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Question: Where I live I see Chabad Shluchim offering Jewish passersby to put on Tefillin. Is this of any value if they are otherwise non-observant; additionally, is doing so in a street – a public thoroughfare – proper kavod for the tefillin?

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Answer: Indeed, you refer to a very important and almost unique concept as regards tefillin, that a prerequisite to donning tefillin is that one maintain a guf naki – a clean body both in the physical and the spiritual senses.

The Mechaber (Orach Chayyim 37:2) reflects this as he states: “Their mitzvah is to have them [the tefillin, shel yad and shel rosh] upon him all day; however, since one must have a clean body – guf naki, that he not break wind while he wears them and that he not become distracted from them [i.e. the fact that he is wearing such sacred objects] and since not every person has the ability to take such care while he wears them, it has become our custom not to wear them all day.”

However, everyone is duty-bound to have them upon him as he reads the Shema and the Amidah [of Shacharit].

The Mechaber continues (ad loc 37:3): “A minor who possesses the ability to take heed of his tefillin that he wear them in cleanliness, that he not let sleep overtake him while wearing them or that he not break wind while wearing them, his father is duty-bound to purchase tefillin for him as part of his mitzvah of chinuch [the requirement of the father to educate his son in the performance the mitzvot].”

Rema (ad loc 37:3) adds: “And he [the minor] must also know not to enter the bathroom with them upon him.” Now Rema (quoting Ba’al Ha’Itur) defines the minor child about whom we speak: “Others say that the minor child in question is one who has reached age 13 years and a day and [Rema concludes], such is our custom and one does not do otherwise.”

Now, to your point as to whether the street is a proper place to put on tefillin: In considering this point, we must take certain matters into consideration. The first is the Mechaber’s statement (supra 37:1) “So great is the reward for the mitzvah of tefillin that anyone who does not don them is considered to be in the category of those who are posh’ei Yisrael b’gufam – as among those who violate the Torah with their bodies.”

The Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. ad loc. sk1) offers insight into this matter: “So great is the mitzvah of tefillin that any who don them see the fullness of their days [long life].” He cites a Resh Lakish (Menachot 44a-b) exposition of the following verse as proof (Isaiah 38:8) “Hashem aleihem yichyu – Eternal L-rd, with these [tefillin] upon them [men] live….” Rashi (Menachos ad loc) explains Resh Lakish’s exposition: “Those men that keep the name of Hashem upon them will live.” This means that as long as one has the tefillin upon him he is assured of long life. (Then how be it that some live longer while some live shorter? That is a topic for another discussion.)

Aruch HaShulchan continues: “And we find in Sefer Shimusha Rabbah [from the geonic period] that any who don tefillin and wrap themselves in tzitzit and recite Keri’at Shema and pray the tefillah [the Amida, while wearing them] is ensured to be among those who merit their place in the World to Come, the fire of Gehinom will have no bearing upon him and his sins will be forgiven.” He cites further (Berachot 15a) “R. Chiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Yochanan; ‘If one took care of his needs and washed his hands and put on tefillin, recites the Shema and then says the tefillah [the Amida], it is as if he built an Altar [to Hashem] upon which he offered a sacrifice.’”

“However,” he continues, “R. Sheshet (supra, Menachot 44a) says; ‘One who does not don the tefillin transgresses eight positive precepts, whomsoever has not attached tzitzit to his [four cornered] garment transgresses five positive precepts, any Kohen who does not go up to the Duchan [the stand, to bless the congregation] transgresses three positive precepts and he who has not placed a mezuzah on his doorpost transgresses two positive precepts.’”

“Further our Sages (Rosh Hashana 16a) state that one who does not don the tefillin is referred to as a poshe’a b’gufo – one who violates the Torah with his body. Therefore it is incumbent upon every Jew to be ever scrupulous as regards this mitzvah of such great proportions and seek out a G-d-fearing scribe and [one who writes and fashions] beautiful tefillin [both the klaf – parchments and the batim – the boxes], and to realize that not every day nor every year does he go out to purchase tefillin; they are to last for many years and how can he be stingy with his money for such a great mitzvah that should stand him for many years to come?”

To be continued


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.