Inside a T’filin Factory in Modern Krakow

The photographer and film producer Agnieszka Traczewska has dedicated much of her career to documenting the renewal of Jewish religious life in Poland. In this photo essay, she portrays a factory that produces the leather used to make t’filin (phylacteries) in her native city of Krakow. Shai Secunda writes in his introduction:

The business is owned by the Sonnenfelds, a family of Jerusalem-based Gerer Ḥasidim who regularly rent the factory floor for brief stints of intense work, and employ a small, international team of Ḥasidim, along with some local Polish workers.

T’filin are remarkable pieces of religious technology that bind sacred text to physical body, and they require a high level of expertise and precision to produce. The biblical passages are painstakingly written by expert scribes on parchment made from kosher animal skins. These texts are then sealed in black leather boxes that are adorned with black leather straps, which connect the casings to the body.

One of the features of the rules governing t’filin production is that they must be the product of intentional human effort. Ideally, every component used to make t’filin must be produced expressly for that holy purpose, from the divine names in the biblical passages, which should be written with special intent, to the tanning of the leather to make the straps. Intention is, of course, a human art, so the use of machines in t’filin production can be halakhically tricky.

Indeed, the term “t’filin factory” is something of a misnomer. The Sonnenfelds and their workers strive to produce an entirely handmade product, and they avoid automation of any kind. When they feed the hides into the drum, add lye and other ingredients to treat them, and—after the tanning is complete—blacken the leather with a special, kosher dye, they declare that all these actions were undertaken “for the dedicated, holy purpose of t’filin.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hasidim, Judaism, Photography, Polish Jewry

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship