Friday, December 21, 2007

Reclaiming More Minhagim

(Picture courtesy of

When I met Rabbi Lazer Brody for the first time in January 2005, he showed me the a common Ukrainian Chassidic finger winding minhag for the tefillin shel yad. This minhag was also shared by Breslov and involved winding the first circuit above the knuckle, the second circuit over the knuckle, and the third circuit over both the middle and ring finger. Up until this time, I had been using Chabad's finger winding minhag since I had learned it from a good friend who taught me how to put on tefillin when I was a teenager.

After my meeting with Rabbi Brody, I immediately started using this new finger winding and I also ordered a new pair of tefillin that Rabbi Brody personally wrote for me.

Later that year, Rabbi Dovid Sears posted a list of Breslov minhagim on his website which included some information about tefillin minhagim. Immediately, I noticed that it stated,

"The kesher shel rosh should be a double-dalet, which was the prevailing custom in the Ukraine. That is, the knot should look like a square, or a mem setuma with no space in the middle."

My new pair of tefillin, however, had a daled kesher since this is what Rabbi Brody, Rabbi Shalom Arush, and the Melitzer Rebbe use. I spoke with the Sudilkover Rebbe about this issue shortly afterwards on a few occasions and after Chanuka this year he told me that if I wanted to follow Sudilkov's minhag I should switch the knot of the tefillin shel rosh from a daled to a square. Once I got this green light, I immediately went out the next day and had the knot changed to a square knot.

The Sudilkover Rebbe also told me that the finger winding that I was using differed from Sudilkov's minhag. Because of his difficulty explaining Sudilkov's minhag over the phone in English, he suggested that I have Chabakuk Elisha call him so he could instruct him in Yiddish.

I am truly indebted to Chabakuk Elisha since not only did call, but he even went over to have the Rebbe show him first-hand exactly how to do it. Chabakuk Elisha then e-mailed me these instructions:

1) One circuit over the ma'abarta of the tefillin shel yad

2) One more circuit below the tefillin shel yad, but still above the elbow

3) Four circuits below the elbow (note: the first "half-wrap circuit" is considered and counted as a full circuit. Leaving a separation between the four and three coils conforms with the verse (Devarim 4:4):

וְאַתֶּם, הַדְּבֵקִים, בַּיהוָה, אֱלֹהֵיכֶם--חַיִּים כֻּלְּכֶם, הַיּוֹם

4) After leaving a small space, three circuits and then diagonally across the wrist and hand

5) One circuit around the middle section of the middle finger

6) Two circuits around the lower section of the middle finger

7) One circuit around all three middle fingers (fingers 2, 3, and 4)

8) One circuit around the middle of the hand above the thumb

9) Make knot in the middle of the palm of the hand by tucking the remaining strap under bulk of the strap, pulling it over the top, and then pulling it back through and then inserting it sideways.

In order to ensure that I was following his instructions exactly, I had my wife take a picture of me performing each step. I then e-mailed these pictures to Chabakuk Elisha so he could verify that I was doing precisely what the Sudilkover Rebbe had instructed him.

After looking at the pictures that I sent him, Chabakuk Elisha told me that I was doing it 100% as he was instructed. Thanks to Chabakuk Elisha's kindness, I now put on tefillin according to the minhag of Sudilkov and hope to one day pass it along this minhag to my son.


At December 21, 2007 at 4:42:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

In the back of the book "Bar Mitzvah & Tefillin Secrets" there are pictures of the different minhagim. It appears that the Sudilkov minhag is also identical to the minhagim of Kossov and Vizhnitz (Monsey).

At December 21, 2007 at 7:15:00 AM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Just so you know, I very much admire your commitment to authenticity and doing thigns right. I also admire the large amount of hishtadlus you've put into getting back in touch with your family's minhagim from generations ago. Yasher koach!

But you've given away you're anonymity. Now if I see you in Shul, I'm going to recognize that arm right away! How could you have done that?!


-Dixie Yid

At December 21, 2007 at 7:23:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Dixie Yid: I thank you for your constant encouragement and friendship.

