The source for [at least one of] the Shins on the tefillah shel rosh is the Gemara (b.Menahoth 35a):

ואמר אביי שי"ן של תפילין הלכה למשה מסיני וצריך שיגיע חריץ למקום התפר רב דימי מנהרדעא אמר כיון דמנכר לא צריך

Translation: "And Abayye said, [the] Shin of the tefillin is a halakhah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai and its slit needs to reach to the place of the stitching. Rav Dimi of Neharde`a said, as long as it is recognizable it does not [need to reach all the way to place of the stitching]."

Rashi says there:

Shin of the tefillin - On the outer compartment we make creases, like those made on qalaf, and they appear to be in the shape of a Shin. Its slit needs to reach - Which is between one compartment and another until the place of the stitching below, that is to say, until the place where it rests, which is the titura. As long as it is recognizable - If the slit is slightly above [the stitching], [it is fine,] it does not need to reach [all the way] to the stitching.

(See also the Mussaf Rashi and the Shittah HaMequbesseth there)

The Tosafoth, however, says there (second Tosafoth on "Shin shel tefillin"):

The Shin of the tefillin is a halakhah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai - It is written in Shimmusha Rabbah regarding tefillin that they have the shape of a Shin; a three-headed one on the right and a four-headed one on the left. And if the sides are reversed, it is of no concern to us...

There are several items to note here:

[a] The statements in the Gemara do not seem to lead to the interpretation of the ba`alei Tosafoth via the Geonic compendium known as "Shimmusha Rabbah" of two shins embossed on the sides. The statement of Abayye is very vague in this regard, but taken in aggregate with Rav Dimi's statement it seems fairly conclusive if one does not have the pre-conceived notion of embossed Shins.

[b] Rashi's comments seem to be a concession to some understanding either of or akin to the Shimmusha Rabbah (cf. "...on the outer compartment..."), but makes it very clear (along with the Mussaf Rashi and the Shittah HaMequbesseth that he does NOT mean a literal Shin but something like creases that can be likened to a Shin but are not a Shin. His comments seem to be a bit inconsistent.

[c] The use of phrases "slit", "creases", "reach to the stitching", et al and the fact that the commentators repeatedly assert that what is on the tefillin is NOT a Shin, but only the "likeness" or shape of a Shin all seem to point to the divisions between the compartments in the tefillah shel rosh and not letters on the outer surfaces.

[d] The wording of the Shimmusha Rabbah (cf. "...and if the sides are reversed, it is of no concern to us...") seems very imprecise for something which is supposedly a halakhah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai.

[e] In light of the discovery of ancient tefillin at Qumran, Masada, Bar Kokhba caves, et al (see here) - that consistently are made the way and do not have Shins embossed on them (neither three nor four-headed) - it would seem that Shins are a much later development based on, but not necessitated by Abayye's statement.

Question: In light of the above, could it be that the "Shin of the tefillin" spoken of by Abayye and Rav Dimi of Neharde`a is really a reference to the pronounced division of the compartments of the tefillah shel rosh and not the practice of embossed Shins on the outer surfaces of it? Does anyone discuss this?

  • this is a question i had in regards to tafillin being according to rambam compared to others. all agree of damuth sheen meaning shape of sheen. and i hold like the teimoni masoro that it is not an actual sheen on the box but really a shape which has form of a sheen in regards to the compartments as you have mentioned. the question is if this invalidates a pair of tafillin or not. and i would say yes but i am not learned enough to make my statement to everyone that i talk to about this. Jan 18, 2015 at 23:32
  • chayas.com/tefilknot.pdf this pdf written by mori yoseif far7ee shows and explains what a proper rambam tafillin looks like as preserved by the teimonim. and i hold truly that this the only proper tafillin to be wore and all else possul. but like i said i am not educated enough to make such a statement with full force. in regards to the pdf i.imgur.com/ZIkkt0Y.jpg?1%3F2673 hydepark.co.il/topic.asp?topic_id=2493351&forum_id=20067 and this Jan 18, 2015 at 23:34
  • One thing I must point out to those who keep mentioning the discoveries at Qumran: the scrolls found there, although they are a great discovery and help shed light on many things, the scrolls did not belong to the Pharisees, the Jewish religious sect which fathered Rabbinic Judaism. So trying to compare statements in the Gemara and Qumran doesn't mesh well.
    – ezra
    Nov 8, 2017 at 20:59

1 Answer 1


I think you are reading this wrong.

ואמר אביי שי"ן של תפילין הלכה למשה מסיני וצריך שיגיע חריץ למקום התפר

We have 2 distinct halachot here by אביי :

  1. שי"ן של תפילין הלכה למשה מסיני

The Shin - as decribed by Rashi as being on the outside walls:
שי''ן של תפילין. לבית חיצונה עושין כמין קמטים דקים בקלף ונראין בו כעין שי''ן

  1. וצריך שיגיע חריץ למקום התפר

The slit between the compartements - as decribed by Rashi:
וצריך שיגיע חריץ. שבין בית לבית עד מקום התפר למטה כלומר עד בית מושבו דהיינו תיתורא

  • 1
    Sorry, I don't buy it. The Mussaf Rashi makes no distinction between them and neither does the Shittah HaMequbesseth; they are speaking of the same thing in the Gemara, but Rashi seems to explain them in an eisogetical fashion, i.e. reading in the idea of likenesses of Shins. Also, I looked in Sefer haRa`avyah also and he is even more like my theory and makes no mention of Shins whatsoever. His source seems to be Yehudai Gaon. Kol tuv.
    – user3342
    Oct 21, 2014 at 16:41
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    The Mosaf Rashi didn't quote the original precisely. See Rashi in Shabbat 62a in the original"התם משום שי''ן. שעשויה מעור החיצון עצמו קומט בו ג' קמטין כעין שי''ן " which sounds like the outside Shin to me. His 2nd source is ibid 28b where Rashi says "שי''ן של תפילין. שיהא העור נקמט מבחוץ ג' קמטין ודומה לשי''ן " - it can't get clearer than that. Oct 22, 2014 at 7:22
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    The שיטה מקובצת says cleary "לבית החיצונה עושין וכו' ונראין בו כמין שין " - "on the outside house etc and it looks like a Shin. Simply tweaking Rashi's wording slightly. Oct 22, 2014 at 7:29
  • @Maimonist - No idea where to start looking for a Sefer haRa`avyah nor where to look in it. The closest I found was ספר ראביה but no idea what order he works in. Oct 22, 2014 at 7:34
  • 1
    No, I'm saying that this might be referring to making them recognizable
    – user3342
    Oct 22, 2014 at 13:30

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