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When we put on tefillin, we (I am Ashkenazi) say 2 brachot -- l'haniach tefillin and al mitzvat tefillin.

The second makes sense -- I am making a bracha on fulfilling the mitzvah of tefillin. But what is the definition of "l'haniach"? Is it "to place" or something more?

I ask because I wonder what the action is that is required -- I do not "tie" my tefillin when I put them on so "ukshartam" must mean something besides tying like a knot. Is the mitzvah in the wearing of them or in the wrapping, neither of which is either "placing" or "tying."

Could I buy "pre-wrapped" tefillin and fit my arm in like a sleeve so the various parts end up in the right spot? Or is there something about the process which is required?

[if you look up the phrase "pre-wrapped tefillin" you will come up with something my dad thought up a bunch of years ago as a gag. Now I wonder if it could be halachically feasible]

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See SA Orach Chayim 25:5. The Sefardi custom is to say only the 1st bracha, and one suffices for both. Ashkenazim say one for the hand and another for the head.

My understanding is that there is a debate as to whether the wearing of tefillin is one mitzvah or two separate ones.

Regarding your question about להניח, it does mean, literally, "to place" or "to set". And it is very clear from the phrasing in the Torah that there is an active command regarding the hand tefillin explaining how to do it.

Deuteronomy 6:8:

וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ וְהָי֥וּ לְטֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֶֽיךָ׃

And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes.

So, for the hand tefillin, one must specifically bind them, manually. Your "pre-bound" tefillin idea, sounds like a great toy for Purim, but, I don't think it will fulfill the mitzvah.

The phrasing for the head tefillin is "passive"". It says only "it shall be". And, that's what you are doing. The strap loop is pre-sized, and there is no action of "binding" like with the hand one.

  • wouldn't this hinge on the meaning of "bind"? I don't create any binding or knotting when I wrap. When we say that Moshe saw God's back, we say "kesher tefillin her'a" that Hashem showed the knot of his shel rosh (as it were). My bracha isn't on "keshirat tefillin." – rosends Oct 21 '15 at 14:00
  • @Danno you're digging into fine semantics. The verb form kesher means "to bind". English definition of that doesn't imply knotting, and, I don't think the Hebrew implies this, either. While you don't make any knots when placing the shel yad, you do bind or secure it at the end, so it doesn't slide off. Most people wind the "excess" strap a few times around the middle of their hand and tuck the last piece underneath it. FWIW, that's a form of "knot". As for the translation in *Anim Z", you can translate the word "kesher" as "binding" or "knot". Either translation would fit there, IMO. – DanF Oct 21 '15 at 18:46
  • @Danno (cont.) - For the phrasing of the barcha that you suggested, it's an interesting nuance. I'll see if I can find something on it. You may want to post it as a separate follow up question. – DanF Oct 21 '15 at 18:48
  • "Most people wind the "excess" strap a few times around the middle of their hand and tuck the last piece underneath it. FWIW, that's a form of "knot". " If that were the tying of a required knot or binding, then not doing that would mean not being yotzei the mitzvah. If that were, then slipping on preset wrappng but just finishing wrapping up the extra in the hand, should make one yotzei. Is that the case? – rosends Oct 21 '15 at 18:58
  • @Danno I don't think so. I think there are spec. rules of how to bind the tefillin. – DanF Oct 21 '15 at 19:01

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