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Nowadays a person can buy tefillin batim (the leather boxes that house the parshiyos) that were made by a machine or made completely by hand.

What is the difference exactly and what is the advantage of having "hand made" batim? Is it the fact that it's hand made and therefore one can assure it's more perfect (it's not like a "factor/assembly line" made product that could have flaws?) Or is it part of the "l'shmo" that it has to be made for the sake of the mitzvah and a machine can't do that?

What exactly is the hiddur/chumrah if any? (Please provide relevant sources.)

  • Hand made can have mistakes that a machine would catch. I don't know why you assume machine is more likely to have mistakes. – Double AA May 9 '16 at 18:23
  • @DoubleAA these machines are so smart they are catching mistakes? – Yehoshua May 9 '16 at 18:26
  • It certainly possible. I've never seen one for tefillin, but there's some pretty smart technology out there for other manufacturing needs. – Double AA May 9 '16 at 18:27
  • There are no batim made completely by hand - all batim machers use high-power presses to form the leather into shape. All tfilin need to be made lishma anyway therefore humans are required in the process. The difference lies in who/what powers the machine that sands down the battim, as explained by Noach miF below. See here for a related answer incl. a link to the best book I found on the topic – mbloch May 9 '16 at 18:52
  • @Yehoshua it is very common to have machines scan parchments for missing letters, words, tagin (crowns) - machines (scanners in this case) are much better than humans at flagging those because the brain automatically compensates for missing letters and words – mbloch May 9 '16 at 19:11
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R' Melech Michaels, of Mezuza Depot has told me that there are some halachic differences, although some of it is just semantics. First, we should define machine-made vs. hand-made.

  • Machine-made means that some of the machines run off of electrical power

  • hand-made means that all machines used are either hand- or foot-powered.

For example, the squaring of the battim is usually done with a drill press with an appropriate bit. This drill can be actuated by foot (or on some upmarket battim, hand) or electricity.

Some manufacturers also differentiate by making their machine battim with lower quality and fewer hiddurim than their hand counterparts, to make the machine-made ones due to the production costs associated with rejection of poor quality battim as well as to make them less desirable. This practice is not used by smaller battim machers, who can charge more and thus reject a larger number of inferior battim (per communication with R' Michaels).

  • I have also had a similar problem. When I was buying t'fillin for my son a sofer who was to write them told me he had two prices. A higher one for "mehudar" writing. This is totally against halocho. As another sofer told me in the name of the kitsur who wrote a sefer about sofrus that one always has to do ones best. This is עושי מלאכת השם רמיה". How can a manufacturer and seller of Jewish articles not make them the best and mehudar possible. @Noach mi Frankfurt – newcomer May 10 '16 at 6:12
  • @newcomer, what most sofrim these days do is actually hagaha (checking) and putting together sta"m for buyers. So when he said he had two sets, one was written by one sofer, one by another. – Noach MiFrankfurt May 10 '16 at 13:12
  • No if you read my comment I wrote "a sofer who was to write them." @Noach mi Frankfurt. – newcomer May 10 '16 at 13:34
  • @newcomer, are you sure he wasn't just the magiah? – Noach MiFrankfurt May 10 '16 at 14:00
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There are no battim made completely by hand - all battim makers use high-power presses to form the leather into shape. All tefilin need to be made lishma anyway therefore humans are required in the process. The difference lies in who/what powers the machine that sands down the battim, as explained by NoachmiFrankfurt in his answer.

R Reuvain Mendlowitz in his book Inside Stam explicitly asks the question (p. 145)

What is the difference between factory-made battim and privately-made battim?

He answers

  • Private battim means that one individual toils for many, many hours on each and every step involved in creating a pair of battim. The process is not rushed, all halachic requirements are fulfilled, and - most importantly - unwavering attention to detail is expended [...]
  • The goal of the producer of factory-made battim, on the other hand, is to produce the maximum number of battim in the minimum amount of time. This goal is achieved by having a different person doing each job, somewhat similar to an assembly line. While this system dramatically decreases the amount of time necessary to produce a pair of battim, it does, nevertheless have its drawbacks.

He then goes to list the drawbacks:

  • the reliability of workers (how experienced are they?, how well trained are they?, how well do they know the halachot?)
  • attention to detail: a private battim maker treats each product with full attention, care and takes whatever time is necessary to craft a perfect product
  • halachic standards: in many factories, various halachic leniencies are relied upon, particularly in the creation of the shin on both sides of the shel rosh. Although thes battim are certainly kosher, the might not be mehudar.

He concludes by saying that, of course, this does not mean that every private battim maker produces battim that are of superior quality or of a higher halachic standard than those produced in factories. But, in general, a reliable, honest, privater battim maker will produce a mehudar product while at a factory this is not always the case.

He also advises, throughout the book, to ask for a hechsher (certification) on the important parts of the tefilin: battim, retzuot and of course parshiot.

See also here for a related answer.

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