Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Taking off my tefillin during Aleinu

Upon arriving in Toronto, I needed to daven at a particular morning minyan in order to begin after first light and yet finish before carpool. However, I couldn't stay until the end, and so I began accelerating the end of my personal davening, taking off my tefillin before davening was over. I don't think I did that normally before coming here, but now it was a necessity.

The necessity soon became normal for me; even when I wasn't on carpool duty, I began taking off my tefillin before davening was over. Not before it was halachically appropriate – one should keep them on through the end of Uva l'Tzion where possible – but as soon as I could. [This was especially true when I davened in a nusach sfard minyan, since I don't say Pitum haKetores at the end of davening.] I live in a rush, and removing tefillin during Aleinu enabled me to go immediately to a shiur or to learn or to follow up on a phone call or email, without losing time.

Recently, though, I have begun to feel very uncomfortable with this. It's halachically permissible… but it's wrong. I hope I would not knowingly do this to a human being, putting on my coat or checking a set of travel directions while still engaged in a conversation. So why would I do this to Gd? And especially when there is no need? What message am I sending myself about my davening? Where is the passion for prayer?

I suppose taking off my tefillin during Aleinu is an artifact of the distance from Gd in our standard prayer experience. Since I can't see Gd in front of me, my davening is easily reduced to execution of an obligation, instead of a presentation before my Creator, much less a conversation. But it's not right, and it's self-reinforcing, encouraging me further to avoid seeing davening as that encounter with Gd.

So now it changes – no more removing tefilling during Aleinu, and I'll just need to keep my haste reflex under control.

Bli neder.


  1. Rabbi, maybe you can expand on the connection between tefillin and prayer so that the issue is clearer? If there is no inherent connection (and the fact that tefillin is worn only for prayer is more out of convenience/necessity) - what would be wrong with removing one's tefillin after it is permitted to do so, yet remain until the end of tefillah?

  2. I've had to do that a couple of times recently for similar reasons (including this morning, in fact) and I feel similarly uncomfortable about it. It makes me worry that, on some level G-d does not seem as important or even as real to me as the train I need to catch.

  3. Some hypotheticals:

    You mention the necessity to drive carpool. Given that there's only one minyan that works in this situation, is it better to keep the tefillin on the whole time and not daven with a minyan?

    I often think about what God would "want" (kivyachol):

    Keep tefilin on and be late for carpool (making many other people late)?

    Ask spouse to drive carpool so you can daven with a minyan and wear tefilin optimally (inconsiderate, IMO, but maybe God would disagree)?

    Not daven with a minyan (mentioned above)?

    What if there is parnassa involved? If I were a man and I had a tefilin conundrum, would God want me to lose my job, or look for another one, if I needed to catch a certain train to be on time for work? Who knows, we can't read his mind!! But we can exercise judgment.

    Yes, sometimes it's obvious we should get up earlier to get everything done on time. (And maybe make that more likely by going to sleep earlier, etc). But at least in your carpool situation, it seems like you'd need to be able to read God's mind, i.e., what does he prefer, minyan vs. yechidus, inconveniencing others vs. optimal tefilin usage, etc.

    IMO, while I can't read God's mind, I believe that inconveniencing others in order to meet one's own spiritual needs is very problematic. (I know you are not suggesting this, I'm just rambling). All the more so adopting chumras that inconvenience others (more rambling, I'd better stop now).

  4. I certainly respect the sentiment, but I think that the RH and Daniel Saunders are too hard on themselves. If one is at a certain minyan because he wants to daven/say kriat shema at a l'chatchila time, and he has somewhere to go at a certain time (somewhere worthwhile, whether it's family responsibilities, work or to give a shiur -I am not talking about rushing to meet for coffee and danish) that requires removing tefilin a bit early as described, it can be forgiven in my view.

    It may not be ideal, but life isn't perfect. If the other choices are (1) davening b'yechidut or (2) davening with a minyan at a less optimal time halachically and in either case leaving tefilin on to the end, I would think that it's better to daven with a more optimally-halachically-scheduled minyan and take them off early.

    I agree that if it becomes a habit to "just get them off" as soon as possbile, then it's something to try to overcome.

  5. Back in the day, our Rebbe asked us to take on ours to keep tefillin on until after the last Mourners Kaddish - out of respect to their tefillah. It ain't over till its over.

    Of course, in a yeshiva, you have all the time in the world....

  6. Good, good, its good when people are מעמיד דברים על דברי תורה. Your sweet-faced moralistic logic and pondering will contribute greatly to the catholic-ization of the Jewish religion. As the Yerushalmi says a few times, לא דייך לך מה שאסרה תורה????!!!!

  7. Jenny-
    Thanks for commenting. True, there is inherent connection between tefillin and the post-amidah prayers. However, they are considered "prayer garb" in that that they are customarily worn for the entire davening. Removing them demonstrates intent to depart. I suppose, effectively, this is a case of "It is, because we made it so."

    These are good questions; thanks for rambling!

    I think we are in agreement on all points.

    מטהר את הצרץ-
    Do you think R' Eliezer (אל תעש תפלתך קבע) was also catholicizing Judaism?

  8. I've developed the habit of saying Aleinu as I take off my tefillin. I found before that I would rush through Aleinu and mumble most of the words. Now that I slow it down to match the time it takes to remove the tefillin I say it with a lot more kavannah.

  9. Its not wrong, as you say. Its within halakha, and perfectly righteous, for one to remove their tefillin during aleinu if they wish. Rather than being wrong, its *merely* not within the normative assumptions of modern chassidishe middot. Being a chassid has nothing to do with right and wrong. It has to do with doing more than what is right (ergo, stepping beyond tzadeikut). Chassidut is a deeply personal and charismatic experience unique to the individual, and cannot be formed in one-size fits all rites and customs. It has very little to do tangible, outward devotion as measured by others; or with how one dresses, or what stringencies one adopts out of a sense of doubt. True chassidut is a question of wholeness of spirit and heart as one engages the mitzvoth. In other words, its found in the hiddurim. A long passionate prayer is a davar yafeh. So is a short, passionate prayer. The key is the passion. If you connected, and it was long enough for you, then it was genuine and respectful. When you are done, you are done. Have you considered that the core liturgy instituted by chazal is itself quite short, and that the ever increasing prayers finally codified in modern siddurim may actually cause damage by imposing a standard many good Jews simply can't live by? Not everyone is a chassid, or has practical time for lengthy prayers. Some people are *merely* righteous, which is something to admire and race after and be happy with. The Torah was meant to be something every Jew could live by - not just something the chassid gamur can aspire to. If you want to be a chassid and struggle with that, I salute you for your high hopes. But do not say the act of a tzaddik is wrong. In doing so you create a standard by which no man can live.

    1. Anonymous 6:12 PM-
      I'm not clear on how you went from when one removes his tefillin (the topic of the post) to the length of one's tefillah (your topic). I wasn't talking about how long one uses for davening - only the question of removing tefillin while still reciting that davening.