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 son’s 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:
The situation regarding inexpensive retzuos is out of control and unacceptable. This has been well-known in the world of Sta”m 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.
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.
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.
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