Sunday, February 15, 2009

Tefillin Paint

While I was in New York last week for Yud Shvat, I decided it was high time I bought some tefillin paint. I hated noticing a spot needing paint, and walking around from bochur to bochur, mimicking painting with my hands, trying to get someone to understand what I was looking for.
In a judaica store in Crown Heights, I'll call it Judaica Universe, to preserve anonymity and keep me from being sued, I went in looking for the tefillin paint.
Right at the counter, I saw two containers. One had tefillin paint in the form of a marker, and one in the form of white-out, with the paintbrush and paint. Both were being sold for five dollars. Between the two, I quickly made an educated decision that the marker variety would both fit my needs, and be less messy than the paint variety.
That's when my life turned upside down. For when I reached to pick up the tefillin paint marker, I saw the following line, which I'll translate to English: "This is only for the Batim of your tefillin, and don't even think about using it on your Retzuois, buster."
Uh oh.
Trying to control my heart rate and stabilize my breathing, I slowly reached for the white-out style tefillin paint, and to my horror, read the following (again, I'll translate it to English): "This is only good for Retzuois. If you thought you'd only have to buy one of these things, think again you fool."
Biting back tears, I turned from grievous to furious. I started talking tough to the thugs behind the counter. What's the meaning of this? I cried. How dare you! I shrieked. You guys are forcing me to buy two when I only want to buy one!!
The guy behind the counter told me coolly to just paint the tefillin on my head and arm, and then I don't have to worry.
This only got me madder. I called up everyone on my contact list, but nobody could tell me if this was indeed the cold hard truth, or if one paint would suffice both the batim and retzuois. Nobody in the store escaped my halachic dillemma, either. And sad to say, nobody knew the answer.
I had rememberd R' Moshe Klein explaining that M'Doraisah, the batim could be white, but the retzuois have to be black, so I figured (with the shockingly brilliant gemara-logic I have at my disposal, and often utilize) that I could probably get the paint for the retzois only, and use it also for my batim. But that meant the actual paint, and not the marker.
What had I done to deserve such suffering?
I started threatening with everything from lawsuits to picketing outside the store, if it indeed was a scam, a trick, a conspiracy. I promised to get to the bottom of it, and if it meant a conspiracy leading all the way to the top of the tefillin-paint manufacturers, then so be it. My life may be put in jeopardy from the thugs that the CEO's undoubtedly had access to and would have to be used in order to silence my lone voice of justice and truth that could stop the world cold and confront and bring to justice these denizens (cool word, no? I'm pretty sure I got the context right...) of the paint-scam underworld.
The guy behind the counter just laughed, but he wouldn't be laughing if he could picture the vision, no premonition, of me sitting in the witness chair in a courtroom, and my trial lawyer asking me who the culprits were, and with tears in my eyes and a shaky finger, pointing straight at the Judaica Universe staff, the CEO's of whoever makes the tefillin paint (probably rokeach or paskez, or something) and saying "It was them!!" and I would faint, to which the whole jury would simultaneously gasp, and the court would explode in pandemonium, causing the judge to bang his gavel and demand order....
So I passed the guy behind the counter my choice-the paint made davka for Retzuois, and when he asked me if I was certain, I begged him once again to reveal the inside knowledge he must have been privy to, "Please. Why would they make paint that could only be used for one and not the other? I could probably use it for both, right? They just want to make money?" The truth was that deep down inside, I was more worried about my paint from a Halachic standpoint, and less from a class-action-lawsuit-of-the- century-standpoint.
After he rang me up, and snatched the bag from him, he thought he'd stick it to me one last time, where it hurt, and said: Remember, that doesn't work for your Batim.
I almost strangled him.

Actually, I was amused by the whole thing. I didn't really want to strangle anybody, except maybe for the makers of the paint. Why would they write that it only should be used for batim, and not retzuois, or the other way around? Can't there be a universal paint? Are they just trying to squeeze out an extra five bucks from anyone who wants to keep their tefillin kosher?