Former Shaliach in New York
In Parshat Tetzaveh, we read about the bigdei kehunah (the priestly garments). When describing the kohen gadol’s mitznefet(turban), the Torah states:
“You shall place the mitznefet upon his head.” (Shmot 29:6)
The Gemara (BT Arachin 3b) cites this pasuk when discussing the laws of tefillin. Specifically, the Gemara wonders if the kohen gadol is exempt from the mitzvah of tefillin shel rosh, because the mitznefet gets in the way. Since the tzitz (forehead plate) is placed in front of the mitznefet, there is, presumably, no room for the tefillin. However, the Gemara finally rejects this possibility and states:
“His hair appeared between the tzitz and the mitznefet, which is where he would place the tefillin.”
In other words, there was, in fact, room on his head between the tzitz and the mitznefet, and that spot was where the kohen gadol put his tefillinshel rosh.
The Rosh (Hilchot Tefillin 18) derives from this sugyah that there must not be a chatzitzah (a partition or separation) between one’s head and one’s tefillin shel rosh. After all, if there was no problem of chatzitzah, the kohen gadol could have simply placed histefillin on top of the mitznefet, and the Gemara’s question would have been a moot point.
Yet, the Rashba (282) disagrees and insists that tefillin may be placed on top of a hat. In his opinion, there is generally no issue ofchatzitzah with respect to the tefillin shel rosh. However, the kohen gadol had a specific problem: namely, a dvar mitzvah (an object used as a mitzvah) was the cause of the chatzitzah.
The Halachah follows the Rosh. Therefore, one must ensure that nothing comes between one’s tefillin and one’s head.
The Machatzit HaShekel raises an intriguing related question. Does a person’s own hair constitute a chatzitzah? On one hand, hair is part of one’s own body and thus clearly not a chatzitzah. However, on the other hand, perhaps there are some specific cases where hair does serve as a chatzitzah.
The Machatzit HaShekel is stringent in this regard. According to him, tefillin may not be placed atop the long hair in the front of one’s head (i.e. the forelock or blorit, as it is called in Hebrew). In other words, he holds that the forelock is a chatzitzah.
The Aruch HaShulchan distinguishes between the hair that normally grows on one’s head and the forelock, which includes hair brushed or pulled to the front of the head from elsewhere on one’s head. In any event, he concurs with the Machatzit HaShekel that tefillin shel rosh may not be placed on the forelock.
In contrast, Rav Ovadiah Yosef is more lenient due to a s’feik s’feika (a “double doubt”): First of all, there is a safeik (doubt) whether the Halachah follows the Rosh or the Rashba. In other words, does the issue of chatzitzah apply to tefillin? And even if we say that chatzitzah does apply, we are still left with a second safeik: Can hair be considered to be a chatzitzah?
However, practically speaking, due to ideological reasons, Rav Ovadiah recommends that men avoid growing their hair long.