Q&A with Rabbi Friedlander

A few times in the past the topic of the ראשי שיטין in תפילין came up, while almost everyone claimed that it is not important, "Bais Hastam" and I (and maybe others) claimed that in ARIZ"L Tefillin it is a "must". In one of the times Etan Katz said in name of Rabbi Friedlander "that if the buyer ordered tefilin in ksav arizal, the roshei hashitin *must* follow the order of the Arizal, and if not the sale is a mekach ta’os." where Rabbi Gutnick asked "are you sure?".

So I decided to do the right thing and go and ask Rabbi Friedlander directly (he is very accessible, he answers in הלכות סת"ם three times a week in Yerushlaim and once a week in Bet Shemesh). I recorded with my cell phone and planed to transcribe the whole thing later, but apparently my Nokia c2-01 in a piece of junk and the recording came out very noisy and unclear, so I'll just write out the points from memory and what I managed to understand from the recording.

So in short what Rabbi Friedlander says is that when it comes to ARI Teffilin then yes indeed one is to be very makpid on the ראשי שיטין and if not, the terminology he used was "a מום in the מקח", and "it could be a מקח טעות".
Is the Tefillin mehudar? No the tefillin is definitely NOT Mehudar but it would be difficult to say exactly what level it would be, somewhere between בדיעבד and לכתחילה.

This is more or less what  Rabbi Friedlander said.

Now while we are in this topic let us see what other sofrim (that know what they are doing) did. Here we see an example from R' Reuven where he streched out the וחרה and left very large gaps between the words (5 yudim between וחרה and אף!) in order to get it correct:

However if it was not important to keep the ראשי שיטין and it would be unacceptable to strech the letters, why did he not write regular?

As we see there is enough space for an extra word without all the stretching. So here we see that it is important to keep the ראשי שיטין even if we have to stretch out the letters.

Example 2: Why this:

And not this?

(Stop! I know what you want to ask. The answer is - I don't know!).

And about this one (R' Tzvi the Baal Shem Tov's Sofer) I have nothing what to say:

(From R' Moishe's blog, all rights belong to R' Eliyahu Getz).

So as we see, in ARI Tefillin (as well as A"R) one MUST be very makpid on the ראשי שיטין. If not then it is on a (very) low level and not at all "Mehudar". If paid high price then definitely a מקח טעות.

Comments are welcome.


  1. Hi Sholom,
    Thank you for your post. First things first. Rashei Shitin are a matter of MINHAG. Therefore, we cannot classify variances in such cases as b'dievad or lechatechila. Doing so is confusing categories. All we can say is that it is not in full accordance to the Minhagim of the Arizal.

    Because of the above, it is my opinion that, tefillin as such remain Mehudar. Likewise, one cannot say that they are on a low level, for they are in compliance with all Halakhic requirements. All one may simply say, is: they do not comply with all of the requirements of the Arizal.

    Now, take for example the last perasha in the example above written by R' Tzvi - the Ba'al Shem Tov's Sofer. He meets the requirements of Rashei Shitin. But is this Perasha Mehudar? Letters are streched at the end in order to justify the margins. This is a big No-No. The left Tag of the Lamed is higher than the right. According to some, another big No-No. The final VAV of UL'OVDO is long by any measure; so is the VAV of ULHASHTAVITEM. Others, will jump on the YOD of YEDCHEM for being a bit long. Perhaps the nose of the FEI PESHUTA of AF should have its nose at the left edge instead of indented? The bottom YUD of the ALEF does not have a protruding prick on its ROSH as per Ketav Arizal? The rosh of the NUN has the descending line coming out of the right side of the roof, instead of the middle?

    The bottomline, he was Makhpid on the Rashei Shitin, but would you consider his tefillin Mehudar? Was the Ba'al Shem Tov wearing Tefillin Arizal? Or where his tefillin subject to מקח טעות?

    1. מקח טעות is a Choshen Mishpat question independent of how much you want to incorporate the minhagim of the Arizal into halachic categories (mehudar, b'dieved, whatever). This is evidence that the Roshei Hashittin are essential to Ksav Ari, so it follows that someone who paid for Arizal tefillin the case can be made that these aren't.

