Photo Credit: David Cohen/Flash90
An Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man works on creating and assembling the Tefillin.

Painting Tefillin Straps Black
“He May Go Over the Letters With a Pen”
(Gittin 20a)



On our daf, where one was supposed to write the Shem on a scroll and instead wrote the word Judah, he may write the Shem over it. A related halacha follows.

The halacha, received by tradition from Moshe Rabbeinu at Har Sinai, is that tefillin straps must be black (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 33:3). Therefore, if one sees that the black paint on his tefillin straps is fading or peeling in certain places, he must repaint those places after saying, “L’shem kedushas tefillin – for the sake of the holiness of tefillin” (Mishna Berura s.k. 19). If he forgot to say this statement of intent, the poskim debate whether or not the straps are still kosher.

According to the Shulchan Aruch (ibid, 4) the straps are kosher b’dieved. The Rema argues that they are posul even b’dieved, since straps that are painted without the proper intent are considered as if they had not been painted at all.


The Magen Avraham’s Advice

Based on our sugya, the Magen Avraham suggests that a person who painted his tefillin without the proper intent need only apply another layer of paint with the proper intent. He bases this suggestion on the opinion of R’ Yehuda, who maintains that if a sofer wrote Hashem’s Name without the necessary intention, he may trace over the letters, this time with the necessary intention, thus investing the word with the required holiness. Although the chachomim argue, R’ Acha bar Yaakov explains that they argue only regarding a Sefer Torah. They agree that a get written without the proper intent may be traced over.

The Magen Avraham writes that the same is true, according to this opinion, of the paint on tefillin straps. The chachomim agree that it can be painted over with the proper intent. Although this explanation is debated, the Magen Avraham relies on it in conjunction with the opinion that straps painted without the proper intent are kosher b’dieved. The Pri Megadim and other poskim (ibid) argue that since both these leniencies are rejected, they cannot be combined into a “sfek sfeika.” Rather, the invalid paint must be scraped off before a valid coat of paint is applied with the required intent.


Applying a Glossy Finish

Some manufacturers of tefillin straps apply a glossy coat of finish on top of the black paint. The Minchas Yitzchak (6:6) was once asked if this coating must also be applied with intention for the sake of the holiness of tefillin. After a lengthy discussion of the issue, he concludes that the glossy finish does not provide its own color. It only enhances the color of the black paint beneath it. As such, it is considered a part of the black paint, which was already applied with the proper intent. Thus, the gloss does not require intent of its own.


Fat of Non-Kosher Fish

Tefillin must be made from the products of kosher animals (Shabbos 108a). The Noda B’Yehuda (II, O.C. 3) discusses whether the fat of non-kosher fish may be applied over the black paint. He concludes that since the fat does not make the black paint darker but merely makes it glossy, non-kosher fish fat may be used. However, Rabbi Shlomo Gansfried, zt”l, (Keset HaSofer, cited in Minchas Yitzchak, ibid) writes that le’chatchila, the fat of non-kosher fish should not be used.


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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.