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According to Masechet Menachot daf 37, we're supposed to place the box of the arm on the bicep. Why then do we also have a strap that wraps around the arm and hand (according to earliest sources)?

  • once heard it has to reach the realm of action – ray May 11 '15 at 19:35
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Menahot (35b) records that the tefillin strap of the shel yad must be long enough to reach the finger. Rambam specifies in a responsum (159) that the mitzvah is affixing it to the bicep, while further wrapping is just to "complete the knot" but doesn't sound mandatory:

קשירת הרצועה על האצבע היא אחרי הברכה ובה תהיה קשירה תמה ואין הקשירה על האצבע מוכרח

Rosh too writes that wrapping the strap around the arm"is not part of the mitsvah of tfillin) (responsa klal 3, ch. 2):

כריכת הרצועה סביב הזרוע אינה ממצות הנחת תפילין

Similarly, it appears that the wrapping around the hand/finger is not part of the mitsvah either, based on his context there. He praises donning the head tefillin, before wrapping the tefillin around the arm, since wrapping around the arm is not a part of the mitsvah. His lack of mention of wrapping around the finger indicates that this too is not part of the mitsvah. Furthermore, were it part of the mitsvah it would probably make sense to perform it before donning the head tefillin, which he does not mention.

Accordingly, it appears that he agrees to Rambam, that like the wrapping around the arm, the wrapping around the finger is not part of the mitsvah. (Perhaps when he writes arms he includes the fingers).

His full responsum is:

ואותם בני אדם שמניחין תפילין של זרוע ואין גוללין הרצועה סביב הזרוע, אלא מניחין של ראש ואחר כך גוללין רצועה של יד סביב הזרוע, יפה הם עושים; וגם אני עושה כן. כי ברכת תפילין של יד שייכא גם על תפילין של ראש, וכריכת הרצועה סביב הזרוע אינה ממצות הנחת תפילין

  • I cannot find the Teshuvat HaRosh online. I added a link to Rambam. – mevaqesh Jun 4 '17 at 15:32

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