  2. With all due respect to R' Alberto and all of the obedience to the Halachik texts, humility calls on us to learn from the practices of the saintly Sofrim who preceded us. This is because they certainly knew whatever we did, but moreover, they were more Gd fearing, saintly, and spiritually sensitive than some of us.
    Clearly, to R' Hersh, in light of his Torah knowledge as well as his divine inspiration, the value of Roshei Ha'shittin was superior to that of not stretching.
    This is something that must be considered when weighing values.

  3. Of course, Rashei Shitin are essential to Tefillin that are written and assembled as per the custom of the Ari. However, there are still many other things that go beyond Rashei Shitin in producing tefillin in accordance to the Ari.

    Was it written with a Kaneh? Did the sofer assume all of the Kavanot when writing the Shem? Was the Shel Rosh written/assembled prior to the Shel Yad? Does the left retzuah of the Rosh end by the heart, and the right not descend below the waist? The particular requirements are many... Therefore, I state (and my language is exact) that ALL that one may simply say is: that Tefillin written without Rashei Shitin DO NOT comply with the requirements of the Arizal.

    However, to state that they are NOT Mehudar, Kasher Bediavad, or of a lower level of Kashruth is not only a TAUT, but a gross miss-representation. Such a statement does not only take away, but also disregards other more NORMATIVE pre-dating traditions that would hold them to be Mehudar and Kasher Lechatechila.

    To R. Hersch the value of Rashei Shittin was superior to that of not stretching, and I respect that. However, that does not take away from my point that others, including R. Friedlander himself, would consider stretching an ALEF (a non-LEHADERET letter) as taking away from the beauty of Tefillin. In addition, there are many other SHINUIM which I have pointed out above which many on this forum would jump to declare not to standard! My point is that: I would NEVER call the BESHT’s tefillin NOT MEHUDAR, or Kasher Bediavad for there is such a thing as respecting a Minhag Kadmon. And, this consideration should be the norm across the board when dealing with varying MINHAGIM.

    In the end analysis, if one were to ask someone what script is a particular set of tefillin is written in, and the sofer answers ARIZAL, I would consider that to be a legitimate and proper answer; even in a case, where it would lack Rashei Shitin.

    However, if a person is seeking Tefillin made in accordance to the Kavanot of the Ari, then we are obliged to look beyond just Rashei HaShitin and insure that that is the case.

    The Jewish world is large and complicated, and we must be cognizant of building unity, rather than breaking and shattering what's left of our nation into more divisions. In addition, we must learn to be precise in the use of our language. There are Tefillin which are written in Ketav Arizal, and then; there is a second category of TEFILLIN written in accordance to the requirements of the Arizal.

    More important, however, I find it essential for us to understand that Tefillin that are written contrary to the requirements of the Ari, can also be MEHUDAR and LECHATECHILAH. Bar-Minan, they should NEVER, EVER come to be considered a LOWER standard of Kashruth!; especially if they are anchored in a valid living tradition.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I deleted my comment because I wrote it after seeing only the first part of the post (for some reason I was viewing it on my phone I did not see the second part). My view of not making an issue if roshei hashitin is not exact is based on discussion with rabonei moreh hoiroa who espouse that view, including rabbi moshe weiner and others. I will iyh comment further on this when I have a few more minutes

  6. Now that I have a bit more time, I want to make a few points, if I may:

    This is a shailoh of diney momonus more than anything. Technically, if the roshei hashitin are not 100%, there is a sod/kabollah/ aspect missing. It is not a lechatchillah or bedieved thing (alberto is 100% correct on this one). One of the boxes remain unticked, and there may be a mekach taus issue for one who paid top dollar to have all the boxes ticked.

    Having said that, a rov must be consulted, as per any dinei momunos issue. In the past, when consulting my usual morei horoah, I was told its a non issue. Hence my comment previously and the one you quote above which I responded to Rav Eitan.

    Rav Friedlander's psak is more machmir, consistent with views espoused by Beis Hastam and others who primarily deal with non-chabad arizal. I will be honest, I have never asked a rov outside of Chabad this particular issue since I have only ever encountered this shailo when checking tefillin belonging to a chabad customer. But herein lies the crux of this issue.

