Tips for Purchasing Tefillin
Every Jew needs to own their personal pair of Tefillin. Most people who purchase Tefillin are purchasing Tefillin for their children's or grandchildren's Bar Mitzvah. Other possibilities are someone replacing an older pair of Tefillin, or due to loss or theft of an existing pair of Tefillin, or when someone who did not have a pair of Tefillin decides to undertake the fulfilment of this mitzvah.
How can you ascertain which type of Tefillin are right for you?
When purchasing Tefillin there are three basic questions that you need to understand.
• Are the Tefillin manufactured from thick hided animals or from thin skinned animals?
• What determines whether Tefillin are considered "Mehudar"?
• Why is there such a discrepancy in the price of Tefillin?
In order to answer these questions we have deemed it necessary to split our explanations into two parts:
Herein we will explain how to choose the proper pair of Tefillin for your needs, what you need to look for when choosing a supplier for your Tefillin and what you need to pay attention to when looking at the actual Tefillin.
Herein we will analyze the Tefillin market; who sells Tefillin, where is it recommended to purchase Tefillin and what are the prices.
Part 1 – How to choose the appropriate pair of Tefillin.
As in every purchase, one must first consider the budget. However, in Tefillin there are considerations which must be taken into consideration.
The act of laying Tefillin is a mitzvah. When the Sages proclaimed that one must "Enhance or Beautify" the mitzvah they meant that one must invest in the enhancement or beautification of the mitzvah. Therefore if one finds that he has two options of purchasing the needed components to complete a mitzvah; one for 3,000 or 4,000 NIS, then he should spend more in order to fulfill the requirements of enhancing or beautifying the mitzvah.
The question that immediately arises is; Why should one invest in this enhancement or beautification process?
The investment spent on fulfillment of mitzvot shows where our heart lies. G-d judges mankind not only upon how we fulfill his commandments but also upon our thoughts and our intentions in keeping his commandments.
A pair of Tefillin is compromised by the housing and the scrolls inside them.
In this section we will concentrate on the housing.
Choosing Appropriate Housing:
There are two options available to the Tefillin manufacturer when choosing which skins to use when manufacturing the houses for the Tefillin scrolls; Thick or thin skinned animals. The hide of any animal that is kosher for consumption may technically be used to manufacture the Tefillin housings.
What are "thin skinned" Tefillin?
These are Tefillin housing manufactured from the skins or hides of sheep, goats or even deer. The hide is thinner which allows it to be cut in an easier manner and the manufacturer cuts and pastes pieces of this leather together until they acquire the desired shape and size of the housings. The advantage in using this procedure is the relative low cost of these hides, along with the time saved in the manufacturing process.
The disadvantages in using thin skinned hides are that they don't stand up in the test of time. They are easily damaged if they receive any sort of blow or are dropped. Any repair required to the housing is practically impossible. There is also a major question in Halacha (Jewish ritual law) as to whether it is at all permissible to glue together various pieces of hide in order to produce Tefillin, and in most cases the scrolls which are placed in these "thin skinned" Tefillin are of a lower quality. Thus, in the future, when these Tefillin are checked, they will be found lacking in their meeting of Halachik requirements and will need to have these scrolls replaced.
What are "thick skinned" animals?
Tefillin that are manufactured from Bull hides are processed from a single piece of hide. The process is quite intricate and requires an immense amount of skill, knowledge and experience. This process requires over a year's time from the onset of the process until its completion. After this arduous and complex process, you receive an "enhanced and beautified" pair of Tefillin as exemplified in the "Seal of Halachik Standard and Quality".
These types of housings are preferable from a Halachik stand point as they are manufactured from one piece of hide. There is no gluing of various pieces of hide, they are much more durable, and if damaged in any manner, it is usually possible to repair them.
The disadvantage of using thick skins is the amount of time needed in order to produce them, thus reflecting a higher cost to the consumer.
In summary, it is obvious that the thick skinned hides produce a superior product which meets all the requirements of Halacha. Anyone who intends to lay Tefillin on a daily basis, anyone who wishes that the Tefillin he purchases today will last a lifetime – should only purchase the superior product.
Once the housings have been prepared, painted, and sewn together it is quite difficult to determine what type of housings you have received. It is therefore imperative that you purchase your Tefillin from someone who has a "Seal of Halachik Standard and Quality".
Part 2 – How to choose the appropriate pair of Tefillin.
Where should you purchase your Tefillin?
Tefillin are not cheap. When you go out "shopping" for Tefillin careful consideration must be taken in order to ascertain where they were manufactured, who is giving the warranty and will they be there in twenty years' time if you require service.
In essence, when you purchase your Tefillin, you are purchasing two black boxes. There is no way for you to examine the scrolls or to ascertain whether the manufacturing process adheres to all the tenements of religious law. Therefore, you must ascertain who, if anyone recommends and certifies the manufacturing process before you even consider purchasing a set of Tefillin.
Choose a factory that allows you to come watch the manufacturing process, see the scrolls and touch them with your own hands and partake in the actual insertion of your scrolls into their housing.
Analyzing the Tefillin Market
Who sells Tefillin?
There are numerous entities and private individuals who market Tefillin. Most of these people are mere middlemen or wholesalers who purchase the Tefillin at the best possible price so that they can market them to stores. The advantages in these products are in their relatively low prices. The disadvantage is also their relatively low price – you get what you pay for. A "cheap" product at a lower price generally reflects on its quality.
There are a very small amount of Tefillin manufacturers. Some of them only sell to wholesalers and directly to stores. Others sell directly to the consumer. It is imperative to ascertain whether the manufacturer is well known, do they follow a set stringent manufacturing process and what is really done in the manufacturing process? Does the manufacturer have recommendations from leading Rabbinical figures and are their Tefillin certified as following strict Jewish rituals? Last, but not least, do they allow you to visit their manufacturing plant?
Where should you not purchase Tefillin?
• Do not purchase any Tefillin where you cannot verify who the manufacturer is.
• If the price is too low – you are not getting a "good buy". You are most likely purchasing a substandard product that may be kosher today, but will not hold up to the test of time, or G-d forbid may even be a stolen pair of Tefillin which is being sold as new.
• Demand to receive a detailed receipt that lists the manufacturer of the Tefillin, the type (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Ari, etc.) the quality and the manner and amount of payment. If someone does not want to give you a receipt – Do Not be tempted!
How much do Tefillin cost?
As we previously explained, Tefillin from thin hides are much easier to manufacture and should not cost more than 1,600 ILS.
"Enhanced and Beautified" known as Mehudar Tefillin which are manufactured from thick hides, taken from a bull, range in price from 3,000 – 4,000 ILS. There are more expensive Tefillin wherein all fifty of the Hiddurim listed in the "Seal of Halachik Standard and Quality" are to be found.
As to those Tefillin which are sold for less, our experience has found that these Tefillin will not pass the test of time and will fail almost every time when presented for testing and inspection.