By the way, you didn't recognize it this morning. I was standing right next to you...


At December 21, 2007 at 12:54:00 PM EST, Blogger Gandalin said...

Thank you, Simple, for another very interesting post. I echo Dixie's comments about the effort you are making to preserve the particular expression of Yiddishkeit that is represented by the minhogim of Sudilkov. I especially enjoyed the fact that you are going back to the square knot of the shel rosh. I had always worn the shel rosh with a typically Ashkenazic square knot, until I brought my great-great-great-grandfather's tefillin to a sofer to be checked. They date back to about 1815. The sofer determined that the parshios were posul, and could not be fixed, and that was confirmed by the sofer to whom he turns to for guidance. So I bought a new pair, and the sofer insisted I should have the daled knot on the shel rosh, because the Mishnah Berurah says it is better. A more learned person than I can probably explain that. I have persisted with that knot for that reason, althoug in my experience, the tails of the tefillin shel rosh fall on the shoulders much better, with the black sides facing outward much more naturally, with the square knot than with the daled knot.

As an aside, the fact that there are different minhogim for something such as this, or for the vocalizations of the taanim, is sometimes taken by maskilim as proof that the (overall) Tradition cannot really be authentic, and is sometimes taken by the new agers as an indication that they can "discover" (invent) the "real" way to do things.

To the contrary, the multiplicity of solutions provided by these minhogim to the "problems" posed by how exactly to do various mitzvos, is a paradoxical pointer to the freedom that the Jew acquires by accepting as much as possible the ol malchus shomayim, and also indicates the multiplicity of "gates" that refer to the shevatim both as actual lineages and as symbolic markers of the many different kinds of people we are and can become. The fact that there are different minhogim, each one of which completely and fully fulfills the requirements of the mitzvo, is to my mind more proof of the authenticity of the Tradition.

Gut Shabbos!

At December 21, 2007 at 1:04:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was my pleasure!

Well said. It's true that the MB does push the single daled and, as the Halacha sefer of choice for most of Klal Yisroel today, it has gone a long way towards wiping out "double daled" or "square" knot off the face of the earth -- which I find to be extremely sad. I touched on this a little in my post here on Minhagim last week.

At December 21, 2007 at 1:07:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Gandalin: I don't know if you saw this posting about the tefillin of my father-in-law's father brought over from Vitebsk. But they too had a square kesher.

At December 21, 2007 at 1:21:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still some in Ukraine used the minhog of the Baal Shem Tov (similar to Karlin/Chabad) in making a dalet on the palm. It is also used in Trisk.

At December 21, 2007 at 1:25:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

CE: MB can't authorize minhogim if there is an accepted variety. And certanly it can't "push". So I think you are a bit exaggerating about "wiped out" double knot. A gut Shabes!

At December 22, 2007 at 1:42:00 PM EST, Blogger Ehav Ever said...

It is interesting that you posted this. It seems like people from every minhag are finding something new with something classic. A Mori at my martial arts class recently showed me a Habbani Teimani minhag for Tefillin. I just recently bought some of the Baladi Gewil type and it was nice to learn the Habbani method.

At December 23, 2007 at 9:45:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great and educational posting. Glad to see that you're continuing the minhagim.

At December 23, 2007 at 10:26:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we spent half the time on imroving our middos as on this, wed all be better off.

At December 24, 2007 at 6:08:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Anonymous: That posting is planned for Wednesday. I hope you will come back to read it.

At December 27, 2007 at 12:51:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

I just spoke with the Sudilkover Rebbe and he told me there was one small correction that I have fixed in the text of the posting. These refer to steps #3 and #4.

Instead of three circuits - a space - and four circuits it is four circuits - a space - and three circuits.

At May 10, 2009 at 10:12:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow...i am stunned. this is the exact way my family dons tefillin. i was raised in a 'MO/litvish' enviornment. does this mean i have been living a lie?

At January 12, 2023 at 7:33:00 AM EST, Blogger choosebinyamin said...

@ASimpleJew though close this minhag is different because in Kosov Vizhnitz we also wrap over our index knuckle to close of the shin.


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