive.

Cheap tefillin have been written faster. Often, they’ve been scribbled such that the letters are barely kosher. “No-one will see,” the harried scribe thinks. “What’s it matter if they’re a bit iffy?” and iffy they are. Also, the cheapest tefillin are written on parchment which has been treated to make it easier to scribble on – but the treatment hastens the decay of the letters. So even if you’re lucky and the letters are just about kosher, they’re going to decay in ten years. This is why it is possible to buy very cheap tefillin, and why it is not the best decision.

The issue of coated parchment aside, tefillin parchments vary in quality. You can buy parchments where the writing is kosher but nothing special, or you can go all the way up the scale and buy parchments which are miniature marvels, so there is a fair bit of variation in price there, say between $400 and $1000+.

The boxes are the other main factor. Tefillin boxes are quite complicated inside (more information here), and there are different ways of making them. The easiest way to make tefillin boxes is with a scissors-and-glue exercise, cutting and folding and sticking the parchment until you have a box. But you’re supposed to make them from “one piece” of leather, so the more folding and the less cutting and sticking, the better – and the best way of all is to mould one piece of leather into a box shape, so that there’s no cutting and sticking at all. These are tefillin gasot, sturdy tefillin. Making them takes a lot of time and needs heavy-duty presses, so tefillin made this way are more expensive. The cutting-and-sticking sorts are called peshutim; the better ones are called peshutim mehudarim. Here too, some gasot are just gasot, and some gasot are really beautiful – you get what you pay for.

Compare to shoes – cardboard flipflops will keep your feet clean for a while, Crocs count as footwear, but decent shoes look good, last a long time, and are worth investing in; so too peshutim with scribbly parchments are just about okay, peshutim mehudarim with kosher parchments count as tefillin, and gasot with beautiful parchments are good tefillin you can be proud of that will last a long time.

So what should you be paying? If you’re paying less than $200 for new tefillin, you’re probably buying an inferior product that may not even be kosher, and you’re probably going to have to shell out for another set in ten years’ time. Better to invest $600 in a good set that will last your lifetime and can be passed onto your kid after you.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

I get emails like this on average twice a month:

If you have advice about what I should do with my ancient tefillin, that would be great. They were my great-grandfather’s and I would love to use them, but they are tiny, and the man I talked to at [Big Judaica Store] told me that it was likely the parchment would no longer be kosher and that there would be no way to replace it.

Memento of relative – check. Tiny tefillin – check. Female owner – check. Discouraging story from Big Judaica Store – check. General despondency – check.

So I say, go to A1 Soferim – Aharon Lichter, 212-254-1400, 473 FDR Drive on Grand St, New York, New York.

Last week’s email:

Mr Lichter is a total mensch! Not only did he check the tefilin, but he showed me everything he was doing on them and all sorts of other stuff he had around. It was fascinating. Even I could see that the writing was beautiful and not faded, & he said they were easy to check and kosher for another 50 years. I’ve had them for over a decade, but I never really thought about the sofer who wrote the words, or who selected this particular set (my great-great grandfather? Mr Lichter was nice to say that though the batim are not the best quality, the writing is so good that they must not have been cheap), or who wore them, or their trip over from Europe. It was pretty awe-inducing.

This week’s email:

I wanted to send you back a glowing report about Aharon Lichter. He was incredibly polite and kind to me, and I was so appreciative of it. While I was waiting as he checked the tefillin he was telling me all kinds of great stories and anecdotes about being a sofer. He really was wonderful. Thank you so, so much for the recommendation!

So – Aharon Lichter. Earning a reputation as a Man Ladies can Take Their Tefillin To. Glad to hear it.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Jun. 5th, 2010 06:55 pm)

So – recently, someone sent me these tefillin, and as you can see, they have these little tags wired onto them. Funny, eh?

Tefillin with little tags wired onto them
Here are close-ups. They’re little seals, stamped into blobs of lead. One side reads “כשר” and the other side reads “הרבנות הראשית ת”א-יפו” – kosher: chief rabbinate of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo.

I didn’t know one could do that to tefillin – put little tags on them like that and still have them be okay to wear. But this interests me very much.

Part of the reason I dislike checking tefillin is that when I put them back together again, they become non-kosher for non-egal Jews (i.e. mostly Orthodox ones) but indistinguishable from ones Orthodox Jews could wear. That is like sneaking lard into cookies labelled “kosher” and putting them out at kiddush – not something I want to do. But what if I made little tags that said “NOT KOSHER FOR ORTHODOXIM” or something?

Then maybe I could check tefillin for egal Jews without feeling bad about it?

