Soldiers Carrying Tefillin

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

by R. Gil Student

When a soldier moves position on Shabbos, he has to carry with him his gear as a matter of self-preservation, piku’ach nefesh. What about his personal items? Can he carry his tefillin with him so he can continue fulfilling the important mitzvah on weekdays?

I. Russian Soldiers

Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan (the Chofetz Chaim, 20th cen., Poland) discusses this in a footnote to his halakhic guide for soldiers, Machaneh Yisrael. In 1943, the Chofetz Chaim’s son-in-law, Rav Mendel Zaks, republished the book for American soldiers in a simplified format that changes the chapter numbers and removes the footnotes. This revised version is included in the three-volume collected writings of the Chafetz Chaim. In the original 1881 edition, the Chafetz Chaim includes a lengthy footnote about this subject. In the main text (31:2 in the original edition, part 2 7:2 in the 1943 edition), the Chafetz Chaim writes that a soldier is not allowed to carry on Shabbos personal items on their own that the army has not ordered him to carry. However, if he carries them together with required items, it is possible that this is permitted. Although it is best, if possible, to ask a gentile to carry the items for him. Before we discuss the footnote, it is important to note the Chafetz Chaim’s valuable practical advice that applies to anyone who works in a gentile or secular workplace.

The Chafetz Chaim (31:6-7; II:7:6-7) writes that if you want to find favor in the eyes of both God and man (Prov. 3:4), you should work extra hard during the week and do more than your share. Even on Shabbos, you do what is halakhically allowed to the best of your ability. If people see that you are not lazy but rather hardworking and principled, they will not resent you refraining from forbidden work on Shabbos.

Going back to the footnote, the Chafetz Chaim quotes the Gemara (Yoma 84b) that if a child falls into the sea, you may spread a fisherman’s net to fish out the child even though you will also catch fish in the net, which is a forbidden Shabbos labor. Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Shabbos 2:16) says that you may do this even if your primary intention is to catch the fish. Since you also save the child, you are exempt from Shabbos liability. This implies that ribuy shi’urim, doing more than necessary, is permissible once the Shabbos labor is allowed. Similarly, once you are allowed to carry your army gear, you may carry your personal items also. R. Nissim of Gerona (Ran, 14th cen., Spain; Commentary to Rif, Shabbos 106b [38a], s.v. ha) quotes R. Shlomo Ben Aderes (Rashba, 13th cen., Spain) who sees this as a general rule for Shabbos labors. Once an act is permitted, you can add onto it otherwise forbidden acts. For example, Rashba says, based on a Yerushalmi, that if you close the door to your house for your own needs, you may do so even if you also intend to trap an animal in the house. Ran disagrees and only allows closing the door and trapping the animal if you lack intent to trap the animal. Rav Avraham Gombiner (17th cen., Poland; Magen Avraham 316:11) quotes both views and says “you should not be lenient.”

Chafetz Chaim argues that since carrying nowadays is only forbidden rabbinically because there is no formal public domain, and since this is a case of great potential loss, we can follow Rashba and allow a soldier to carry his personal items in the same bag as his military gear. He questions whether the soldier may carry his personal items in another hand or bag, or he must carry them in the same bag as his military gear. He leaves this question open and therefore the soldier must put his personal items in the same bag as his military gear.

Rav Aryeh Tzvi Frommer (20th cen., Poland; Responsa Eretz Tzvi, no. 75) explicitly disagrees with the Chafetz Chaim on this. Rav Frommer quotes the Gemara (Shabbos 93b-94a) that if someone carries fruit in a bowl on Shabbos, he violates the prohibition twice and is obligated in two sin-sacrifices if he becomes aware of each violation separately. According to the Chafetz Chaim, this should be only one violation due to ribuy shi’urim. Instead, Rav Frommer proposes a radical understanding of the prohibition of carrying which would permit ribuy shi’urim on carrying. Why does the first Mishnah in Shabbos refer to “yetzi’os” (the goings out) of Shabbos and not “hotza’os” (the takings out)? Tosafos (Shabbos 2a, s.v. yetzi’os 2) explains that the Mishnah uses the language of the Torah, “No man may go out of his place on the seventh day” (Ex. 16:29). Rav Frommer adds that hotza’ah, removing an item from its domain, is unique among Shabbos labors in that it involves a person leaving his domain also (throwing an item and handing it over are separate issues). In hotza’ah, a person is not only the actor of the labor but also part of its object. Therefore, if a person is leaving his domain carrying an object in a permissible manner, there is room to say that he may also carry other, otherwise forbidden objects.

