The core of the tefillin are the parshios which consist of four hand written sections of the torah that are placed both in the tefillin shel yad (hand tefillin) and in the tefillin shel rosh (head tefillin). As you look over the pictures in the listings, you will see that more expensive parshios look nicer, sharper, and more balanced. Better parshios not only look better, they also incorporate more halachic detail. All of the parshios that I sell are 100% kosher, but the more beautiful ones have many layers of spiritual meaning hinted to in the fine details of the writing. There are three styles of writing: Bais Yosef, Ari, and Sfaradi. Each style has the exact same words but the lettering is slightly different. You should use your family minhag whenever possible. If you don’t have a family minhag, you should use the style of writing most prevalent in the community in which you live and doven. The Litvish and Modern Orthodox communities tend to use k’sav Bais Yosef. Those from a chasidish background use k’sav Ari, and Sfaradim use Sfaradi k’sav, sometimes known as Vellish.
Five levels of battim are offered. All of them are manufactured under the hashgachah (rabbinic supervision) of rabbis who are experts in the production of tefillin battim.
For parshios up to $700 I recommend the following three battim choices: Tefillin Mehudaros, Maalin Ba’kodesh / Muzikant, or Starek.
For parshios between $900 and $1400 I recommend either Maalin Ba’kodesh, Starek or Schecter battim.
For parshios $1400 and up I recommend Starek or Schecter battim. Goldberg battim are for customers who are seeking the very best battim available.
The point of these recommendations is to keep the parshios in their rightful place as the most central part of the tefillin and not to sacrifice the quality of the parshios in favor of battim that will overshadow them. You will notice that I have recommended Starek battim more than any of the other companies. They are a well known battim company and are well respected in the world of safrus. They produce high quality battim for a reasonable price. I have visited their factory in Jerusalem and it was an impressive experience.
Two levels of retzuous are offered, Ozer Yisroel and Pe’er.
Both levels are made by the same craftsmen and both are under the hashgachah (rabbinic supervision) of the Central Rabbinical Congress of the U.S.A and Canada. Ozer Yisroel retzuous are almost identical in quality to Pe’er retzuous. The main difference has to do with the salting process. One of the first steps in making retzuous is salting the raw hides so they don’t spoil on the way to the factory where they will be turned into retzuous. There is debate among the poskim as to whether the salting process is considered one of the steps in making retzuous in which case it would need to be done by a Jewish person or if it is just a means of keeping the hides fresh, not an intrinsic part of manufacturing retzuous in which case it would be satisfactory if it were done by a non Jew. Ozer Yisroel retzuous are not salted by a Jewish person and Pe’er retzuous are salted by a Jewish person. Logistically it is much more complicated to have the hides salted by a Jewish person, and for the most part, this is why they are more expensive.
Single side black and double black:
Single side black retzuous are unfinished on the inside and painted black on the outside. Double black retzuous are dyed before they are painted. The dye soaks into the leather and makes them entirely black and then they are painted on the outside surface. The advantage of double black retzuous is that if some of the paint fades from the retzuous, they will still be black due to the dying. Retzuous that are not black, even if only in a small area, are not kosher (feel free to contact me if you are unsure if your current retzuous are kosher). The disadvantage of double black retzuous is that the dye tends to make the retzuous slightly less soft. If having the softest retzuous is your priority you should stick with single side black. If you tend not to pay attention to the condition of your retzuous and you might not notice faded spots, you should consider double black retzuous.
Ashkenaz, Sfard, Sfaradi, and Chabad
There are four main ways of making the knots (kesharim) for the shel yad: Ashkenaz, Sfard, Sfaradi, and Chabad.
Ashkenaz: Note how the loop and the knot are on the same side.
Sfard Kesher: note how the kesher and the loop are on opposite sides.
Chabad Kesher: A Chabad kesher shel yad looks like an Ashkenaz kesher except that the loop is an adjustable slip knot, whereas the loop in an Ashkenaz kesher is fixed. Another difference is that an Ashkenaz kesher usually needs to be tied onto the bayis with either a piece of thread made from cow sinews or some other type of material. I usually use a small zip tie. You can see the zip tie in the picture of the Ashkenaz shel yad.
It is important not to confuse Sfard with Sfaradi! They are not the same thing. Many people who are Ashkenaz use Sfard knots on their tefillin. On the other hand, people from a chasidish background almost always tie Sfard. Often people who use Sfard knots assume that since they themselves are Ashkenaz, it follows that their tefillin must have Ashkenaz knots. They proceed to order Ashkenaz knots, and when they receive the tefillin they can’t understand why they feel different than what they are used to. Likewise, when tefillin are ordered for a Bar Mitzvah, the boy’s father (or whoever is helping them learn how to put on tefillin) can’t understand why things seem so confusing. Additionally, it causes unnecessary wear and tear on the retzuous when they need to be untied and redone according to a different minhag.
Sfaradim use a Sfard kesher on their shel yad and a dalit kesher on their shel rosh. There are two main ways of making the knot for the shel rosh: Dalit and Square. The traditional kesher for an Ashkenaz shel rosh is a dalit. The traditional kesher for a Sfard shel rosh is a square.
You should always try to use the same knots that your family used. If you don’t have a family tradition, you should use what is most prevalent in the community in which you live. If you are still unsure what your minhag is, see my guide Identifying Your Custom For Tefillin. I included pictures of the different types of knots so you could be sure you are ordering the correct kind. Please feel free to consult with me if you are still unsure which style you should use.