Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Ekev  5765/August 27, 2005

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity. Prepared for Internet Publication by the Computer Center Staff at Bar-Ilan University. Inquiries and comments to: Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,




Tefillin Times Two


 Menashe Elyashiv


Judaica Library


The commandment of tefillin (phylacteries) is mentioned four times in the Torah:

1)      in the passage on dedicating first-borns to the Lord (Kadesh li kol bekhor):  “And this shall serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead” (Ex. 13:9)

2)      in the passage Ve-haya ki yevi’akha (“And when the Lord has brought you…”):  “And so it shall be as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead” (Ex. 13:16)

3)      within the Shema:  “Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead” (Deut. 6:8)

4)      in the second paragraph of the Shema, Ve-haya im shamo’a (“If, then, you obey… )”:  “bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead” (Deut. 11:18). This passage is found in today’s parasha.

Little is written in Scriptures about this commandment and much halakhah has been attached to the sparse texts.   Some of the halakhic rules concerning tefillin are considered rulings given to Moses at Mount Sinai, such as their color, shape, way of being sewn, and the passages to be inserted in them; other practices of tefillin depend on custom, such as the way the straps are wrapped around the hand. 

Rashi and Rabbenu Tam

There is, however, an ancient dispute regarding the ordering of the four passages in the head phylactery, which contains four separate compartments. According to one approach, they are to be arranged in the order they occur in the Torah; according to the other approach, the two passages that begin with the word ve-haya (2 and 4 above) are sandwiched between passages 1 and 3.  The first approach is known as Rashi tefillin and the second as tefillin of Rabbenu Tam. In truth, both these approaches, named after Rashi and Rabbenu Tam, are but a reflection of an ancient disagreement from the days of the tanna’im that apparently continued until its subsequent halakhic resolution, with certain reservations, as shall be discussed later on.   In the Mekhilta (end of Parashat Bo), the interpretation is as Rashi said, although there are some rishonim (early rabbinic authorities) who wrote that they had seen in the Jerusalem Talmud, Seder Kodashim, [1] the approach bearing Rabbenu Tam’s name.

How did a controversy emerge concerning such a widely observed commandment?  Some people believe that laxness in performing the commandment led to the rules of halakhah being forgotten, and other believe that the laws of the Torah do not strictly lay out the order of the passages, but that to make the practice uniform a single approach was established for all Jews, although nevertheless some Jews persisted in adhering to the approach taken by their predecessors.

Between Tefillin and Shofar

A similar development occurred with blowing a teru’ah on the shofar.  There had been a variety of customs, but Rabbi Abahu unified them, by sounding all three variations of teru’ah. [2]   With tefillin, in contrast, the second option was not made part of the emended practice.   Other rishonim as well held different opinions regarding the order of the passages.   Maimonides, Nahmanides, Rabbenu Jonah, Rashba, Shibbolei ha-Leket, Rosh and others ruled as Rashi, while Sa’adiah Gaon, R. Sherira Gaon, Rabbi Hananel, Ra’abad and others ruled as Rabbenu Tam (meaning they maintained the same order, even if they preceded him), and traditions differed as to the approach advocated by Rav Hai Gaon. [3]

The Book of Splendor (Tikkunei Hazohar) as well, indicates that there was doubt as to the correct arrangement of the passages, but according to the Ari’s interpretation of the Book of Splendor, both methods were true. This is identical to the approach taken by the Book of Splendor regarding shofar, that all the variations of teru’ah were correct and that one had to sound all the blasts (teruah, tekiah, teruah and tekiah)  by law, and not merely to cover all doubts.  It follows that in order to fully perform the commandment of tefillin according to the Kabbalah, one had to lay two pairs of phylacteries at once.  Indeed, there were some early authorities who maintained that due to the uncertainty involved, a G-d-fearing person would lay two pairs of tefillin at once.   If the tefillin cases are small there is room on the arm and the forehead for two sets. [4]

The Shulhan Arukh

The Shulhan Arukh rules that the general practice follows Rashi and Maimonides, but that a G-d-fearing person should follow both customs and lay both sets with the intention that the set which is according to halakhah be in performance of the commandment and the other set be simply a set of straps.  He who cannot lay both sets together should lay them one after the other with one set of blessings; and he who cannot do that should lay Rabbenu Tam tefillin after the prayers.  All these laws are intended only for those who are known to be fastidious in performance of mitzvot.

