Ethics

For the week ending 9 May 2009 / 14 Iyyar 5769

The Tefillin Dilemma

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: An outreach activist in Israel asked a Jew whom he was unsuccessful in convincing to become fully observant why he was so careful to put on tefillin. He told him that the tefillin he wears were worn by his grandfather, who inherited them from previous generations during the Holocaust at the risk of his life, so that by wearing them he connected with his forebears. Upon examining the tefillin, however, the activist realized that they were so outworn that they were not kosher. The question then arose as to whether to inform this fellow that his tefillin were not kosher and thus save him from making improper blessings on them, even though such a discovery might totally alienate him from any future connection with mitzvah observance. What was the right thing to do?

Answer: Although the ruling on this question by a leading rabbinical authority was that it was impossible to allow a Jew to continue committing the sin of improper blessings on unkosher tefillin, even at the risk of his alienation, a solution to the problem was suggested. The Jew was told that tefillin such as those he owned, which had been used at self-sacrifice during the Holocaust, were so precious that they should be donated to the public and he would receive a new pair of quality tefillin in their place. The worn-out tefillin would then be repaired and made available for public use.

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