Ask the Rov: A man on mivtzoim doesn’t want to remove his wristwatch. Is it okay to don tefillin over it?
By Rabbi Chaim Hillel Raskin – Rov of Anash in Petach Tikvah
The Torah states that tefillin must be tied “on your arm.” Halacha, therefore, rules that nothing may be intervening between the tefillin and one’s arm or head. This applies to the tefillin box and the sections of the straps (retzuos) that fasten the tefillin in place — i.e., the first loop around the arm and the part that encircles the head.
When donning tefillin, one should ensure that one’s yarmulka or sleeve doesn’t get caught under the tefillin. Long hair that obstructs the tefillin from sitting firmly or bangs from another part of the head can also be a chatzitza.1
On the arm, there is technically room on the biceps for two small pairs to be placed above each other. Thus, in some instances, there may be room for the tefillin to be placed on the skin, even if part of the arm is wounded. However, if the entire biceps is wounded, and placing tefillin on the area will be painful, he is exempt from the arm tefillin.
If the head or arm is bandaged and it isn’t possible at all to remove the covering, one should still put on tefillin without a bracha and rely on a view not accepted in halacha that a thin chatzitza is allowed. In this case, the tefillin should be covered to ensure no one learns from his example, as well since the posuk states that the arm tefillin shall be “a sign for you,” meaning ‘for you’ and not ‘for others.’ Ordinarily, when placed directly on the biceps, which is ordinarily covered, the arm tefillin need not be concealed from view. Yet, when placed on the outside, the tefillin should be covered.2
What about a wristwatch?
Removing a watch so the retzua can be wrapped directly on one’s skin is preferable as a stringency and out of respect for the mitzva. However, since the primary halachic obligation is fulfilled with the first loop on one’s arm, removing one’s watch isn’t an absolute requirement. For bandages lower down on the arm or hand, one may lechatchila wrap them on top of the bandage.3
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From The Weekly Farbrengen by Merkaz Anash