Parsha Halacha

Parshat Re’eh / Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Ellul

Wearing Tefillin in the Presence of a Sefer Torah

Reasons and Applications

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In describing what the Jewish people should do when they enter the Land of Israel, the Torah says,[1] “You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you are to dispossess worshiped their gods, whether on lofty mountains, on hills or under any luxuriant tree. You must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, burn their Asheira trees, and chop down the statues of their gods, obliterating their name from that site. Do not do this to the L-rd your God. Rather, only at the site that the L-rd, your G-d, will choose from among all your tribes to establish His Divine name there, shall you seek out His presence and come there.”

There are several interpretations as to the meaning of the commandment, “Do not do this to the L-rd your God.” Here are some of them:

·        Do Not Sacrifice Outside of the Beit HaMikdash

According to the Ibn Ezra and Rashi, the Torah is instructing us to not worship like the pagans and bring sacrifices on random altars. (They are called bamot or “high places.”) Rather, all of the sacrifices must be brought on the main altar which was first situated in the Mishkan in Shiloh and then in the Bais HaMikdash in Yerushalayim.

·        Do Not Build Many Houses of Worship

The Alshich HaKadosh says that the Torah is telling us to build only one Beit HaMikdash in which to worship G-d rather than make many sanctuaries so that each tribe and area could have their own. Although this might make travel easier, it is more important that we unite as one people in our service of G-d.

·        Do Not Choose the Spot of the Beit HaMikdash

The Kli Yakar points out that that the gentile nations would choose high mountains and other “choice” locations for their places of worship as they felt that this would bring honor to their idols. When it comes to worshipping the true G-d this is not called for. It is G-d’s presence that brings honor to the place rather than vice versa. As such, we are instructed to not choose a place where to build the Beit HaMikdash but rather to build it in the spot that G-d will choose. As far as why G-d did not specify the location in the Torah, the Kli Yakar writes that He did not want the Jewish people to show any lesser respect to the sanctuary that they were going to build in Shiloh.[2]

·        No Change in the Location of the Beit HaMikdash

The Tzror HaMor writes that since the Jewish people worship one G-d, it is appropriate to do so in only one place. As such, the idea of having a traveling Mishkan (sanctuary) which was then established in various places (Shiloh, Nov, etc.) was only a temporary thing. After the Beit HaMikdash was chosen, however, we are commanded to only worship there and not establish any other alternative structure.[3]

·        Do Not Destroy Holy Artifacts

Rashi quotes the Sifri that this verse teaches us that we may not destroy any holy artifacts, such a stone from the altar, and that we may not erase the name of G-d. This is derived from the fact that the previous verse says, “you shall destroy” the pagan places of worship and this verse says, “You shall not do so to the L-rd, your G-d.”[4]

While we’re on the topic of treating holy artifacts with respect, we will discuss the law that, out of respect, one may not remove their tefillin in the presence of a Sefer Torah.

Tefillin on When Sefer Torah is Out

The Beit Yosef writes,[5] “On a day that there is a Sefer Torah (being read), the general custom is to not remove one’s Tefillin until after the Sefer Torah is taken out and placed in the Heichal (holy ark). A support for this can be found in the verse ‘When their king passed in front of them, their G-d was on their heads.’[6]” This halacha is relevant in shuls that daven (pray) in Nusach Sefard, Chabad, or Eidot Hamizrach where they return the Torah scroll after Ashrei, Uva Letziyon and Kadish Titkabel. In Nusach Ashekenaz shuls, where the Torah is returned to the ark before Ashrei, one should keep his Tefillin on, at the very least, until after the Kedusha of Uva LeTziyon.[7] See last week’s article.

Covered Sefer Torah

While most authorities say that, based on this custom, one should not remove one’s Tefillin until the Sefer Torah is returned to Aron Kodesh,[8] some are lenient and allow the removal of Tefillin if the Sefer Torah is covered.[9]

Open Ark

If the ark is opened and the Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) are visible, some say[10] that one should not remove his Tefillin.

When Getting an Aliyah

Based on the above, one who is getting an aliyah (during the week) should certainly be wearing Tefillin at that time.[11]


Several reasons are given for the custom to not remove Tefillin while the Sefer Torah is out:

·        Respect for the Torah

Since wearing the Tefillin is a sign of accepting the yoke of Heaven, it is appropriate to wear them in the presence of a Sefer Torah whose holiness represents G-d Himself.[12] In a similar way, some recommend not to remove one’s Tefillin while in Shul but rather to remove them only after leaving shul as one should always have a sign of one’s awe of G-d while in His presence.[13]

·        Not to Uncover One’s Head

The Magen Avraham writes[14] that it is forbidden to take off one’s Tefillin in the presence of a Sefer Torah as doing so entails uncovering one’s head which is disrespectful. This reason is also given for the law that one may not remove one’s Tefillin in the presence of one’s teacher.[15]

Based on the wording of the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, it would seem that he accepts both of these reasons.[16]

·        Unifying the Shechina

The mitzvah of wearing Tefillin brings about a unification between various aspects of G-d (Kudsha Berich Hu – the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Shechinah) whereas removing them symbolizes a lack of complete unity. It is therefore inappropriate to remove the Tefillin and end that Divine unification while in the presence of a holy Sefer Torah.[17]

