Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin
‘Transgressing Bal Tigra’
Many have the custom of donning two sets of tefillin each day, Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam. This custom is especially prevalent among chassidim and sefardim. The parshiyos in both tefillin are the same; the only difference is the order in which they are arranged. In Rashi tefillin, the order is “Kadesh,” “V’hayah ki yeviecha,” “Shema,” and “V’hayah im shamaoh.” In Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, the order is “Kadesh,” “V’hayah ki yeviecha,” “V’hayah im shamoah,” and “Shema.”
The Shulchan Aruch (34:1-3) rules that the halacha follows Rashi’s opinion – which is also the opinion of the Rambam – but states that a person who is “G-d fearing and renowned for his piety should take Rabbeinu Tam’s opinion into consideration and don two pairs of tefillin as a chumrah.”
Out of Line
The Biur Halacha (ibid s.v. “Yaniach”) questions why donning Rabbeinu Tam tefillin, which according to the accepted halacha are pasul, is not a violation of the Torah prohibition of bal tigra (which forbids a person from detracting from a mitzvah). If a person dons tefillin with only three parshiyos instead of four, not only has he failed to fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin, he has transgressed bal tigra. The same should be true of wearing Rabbeinu Tam tefillin in which two of the parshiyos are out of place according to the accepted halacha. The two out-of-order parshiyos should be considered unfit and thus, effectively, non-existent.
One could possibly argue that bal tigra only applies when one uses a kosher object, such as a lulav without hadassim and aravos (see Sifri, Devarim 13:1). In the case of tefillin with parshiyos out of order, however, since the tefillin are entirely pasul, perhaps the principle of bal tigra doesn’t apply.
Yet, we find explicitly in the Rishonim (Smag, Prohibitive Commandment 365) that tefillin with three parshiyos are a violation of bal tigra even though they are also entirely pasul (see Menachos 28a). We thus see that bal tigra applies to pasul items as well.
Comparison From Zerikah
One might perhaps question the assumption that an out-of-order parsha is considered non-existent. If this assumption is wrong, then the tefillin contain four parshiyos and there is no violation of bal tigra (even though they are out of their proper sequence).
The Biur Halacha, however, proves from our sugya that this argument is flawed. Our sugya states that a kohen who sprinkles blood from a korban onto only three corner of the mizbei’ach (instead of the requisite four) violates bal tigra. This is so, even though sprinkling on only one corner is sufficient bedi’eved (Zevachim 36b). So, if one violates bal tigra by performing a valid (albeit) bedi’eved procedure, kal va’chomer that one violates it with tefillin that are entirely pasul.
(The Biur Halacha adds parenthetically that we see from this sugya how important it is to fulfill mitzvos properly, in their le’chatchilah manner, and not to rely on “bedieved”s.)
For all these reasons, the Mishnah Berurah (s.k. 13) suggests that a person should don Rabbeinu Tam tefillin with the mental condition that if Rabbeinu Tam is correct, he intends for his act to be considered the fulfillment of the mitzvah. However, if Rabbeinu Tam is incorrect, he does not intend to fulfill the mitzvah. In this manner, he won’t be violating bal tigra.
Trying On When Buying
If a person wears Rabbeinu Tam tefillin without any particular intention in mind – neither to perform the mitzvah or not to do so – he transgresses bal tigra. We find in the Gemara that bal tosif does not require intent (Rosh Hashanah 27b). The same is true of bal tigra. One must have specific intent not to fulfill a mitzvah, as explained above, in order to avoid violating bal tigra.
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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