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Shabbat Parashat Pinchas 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Tefillin in Pre-Dawn Hours

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I work at a hospital and, some days, I am unable to wear tefillin during the day, but only pre-dawn. May I then put on tefillin before its regular time? [Our staff knows the querier.]


Answer: There are varied opinions among the Tannaim if, fundamentally, the mitzva of tefillin exists at night (Menachot 36b). According to most Rishonim (see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 30; the Rambam, Tefillin 4:10 is a notable exception), tefillin does apply at night, fundamentally. However, we are not allowed to put on tefillin at night because of the concern that we may fall asleep and then release gas with the tefillin on (Rashi, Menachot 36b). (Certain circumstances, e.g. – the tefillin are still on from daytime, one needs the tefillin on to protect them – complicate the matter.) Although a halachic day starts at alot hashachar (72-90 minutes before sunrise), we are not supposed to put on tefillin until “misheyakir,” approximately 50 minutes before sunrise.

 A baraita (Menachot 36a) says that if one will be on the road from before the time of tefillin and is concerned that if he does not wear them they are more likely to get lost, he can don them but make the beracha(ot) when the proper time comes. The Rambam does not cite this gemara, apparently because he reasoned it followed the opinion, which he did not accept, that tefillin fundamentally applies at night (see Beit Yosef ibid.). However, the Shulchan Aruch (OC 30:3) does pasken this baraita, and the Mishna Berura (30:11) assumes that this traveler can put on the tefillin even before alot hashachar.

One crucial question is about the nature of the above permission to put on the tefillin. Is it a sign that one is performing the mitzva before its normal time, or is he just wearing the tefillin to protect them without doing the mitzva at that time? The idea of waiting with the beracha seems to indicate that he does not fulfill a mitzva. In fact, Rabbeinu Peretz (cited by the Tur, OC 30) says that the baraita follows the opinion that tefillin does not apply at night, but that according to our ruling that it does, the traveler should make the beracha right away. The Shulchan Aruch (following the Rosh and others) rules not to recite the beracha then. The Shaagat Aryeh (45) posits that one fulfills the Torah-level mitzva of tefillin at that time, just that given that the Rabbis generally required to wait until misheyakir, the berachot were not instituted for unusual circumstances when it is permitted earlier. Eliya Rabba (30:3) says that if one mistakenly makes the beracha before daytime, he does not repeat it at the right time because the beracha was valid due to the Torah-level fulfillment. Rabbi Akiva Eiger (to OC 30:3) agrees not to repeat the beracha in that case, but it is due to the possibility that Rabbeinu Peretz is correct and the beracha was the right thing l’chatchila.

So while some disagree (see Divrei Mordechai (Friedberg) 4), we assume there is benefit to putting the tefillin on even before alot hashachar if the alternative is not putting them on at all. This is the recommendation of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, OC I:10) and Rav Moshe Shternbach (Teshuvot V’hanhagot I:49). Rav Feinstein adds that if the person will not take the opportunity seriously if he is told not to make a beracha (this does not apply to you), one can rely on Rabbeinu Peretz and make the beracha. Rav Shternbach believes it is rare for a person to have no opportunity to put on tefillin for a few seconds and suspects that the issue is more often embarrassment to put them on at the workplace (we do not suspect this applies to you, either), which he does not consider justified in our times. 

Permission for the traveler to put on tefillin at night is based on the assumption that he will not fall asleep in those circumstances. Therefore, if one is not walking or riding but is being drawn in a carriage, he may not wear them (see Magen Avraham 30:5; Taz 30:5). If a doctor is on a long shift in which he is able/expected to catch power naps, the leniency does not apply. 


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