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If my tefillin are Nusach Ari, and I'm Ashkenazi, can I re-tie the knots and make the tefillin look Ashkenazi? (Such as re-tying the Shel Yad knot to have the loop closer to you, and re-tying the Shel Rosh knot into a Double-Daled.) Would this prove to be troublesome since Arizal letters on the parchments differ from Ashkenazi style of lettering?

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You can always retie the knots but the result won't be the same as Nusach Ashkenaz tefilin.

Many years ago I purchased Nusach Ari tefilin, after being told that ktav Ari was accepted by both Ashkenazim (Litaim) and Hassidim. Once I learned hilchot tfilin in more depth I discovered that there were other important differences between Ari and Ashkenazi tefilin.

Specifically there are different opinions and customs on how to make the spacing between the parshiyos of the tefillin, in particular the paragraph spacing between the last two parshiyot of "Shema" and "Vehaya Im Shemoa" (called the "Hefsek Parshas Stumah"). Many Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Taz in that respect while e.g., Chabad Hassidim often follow the Shulchan Aruch Harav / Admur Hazaken. According to a number of opinions the spacing of Shulchan Aruch Harav is not ideal for Ashkenazim. The same is true between ashkenazim and sfardim incidentally.

Therefore many Nusach Ari tfilin, even if you retie the knots, will have the "wrong" paragraph spacing for an ashkenazi.

I specifically asked R Yitzchak Berkovits (a respected rosh kollel and posek in Jerusalem) who ruled that tfilin nusach Ari were fine b'dieved (after the fact) for an Ashkenazi but not ideal because of al Titosh Torat Imecha (do not forsake the Torah [teachings] of your mother -- Mishlei/Proverbs 1:8).

See here (by R Eli Gutnick, a respected sofer stam) and here for details and sources. R Gutnick explicitly writes

The fact that there are different opinions on how to make the Hefsek Parsha Stumah in tefillin is less known and far more serious than people realize. Ignorance in this subject can cause a person to purchase a pair of tefillin that are not correct for his particular custom. Furthemore, incorrect paragraph spacing may even render the tefillin possul, for certain people, as explained below. Unfortunately many vendors of tefillin are themselves either ignorant of or indifferent to the different opinions and customs of Hefsek Parshas Stuma. Sometimes the discrepancy will not be picked up for many years and will only be brought to the owners attention much later during a routine tefillin examination.

Because of this it would be better not to try and switch tfilin from one nusach to another. As always CYLOR for a practical ruling in your case.

  • As a side-note: Not to preempt contacting your LOR, but as a possible "general" principle, if one is a "baal teshuva", theoretically speaking, despite Ashkenazi ancestry, they wouldn't necessarily be held to the "Titosh Toras Imecha" here. – jj2 Feb 1 '16 at 16:54
  • Funny, I recalled the Taz and ShA HaRav agreeing. Maybe I'm mixing up the ShAHR and the GRA? The Taz is the one who made up the compromise opinion, IIRC. So did the ShA HR just side with the Rambam straight up? What other opinion is there? – Double AA Feb 1 '16 at 17:16
  • Oh I see, the ShAHR has a full 9 letters at the end and start. IAE not all Ashkenazim follow the Taz. Many just do like the Rambam. The Taz caught on quickly but it's quite the Chiddush, plus it sounds an awful lot like it's bordering on this issue judaism.stackexchange.com/revisions/27269/1 – Double AA Feb 1 '16 at 17:23

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