Questionable Retzuos: How Did This Happen?

(Monday, September 3rd, 2012)

After reading the following excerpt from Chapter 6 of the soon-to-be-released sefer “Inside Sta”m” below, it is no wonder that the recent tumult has only affected the lower-end range retzuos.

One of the stores hit hard by this is owned by an individual who never sold low-end retzuos for just these reasons. However, after keeping to this policy for five years, it became impossible to continue when the demand for them became overwhelming since people were unwilling to ante up for proper l’chatchila retzuos, and accused him of being “overpriced”. He only then began to carry them.

The recent events can serve as a wake-up call to us as Rosh HaShana approaches – Uru yishainim mishinaschem! If one retzua costs double or triple the price of another, it’s not “politics” or “chumros” that is the catalyst. Rather, it can be the difference between a good hechsher, a weaker hechsher – or no hechsher.

Just as we are careful when purchasing mundane objects such as cars, clothes and furniture not to get “ripped off” – and are prepared to pay more for that, how much more so when purchasing tefillin, mezuzos etc. must we be on guard.

6 – WHEN I WENT to purchase my sons tefillin, I was shown retzuos ranging from $30 to over $100. Why is there such a great price difference? What is so special about the expensive retzuos?

IN ORDER TO appreciate the wide range of prices, we need to be aware that the retzuos on the market vary significantly in quality and level of kashrus. For practical purposes, there are three categories of retzuos:

Inexpensive

The situation regarding inexpensive retzuos is out of control and unacceptable. This has been well-known in the world of Stam for decades, and has been publicized in recent years by various Kashrus organizations. (280) These retzuos are often manufactured in foreign countries with no Mashgiach present. Many non-Jews work in these factories, and there is no way of knowing if all (or any) of the actions which need to be done lishmah, such as painting the retzuos, were actually performed by Jews let alone lishmah.

Furthermore, it is impossible to know the ingredients used to produce the paint – specifically, if by-products of a non-kosher animal were used. Unfortunately, this is extremely common.

Rabbi Landau of Bnei Brak relates how he flew to a country in Western Europe to inspect a retzuos factory, and was greeted at the airport by the Mashgiach. During the car ride to the factory, the Mashgiach boasted about the high level of kashrus maintained at the factory he was overseeing.

“But where do the hides come from? queried the Rav.

I have no idea, admitted the Mashgiach, My supervision begins only at the processing stage.

Well, countered the Rav, are you capable of discerning the difference between the hide of a kosher animal, such as a cow, and a non-kosher animal, such as a horse?

No, not at all, answered the now red-faced Mashgiach.

Indeed, as shocking and difficult as it is to believe, many factories were found to be unsupervised, and using hides of non-kosher animals for their retzuos. When retzuos are being mass-produced in distant countries with no real supervision – in factories where local workers are receiving a minimal or sub-minimal salary – it is not difficult to sell retzuos at rockbottom prices. Even the inexpensive retzuos produced in Eretz Yisrael are generally highly questionable in terms of their kashrus.

Suffice it to say that these retzuos should be avoided, and anyone who owns such retzuos should replace them. This is not to say that all such retzuos are pasul. But since it is impossible to ascertain their kashrus, and a large percentage are not kosher, a God-fearing Jew would be wella dvised to purchase new retzuos.

Medium-Priced Retzuos

These retzuos usually come with a hechsher, and the entire production process is supervised by a Mashgiach. The ibbud is avodas yad, and every single one of the (over fifty!) ingredients used in the paint has been checked to ensure the kashrus of its source. The consumer should be aware, though, that some hechsherim are much more comprehensive than others. Generally speaking, it is worthwhile to pay a bit more in order to acquire retzuos produced under stricter and more comprehensive supervision.

Expensive Retzuos

Although the medium-priced retzuos are certainly kosher and halachically sound, they do have the disadvantage of being mass-produced.

As we mentioned concerning battim, mass-production always involves halachic leniencies. Just as when people cook in their own kitchen, they can do things exactly the way they want to, without any compromises as opposed to a restaurant or hotel where such stringencies would not be practical – so it is with the production of retzuos.