(I really like these photos, by the way. Just as photos. Don’t you? I think they’ve got lovely composition.)

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.



and they coil madly out of the box! and I get to sort them into pairs! and have them fixed!

And Emfish says to recite the blessing Lehaniakh, tefillin!, or “Lie down, tefillin!” so I will do that later and they will all uncoil themselves and behave perfectly.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Jun. 2nd, 2010 07:28 pm)

I keep sets of tefillin for loaning to women. Women, because men have an easy time of it if they want to borrow tefillin. A woman who wants to borrow tefillin – because she wants to try the practice before committing a few hundred dollars to tefillin, or because she hasn’t got that sort of cash – she has a hard time. It is for these women that I started collecting spare sets of tefillin.

The tefillin I have – thanks especially to Rabbi Ben Kramer, hi Ben! and also to Rabbis Abby and Juan, hey guys! – all need checking before I can send them to people. The more decrepit sets need actual repair, also.

I prefer to get this done by men, for many and varied reasons, and this doesn’t always happen as fast as I’d like.* I’ve just started to make some progress on the most recent lot, and I’ll make more progress before very long, but at the moment, I’m in a bit of a checking-backlog.

But hopefully, before too many more weeks have passed, I’ll have some more nice kosher tefillin to loan to more people.

* Because. The men I know who are willing to work with me fall into two categories – the grasping sort, who insist that These Tefillin Cannot Be Repaired Let Me Sell You A New Set, and the accommodating sort, who will sort them out eventually but have other things on their plates and take their sweet time.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

I'm not doing any checking or repair at the moment.

I've heard good things about:

A1 sofrim. they don't have a website, but his name is Aharon Lichter, the phone number is 212-254-1400, and the address is 473 FDR Drive (entrance on grand st). He was lovely (but i didn't tell him that I put on the tefillin) (in Manhattan)

and about stam.net.

R' Eisenbach, at 41 Essex St in Manhattan, phone 212 674 8840, has been rather sweet to me when I've been in there.

West Side Judaica sometimes takes tefillin for checking and sometimes won't, I think it depends on whether you get the guy in a good mood or not.

Some time soon I intend to do a survey of tefillin-checkers. I'll go in with my tefillin-which-need-checking and see whether they're polite to me, whether they're willing to check my tefillin, whether they'll try to bullshit me because I'm a woman, etc. A few weeks later, I'll send a prosthetic male on the same errand, and we'll compare results.
hatam_soferet: Fractal zayins (zayin)
( Nov. 29th, 2009 09:13 pm)
I did a quick photo-series explaining how to make toy tefillin.

Toy tefillin

Originally I made them because Chum said that his Kid got fascinated by his tefillin when he was davening in the mornings, and he thought that Kid would be well-served by having some kiddy tefillin, so as to be able to join in.

So I made him some. Kid loves them, I hear, and Chum can daven in peace.

Apparently the grandson of the Alter Rebbe used to make toy tefillin out of potatoes (scroll to section 26), so for those who say toy tefillin teaches sacrilege, go take it up with the Alter Rebbe, and also with the fluffy sifrei Torah people.

I'm posting instructions because ChumsKid isn't the only one out there, they're awfully easy to do, and we're all about resources here. If they're so rough-and-ready as to be incomprehensible, I can make more detailed instructions, but I should think they're okay for most.

That said, for those who aren't artistically inclined, I can probably knock up a few pairs in time for Hanukah, if anyone's interested, profits split between Yeshivat Hadar and Project Renewal. Comment below or email if interested.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 5th, 2009 09:44 pm)
I've updated the bit of HaSoferet.com which talks about tefillin.

It now features links to what-how-and-why; consumer guide (new); vendor recommendation; a bit about having a soferet write your tefillin (new); info on borrowing tefillin; care for tefillin; how to wear them; my friend Rabbi Dan's YouTube videos on tying the knots (I use these ALL THE TIME) (new); women and tefillin; women's tefillin (new); and a section on using your grandfather's tefillin (new).

Naturally I'm biased, but nonetheless, I recommend it :)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jul. 21st, 2008 11:26 pm)

Song of Songs, 2:9.

דּוֹמֶה דוֹדִי לִצְבִי אוֹ לְעֹפֶר הָאַיָּלִים הִנֵּה זֶה עוֹמֵד אַחַר כָּתְלֵנוּ מַשְׁגִּיחַ מִן הַחַלֹּנוֹת מֵצִיץ מִן הַחֲרַכִּים

My love is like a gazelle or a young stag. See, he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 27th, 2008 12:01 pm)
Latest press: Hatam Soferet post Should All Barbies Wear Tefillin? appears in the Spring 2008 issue of CJ: Kolot - Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism.*

* (note snappy title)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 13th, 2008 09:19 am)
If you're thinking of going as Tefillin Barbie this Purim

Please don't use real tefillin.