To summarize, we have seen three approaches resulting from the disagreement over the proper order of the passages:

1)         Since the question was resolved in favor of the approach of Rashi and Maimonides, this method alone is followed and the other is rejected.

2)         A particularly devout person should also lay Rabbenu Tam tefillin.

3)         Both approaches are correct and so one should lay two pairs of tefillin at once.

With the spread of Hassidism, which rested heavily on the Book of Splendor and the Kabbalah, the practice of laying tefillin according to the approach of Rabbenu Tam became more widely accepted in the general public.  This practice is generally followed only by married men, except among Habad hassidim, who lay Rabbenu Tam tefillin from the age of Bar Mitzvah.   The approach in Hassidism is to lay Rabbenu Tam tefillin towards the end of the morning prayers, or after them. There are hardly any hassidim who used two sets of tefillin at once, save for the Admor Rabbi Isaac of Komarna and other isolated hassidim.   He held the view of the kabbalists that both views are true ones and that therefore one should lay two sets of tefillin together. [5]

The Mitnagdim

In the communities of the mitnagdim the decision of the Vilna Gaon was usually followed.  It is told that his outstanding disciple, Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin, once asked him whether one should lay Rabbenu Tam tefillin, to which the Vilna Gaon answered him that if the purpose were to cover all possible doubts, then there were several other controversies regarding the halakhah of tefillin and that to satisfy all doubts one would have to lay 24 or 64 pairs of tefillin.   Rabbi Hayyim noted that the Book of Splendor says the virtue of Rabbenu Tam tefillin lies in their being of the World to Come, and the Vilna Gaon answered him that the plain sense of the Book of Splendor was not in accordance with this. [6]   Nevertheless, there were rabbis among the mitnagdim who in their later years began to lay tefillin of Rabbenu Tam.  It is told that some of them feared that when they would come to the World of Truth, Rabbenu Tam would argue against them that although they had learned much Torah they nevertheless had not laid tefillin according to his method.   Of course one must note that the doubt in this regard did not stem from the time of Rabbenu Tam.    It is told of others that they laid these tefillin because of the “revelation” in the Jerusalem Talmud, Seder Kodashim, which is the source for Rabbenu Tam’s approach. [7]

The Eastern Custom

In the Sephardic and eastern Jewish communities there were rabbis who put on both kinds together.  In kabbalistic circles this practice was observed because they believed both to be correct, and others did so in order to leave no room for doubt.   There were rabbis who put on the second set in private so that the community would not imitate their practice, but would follow the simple halakhah.  In 1954 Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef ruled in his book, Resp. Yabia Omer (vol. I, Orah Hayyim par. 3), that those who laid Rabbenu Tam tefillin should follow the Ashkenazi practice, which is to say they should not lay them together with Rashi tefillin.  In his responsum he raised concern that due to the size of tefillin in these days it would be impossible to lay them both together properly.   Moreover, the reason for laying was entirely because of possible doubt and not because both were believed to be correct.  Rabbi Hedaya (1895-1990), a posek, dayan, and kabbalist, took issue with him in his book of responsa, Yaskil Avdi (vol. 8, Orah Hayyim, par. 22, and Yoreh De’ah, par. 8), without mentioning Rabbi Yosef by name. [8]   Rabbi Hedaya ruled that one could make small tefillin and lay them together. The kabbalists, however, saw no benefit in laying Rabbenu Tam tefillin separately, and Rabbi Joseph Hayyim of Baghdad, in Ben Ish Hai (parashat Va-Yera, year 1, halakhah 21), wrote that from the time of Moses to the time of the geonim it had been customary to lay two sets together.  Here we see the difference between the decisions of someone who rules on halakhah according to the principles of halakhah (Rabbi Yosef) as opposed to a kabbalist rabbi who rules according to the tradition of the Kabbalah (Rabbi Hedaya). [9]   Today in Israel one can see all three approaches followed in a single minyan:   some lay Rashi tefillin, others follow the Kabbalah and lay two sets together, and yet others lay Rabbenu Tam tefillin at the end of the service, according to Ashkenazi custom.

