What a beautiful gift! We at Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, were privileged to receive a gift of both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin by Dr. Shlomo Amar. The dilemma I faced was whether I should don this pair of Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin every day after Shacharit, at least when I pray at Shaarei Orah.
In fact, if one joins us at Shaarei Orah for a weekday Shacharit, he will notice a number of the men place not only Rashi’s tefillin but also Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin. This is rather uncommon at a non-Chasidic Ashkenazic beit haknesset, where even the rabbi will most often not don the tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam. What lies behind this difference in practice?
Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam dispute the order in which the last two parshiyot should be placed in tefillin. Rashi (Menachot 34b s.v. V’hakorei) believes that Shema should come before V’haya Im Shamo’a, while Rabbeinu Tam (cited in Tosafot ibid. s.v. V’hakorei) believes that V’haya Im Shamo’a should precede Shema. The following diagrams (taken from the website of Machon Ot) illustrate the difference between what is referred to as Rashi’s tefillin and Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin:
How may one distinguish between tefillin of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam?
The calves’ hair threads (sei’ar eigel) wrapped around the passage “And it shall come to pass” protrude outside of the Bayit Shel Rosh. One can easily distinguish between the two types of tefillin without opening the batim according to the location of the protruding sei’ar eigel (see pictures below).
Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 1:3) notes that many Rishonim side with Rashi and many Rishonim side with Rabbeinu Tam. In fact, Chacham Ovadia contends that the Mechilta and Talmud Yerushalmi already dispute this matter during the Talmudic era, centuries before the emergence of the debate between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam. Most interestingly, in 20th-century archaeological excavations of the Dead Sea area, both types of tefillin have been discovered (Encyclopedia Judaica 15:904). Piskei Tosafot (Menachot 92) already records that “In Nehardea and Jerusalem, two pairs [of tefillin] were found, one in accordance with Rashi and the other in accordance with Rabbeinu Tam.” The discovery that the Rashi-Rabbeinu Tam debate already raged in earlier generations should not surprise us. The Gemara frequently records disputes between the Amoraim regarding which it is discovered that the Tannaim had debated in earlier generations.
I encountered this phenomenon in the late 1980s when I became involved in eruv design and construction. I learned that poskim in America and Israel debated whether the positioning of a lechi beneath a wire should be determined by plumb line or by eyesight alone (see Gray Matter 1 pp. 182-184). I thought I could resolve this debate simply by asking older authorities what the practice was in pre-war Europe. To my surprise, I discovered that the same difference of opinion had existed then and merely had reemerged in the 1980s when Jews began building community eruvin in America.
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 34:1) cites the Semag (Asseih 22) and a number of other Rishonim who observe the common practice among Jews to follow the opinion of Rashi. Nonetheless, the Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc. number 2) writes that a God-fearing man should don both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin. Kabbalistic sources strongly support wearing both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin. The Ben Ish Chai (Vayeira number 21), for example, famously writes “The Arizal reports a tradition from Eliyahu HaNavi that both approaches are correct and both sets of tefillin should be worn. Both sets were worn from the days of Moshe Rabbeinu until the Geonic era.” He proceeds to quote the Zohar that states that both pairs of tefillin are necessary.
Accordingly, in many Sephardic communities it became common for many men to wear both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin, as noted by Maran HaChida (Birkei Yosef 34). It is also common among chasidic Jews to wear both Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam’s tefillin. The halachic practices of both chasidic and (most) Sephardic Jews are significantly impacted by Kabbalistic considerations.
However, in non-chssidic Ashkenazic circles a different approach is taken following the Vilna Gaon. The Vilna Gaon was resolute in his endorsement of the opinion of Rashi regarding tefillin (Bi’ur HaGra to Orah Haim 34:1). In fact, when challenged as to why he does not don the tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, the Vilna Gaon famously replied, “If we wish to accommodate all opinions we would have to wear 64 pairs of tefillin!” (Ma’aseh Rav, Si’ach Eliyahu number 64).
We continue next week, im yirtzeh Hashem and bli neder, discussing this most fascinating topic.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.