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diary of a sofer - part 32

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

The sheer difficulty of making the Tefillin made me think about how it was done in the past but of course Tefillin didn't always look like these - originally they were leather pouches with k'laf in them and then subsequently reached the form we know. It is only the use of industrial presses and precision drilling tools and the quest for ever more perfect 'squareness' that has made it harder for the human to interface with them. My own small simple ones don't look anywhere near as complex. So a future project for me is to make some P'shutot M'hudarot (nice simple ones) batim myself when I feel up for the complex origami it involves and have some spare time (so probably never then).

Having sewn, the next stage is to repaint the bases so that you cover up the whiteness of the giddin thread and paint over the join. To get a nice finish this involved a number of coats, sanding after each one.

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Now, at this point I should say that there are different types of Tefillin depending on custom. The biggest difference is the Tefillin of Rabbeynu Tam where the order of the parshiyot inside the shel rosh is different because he didn't agree with grand-daddy Rashi. Well these Tefillin were standard Rashi order. However since I write with a chassidic Beyt Ari style, I had ensured that the shins on the shel rosh were also Beyt Ari. This meant that the combination I was aiming for thus required the standard square knot on the straps for the head but a sefardi tradition for the shel yad with the loop facing away from the body.


Knots! Well as you may have read when I was talking about sewing, this is not a skill which comes naturally to me. For some reason one of the doctor's at my GP centre is a champion 'knotter' and he has examples up on the wall of the waiting area - I have no idea why. However with aid of a couple of books I discovered that this actually wasn't that hard. Indeed I thought there was more to it than that.

I had done the head knot before once when I was much younger. I had run a session for kids and had taken my own Tefillin and some old ones in the shul and some others. The ones from the shul had all got muddled together and so I asked a youngster to unravel them. He was a little too eager and he started untying the knots - including mine! So I had to find pictures to put them back together.

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The hardest part was threading the loop through the ma'arvarta (channel). However one of my books actually gave the answer - a shoelace!

Now this is the kind of practical solution I love. You thread the (new) shoelace through the loop, pull it through the ma'arvarta and in turn you can pull the loop through. Fantastic.


The head knot was surprisingly simple despite the complex diagrams... and the Tefillin were complete.

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However there was one slightly unrelated issue still to resolve. The Tefillin had come with two nice protective containers (see above). However one had clearly been damaged in transit as the top had broken away from the base and needed to be rejoined but so that it could still open and shut. So I needed a couple of small inserts that would be exactly the right size for the holes and allow free movement for the join.

The answer - a cotton bud. Sliced down the middle, pushed down it and in so that it then expanded to right size within the hole. Trimmed down, filled with a little glue and painted black. Perfect. My own little 'patent'. Almost (but not quite) as good as shoelaces!

Mordechai Pinchas

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