A new Iphone or my first tefillin?

The conversations and interactions we have throughout Beth El are often fascinating and thought-provoking.

Some weeks ago during my Wednesday morning Torah class, we talked about the price of tefillin and why they are so expensive. I took advantage of the conversation to spend some time learning about tefillin. I explained briefly the rabbinical approach and gave my spiel about how the tefillin are the connectors with God. Like small “walkie talkie” devices they “connect and carry” our

prayers to God.

I showed the class my old tefillin; I opened them and showed the inside, the compartments, the tendons used to sew, the parchments and the different types of tefillin.

Then I posed my class a question: “Why do we question the price of tefillin that we will use for a life-time but have no problem spending lots of money on a mobile phone that will be good for one or two years until a new operating system will make them slow?”

There was a long silence in the room, which helped me realize that it was a good question!  To me, that silence pause for reflection. Where are we investing our resources? Is it more important to connect with others or connect with God or are the two maybe equally important?

This past Shabbat I spoke about the use of cellphones during Shabbat but also during the week. If you were not able to be present you can see the sermon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1d_V6eMUcU


Also this week I got a very timely email about buying tefillin. The Conservative movement is encouraging members to buy Tefillin from the Masorti Movement in Israel and help promote Jewish Pluralism.

Here is the link with the specifications: https://www.masorti.org.il/page.php?pid=6792


But – back to the question, why are tefillin so expensive? They are made with a lot of care, love, passion, dedication and knowledge. The scribe works meticulously.  Our sages interpret the word וכתבתם — “And you shall write them” — [as a directive to write with] כתב תם, “an unblemished and complete script.” This means that no letter should touch another; rather, each letter should be surrounded by [blank] parchment on all sides, and it should have the crownlets required by the halachah (Jewish Law). There are 3188 letters on the parchments.

Treating the skins of the animals, written by an expert, painting, sewing, tying appropriately. The whole process –from beginning to end – may take more than twelve months. So why should we look for a bargain?

We all enjoy our phones, we use them daily (not on Shabbat and holidays!) and we take advantage of the many things we can accomplish with them.

Next time you change your phone, think of getting your first tefillin as well, I will be honored to help you to learn how to wrap them.


Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin

Leave a Reply