Medical Halacha – Assistance in Wearing Tefillin

0
124

Eddie broke both wrists in a skiing accident. Meir is bedridden and partially paralyzed after suffering a stroke. Both really want to fulfil the mitzvah of tefillin but are physically unable to use their hands to fasten the tefillin to their arms and heads. They both asked me, “Rabbi can I fulfil the mitzvah by having my wife or child help place and bind the tefillin for me?” 

Tefillin is a daily mitzvah that symbolizes our closeness and devotion to Hashem, and while wearing tefillin one should have the intention to love Hashem with all of one’s heart (emotions), head (thoughts), and hand (actions) (S.A., O.H., 25:5). If one is physically unable to put on tefillin, one is exempt from the mitzvah. 

The Essence of the Mitzvah 

However, should they fulfil the mitzvah by having another person place the tefillin onto their arm and head? The answer to this question depends on the essence of the mitzvah of tefillin: Is the mitzvah to attach the tefillin to your arm and head or is the mitzvah to wear tefillin? In other words, does this mitzvah call for an action, namely, to bind tefillin onto your body, or does the mitzvah call for the passive state of wearing tefillin, which can be fulfilled even if you did not bind them yourself?  

The beracha recited before binding the tefillin shel yad – “to place the tefillin” – implies that the mitzvah is the action of placing and binding the tefillin. This is also implied by the term used by the Torah in Sefer Devarim, “And you shall bind them as a sign onto  your arm” (Devarim, 6:8, 11:8). On the other hand, the tefillin shel rosh are described passively, “They shall be as totafot between your eyes” (ibid). Moreover, in Sefer Shemot, even the tefillin shel yad are described in passive language, “It shall be to you a sign on your hand”  (Shemot, 13:9; 13:16), which implies that the mitzvah is wearing tefillin 

Hacham Ovadia’s Ruling 

Hacham Ovadia (Taharat Habayit, Vol. 2, p. 222) discusses this question. He quotes the Gemara (Avoda Zara, 39a), which relates how a woman helped her sick husband to put his tefillin on his arm. Although he cites various interpretations as to the extent that the husband was involved in this process, Hacham Ovadia sides with the halachic authorities who rule that the mitzvah of tefillin is to wear them and not to fasten them to your body. Therefore, even if the husband had no active involvement whatsoever in the placement of the tefillin, he still fulfilled the mitzvah. He may even recite the regular beracha. 

The Rambam – Tefillin as a Continuous Mitzvah 

This idea is also apparent in the Rambam, who rules that although one should ideally recite the beracha on tefillin before tying them to one’s arm (see S.A., O.H., 25:8), if he forgot to do so, he can still recite the beracha as long as he is still wearing the tefillin (Rambam, Berachot, 11:5; Yalkut Yosef, Hilchot Tefillin). Here too, the rationale is that the mitzvah is not a one-time action of binding the tefillin. Rather, it is a continuous mitzvah that endures every second the tefillin are worn. Therefore, it is not too late to recite the beracha on this mitzvah so long as one is still wearing them. This idea also underlies a ruling of the Shulhan Aruch. Even though we do not wear tefillin at night since the mitzvah only applies during the day, if one must embark on a journey before dawn and wear one’s tefillin in order to keep them safe, one may put on the tefillin before dawn and recite the beracha later on in the morning without having to remove them and put them back on (S.A., O.H., 20:3). All these sources demonstrate that one fulfils the mitzvah even without accomplishing the action of binding the tefillin. 

+ 

In conclusion, as long as Eddie and Meir are unable to place and bind the tefillin themselves, they may be assisted by their wives or children. They will fulfil the mitzvah and they should recite the beracha. 

  

 

 

Rabbi Yehuda Finchas is a worldwide expert, lecturer, and author on medical halacha. He heads the Torat Habayit Medical Halacha Institute. His latest book is “Brain Death in Halacha and the Tower of Babel Syndrome.” To contact Rabbi Finchas, email rabbi@torathabayit.com.