II. Soldiers During the World Wars

Rav Moshe Tzvi Landau (20th cen., Hungary) was a somewhat controversial halakhic writer, most famous for bringing wrath upon himself by disagreeing with the Minchas Elazar, whose students defended him by attacking Rav Landau. In his 1931 Shulchan Melakhim commentary on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh (pp. 278b-279a), Rav Landau discusses questions he was asked by soldiers during World War I. Regarding a soldier carrying his tefillin on Shabbos, Rav Landau advances a similar argument to the Chafetz Chaim: 1) carrying is only forbidden rabbinically because there is no formal public domain today, 2) the soldier carries it indirectly, 3) the Rashba allows ribuy shi’urim. Rav Landau says that Rav Mordechai Winkler (the Levushei Mordechai, 20th cen., Hungary) agreed with this line of argument.

During World War II, Rav Mordechai Ya’akov Breisch (Switzerland; Chelkas Ya’akov, Orach Chaim, no. 110) was asked about a Jewish soldier in the Swiss army who had to travel on Shabbos. He refers to a recently republished book that quotes the Levushei Mordechai (clearly Rav Landau’s Shulchan Melakhim, which he chose not to name, probably due to the controversy) and the Chafetz Chaim’s Machaneh Yisrael as permitting. He also points out that we permit someone to carry his wallet in an unusual way on Shabbos rather than risking losing it (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 301:33 and Magen Avraham, ad loc.). That applies to other valuables, as well.

However, one authority disagrees. Rav Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum (20th cen., Hungary) was the older brother of Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rav. He passed away young, in his 40’s. In a responsum that seems to be from World War I, he discusses whether a soldier may carry his tefillin while changing his position on Shabbos (Responsa Atzei Chaim, no. 26). Rav Teitelbaum argues that ribuy shi’urim only applies when the additional labor involves no additional effort. For example, if you need only two dates and you pull a bunch off of a tree. Since you are pulling a single bunch, it does not involve any additional to pull off two or three. Either way, it’s a single pull. However, when you carry, every item adds more weight. Therefore, carrying your personal items with your military gear does not constitute ribuy shi’urim. Rather, it is more carrying, which is forbidden.

Rav Gedaliah Felder (20th cen., Canada), in his 1986 fifth volume of Yesodei Yeshurun (pp. 238-239) seems to view Rav Teitelbaum as a lone voice of stringency and leans toward the view that permits. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (20th cen., Israel; Responsa Har Tzvi, Orach Chaim, no. 177) defends the Chafetz Chaim’s ruling against challenges. In his 1979 collection of responsa, the recently deceased Rav Pesach Eliyahu Falk of Gateshead accepts the Chafetz Chaim’s ruling, as well (Machazeh Eliyahu, no. 35, sec. 4). He quotes Rav Moshe Feinstein’s ruling that, back when smoking was commonplace, you may carry a whole box of cigarettes on Yom Tov even if you only plan to smoke a few cigarettes (Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim, vol. 2, no. 103). It is not clear to me that Rav Feinstein’s case is comparable to that of a soldier carrying personal items because each cigarette in the box might be used on Yom Tov (I seem to recall Rav Baruch Simon making this point in a 1992 lecture but I may be mistaken).

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our Weekly Newsletter

The latest weekly digest is also available by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter