When painting tefillin, are there any requirements regarding the ink (other than the need to be black)? Or is any ink okay to use?

Like in the comments to this answer, shoe polish is recommended. Is that indeed correct?


5 Answers 5


Keset HaSofer 21:14 rules that you can't put ground ivory into the tefillin paint as it is not from a kosher animal (an elephant). Accordingly, it would seem that one would need to make sure to use paint that has a certification ensuring that all ingredients are from kosher species.

  • A 19th century source with no apparent antecedent is the undisputed authority on this question? What about the Mishnah, Gemara, Geonim, or Rishonim? Have they anything to say about this question? If not, how do we know that the ingredients in a tefillin paint is even an issue? What source does the Keset HaSofer base itself on? It seems that this answer could be so much stronger than it is.
    – user3342
    Oct 23, 2017 at 23:14
  • 1
    @Maimonist Who said anything about undisputed authority on this question? I would certainly enjoy reading an answer that more thoroughly investigates the history and development of this question. This answer just presents one notable source on the matter. (I of course have no control of the checkmark; indeed that distinction has been known to adorn even blatantly false answers in the past.)
    – Double AA
    Oct 24, 2017 at 0:18
  • It seems the Keset is echoing the Noda Bihuda (Kamma OC 1).
    – Double AA
    Oct 24, 2017 at 1:32

While I haven't looked it up, I think I recall hearing that the ingredients should be kosher.

  • 2
    as in kosher to eat?
    – yydl
    Aug 5, 2011 at 18:07
  • If I recall correctly, it just needs to be from a kosher animal, regardless of whether it was a treifah or neveilah.
    – YDK
    Aug 5, 2011 at 18:16
  • You should probably source this Oct 24, 2017 at 5:03

Yes, it does require that the ink be made from kosher ingredients. Therefore, stam shoe polish is NOT acceptable unless ALL the ingredients in its manufacture is 100% kosher or synthetic.

  • 4
    George, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for posting an answer! You could make this answer more valuable by editing in sources to back up your claims. Also, please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 27, 2012 at 18:04

Tefillin need to be painted with paint made from either synthetic or kosher animal species ingredients. If any oil is added from a non kosher animal species or if the black pigment is sourced from burnt bones, which could be from a non kosher animal species, that would be a problem.

  • 2
    Providing a source to back up your comments about the source of the ink/shoe dye would improve this answer.
    – Seth J
    Sep 19, 2012 at 17:50
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    Bones from non kosher animals are kosher, actually.
    – Double AA
    May 5, 2015 at 2:24

See here "Halacha 4 How is ink prepared? One collects the vapor of oils, of tar, of wax, or the like, [causes it to condense,] and kneads it together with sap from a tree and a drop of honey. It is moistened extensively, crushed until it is formed into flat cakes, dried, and then stored.

When one desires to write with it, one soaks [the cakes of ink] in gallnut juice or the like and writes with it. Thus, if one attempts to rub it out, he would be able to.

This is the ink with which it is most preferable to write scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot. If, however, one wrote any of the three with gallnut juice or vitriol, which remains without being rubbed out, it is acceptable."

I certainly wouldn't use shoe polish. How do you know what's in it? Kosher ink is not so expensive.

  • The question was about painting the straps, which does not require the specialized sofer's ink. See YDK's answer here: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/2244/…
    – Dave
    Aug 21, 2011 at 6:29
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    That question was about Retzuos. This question is about Tefillin.
    – follick
    Aug 21, 2011 at 7:02
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    you are indeed correct, the question was about painting the tefillin themselves. But I don't think that requires special ink, either. If I'm not mistaken, it is required only for writing.
    – Dave
    Aug 21, 2011 at 14:10

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