Question: How many brachos are made over the tefillin – one for the ‘tefillin shel yad’ (hand) and one for the ‘tefillin shel rosh’ (head), or just one bracha for both?
Answer: That really depends on whether you are of the Ashkenazic or Sefardic tradition. If you are Sefardic, only one bracha is made. If Ashkenazic, then two: on the ‘shel yad’, the bracha ends with ‘l’haniach tefillin’ (to place the tefillin); on the ‘shel rosh’, the bracha ends with ‘al mitzvas tefillin’ (on the mitzvah of tefillin). Out of respect for the Sefardic tradition, the Ashkenazim recite the words ‘Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuso l’olam va-ed’ (Blessed be the Name… for evermore) after the second bracha is made and head tefillin are on securely. This phrase is typically recited when a bracha has been made in error. By saying it here, we are suggesting that “perhaps this (second) bracha ought not to be said…” - even though we rule that it does! (Note: Technically, it is not that the first bracha refers exclusively to the ‘shel yad’ and the second to the ‘shel rosh’; rather both brachos refer to both tefillin - more on that below.)
Question: What is the order of the donning of the two tefillin, or does it not matter? Does that order also dictate that the right one be touched and removed first from the bag, similar to what we learned about the talis and tefillin, above?
Answer: Yes - there is an order, and yes - they should be touched and removed accordingly. However, unlike in the case of the talis and tefillin, if the wrong one was removed first, we do not say let it be donned first, so as not to pass over a mitzvah. Let’s explain: The ‘shel yad’ must be donned first, followed by the ‘shel rosh’. The reason is because that is the order in which the Torah instructs them (Devarim 6:8): ‘u’keshar-tam l’os al yadecha’ (tie them as a sign on your arms – i.e. collectively speaking) THEN ‘v’hayu l’totafos bein einecha’ (they shall be ‘totafos’ between your eyes). As we can see, the precedence of the ‘shel yad’ over the ‘shel rosh’ is Scripturally-based, whereas the precedence of the talis over the tefillin is based on a general mitzvah-protocol, which is not as strict. That is why, if the tefillin are removed before the talis, we may forego on the correct order and put the tefillin on first, thus avoiding passing by the mitzvah; whereas if the ‘shel rosh’ is removed before the ‘shel yad’, that is a violation of the Scriptural order, and we must put it down and put the ‘shel yad’ on first! (Was this clear?)
Question: At what point during the donning of the two tefillin should the brachos be made?
Answer: The rule of thumb is: “make the bracha before doing the mitzvah-act, but not too much before.” For the ‘shel yad’, this means placing the ‘bayis’ (i.e. box) loosely upon the arm in the right spot, making the first bracha, then tightening the strap, thereby fully affixing the bayis on the arm. For the ‘shel rosh’ (i.e. for the Ashkenazim who make two brachos), this means laying the tefillin atop the head loosely, making the second bracha, securing the straps around the head, then saying Baruch Shem… (Note: Make sure that your head is covered when you make the bracha on the ‘shel rosh’!)
Question: Is it true that it is forbidden to interrupt between the donning of the ‘shel yad’ and the donning of the ‘shel rosh’? If yes, is that specifically because of the brachos that are being recited?
Answer: YES, YES and NO.
YES, it is forbidden to interrupt – either with speech or with undue lapse of time. Speech includes even talk pertaining to the mitzvah, and even to mitzvah-responses, such as ‘Amein, Yehei Sh’mei Rabbah’, etc. In fact, if one did speak (i.e. with the exception of talk pertaining to the mitzvah) after donning the ‘shel yad’, he would need to re-make the first bracha (!), as well as the second bracha, before donning the ‘shel rosh’.
YES, the main reason that interruptions are forbidden is because, as we noted above, both brachos actually refer to both tefillin. When one interrupts between the first bracha and the ‘shel rosh’, that “connection” has been severed, and the bracha must be repeated. In fact, it is proper, before repeating the first bracha, to loosen the ‘shel yad’ as well, so that the repeated bracha will connect to both tefillin, as the brachos should be!
NO, the prohibition against interrupting is not limited to when brachos are being made. On Chol Hamoed, for example, when those who wear tefillin do not recite brachos (as we will learn, iy”H), he should nevertheless not interrupt between the two tefillin. This is because of the verse quoted above, where the Torah implies that the two tefillins should be donned as one continuous act. Clearly, then, this requirement is irrespective of the brachos, which are only rabbinic.
(Note: The one distinction between when there are brachos and when there aren’t is that in the latter case, mitzvah-responses may be made between the tefillin!