If Necessary

Based on the first and third reasons, one should keep his Tefillin on until after the Sefer Torah is returned to the Aron Kodesh. If one needs to remove his Tefillin beforehand, one should at least follow the concept of the second reason and only do so in the following manner:

1)     Turn to the side so that one does not uncover one’s head in front of the Sefer Torah.[18] Similarly, one who wishes to remove his Tefillin in the presence of his teacher may turn to the side and do so.[19]

2)     One should keep his head covered with his Talit Gadol while removing the head Tefillin in front of a Sefer Torah. In addition, one may remove the arm Tefillin even without turning to the side as this does not involve any uncovering of the head.[20] One may also remove the head Tefillin if he makes sure to keep his yarmulka (kipah) on his head while doing so.[21]

Not During the Torah Reading

Even if one turns to the side or keeps his head covered, one should not remove the Tefillin while the Torah is being read. At that time, one should give one’s full attention to the Torah reading and not do anything else.[22]

Rabeinu Tam’s Tefillin

Some say[23] that one may turn to the side and remove one’s Rashi Tefillin and put on Rabbeinu Tam’s Tefillin in between Aliyot. Others say[24] that, based on the concept of keeping on the Tefillin the entire time while the Sefer Torah is present (as explained above), one should refrain from making this switch until after the Sefer Torah is returned to its place.

Mincha On Fast Days

It is noteworthy that some Sefardic congregations have a custom to wear Tefillin during Mincha of a fast day. The reason for this is to ensure that one says 100 brachot a day. (One who is fasting says less brachot as they don’t say any of the blessings on food.)[25] Based on the above custom, however, it is possible that another reason for this custom is so that people are wearing the Tefillin during the Torah reading which takes place during Mincha of a fast day. (There is no other weekday mincha during which we read the Torah.)

May we merit that “our King (G-d) should pass in front of us” (see above) with the coming of Moshiach now!

[1] Deut 12:2 -6

[2] In addition, the Rambam, quoted by Rabeinu Bachaye, cites three reasons as to why the Torah does not disclose the spot of the Beit HaMikdash:

1)      This might cause the nations who were occupying the Land of Israel to fight over that spot.

2)      This might lead the occupying nations to destroy it so that the Jewish people would not be able to use it.

3)      This might cause strife and jealousy between the tribes.

[3] The only record we have of such a place of worship is the Mikdash of Chonyo that was built in Egypt in the 2ndcentury BCE

[4] See Bartenura on the Torah that, according to this opinion, we derive the prohibition to sacrifice on other altars from verse 8 (“You shall not do as we are doing here today”).

It would seem that according to the opinions that this verse teaches us other things (as per above) the prohibition against destroying holy artifacts is so obvious that it need not be stated. As Rabbi Yishma’el said, “Would it occur to you that Jewish people would destroy the altar?” (see Gur Aryeh).

[5] O.C. 25 D.H. Uveyom sheyesh Sefer Torah and in Shulchan Aruch O.C. 25;12

[6] Micha 2:13

[7] Rama O.C. 27:13

[8] Beit Yosef ibid and sources quoted in Piskei Teshuvot 35, footnote 206

[9] Ben Ish Chai in Od Yosef Chai, Chayei Sarah, ot 2. It is possible that the Ben Ish Chai was only lenient in the case of a Sefardic Sefer Torah, which is encased in a hard cover, as opposed to an Ashkenazi Sefer Torah, which is only covered with a soft cloth.

[10] Solet Belulah quoted by Vayechi Reuven (Ramat Beit Shemesh, 2014) by Rabbi Reuven Menuchin, page 109

[11] Shulchan Moshe (Ramat Beit Shemesh, 2013) by Rabbi Moshe Vashdi, page 24

[12] See Yechi Reuven (Jerusalem 1019) by Rabbi Reuven Kuba, page 57, based on the language of the Beit Yosef and Taz 25:15. See also Brachot end of page 14b

[13] Siddur HaGra and Siddur Yavetz, quoted in VaYevarech David (Brooklyn 2019) on Tefilah by Rabbi Yisrael David Harpenas, page 472

[14] O.C. 25:29

[15] O.C. 38:11 based on Sanhedrin 101b and Rashi there. See Chidushei Aggadot Maharsha who brings a different reason for not removing one’s Tefillin in front of one’s teacher. See also Taz 4 and Magen Avraham 14 on O.C. ibid

[16] See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 25:39 where this custom is mentioned independently of the idea of not uncovering one’s head in front of a Torah scroll which is only mentioned in se’if 42.

[17] Yizal Mayim MiDalyo (Benei Berak 2009) by Rabbi Yehudah Zev Liebowitz, page 344

[18] Magen Avraham 25:29

[19] O.C. 38:11

[20] Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 25:29 and Kaf HaChaim 25:93

[21] Vayevarech David ibid

[22] Piskei Teshuvot 25:26. See O.C. 146 end of Seif 2

[23] Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in Yabi’a Omer 3:4.

[24] See Yechi Reuven ibid

[25] Eretz Chaim (Jerusalem 1990) by Rabbi Chaim Stavan (of Tzfat 1971 – 1916) O.C. 566:8 based on Beit Yosef O.C. 46


Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach, a Chodesh Tov, and a Ketiva VaChatima Tova!

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