Tefillin: to Check or Not to Check – That is the Question

26 Tishrei 5774
September 30, 3013
Do I need to have my tefillin checked?

Under certain conditions one is required to have his tefillin checked:
If one learns that the sofer or provider of his tefillin is unreliable
In this situation one must also consult his rav since if the reliability of the sofer comes into question, the parshios may need to be replaced altogether. Same is true for the batim or retzuos maker. Minimally the parshios would need to be immediately checked.
If the tefillin have been exposed to elements which pose a risk to the kashrus of the tefilin.

If tefillin get very wet or are left in a car, outside, near a heater or on a windowsill for an extended period so they get extremely hot then a rav should be consulted. If checking is required it would need to be done immediately.

If the tefillin are not worn regularly they need to be checked twice every seven years?
Consult a rav as to what constitutes irregular use.

Doesn’t the Mishna Brura say that one who perspires a lot should have his tefillin checked?

Yes. However, sweat or damp hair is no longer a real concern for those with gasos batim. The thick leather provides the enclosed parshios with considerable protection. The batim, on the other hand, may become warped or lose their squareness due to (extended) exposure to water or perspiration. It is imperative to totally dry off after showering or going to the mikva. For one who sweats, consult a sofer for suggestions how to minimize the damage.

Assuming none of the above is an issue, must I ever have my tefillin checked?
The answer is no according to the letter of the law. There is a chazakah that since the parshios were written by a reliable sofer and were properly checked and are protected within the batim that they will remain kosher and in their original state. However, it is recommended to have them checked occasionally.

Is this chazakah on the entire tefillin or just on the parshios?
The chazakah is only on what can’t be seen, such as the parshios. However, the batim and retzuos can be seen and since they can get damaged or may need occasional maintenance due to use one is responsible to keep an eye on their condition and whenever in doubt to show them to a sofer or rav.

I’m confused. If there’s a chezkas kashrus then why suggest checking tefillin?
While there is a chezkas kashrus on the parshios nevertheless, one too many times, problems are found on subsequent examination. These include problems overlooked by the sofer and the original examiner that affect the kashrus or level of kashrus and problems that occurred at a later date, like fading of fine lines, such as the tagin, kotzim and within actual letters and fine cracks along the letters resting on the folds of the parshios shel rosh. In most cases the problems are still reparable so by checking on occasion one is likely to prevent irreparable psulim.

In addition, the iron sulfate and tannic acid based ink used in the last number of centuries naturally fades and more easily cracks and crumbles as it and the klaf dry out. At one time a carbon based ink was used. Its blackness was more permanent and rarely cracked or crumbled. (Note that today there is a carbon based sofer’s ink available and has the support of many rabbanim. Tests seem to show that it will prevent fading, cracks and crumbling.)

In fact, the Aruch Hashulchan (hilchos tefillin siman 39) says in our days it is known that over time the ink pops off the klaf so one is required to occasionally check his tefillin.
I’ve heard that some suggest never opening the tefillin since doing so may damage the batim and parshios.

Many STaM experts disagree with this opinion based on the above mentioned concerns. In addition, if done by a professional, the advantage of checking far outweighs the minimal affect that opening, removing and reassembling might have on the batim and parshios. It’s better to ensure that the tefillin are kosher and bear the improbable risk that the batim and/or the parshios will need to be replaced after many years than to take the more likely risk of wearing passul tefillin.

Furthermore, when people never intend to have their tefillin checked they may get into a mindset that nothing will ever go wrong and will not keep a careful eye on the condition of the batim and retzuos.

If tefillin checking is recommended then how often should it be done?
Since there’s no obligation it isn’t possible to give definite guidelines. There’s no doubt that the first tefillin exam is the most critical. If anything was originally overlooked or if there is any issue with the ink or fine lines, it is likely to be caught at this time. (For this reason, it is critical for new parshios and mezuzos to be checked by 2 examiners in the hope that any textual or letter form issues will be caught and corrected before they are put to use.) This author would recommend doing the first exam after 3-5 years and if there isn’t any issue with fading or cracking then a follow up exam is worthwhile every 10-15 years. One whose parshios are written on thicker klaf, are tightly inserted into the batim or the ksav, particularly the finer lines, is more delicate then it may be worthwhile to check them with more frequency.

By bringing ones tefillin to the sofer every number of years for an exam will also allow for a professional exam of the batim and retzuos as well. It isn’t uncommon for the sofer to find issues that weren’t apparent to the layman.

With this said, it’s critical to make sure that the sofer also thoroughly checks the batim and retzuos. Assuring that the parshios are kosher and then not making sure that the batim and retzuos are kosher defeats the purpose of the exam!
It‘s also important to verify that the one checking the parshios is a properly trained examiner and preferably certified. Similarly, the one opening, checking and reassembling the batim needs to be trained in the melacha and sufficiently familiar with the related halachos. Certification to become a sofer doesn’t prepare one to check or work with batim.

If one isn’t only concerned for the kashrus of his tefillin but wants his tefillin to be of a particular standard or wants certain hiddurim then the sofer must be informed so he’ll check accordingly.

I had my tefillin computer checked when I bought them. When I have my tefillin checked should I also have them computer checked again?

Once you’ve had your parshios computer checked there is no need to do it again.
A checking campaign has been arranged in my community or on occasion a sofer visits my shul and offers same day checking. Is there any reason why I should forgo this convenience and take it to another sofer (if available), who will take a number of days?
If the visiting sofer is regarded as a top examiner (and batim expert) and is working in a manner that he is not unduly pressured then if there isn’t an examiner or batim expert of this caliber available locally it would be worthwhile to take advantage of his services. In general though, those working as part of campaigns or offering next day service are often excessively pressured and the quality of the exam may be somewhat compromised.

This article has been reviewed by HaRav Mordechai Friedlander Shlit”a

Rabbi Askotzky has been a certified sofer, examiner and batim expert for 25 years and is author of the acclaimed book Tefillin & Mezuzos, Targum Press 2003. Visit his website. He can be reached at sofer@stam.net or in Israel via 718.874.8220


  • Shimon
    September 30, 2013 - 20:01 | Permalink

    Dear JKN,
    This article seems to be extremely similar to much of what is written in “Inside Stam” Chapter 13. It seems a little strange to me that the author of “Inside Stam”, Rabbi Mendlowitz is not credited in any way.

  • Rabbi Askotzky
    October 2, 2013 - 00:20 | Permalink

    I wrote this article based on my extensive knowledge and experience and in consultation with Harav Friedlander Shlit”a. While I have read Inside Stam, this article nor any of my other articles are based on it and would have been the same had I not read it. I published the acclaimed book, Tefillin & mezuzos in 2003 (10 years before Inside Stam was published) where much of this information can be found. JKN has given credit to the correct author.

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