Donning tefillin is a mitzva that we do daily, and reciting the berachot, which we often do by heart, is a simple action. Nevertheless, the proper method of reciting berachot on tefillin, and the number of berachot recited, actually involves a major dispute among the Rishonim.
The Gemara, in discussing the berachot recited when donning tefillin, summarizes the halacha as follows: לא סח – מברך אחת, סח – מברך שתים – “If one did not speak, he should recite one beracha, and if one did speak, he should recite two berachot.”
Rashi explains that if one does not speak between the tefillin shel yad and the tefillin shel rosh (as is the halacha), one recites one beracha alone – just l’haniach tefillin on the shel yad, and that covers the shel rosh as well. However, if one did speak between them, one needs to recite a second beracha – al mitzvat tefillin on the shel rosh, but one does not repeat the beracha of l’haniach again for the shel rosh.
Tosafot quote Rabbeinu Tam who disagrees and explains the Gemara in a different manner. According to Rabbbeinu Tam, the Gemara means that if one did not speak, he should recite only one beracha on the shel rosh (al mitzvat tefillin), but if one did speak, he must recite two berachot on the shel rosh – l’haniach and al mitzvat tefillin. Either way, according to Rabbeinu Tam, one must always recite the beracha of l’haniach tefillin when donning the shel yad.
The Bach poses a question asked by the Maharal of Prague: How, according to Rabbeinu Tam, can one recite two berachot (that include the word v’tzivanu) on one mitzva of tefillin?
The Bach answers by citing a third opinion of the Rishonim – that of the Ba’al HaMa’or. In the Ba’al HaMa’or’s understanding, the need for two berachot when one speaks is not for donning the shel rosh. Rather, the crucial factor is to have the shel rosh follow the shel yad immediately with no separation. Therefore, if one speaks, one must recite the beracha of l’haniach tefillin again for the shel yads. The reason is that the beracha of for the shel rosh must immediately follow that of the shel yad, so that there is no hefsek between them. Since the beracha is actually on the shel yad, the Ba’al HaMa’or requires that one touch the tefillin shel yad while reciting the beracha.
Based on the Ba’al Hama’or, the Bach explains that tefillin is not a case of reciting two berachot on one mitzva; rather, it is a case of reciting two berachot on two different mitzvot that must come together.
The Rosh cites both the opinions of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, but he agrees with Rabbeinu Tam. His reason is that according to Rashi, if one has only the tefillin shel rosh, one would recite the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin, so why would one not recite this beracha if it is preceded by the mitzva of the shel yad? And if one holds that the beracha of l’haniach covers the shel rosh as well, then in that case, if one has only the tefillin shel rosh, he should only recite the beracha of l’haniach. Why is it necessary to recite the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin?
As opposed to the Ba’al Hama’or, the Rosh here understands that both berachot that one recites are necessary for the tefillin shel rosh. The beracha of l’haniach that one recites on the shel yad also covers the shel rosh, and the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin is also recited on the shel rosh. Therefore, if one talks in between the two berachot, the beracha of l’haniach is no longer effective, and he must repeat it. The Rosh adds that the words of the Gemara are “chozer umevarech,” he recites the beracha again. This expression indicates that one recites the same beracha again, meaning that one recites two berachot on the tefillin shel rosh.
After his analysis and explanation for why he agrees with Rabbeinu Tam, the Rosh then cites many opinions that hold that one beracha is recited and many others that hold two are recited. He concludes that although he grew up reciting only one beracha, after studying the issue, he concluded that reciting two is the correct decision (as he explained).
It is interesting to note that both opinions have early sources that support their understanding. The Tosefta states that when one puts on tefillin, he recites the beracha of l’haniach, but it does not mention the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin. This fits well with the opinion of Rashi. However, the Gemara writes clearly that when one puts tefillin on his arm, he recites the beracha of l’haniach and when one puts tefillin on his head, he recites the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin. Tosafot comment that it is very hard to claim that this Gemara is referring only to a case where one spoke when he should not have spoken; hence, this Gemara supports the understanding of Rabbeinu Tam.
