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Some Sephardic Jews Wear Tefillin During Shacharit of Tisha B’Av?!

I thought Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, always follows Rav Ovadia Yosef. If so, then why on Tisha B’Av at Shacharit do the men at Shaarei Orah not wear tefillin? After all, Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 2:67 and Yalkut Yosef Orach Chaim 555) endorses the practice to wear tefillin during Shacharit on Tisha B’Av.

Moreover, Rav Ovadia insists, with considerable support, that this constitutes the minhag Yerushalayim, the custom of Jerusalem’s Sephardic congregations. Shaarei Orah famously adheres to minhag Yerushalayim. Why then do we not wear tefillin on Tisha B’Av in the morning?!

Background in the Rishonim

The question of wearing tefillin on Tisha B’Av is not addressed in the Gemara. However, the Rishonim address this issue at some length. Most Rishonim, including Tosafot (Moed Katan 21a s.v M’shelishi V’eilach and 21b s.v. M’kan V’eilach), Rosh (Ta’anit 4:37), Ramban (Torat Ha’Adam, Warsaw 1841 edition, 55a), Ran (Ta’anit 10a in the pages of the Rif), Rashba (Teshuvot 5:214) citing Rav Hai Gaon, all rule that a man is obliged to wear tefillin on Tisha B’Av. The Rambam (Hilchot Ta’ani’ot 5:11) records that a small number of sages do not put on tefillin shel rosh on Tisha B’Av, which implies (as noted by the Maggid Mishneh ad loc.) that he believes that the consensus view is that there is an obligation of tefillin on Tisha B’Av.

The general rule set down by the Gemara (Taanit 30a) is that everything that applies to a mourner during shiva applies on Tisha B’Av. Since a mourner does not wear tefillin on the first day of mourning but does on subsequent days (Shulchan Aruch YD 388:1), these Rishonim seek to prove that Tisha B’Av is more similar to subsequent days of mourning, when a mourner does wear tefillin. For example, they note that it is permitted, technically speaking, to work on Tisha B’Av, which is strictly forbidden during the first three days of shiva.

However, the Semag (Rabbinic positive commandments 3, Hilchot Tisha B’Av) and Rokei’ach (310) rule that one should not wear tefillin on Tisha B’Av. This also seems to be the opinion of the Maharam of Rothenburg (Hilchot Semachot M’eit Rabbeinu Meir ben Rabeinu Baruch M’Rothenberg, Jerusalem 5736, 68), although the Hagahot Maimoniyot (Hilchot Ta’aniyot 5:11:3) testifies that he witnessed the Maharam donning tefillin in the afternoon.

Not surprisingly, Maran Rav Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 38:6), in step with the dominant view among the Rishonim, rules that men are obligated to wear tefillin on Tisha B’Av.

The Practice to Wear Tefillin Only at Mincha on Tisha B’Av

The Shulchan Aruch later (Orach Chaim 555:1) records that the common custom is what appears to be a middle position between the aforementioned Rishonim: one does not put on tefillin on Tisha B’Av in the morning, but rather does so for the Mincha service. This represents the standard practice among Ashkenazic Jews.

What is the reason for this compromise custom? The Magen Avraham (555:1) explains that this is because tefillin expresses the “glory” (pe’eir) of our people (Sukkah 25a), and on Tisha B’Av our glory was taken away. However, he offers no explanation for the difference between the morning and the afternoon. The Mishna Berurah (555:3) explains that since men are obligated to wear tefillin on Tisha B’Av they do so in the afternoon, because in the afternoon we are more lenient regarding some of the customs of mourning (such as sitting on the floor) because the Temple had already started burning in the afternoon. This means that the heavenly judgment was issued and executed, making it time for us to be consoled.

The Practice of Many Sephardic Jews to Wear Tefillin at Tisha B’Av Shacharit

Surprisingly, a significant group of Sephardic Jews wear tefillin even at Shacharit of Tisha B’Av, against the custom presented by Maran Rav Karo. They are influenced by the practice of two great kabbalists, the Ari (cited in the Be’eir Heitev 555:1) and Rav Shalom Sharaby (cited by the Kaf HaChaim 555:3). In fact, the Kaf HaChaim notes that this is the practice of the great Sephardic kabbalistic Yeshivat Beit El, located in Jerusalem’s Old City. He even notes that this practice has spilled over to some more conventional Sephardic synagogues in Jerusalem. Rav Ovadia Yosef insists that this has emerged as the dominant custom in the Sephardic Jerusalem and represents a “chazarat atarah l’yoshena” a restoration of the crown to its glory, since this Jerusalem custom is an ancient one.

The Ben Ish Chai (Parshat Devarim, year one, number 25) adopts a compromise view of sorts, advocating for the donning of tefillin at home, reading Kriat Shema while wearing the tefillin and then attending Shacharit at synagogue and not wearing tefillin during Shacharit. Rav Ovadia Yosef, though, encourages wearing tefillin during Shacharit in the beit knesset, though, of course, removing them prior to the recital of kinot in the morning.

Many Sephardic Communities Do Not Wear Tefillin at Tisha B’Av Shacharit

Despite the rulings of these iconic Sephardic halachic authorities, many Sephardic communities refrain from wearing tefillin until Mincha, in accordance with the custom recorded by Rav Yosef Karo. Most prominently, Moroccan and Turkish Jews do not wear tefillin Tisha B’Av at Shacharit. Ribi Shalom Messas (Teshuvot Shemesh U’Magein 2:6-7) writes at length and insists that only those immersed in kabbalistic study should wear tefillin even in private on Tisha B’Av. Others should follow the practice recorded by Maran Rav Yosef Karo to wait until Mincha to don tefillin.

Rav Messas even endeavors to demonstrate that this practice does not constitute the dominant practice among Jerusalem Sephardic congregations. He also forcefully argues that how could the Churban Beit Hamikdash be ignored in Jerusalem, of all places, and tefillin worn at Shacharit of Tisha B’Av.

Conclusion: Defending Shaarei Orah’s Practice

Even Rav Ovadia Yosef concludes that those congregations that refrain from wearing tefillin during Tisha B’Av Shacharit in accordance with Rav Karo should maintain their custom. In keeping with this conclusion, the men of Shaarei Orah do not don tefillin the morning of Tisha B’Av. 

One final thought to support the practice to refrain from wearing tefillin during Tisha B’Av Shacharit: As noted by Shaarei Orah member Shlomo Mizrahi, it is counterintuitive to wear tefillin while sitting on the floor at Shacharit. How can we wear our crown when we sit on the floor mourning our nation’s calamity?! At Mincha time, when we no longer sit on the floor, it is sensible to wear tefillin at that moment.

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.

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