Going Public Excerpted and adapted from a shiur by HaRav Chaim Weg December 7, 2023…
November 2, 2023
Q The black color of my tfillin retzuos (straps) is fading. At what point must I blacken them? Is special tfillin dye required, or may black shoe polish be used? May a woman or child do it?
A A halacha leMoshe miSinai dictates that the retzuos must be black (Menachos 35a, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 33:3). If they lose their blackness, the tfillin may not be worn (Biur Halacha ibid. s.v. Halacha). They are to be “black as a raven” (Mishnah Brurah ibid. 19), but the Biur Halacha (ibid. s.v. Haretzuos) rules that bedi’eved they are kosher even if faded, so long as they look black, but lechat’chilah they should be blackened.
If the black has faded or flaked off from parts of the retzuah while the majority of the retzuah remains black, some permit it bedi’eved (Salmas Chaim 40), but others don’t (Teshuvos Vehanhagos 2:22). But even the stringent view allows insignificantly small faded spots (ibid.). If the loss of color is in a part of the retzuah beyond its required length, the Biur Halacha (ibid.) is unsure, but R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo Tfillin note 41) rules leniently.
Some poskim require the dye to be made lishmah (with intent for the mitzvah), so it is preferable to use specially manufactured dye to accommodate their view. (It is sold in sfarim stores). If dye made lishmah isn’t available, any black ink or polish that doesn’t contain nonkosher animal products may be used (Mishnah Brurah 32:8).
The making of tfillin and the writing of the parshiyos must be done by someone obligated in the mitzvah, so women and children are excluded (O.C. 39:1), but they are eligible to blacken the batim and retzuos (Mishnah Brurah 33:23). The blackening must be done lishmah, so a child must be directed by an adult.