The Beit Yosef cites both explanations of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam as well as many other Rishonim that support both sides. He then cites the Agur, who proves that the Zohar supports Rashi’s understanding, as it states that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai recited one beracha only. The Agur adds that had the poskim known this, they would all have agreed to recite one beracha only. The Beit Yosef, though, is surprised at this argument, as there are many cases where the Gemara contradicts the Zohar, and the poskim follow the Gemara against the Zohar.
Finally, the Beit Yosef quotes the Mahari ben Chaviv, who would recite two berachot, though afterwards he would say baruch Shem kevod malchuto l’olam va’ed to avoid a potential beracha l’vatala. The Beit Yosef argues that this is to no avail, as one may not put himself in a situation of doubt concerning a beracha and then rely on saying baruch Shem kevod malchuto l’olam va’ed.
The Rulings of the Acharonim
The Shulchan Aruch rules in accordance with Rashi and the Rambam to recite one beracha only (l’haniach) on the shel yad tefillin and no beracha on the shel rosh. The Rema comments that the custom among Ashkenazim is to recite two berachot, following Rabbeinu Tam, and that it is good to say baruch Shem kevod malchuto l’olam va’ed afterwards.
The Shulchan Aruch then states that if one spoke in between, he recites one beracha on the shel rosh (al mitzvat tefillin), while the Rema holds that one recites both berachot. This machloket is also consistent with their previous positions, with Rav Karo following Rashi on this point, and the Rema following Rabbeinu Tam.
The Gra suggests that this machloket Rishonim is based on different versions of the text of the Gemara (chilufei girsa’ot). Our version of the Gemara states chozer umevarech, and can only be explained in accordance with the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam. However, the version of the text utilized by the Rif and Rambam was worded differently, and the Rashba concludes that they had the correct version. Furthermore, the Gra questions how two berachot can be recited on one mitzva. Regarding the proof of Tosafot from the Gemara in Berachot, the Gra explains that the Gemara is not saying that one should always recite two berachot, but rather is simply stating how many berachot exist that are sometimes recited regarding tefillin. The Gra concludes by saying that Rashi’s approach is the correct one, and one should only recite one beracha.
Rav Akiva Eiger suggests an interesting resolution to this dispute. When one puts on tefillin shel yad, he should have the following kavana: If the halacha is in accordance with the opinion of Rashi, I have kavana for this first beracha not to cover the tefillin shel rosh. By doing so, he can definitely recite the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin on the shel rosh. However, the Pri Megadim writes that it is better not to do so, which the Bi’ur Halacha explains is so people will not question the many Rishonim that agree with Rabbeinu Tam.
The Aruch HaShulchan has a very interesting approach to this question. He argues that if the Rema is unsure whether to recite the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin, we should not do so, due to the principle of safek berachot l’hakel. The Aruch HaShulchan therefore suggests that the reason the Rema recommends reciting baruch Shem is not out of doubt, but rather as a birkat hoda’a, by praising Hashem for being so close to us, specifically through the mitzva of tefillin. Just as we say baruch Shem after Shema Yisrael in tefilla, we say it also after performing the elevated mitzva of tefillin.
What if Only the Shel Yad or Shel Rosh Is Available?
In a situation where one has the ability to fulfill only one of the two mitzvot of tefillin, what beracha should one say?
According to Rashi, if one has only the shel yad, then one would only recite the beracha of l’haniach, and if one only has the shel rosh, one would only say the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin. This is how the Shulchan Aruch rules as well. According to Rabbeinu Tam, one would recite one beracha only on the shel yad (l’haniach), but would recite both berachot on the shel rosh. That is the ruling of the Rema.
