By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
On Rosh Chodesh the tefillin are removed before Mussaf. There are two reasons for this. The first reason is related to the Mussaf liturgy. According to nusach sefard and sefardi, the Mussaf Kedusha opens with the words “keter yitnu lecha” (“We crown you, our Lord…”) referring to the teaching that the Jewish people, along with the angels, crown God as King of the world. It is explained that it would be unbecoming to make reference to God as the Supreme crowned being while one is wearing tefillin, which are considered to be a crown in their own right.
The second reason tefillin are removed before Mussaf is in order to add a Yom Tov flavor to the day. As Mussaf represents the Yom Tov nature of Rosh Chodesh the tefillin are removed at that time. In fact, some authorities recommend removing the tefillin before the Torah reading as it also represents the Yom Tov nature of the day. There are also those who recommend removing the tefillin before Hallel for the same reason. Some suggest removing the tefillin after the Torah is returned to the aron kodesh. Nevertheless, the halacha is not in accordance with any of these views.
As one will notice, widespread custom is to remove the tefillin after the kaddish that follows “uva l’tzion“. Once the tefillin are removed they are usually just placed on a table and not properly put away and in most cases they are not even wrapped up. The reason for this is in order to minimize the interruption between the kaddish and the start of Mussaf. Nevertheless, the tefillin should at least be covered before one begins Mussaf.
Although this approach is normative and based on kabbalisitc considerations, there is reason to suggest that it might not be the ideal manner in which to conduct onself. According to a number of authorities the tefillin should be removed while reciting uva l’tzion, just before beginning the yehi ratzon paragraph. Other sources seem to indicate that the tefillin should be removed after completing uva l’tzion but before the kaddish is recited. Indeed, this approach is consistent with other occasions when there is some form of an interruption before Mussaf. For example, in most congregations the rabbi delivers the Shabbat morning drasha *before* the kaddish is recited. In this way, Mussaf can commence immediately after the kaddish with no interruptions.
Furthermore, leaving the tefillin exposed and unwrapped for the duration of Mussaf is unbecoming the reverence owed to them. In fact, according to halacha, whenever one removes tefillin one is to wrap and put away the shel-rosh before even removing the shel yad! There does not seem to be any good reason why this halacha should be ignored on Rosh Chodesh. Folding the tefillin during the repetition of Mussaf is also not an option as one is required to listen attentively to the repetition and not engage in any other activities. As such, the tefillin are left unwrapped and exposed for an exceptionally long time.
Therefore, it appears to me that the ideal procedure on Rosh Chodesh would be to remove, wrap, and put away the tefillin before the kaddish is recited. Once everyone finishes putting away their tefillin the kaddish can be recited and the entire congregation can begin Mussaf at once without any interruption. As mentoned, this is conssitent with other occasions when there is an interruption before Mussaf.
One who is in a congregation where the custom is to leave the tefillin unwrapped until after Mussaf is permitted to deviate from the congregational practice and to properly put away one’s tefillin before beginning the silent Mussaf. For a number of reasons beyond the scope of this post, there is no problem of lo titgodedu with doing so. Although it is indeed ideal to begin the shemoneh esrei at the exact same time as everyone else one is still considered to have discharged tefilla b’tzibbur if one begins a few moments thereafter.