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The Custom of Tefillin

The custom of Tefillin is very ancient, even predating the custom of kitniyot. In the USA, tefillin are commonly worn during Chol HaMoed. When making aliyah, most olim from the USA adopt the the "Minhag HaMakom", a.k.a. the local custom, and stop wearing them during Chol HaMoed.

What makes this so interesting is that:
  1. Most olim continue to abstain from eating kitniyot during Pesach under pretense of following "Minhag Avoteinu", commonly understood as the custom of their parents, rather than the local custom. 
  2. Most olim adopt what they believe to be the local custom despite the fact that their Fathers wore tefillin during Chol HaMoed. 
  3. And this is the really interesting part--wearing tefillin is not actually a Minhag (custom), but a Mitzvah D'Oreitah, a commandment dictated by HaShem in the Torah. 
Ironically, the first source in the Torah that commands us to wear tefillin has a Pesach theme:
And it shall be for a sign for you upon your hand, and for a memorial between your eyes, that the law of HaShem may be in your mouth; for with a strong hand did the HaShem bring you out of Egypt. (Exodus 13:9)
The Rambam writes that tefillin are not worn on Shabbat since they too are called a "sign":
And the children of Israel shall keep the Shabbat, to observe the Shabbat throughout their generations, for an ever-lasting covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel for ever; for in six days HaShem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested." (Exodus 31:16-17)
Regarding Yom Tov, the Rambam writes that there are six days--and only six days--in which tefillin are not worn: the 1st and 7th days of Pesach; Shavuot; the 1st and 8th day of Sukkot; and Rosh HaShana. (Yom HaKippurim is considered like Shabbat and is called "Shabbat Shabbaton" in the Torah (Leviticus 31:16)).

Chol HaMoed is not included in this list.

So what's the bottom line? If you have an established track record for adopting local customs in Eretz Yisrael, why hold onto what Rabbenu Yeruham called a "foolish custom"?

But seriously, we all need to realize that kitniyot are indeed "little things." Putting on tefillin during Chol HaMoed is a big thing. So is bringing a Korban Pesach. May we all merit both.


P.S. To make your holiday a really special holy day, check out the Pesach shiurim of Rav David Bar-Hayyim on the Machon Shilo website.


Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
Minhag haGra was to not wear tefillin on Chol Hamoed and this became the predominant Ashkenazi minhag is EY
However, the predominant Ahkenazi minhag in EY was to not eat kitniyot
snag said…
8th day of sukkot, not 7th.
@snag. Thanks for spotting that. It is called Shmini Atzeret after all.
@anon: Rav Aviner also claims that the Rambam never ascended to Har HaBayit.
Anonymous said…
It's interesting to me that so many people are willing to accept the local minhag with regard to tefillin, yet they will cling to the customs of France, Russia, Germany and etc. with regard to most other things such as clothing and nusach. Historically when a Jew move to a new area who is expected to adopt the local custom. Somehow in modern times people have decided they can take their customs with them wherever they go and impose them on another population.
Anonymous said…
I'm a Jew. I keep strictly kosher. I am shomer Shabbat. My wife goes to the Mikva. I no longer live in Europe. I reject ridiculous stringencies left over from the European ghettoes. Halacha over chumra. Judaism over fakery. Judaism over galut patheticness. Chag kasher v'sameach.
yoseph said…
both opinions are right and it is just how do we relate to chol hamoed, if we make it moed first ,an extension of yom tov ,and we do not work we are not supposed to wear tefillin but if we make it chol first and separate it from yom tov and we work we are supposed to wear tefillin and here beretz israel we have 7 days of tashlumim for the korbanot and a korban day is as yom tov
so if we hang around with family and friends and we mekayyem vesamachta bechaghecha for the 7 days we are patur from tefillin
behutz laaretz the chag is/was more restricted to the yom tov days and the others were more chol than moed so they were not patur from tefillin
chag sameach
Anonymous said…
Just want to drop in and say that I have been staying with my Syrian brother-in-law and eating kitniot every day. It has been wonderful. Chag kasher v'sameach, everyone!
Josh da Jew

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