According to the Ba’al HaMa’or, one would recite one beracha on whichever part of the tefillin one has, even though he holds like Rabbeinu Tam regarding making two berachot in a case where one spoke between the two berachot.
The Beit Yosef also mentions another opinion of the Semag, Semak, and the Sefer HaTeruma who hold that one always recites two berachot, even where one can only don one of the two parts of the tefillin. Their understanding is that the beracha of l’haniach begins the mitzva and the beracha of al mitzvat tefillin completes the mitzva; therefore, both berachot should always be said.
The Mishna Berura concludes that the halacha follows Rabbeinu Tam and the Rema.
Hefsek Between the Berachot of Tefillin
The Gemara states that if one speaks between the two berachot, it is considered a sin. What happens in a case where one is in between the berachot and hears Kaddish being recited? May he respond with yehei shemei rabba?
According to the Rosh, one is not allowed to interrupt between the berachot, even to recite yehei shemei rabba. Yet, the Beit Yosef writes that according to Rabbeinu Tam, if one did answer yehei shemei rabba, it is not considered a hefsek. The Beit Yosef comments that it seems from Rabbeinu Tam that not only is it not considered a hefsek bedi’eved, but that one should even say yehei shemei rabba initially, and would not need to recite a second beracha on the tefillin shel rosh.
The Shulchan Aruch writes that one should not interrupt in between the berachot to answer yehei shemei rabba, but should rather just think about the words mentally. According to the Taz, if one recited the words verbally, he should not recite a second beracha on the shel rosh, while the Magen Avraham disagrees and holds that one would need to recite both berachot on the tefillin shel rosh. The Bi’ur Halacha writes that in a case where one answered yehei shemei rabba between the berachot, according to the Chayei Adam he must say two berachot according to the Rema. According to the Artzot HaChayim, though, he only recites one beracha even according to the Rema because of a safek sefeika (double uncertainty) – one safek is regarding the machloket of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam, while the other is the machloket between the Rosh and Rabbeinu Tam about whether responding yehei shemei rabba is considered a hefsek.
Hefsek Without Berachot
There are cases where one puts on tefillin but does not recite any berachot, such as on Chol Hamo’ed or when putting on tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam. In these cases, one still should not speak in between donning the shel rosh and shel yad. Is one permitted to respond yehei shemei rabba in this case? In any case, there are no berachot recited, so responding will not cause an unnecessary beracha to be recited.
According to the Magen Avraham, one should respond, as no beracha is affected by this. However, Rav Akiva Eiger cites a few poskim who hold that it is not only a matter of the beracha, and there should not even be any pause between donning the shel yad and the shel rosh. The Mishna Berura agrees with the Magen Avraham that one may respond, though he writes that one should touch the tefillin shel yad before putting on the shel rosh in order to bring the mitzvot together, similar to the understanding of the Ba’al HaMa’or.
As we have seen, even a simple act such as reciting the beracha or berachot on tefillin every day can actually be subject to a major debate among the Rishonim and poskim.
 Menachot 36a
 O.C. 25:5
 Rosh Hashana 12a–b
 Halachot Ketanot (Menachot), Tefillin 14
 Berachot 6:10
 Berachot 60b
 O.C. 25:5–10
 O.C. 25:5
 O.C. 25:9
 Commentary on O.C. 25:5
 Glosses on O.C. 25:5
 O.C. 25:8–13
 O.C. 26:2
 O.C. 26:2
 O.C. 26:3
 Menachot 36a
 Halachot Ketanot (Menachot), Tefillin 15
 O.C. 25:10
 O.C. 25:8
 O.C. 25:17
 The custom in many places in the Diaspora is to don tefillin on Chol HaMo’ed (though in Eretz Yisrael it is customary not to don tefillin). See Mishna Berura (O.C. 31:8) who writes that although some poskim hold that one should recite a beracha, the practical halacha is that one should don them without a beracha.
 O.C. 25:17
 O.C 25:36