Left to Right or Right to Left

One other aspect deserves mention.   The gemara says that the passages are to be arranged in the phylactery housing of the forehead from right to left, but it does not say whether that means the right side as seen when looking at the person laying the tefillin or whether it means the right side of the person laying the tefillin.   Rashi and Rabbenu Tam and most of the posekim are of the opinion that it meant as seen when looking at the person laying tefillin, but Sefer Shimusha Rabba is of the opinion that it is from the vantage point of the person laying the tefillin.   The kabbalists generally lay tefillin of Shimusha Rabba during afternoon prayers (save for the eve of Sabbaths and festivals).  That means they have three sets of tefillin, small Rashi and Rabbenu Tam ones for the morning service, and Shimusha Rabba, which are large tefillin with the passages arranged according to Rashi’s order (except that the right is from the vantage point of the person laying them) for minhah (the afternoon service).  The book Pri Etz Hayyim (Sha’ar Tefillin, ch. 10) cites an oblique hint to three sets of the tefillin from the verse in Psalms 37:37, “Mark the blameless (Heb. tam – Rabbenu Tam), note the upright (Heb. yashar – Rashi), for there is a future for the man of integrity” (Heb. shalom – Rav Sar Shalom, who was said to have used Shimusha Rabba tefillin).

What about the method of arranging the passages that begin with the word ve-haya in the center?   This method is ascribed to Ra’abad.   Although the Kabbalists did not insist on laying tefillin according to this practice as well, nevertheless in the Yom-Yom calendar of the Habad hassidim (Brooklyn, 1943) it says that some also lay Ra’abad tefillin.   Those people require two tefillin for laying on the arm – Rashi and Rabbenu Tam – because the differences in method that places the ve-haya passages in the middle do not pertain to the tefillin that go on the arm (where all four passages are written in succession on one piece of parchment), and four sets of tefillin for the forehead.

Below we show the four methods of arrangement:




Ve-haya ki yeviakha

Ve-haya im shamo’a



Shimusha Rabba


Ve-haya ki yeviakha


Ve-haya im shamo’a



Rabbenu Tam


Ve-haya im shamo’a

Ve-haya ki yeviakha




Ve-haya im shamo’a


Ve-haya ki yeviakha




[1] Which is no longer extant.  In 1907-1907 an edition of Kodashim in the Jerusalem Talmud was published by   Friedlander, but was subsequently proven to be a forgery.

[2] See my article in the Bar Ilan Weekly Torah Studies, 305.

[3] Y. Gertner, “Ha’im heni’ah Rav Hai Gaon tefillin shel Rabbenu Tam,” Sinai 107, 2001, pp. 202-212.

[4] Ibid., “Hashpa’at he-Ari al Minhag hanahat shnei zugot tefillin,” Da’at 28, 2002, pp. 51-64.  Ibid., “Toledot minhag hanahat shnei zugot tefillin ad zemano shel R. Yosef Karo,” Sidra 8, 2002, pp. 5-17.

[5] H. Y. Brill, Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac ha-Komarnah, Jerusalem 1965.

[6] M. Sternbuch, Hilkhot ha-Gra u-Minhagav, par. 37, Jerusalem 1974.

[7]A. L. ha-Cohen, Mikhtavei ha-Rav Hafetz Hayyim, New York 1943, p. 27.  The son of the Hafetz Hayyim notes that the reason his father laid two pairs was not that he had lived among Hassidim during the First World War and wished to act as they did, but because of the tractate in the Jerusalem Talmud that had “been discovered.”  Even after learning that it was a forgery, he continued to lay them.

[8] For Rabbi Yosef’s attitude to the Kabbalah, cf. B. Lau, Le-hahazir Atarah le-Yoshnah, Ph.D. dissertation, Bar Ilan University, Ramat Gan 2002, chapters 6, 7;  the Kabbalist Rabbi Y. M. Hillel, Kuntres Atarah le-Yoshnah, Jerusalem 2000.   According to him, this is the only way of performing the commandment of tefillin in its entirety.

[9] Y. M. Hillel, loc. sit.