Tefillin and Torah Giddin
A Modern-Day Kashrut Scandal
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During the past 10 years massive amounts of non-kosher giddin, the special thread used to sew tefillin, Torah scrolls and megillot have appeared in the STa”M marketplace. The non-kosher giddin is being produced and sold to unsuspecting sofrim, scribes, and passed on to the kosher consumer. Some of this giddin is made from gid, sinews, taken from pigs and other non-kosher animals, some is made by non-Jews, and some is machine-made. Those involved either are ignorant of the halachic, Jewish legal, requirements for kosher giddin or are knowingly ignoring these requirements for financial gain.
Production of kosher giddin is both physically demanding and time consuming. It is almost an art form. Until very recently the skills involved, which can take years to learn, were usually passed down from generation to generation within individual families. Due to the growth in size of the world-wide Jewish community and the attendant growth in the numbers of tefillin, Torah scrolls and megillot being produced, the making of giddin has become an industry on the order of magnitude of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
The non-kosher giddin falls into 2 categories, that which completely pasuls, invalidates, tefillin and sefer Torah, and that which, although it doesn't pasul the tefillin or sefer Torah, lowers the kashrut level to being only minimally kosher. If you want your tefillin, Torah, and megillot to be kosher, and even more so if you want them to be mehudar, beautiful or enhanced, you must insist that the giddin used in them are kosher and mehudar.
How is Giddin Made?
Giddin is thread made from the gid, sinew, of a kosher animal. The Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, basing itself on halacha l'Moshe miSinai, the oral tradition given to Moses at Mount Sinai, specifies that giddin is the only thread that is kosher for sewing tefillin, Torah scrolls and megillot. The halachot, laws, of giddin detail which animals can be used as source material and how the giddin is to be made.
Only gid that comes from a kosher animal can be used to make giddin. Gid taken from a non-kosher animal is invalid for being made into giddin. It is appalling that gid is being taken from pigs, horses, and camels to be made into giddin! The kosher animal does not need to be slaughtered according to Jewish Law in order for its gid to be used to make giddin. Removal of the gid from the animal is normally, but not necessarily, done by a shochet, ritual slaughterer.
The entire process of making the gid into giddin must be done by Jewish labor and every step must be done by hand. Before beginning his work the giddin-maker focuses his concentration and states aloud his intent to perform the mitzvah of making giddin, this is known as lishmah.
The raw gid sinews are dried, pounded and cleaned. They are combed using metal combs until very fine fibers are obtained. These fibers are then spun into thin threads. Single threads are doubled and spun a second time to create finished two-ply thread. The thread is then tested for strength and durability. Thin giddin is used for sewing tefillin while thicker giddin is used for sewing together the parchment sections of sefer Torahs and megillot.
What Can Be Done?
It is important to remember that most sellers of STa”M, Scrolls, Tefillin and Mezuzot, are not sofrim. Also, most sofrim only learn how to write these holy articles without studying the complex and detailed laws of giddin, retzuot, tefillin straps, and tefillin batim, housings. Even many Rabbis, unless they have undertaken special study of these halachot are often unfamiliar with the problems described here.
Non-kosher giddin is sold at a much lower price than kosher giddin. But the amount of giddin used in a single pair of tefillin or even in a complete Torah scroll is very small. Thus, demanding kosher, mehudar giddin adds only minimally to their price.
Just as with what we eat, tefillin, Torah scrolls and megillot need to have kashrut certification. You need to know who gives the kashrut certification and what is covered by the certificate. If it is not clear what the certification covers, ask the person you're buying from for details. Request a copy of the certificate and take it to your Rabbi for his inspection and approval before making your purchase.
For more details about this scandal and the ways in which it is being perpetrated please read the article “A Kosher (Giddim) Stitch in Time” which originally appeared in the Hamodia newspaper, English language Israel Edition. For further halachic references please see this letter from Rav Shamai K'hat HaCohen Gross, Rav of Mishmeret Hakodesh for Sta"M, and this letter from the Jerusalem BaDaTZ.
If you bought your tefillin or megillah from HaSOFER.com or are considering buying now, you can rest assured. All the component parts of every pair of tefillin and all megillot sold by HaSOFER, including the giddin, have independent kashrut certification and all the finishing stages of making your tefillin are done in our Jerusalem shop under the kashrut supervision of HaRav Gross.
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