    Chabad sofrim are extremely averse to stretching letters, even of lehaderes. This is based on the tzemach tzedek. This makes it much harder to meet the roshei hashitin requirement. Today, the climate is also very averse to leaving gaps of of more than 3 yudin. Throw in the large chabad stumos and, particularly in R"T parshiyos, it is very hard to tick all the above all the boxes. Something has to give.

    Now your examples from the holy sofrim above are indeed remarkable. Bravo. great find and great point, and I accept what you are saying.

    BUT...since this is largely a dinei momonus issue, is the climate the same as it was then. Try taking any of those parshiyos to rav Friedlander (without of course saying who's they are). A parsha with a gap of five yudin????would rabbi Friedlander say that is a mekach taus. ABSOULUTELY! Would he say its kosher Mehudar or even lechatchillah? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Would he say if you had to choose between that gap or the roshei hashitin, which is more important, I'm sure he would say a chash psul is worse than a sod issue. (I'm not even asking what he would say if he saw that ches).

    I only use rav Friedlander because you did. But my point is universal. Todays shailos must be dealt with all the factors on the table and considered, and a diney momonus issue must be dealt with how the market and climate is today, not 200 years ago. I'm not saying chas vesholom to ignore details and diyyukim of these holy parshiyos. That is not the point I am making.

    At any rate, everyone is in agreement that roshei hashitin is important, but the full picture must be looked at.

  7. Thank you Eli for your well reasoned and honest response.

  8. Rav Eli said, "BUT...since this is largely a dinei momonus issue, is the climate the same as it was then. Try taking any of those parshiyos to rav Friedlander (without of course saying who's they are). A parsha with a gap of five yudin????would rabbi Friedlander say that is a mekach taus. ABSOULUTELY! Would he say its kosher Mehudar or even lechatchillah? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Would he say if you had to choose between that gap or the roshei hashitin, which is more important, I'm sure he would say a chash psul is worse than a sod issue. (I'm not even asking what he would say if he saw that ches)."

    I can confirm that Rav Friedlander holds that a shiur parsha of more than 3 Yudin (R"T) is bedieved, even if holes are made.

  9. A few clarifications: I read again and again what R. Friedlander said. He did not say בדיעבד. He did not say מקח טעות. I just bought here what he said and if something is not clear or If anyone disagrees with what he said, then it is possible to ask him directly (as I said he is vary accessible).
    It seems that the source of the misunderstanding here is that I, as a sofer am supposed to supply the customer with the best and not look for any shortcuts, therefore I have to do every טצדיקי (I'm lost in translation with that word) to get everything as correct as I can get it. Rabbi Gutnick writes "it is very hard to tick all the above all the boxes. Something has to give.", I totally disagree. I think nothing has to give. Here we can see a sample of a R"T והיה אם שמע (the most problematic case) that I wrote last week, the ראשי שיטין are correct, no major stretching of the letters and no super-large gaps between the words. And if if a larger gap is left between the words there is not problem either. See Here what R' Moishe said about leaving large gaps (יש להנהיג שמותר להשאיר ריוח ג' יודין בין התיבות לכתחילה).
    Of course if when checking תפילין we come up with something else, that is a different story, but checking is not my line so I will not mix into it.
    But I still insist that if someone takes "Top Dollar" for his פרשיות then the ראשי שיטין must be correct. Otherwise it is a מקח טעות.
    About R' Alberto's comment on R' Tzvi's writing I will not comment because I an not trying to convince anyone here.
    And to R' Gutnick: I am unfamiliar with the T"T that says no stretching. To be Mekayem מכל מלמדי השכלתי please point out where it is written. And BTW R' Reuven Was in the time of the T"T (not all the time). Here we see the T"T sends his uncle the מהרי"ל to ask R"R a question (גם...לשאול את פי הסופר המובהק ר' ראובן נ"י). but here it says הסופר מ' ראובן ז"ל.

  10. Sholom,

    I answer you with the following points:

    1) When I said "something has to give", I did not mean its impossible - just not always so practical. Of course it is possible, many sofrim do it (many do not). You write very high end ksav, many others are not as skilled.

