Photo Credit:

Question: Where I live, I see Chabad shluchim offering Jewish passerby 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?

Via email



Synopsis: We previously cited the Mechaber who explains the mitzvah of tefillin as to be worn the entire day, but due to the constraints of the human condition whereby one might not be able to always be in the state of cleanliness of one’s person – guf naki – in our time we only wear them as we pray [the Shacharit Prayer]. We enumerated the blessings and reward as relates to this mitzvah as Poshe’a b’gufo – one who sins with his body. We also noted the importance to the performance of the mitzvah to purchase tefillin from a G-d-fearing scribe who writes beautiful tefillin that are to last for many years We then noted Esav’s marriage to the daughter of his uncle Yishmael as a single momentary opportunity to repent his many sins, including his marriage to the evil Canaanite wives. Unfortunately, he and his new wife, Mochalas, did not take advantage of that opportunity and continued in their evil ways. Nevertheless, our Sages derive from this that a chatan and kallah fast on the day of their wedding, as they are forgiven all their prior sins. We also noted that such is repentance in the eyes of Hashem that if even for but a solitary moment, as the prophet Yonah is commanded [and he acts reluctantly] to save the gentile city of Neneveh from destruction. Surprisingly they heed his call and repent their evil ways. We further cited the incident of R’ Idi who would spend six months in travel – three months each way – just to spend one day in the academy. We also cited as regards the matter of punishment that one day in a year is considered as an entire year. We followed that with the story of Keti’ah b. Shalom who was able to secure his eternal reward with one single action, on which Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nasi proclaimed: “One may acquire eternity in one moment, while another may acquire it only after many years. Citing Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, we noted as well the special recognition Hashem accords Caleb for momentarily silencing the fears caused by the evil report of his fellow spies as to what they saw in the Land of Canaan. Even though he assuaged their fears for but a moment, it was viewed on High with great admiration. That followed the Halacha that we save a person on the Sabbath [and the festivals] even if such effort only renders a momentary measure of life – chayyei sha’ah. We then cited an address of the Gaon Rabbi Eleazar Menachem Man Shach, zt”l, at a Yarchei Kallah at the Ponevez Yeshiva (Sefer Meireish Amanah, 18 Menachem Av 4738 – 1978). Rav Shach referred to two young people who who faced their deaths with one last act of Kiddush Hashem – sanctifying Hashem’s name. Rav Shach noted that not only did they die al Kiddush Hashem but they “lived”[that last moment] al Kiddush Hashem. We then cited that were the Jewish people to observe just two [most probably consecutive] Sabbaths, Hashem would immediately redeem them; we find even further in the Jerusalem Talmud that even for the single solitary observance of one Sabbath they will be redeemed.

* * *

Answer: Now, interesting to note is the comparison of tefillin and Shabbat. The Rambam states (Hilchot Tefillin chap 4:10): “The time to don the tefillin is by day and not at night as the verse (Exodus 13:10) states: “V’shamarta et ha’chuka hazot l’mo’ada mi’yomim yamimah – You shall observe this ordinance in its season from day to day.” Chuka, ordinance, refers to tefillin [and since we see the word “day” with reference to tefillin, it excludes night.]

He continues: “And similarly Shabbat and the festivals are not the time to don tefillin as the verse states (supra, Exodus 13:9) ‘It should be as a sign upon your arm and as a remembrance between your eyes…” Shabbat and Festivals are themselves a sign [as we find infra Exodus 30:17, “Between Me and the children of Israel it is a sign forever: for in six days Hashem the Eternal L-rd made the heaven and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed].

Thus we see that tefillin are an ot – a sign, and Sabbath and festivals are also an ot. Thus on a weekday one dons his tefillin, which serves as the sign that binds him to Hashem and His Torah, and his observance of the Sabbath and the festivals serve as the sign that binds him to Hashem and His Torah.

Rambam is basically citing the Gemara (Menachot 36b), where we find the dispute between R. Yosi HaGalili and Rabbi Akiva. They do not differ in the halacha that we do not don tefillin on the Sabbath and festivals. Rather their dispute relates to the verses from which this is derived. R. Yosi HaGalili cites the earlier verse (Exodus 13:10), “You shall observe this ordinance in its season from day to day.” From the repetition of “day,” we derive from the first mention of day that it refers to day but not night. From the repetition of the word “day” we derive “by day but not every day,” and which days are excluded: the Sabbath and Festivals.

Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, derives from the earlier verse (supra, Exodus 13:9): It should be as a sign upon your arm and as a remembrance between your eyes…” And Shabbat and Festivals are themselves a sign [as we noted above from Exodus 30:17].

Incidentally, some are of the mistaken view that we don’t don tefillin on the Sabbath and festivals because of the requirement of shvita – cessation of all labor on those days so that tefillin are only worn on days when labor is permitted. Tosafot (s.v. yotz’u shabbatot v’yomim tovim…) notes that this cannot be the reason because we do find that during Chol HaMo’ed – the intermediary days (during Pesach and Sukkot), labor is permitted, yet those days are also referred to as ot – a sign. The sign for the entirety of these two festivals, respectively, is the prohibition of chametz and the requirement to dwell in the Sukkah. Tosafot cite a discussion about whether labor is actually permitted on Chol HaMo’ed, and note the view that if the labor is for the sake of one’s livelihood, then that would be permitted.

The reason for the above misperception is based on the fact that some do wear tefillin on Chol HaMo’ed, which would seem to infer that the sign for that day is the tefillin and not the festival. However, others do not wear them, which seems to proclaim that the festival is the sign and donning the tefillin presents a contradiction. Some even refer to minhag Sefarad as not to wear and minhag Ashkenaz to wear. Yet there are among those following either of those nusachot who do not follow the majority in their practice either as regards to donning the tefillin or not. In those instances, family custom prevails, which might be irrespective of Nusach. As to halacha, even wearing tefillin on Chol HaMo’ed for some differs from the rest of the year as to the presence of the Chol HaMo’ed sign. There are others who recite the blessing but in an undertone.

The parallel between Shabbat and tefillin and its greater ramifications should not be lost on us, as we shall soon see.

To be continued…


Previous articleLatest Poll: Yamina, Meretz, Disappear, Netanyahu Has 61
Next articleSustaining Peace
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.