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The Batim of Tefillin Shel Rosh

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


            The mitzva of tefillin entails placing one 'bayit' (literally a house containing relevant sections of the Torah) upon the arm and one bayit upon the head. Unlike the tefillin shel yad (arm tefillin) the shel rosh (head tefillin) is composed of four different compartments, each housing one of the four tefillin-relevant sections. As discussed in previous shiurim, anytime a series of items of actions are associated within one mitzva, the degree of their integration must be questioned. This article will focus upon the integration of these four compartments. Are they four separate houses which just have to be attached to each other? Or do we view them as one integrated bayit which is further segmented into four. To maintain the architectural metaphor - are they four attached houses or one house with four different rooms?


            In fact this question might stem from a textual disparity. In parashat Bo, the Torah describes tefillin shel rosh in two opposing manners: First it uses the term 'zikaron' which literally means 'remembrance' but refers to these tefillin in the singular - suggesting integration between the various batim. Afterwards however, the Torah employs the word 'totafot' stated in plural which implies numerous batim.



            The principle source which addresses this theoretical issue concerns the manner of manufacturing this bayit. How integrated should they be at the manufacturing stage? This question is addressed by the tana'im in several locations. The Mekhilta de-Rashbi (a collection of halakhic comments of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai surrounding Sefer Shemot) suggests that these four houses can be placed in totally separate locations on a person's head. According to this hava amina (initial suggestion) it would seem evident that these four batim are seen by Halakha as totally independent. This option is rejected because in parashat Bo the Torah refers to them as 'zikaron' (remembrance) in the singular - thus affirming their integration. The hava amina however of the Mekhilta is quite revealing and even the conclusion (maskana) does not demand any PHYSICAL integration between the houses - rather that they be placed in the same location on a person's head.


            The gemara in Menachot considers our question but from a slightly more 'moderate' angle. The gemara considers the possibility of manufacturing the various batim from different strips of hide. The gemara does not even consider the Mekhilta's position of dislocating the four boxes but does question the level of integration during manufacture. This again based upon the Torah's employing the plural 'totafot' to refer to these tefillin. Indeed this possibility emphasizes the willingness of the gemara - at least in the hava amina stage to consider the four batim as different units. The question of course remains: how are we to understand the maskana? Even though the gemara rejects the actual possibility of different hides (because of the singular term 'zikaron') one might still claim that, fundamentally, the batim are separate units but as a technical concession to zikaron must be manufactured from one skin. This does not necessarily mean that they are all completely integrated.





            We have witnessed two essential ways of understanding the four batim of the tefillin. Evidently this question is itself based upon a textual tension between the term 'totafot' (plural) and 'zikaron' (singular). Both the Mekhilta's examination of the placement of these batim and the gemara inspection of the manufacture process would appear to revolve around this issue.


            The gemara continues to discuss the structure of these batim in a manner which might further reflect the fundamental question of integration. The gemara cites a dispute between Rebbi and the Chakhamim as to whether a space must be left between the different batim. According to Rebbi a space must remain between them, while according to the Rabanan, no space is necessary (and possibly a space would invalidate them). Quite possibly, the machloket surrounds the issue we have been discussing. Even though the gemara has already concluded that, according to everyone, the different boxes must be fashioned from one hide, does this necessarily mean they are to be fused into one house? One could imagine this point underlying the machloket between Rebbi and Rabanan. Leaving a space would highlight their distinctiveness while conjoining them would stress their integration.


            An interesting discussion surrounds the gemara's aforementioned conclusion. It would seem as if the gemara demands that the four batim be fashioned from one hide. However, one might interpret this merely as an insistence that the batim form one structure - though not necessarily made from the same  hide. What would happen if different skins were used and afterward the batim were glued together? This issue is raised by the Sefer ha-Teruma and discussed further by R. Akiva Eiger. If we continue to view the houses as fundamentally separate we might sanction artificially combining them.


            A fascinating test case arises out of the comments of the Rosh. The Rosh in Hilkhot Tefillin cites a section of halakhot in the name of the Shimusha Raba (a Geonic work). He maintains that the internal walls of the tefillin shel Rosh were half walls rather than complete ones. In other words, the walls only extended halfway down the length of these batim (see diagram):



             A                           B

         __________                  __________

    |    |    |    |    |        |    |    |    |    |

    |    |    |    |    |        |    |    |    |    |

    |                   |        |    |    |    |    |

    |                   |        |    |    |    |    |

  ------------------------    --------------------------



Diagram A facilitates placement of each parsha in a separate area while still maintaining the structural unity of the larger unit. Diagram B, however, indicates a more complete separation between the various batim.


            Another interesting structural machloket which might reflect the degree of integration concerns the outer indentations on the tefillin which correspond to the internal divisions between the walls. The gemara refers to these as 'charitzin' - etchings in the outer shell of the hides. The gemara requires that these charitzin be 'nikkar' (recognizable to the observer). It further asserts that the engraved part must reach the base of the tefillin. However, the gemara does not clarify the specific ITEM whose engraved part must reach the base of the tefillin. The Shittah Mekubbezet cites a Tosafot who claims that the gemara refers to the letter 'shin' engraved on the outside of the tefillin (on either side).As such this gemara tells us little about the houses themselves and the degree of their integration. Rashi explains that the gemara's demand for full-length etching refers to the outer indentation corresponding to the inner walls. According to Rashi, the gemara demands that these indentations themselves run the length of the tefillin. Clearly according to Rashi the gemara makes a dramatic claim about the division between the walls.





            We studied the various statements offered by the gemara and explained by the Rishonim regarding the structure of the tefillin shell rosh. Ultimately the different blueprints might reflect the fundamental question  as to whether the boxes are completely different houses or merely different compartments of the same house.






1. As we studied in the past a series of items connected by Halakha, or a series of actions must be probed as to the degree of integration which might exist between the various parts.


2. A hava amina is important not just because it paves the way for the maskana but because it highlights perspectives which might not be FULLY rejected in the maskana.

Any hava amina can be rejected on fundamental grounds OR its fundamental premise might remain while the actual intended halakhic conclusion is rejected.


3. The manufacture process of an item used to perform a mitzva might reflect the nature of the mitzva.


4. Parallel 'statements' of the Tana'im might reflect similar logic but taken to different extremes. Sometimes these parallel texts are useful in helping to decipher the true intent of a mishna or a beraita. Special attention should be paid to the Tosefta, Yerushalmi, and various midrashei halakha.