The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

The Jewish All-Blacks – double-sided tefilin straps

with 3 comments

  1. Before the new fashion for double-sided tefilin straps (black on both sides) takes hold, it is important to try to squash it, on a number of grounds.
  2. First, these will certainly be more expensive than the single-sided straps. So this is just one more attempt to raise the stakes in the observance game, making it an increasing burden on those of limited income to feel that they are doing justice to their religious obligations and providing unnecessary extra opportunities for those who wish to play holier-than-thou games of one upmanship.
  3. The Torah was given on the smallest mountain – Mount Sinai – to teach a lesson: if we all set out to climb Everst, most of us will fail, and only one or two of the fittest will be able to dance around on the top looking down on the rest. But if we all set out to climb a small hill, we can all get there: some of us will need to help others, and we will proceed at different paces – but soon we will all be able to stand there together and draw on each others’ strengths and weaknesses in worshipping God as a united whole community. So we should always be suspicious of anything that purports to set the standards of religious observance in a way designed to exclude – or likely to have the effect of excluding – being beyond the easy reach of everyone who wishes to be part of the Jewish community.
  4. Secondly, since we have a principle of yeridas hadoros – that the further we get from Sinai the less our religious instincts are to be trusted – we should be suspicious of anything that implies that the religious observance of former generations was lacking. If a new technological development enables us to achieve standards not available to our fathers or grandfathers, we should welcome it as they would have. But our grandfathers had black ink – if they had wanted to colour both sides of the straps they would have done.
  5. Thirdly, it is a halachic requirement that the straps be straight at all times when I am wearing my tefilin. At present I can quickly see when they are crooked, because the raw leather shows: with two black sides it will be more difficult to notice.
  6. Devotion to mitzvos is the essence of our religion. Endlessly seeking to make religious life more difficult for ourselves and others is not. (Personal chumros – stringencies – that do not impinge upon others, directly or indirectly by making them feel inadequate, are a wholly different matter.)

Written by Daniel Greenberg

December 9, 2007 at 9:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. Last winter when it was clear that my retzuos [straps of the prayer boxes worn during morning devotion on the forearm and just above the forehead on the hairline – for those who still have it, where it should have been for others whatever their situation] meeded changing, I went to see a gentleman recommended to me by Mordechai Marks (the sofer[jewish scribe]) who makes battim [morning devotion prayer boxes which house the parchments put into the boxes] and replaces retzuos [the said straps] and he showed me a new product which was a strap that was black on both sides. The first thing to be said is that it was not more expensive to have these straps. The second point is that one side of the strap is made to a high gloss finish and the other side is made with a matt finish. It is therefore quite possible to tell the difference between front and back and hence there is no chance of putting on the retzuos [straps] upside down on the Shel Yad [morning devotion prayer box housing one continuous parchment] arm or back to front of the Shel Rosh [morning devotion prayer box worn on the hairline which house four separate pieces of parchment in four separate sections]. I therefore see no problem with my new retzuos [morning devotion etc.etc.] Just to confirm that these straps came with the full approval of various Rabbonim, though, to be fair, I was not told whether they themselves used these type of retzuos.

    The Secretary

    December 16, 2007 at 1:06 pm

  2. easy does it. no one is trying to raise any bar of religious observance at the expense of others. do your own thing. i love my black on black retzuot. for me they are b’geder “ze keli ve’anvehu”. if you dont want em, dont buy em. but dont “squash” my desire to make my tefilin as beautiful as i like. i suggest you dont buy it for yourself, buy it for your kid for his bar mitzvah, see how he likes it. when a new beauty of worship comes into the religious world, cherish it.


    February 6, 2008 at 10:30 pm

  3. The previous comment is probably from an American.

    Daniel Greenberg

    February 7, 2008 at 4:32 pm

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