If you were going as a Torah reader, you wouldn't use a real Torah. Torahs are holy objects. Tefillin are also holy objects.

Please, if you're dressing up as someone wearing tefillin, make some fake tefillin with some cardboard, black paint, and ribbon.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 9th, 2008 11:03 pm)
Found myself, owing to logistics, without a pair of tefillin this morning. One of the things I adore about my present location is that I can nip upstairs and borrow Mr Upstairs' tefillin. Quoth he: "Hey...some neighbours borrow a cup of sugar, we borrow tefillin."
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Feb. 25th, 2008 09:46 pm)
I don't know who donated a pair of gasot tefillin to my tefillin fund, but they're seriously nice tefillin. So thank you, donor. They're going to make someone very happy.
Tefillin Barbie 1 I often get asked "Do you think women should wear tefillin?"

Let's contextualise. Do I think all women should wear tefillin? No. For starters, I certainly don't think non-Jewish women should be required to wear tefillin.

All Jewish women? No. Tefillin are traditionally a men's thing; there are plenty of communities where gender roles are still rigidly defined and those communities are quite happy that way. Expecting these women to wear tefillin would be an alien cultural imposition. It would be like saying that Europeans should observe Thanksgiving - absolutely, ridiculously, acontextual.

All Jewish women in communities where gender roles are not so rigidly defined? Likewise no. There are plenty of egalitarian communities where the language of "should" is inappropriate. Any community which does not define itself as bound by the halakhic system will view the wearing of tefillin as optional. Expecting women or men in these communities to wear tefillin is akin to saying that Americans should celebrate Hallowe'en - clearly an inappropriate expectation since Hallowe'en is optional. It's not your place or mine to pass comment on whether someone should dress up and pass out candy, and likewise it's not our place to comment on whether someone who doesn't see himself as bound by commandments should be observing this particular aspect of ritual commandment. Whether he does or whether he doesn't, his choice is legitimate and deserves respect.

In communities which are professedly egalitarian and bound by halakha? Yes, I think women in these communities should be expected to wear tefillin.

The present practice of having egalitarian prayer but only expecting men to wear tefillin is shameful. The message is either that tefillin do not matter, which in a professedly halakhic community is resoundingly inappropriate, or that egalitarianism has different requirements for men and for women, which devalues egalitarianism.

So yes, in communities which accept halakha - including as it does the commandment to wear tefillin - as binding, and which aspire to accord equal rights and responsibilities to men and to women, I think that women should wear tefillin. The alternative is an egalitarianism which not only devalues egalitarianism but devalues Judaism, by demonstrating that egalitarianism is not much more than a feeble sop to women's feelings, and a sop, at that, obtained by discarding ritual structure.

By tacitly exempting women from wearing tefillin, these communities admit that the women do not really have the same communal status as men, since all rights come with attendant responsibilities, and in any community responsibility is what is significant in the long term. If we exempt women but wish everyone to be equal, everyone must be exempt, which says that tefillin - and by extension all commandments, which form the underlying structure of this community's Judaism - can be dispensed with. Egalitarianism is at best a fundamental development which elevates women to the same societal plane as men. This egalitarianism produces only the illusion of elevation, or levels the planes by razing the structure.

I happen to fall in the segment of the Jewish world which wants to retain halakhic structure, but wishes to see men and women as comparable elements of that structure, which is to say having comparable responsibilities and rights. Whom we expect to wear tefillin is illustrative of how we are choosing to value the one against the other. If we expect women to wear tefillin, and apply a similar attitude to other aspects of both egalitarianism and halakha, we will be further towards creating a strong halakhic structure through which both men and women may move freely. This is the context in which I think women should wear tefillin.
Yay tefillin donations! Someone went to look at Barbie, and had a sniff round my site, and offered to donate his old tefillin to my women's tefillin gemach. Isn't that nice?

A gemach is a charity which lends things to people in need. Sometimes it's basic stuff like plates, sometimes it's wedding dresses, sometimes it's furniture, and sometimes it's tefillin. Men who can't afford tefillin can borrow some from a tefillin gemach for as long as they need them. But women can't, because gemachen don't exist in the liberal Jewish movements (so far as I know) and the liberal movements are the only places where they're interested in women laying tefillin. Bit of a bind, as it were. So I'm working on doing something about it. Slowly, as yet, but working on it. And lovely people who donate tefillin completely out of the blue are a vital component.

Thank you, tefillin donator!