The expensive retzuos are privately made to the most exacting standards of kashrus, with no compromises whatsoever. When a problem arises concerning a batch of retzuos, the manufacturer disposes of them instead of finding halachic loopholes on which to rely.

The production is open to the public – there are no secrets. Indeed, Rabbanim and Roshei Yeshivah can often be seen on site observing the retzuah-making process.

280 בפרט הבד“ץ של העדה החרדית בירושלים והרב משה יהודה ליב לנדא ראב“ד דבני ברק שהרעישו הרבה על ענין זה.

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)


7 Comments

  1. Gadolhadorah says:

    Interesting article but it doesn’t tell the average yid with limited budget as to how to prioritize. Should he spend the extra hundred dollars for a top of the line set of retzuos or Turkish tallis that he will use for a mitzvah performed almost every day or should he instead get a plain set of kosher retzuos and use the 100 dollar to be mehader mitzvah for a once a year mitzvah like a Yanove esrog for succos or hand-made shumrah matzah for his sedorim? What is the general rule about when to be mehader mitzvah when dealing with a limited budget and not all can be done?

  2. Barzilai says:

    I wish you wouldn’t just declare that you need the dye to be kosher, as if it were a generally accepted halacha, when the SAHarav and many others hold that even the ink for Stam doesn’t need to be kosher or from a min kasher, and K’V the dye for the retzuos. Yes, there are those that hold lechatchila it should be, and there are even some that hold it needs to be kosher even lehalacha. But the burden of proof is on the machmirim, in that the halacha is not stated anywhere in the rishonim or the Shulchan Aruch, so each person ought to find out what his poseik holds.

  3. What isn’t totally clear from the above is that machine made retzuos have not and remain not made under any supervision. For this reason My rebbi, Harav Moredechai Friedlander, who is one of the leading expert poskim in STaM told me not to deal with such retzuos. This is besides the fact that even if made properly, many consider them to be bedieved.
    The primary issue among the hand made retzuos is the extent of the supervision of the machshir. They also may have different opinions on certain halachic matters. For example, one may allow hides salted by a gentile while the other not. One who is concerned with the leniencies/stringencies should consult an expert in the field or the machshir.
    Even if mass produced, as long as the production is under a stringent supervision then if there is any issue, the machshir will decide whether the retzuos can be used and not leave it to the maker to decide as it sounds from the above. Of course, hefsed mamon is a potentially more serious matter if the retzuos in question are many hides vs a handful and that could affect the psak of the machshir. The difference in retail cost between what the author refers to as medium and expensive retzuos starts at around $3.50 per meter (in Israel, likely to be more elsewhere) and should go up to around $10 more per meter (in Israel…) for the more expensive maker. This is a small price to pay considering the overall cost of tefillin and how often the retzuos need replacement. One issue is that the premier makers of the high end retzuos have a limited supply so they may not always be easily or readily available.

  4. cherrybim says:

    Does anyone know the location where I can observe the production of these retzuos?

  5. rescue37 says:

    I’m sorry, but when a lot of things in yidishkeit have become a business especially chumras, it is hard not to be cynical when being told they are so much more expensive. When I bought the “mehudar” schach mat for my sukkah (upon the advice of my Rav) and paid my mehudar price I got a product that was inferrior to the kosher non mehudar that lasted 1/2 the time requiring me to buy new mats sooner. When I observe the esrog mochrim having different prices for everybody, when hand matzos cost a small mortgage for a large family, it is very hard to view mehudar (especially the new hiddurs that come out) much more than a rip off and “jewish” business practices.

  6. twisted says:

    As in the model of BaisEl tefillin, and as in the esrog trade, the entire gesheft of sta”m supplies should be sourced in Israel, where it can be maintained under all Jewish control, and it can give parnasa to b’nei Torah. There are enough cows shechted here from retired milk cows and those bred for local fresh meat. An alternative would be a concession to send/import the number of skins needed from from any of-shore shechita op. You can have mashgichim at both ends of the transit. The badatzim and sofrim unions could get this going instead of just yelling fire.

  7. only me says:

    This book should be great. According to an article I read about this book, it isn’t expected to be in the U.S. until after Sukkos.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe to RSS Feed For This Article