• Gabbai

Simchat Torah – Different Customs

On Sunday, the first Chol Homo’ed day during which tefillin could be relevant, an out of town acquaintance got in touch, seeking some guidance regarding our local custom. He wanted to know whether it was our custom to don tefillin during the interim days of Sukkot or not.

For as long as I have been in Wellington this question has been raised twice each year – during Sukkot and during Pesach. The question goes back much further, and it is discussed by the halachic authorities over the centuries. The Shulhan Arukh rules that one should not lay tefillin during the interim days of the festival. On Shabbat and Yom Tov we do not lay tefillin due to the covenantal nature of the day, which obviates the need for us to engage in the covenantal practice of tefillin. Most authorities rule that the interim days are also of this covenantal nature and thus one should not lay tefillin. In fact the Beit Yosef cites the Zohar, a primary text of Kabbalah, which speaks strongly against the practice of laying tefillin during the interim days of the festival. The Rem”a, the halachic authority of European communities, nevertheless writes that some hold that tefillin should be used, “and that is the common custom.”

From the sources it emerges that the primary divide between using tefillin or not during these days is the Shulhan Arukh and Rem”a – or the Sefardic tradition as opposed to the mainstream Ashkenazik tradition. In practice, however, almost nobody lays tefillin in the land of Israel, as the Gr”a ruled against using tefillin at this time, and the Gr”a’s students constituted large groups of religious immigrants during the 19th century. Since the Middle Eastern Jews didn’t use tefillin at this time as well, it became the accepted practice in the land of Israel not to use tefillin during the interim days of the festivals. Almost all Jews of European background adopted the local custom upon immigrating to Israel. In the Diaspora, however, many Ashkenazi communities lay tefillin during the interim days of the festival.