    2) No question - outside Chabad where stretching letters is a non issue a posek will be more machmir about Roshei Hashitin.

    3) I stand corrected on the Tzemach tzedek.. I know its mentioned in SA Harav (obviously) but I remember it also being mentioned elsewhere. I will try and remember where but seems like its not the TT. Either way, it doesn't really change much, my bottom line remains the same. (I deleted that comment anyway so I don't mislead anyone).

    4) Today I spoke to a sofer mumcheh and a talmid of the late rabbi zirkind , he told me he sees many times TOP sofrim not keeping to the roshei hashitin, including Rabbi Zirkind himself, the late rabbi Silverman, and many more. He says he does not know of any posek in Chabad who would say to make an issue of it.

    While I appreciate the old ksavim and what they show, Daas Torah is fluid and things don't always stay the same, especially small nuances, chumros and minhagim type issues. think about how much ksav and other areas of of stam has changed in the last 1000 years Even in the last 100 years. Take, for example, the issue of 3 yudin gap, which has become so much more emphasized and popularized in recent years - even by many Chabad sofrim. As said before, this, too, changes the equation. A Rov has to consider everything.

    Furthermore, (as I said in the deleted comment) I have spoken to a few more internationally recognized Chabad poskim on this issue and they say that if you don't keep 100% to the roshei hashitin, the parshiyos are still mehudar. Do you have any who say to the contrary?

    I conclude by reiterating that personally, my policy has not changed even in light of the above, which is:

    1) When selling any high quality Arizal (or A"R) I will endeavor to ensure the roshei hashitin is correct.
    2) When checking existing tefillin, It will depend who the customer is: If he is not Chabad ie chassisdish or nusach sfard, - if they are high quality tefillin otherwise, I will point out the problem if roshei hashitin are not correct on anything supposed to be geder mehudar.
    3) If he is chabad , I will not make an issue (unless he specifically asks me about davka this issue or if he tells me he paid for TOP parshiyos, top , meaning where even a mechikah would detract from that level (rare).

    Obviously for bies yosef tefillin this is a non issue.

    If anyone thinks I am being unreasonable, please comment

  11. (On point no. 3 above, the more I think about it, the more I seem to recall that there is indeed a Tzemach Tzedek somewhere in Yoreh Deah in the reish yud simanim on Sefer Torah, where he talks about a shaim Hashem sticking out of the line and to adjust the other lines to rectify this, but to be careful about stretching. I had a quick look today but couldn't spot it, these are long simanim and I need a bit of time to go through and learn them again. Perhaps on Shabbos I will have the time. If someone knows what I am referring to and can confirm if my memory serves me correctly or not and where it's found exactly I would be much obliged.)

  12. Final point, Reb Sholom., If I may:

    I think you are blurring the lines here and mixing too much together:

    You bring rayos from Rav Friedlander (who tells me himself he does not like to pasken on Chabad related issues) when the primary dissenting view is from Chabad circles. Reb Moshe Weiner, a well respected posek in Chabad says, as do all others I asked that IT IS A NON ISSUE, yet when it comes to my point of the three yudin, you then jump back on to the Chabad bandwagon quoting Reb Moshe that we are not makpid about 3 yudin! IMHO You are blurring the boundries and not entirely looking at separating what I think is a distinct difference in outlook between Chabad and non Chabad poskim today.

  13. I am sorry I missed this very informative post. Interesting is that nobody quotes the klausenberger rav who held that rashai hashitin must be followed in rabeinu tam as well- the letters in shma and vehoyo ki must be stretched.
    At Beis Hastam we still count such tefilin mehudar however if somebody orders "better tefilin" with parshios above 900$ we arevery makpid on roshei hashitin.
    what prompted my original post was when i received a top of the line set which gets sold for 1500 and the sofer didn't follow

  14. I spoke to a few top Sephardi sofrim. One is very makpid on roshei shitin and the other says that he'll do it if asked (which I do).
    The Kol Yaakov says "sheken nohagim".
    And if the sofer isn't makpid? Does it affect the hiddur? Is it a shaila of mekach taus? Does anyone know what Rav Ovadia or Rav Abba Shaul hold?


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