17 Tishrei 5773
2nd Day Chol Hamoed Sukkos
Permit me to share a fascinating experience with you. About 10 days ago I acquired my copy of a new book, written by Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz [of Ramat Beit Shemesh – Israel], a book that presents itself as “a complete buyers guide” for STaM items. The book as you guessed is entitled “Inside STaM”.
For the unfamiliar, “STaM” is an abbreviation for Sefer Torah and Mezuzos, and according to the author, this book is a buyer’s guide for those items along with tefillin, megillot, and Nevi’im (The Prophets).
Quite honestly, the book sounded a bit too technical and possibly even boring, but I wanted to learn more since over recent years JKN has served as a forum for Rabbi Moshe Flumenbaum, who publishes educational articles and consumer alerts regarding STaM. Why a buyer’s guide you ask? Well, read on please.
In this case I was more than presently surprised. Suffice it to say that despite the busy yomtov days of Tishrei I have am about half way through the book which by the way is written in English with Hebrew footnotes and source notes, and I find it difficult to put it down. It is an easy read on the one hand while imparting a wealth of Halacha and responses that can only come from someone with many years of experience in the industry, one who is regarded an ‘expert’ by prominent rabbonim in the field. The book is also packed with outstanding photographs that ease grasping the concepts as well as giving us a real look at items from the beginning of manufacture until the finished product is offered for sale.
For me, a novice, Rabbi Mendlowitz has taken some of the most complicated Halachic issues pertaining to tefillin, parchments, a Sefer Torah and more and brought them down to my level with an amazing clarity. He opens the mysterious world of STaM to the lay person while delving into the source and Halacha to make this appropriate for all, the learned and those yet uninitiated. The book is written in a question and answer format and chapters are laid out according to category so you can jump to your area of interest or read it straight through as I am doing. The book uses clear concise language to alert us to what we need to know before making a decision.
I would add that we must remember that often a pair of tefillin or a mezuzah will be relied upon for many many years and as such, wouldn’t it be wise to know what to ask so we can purchase the correct type. Which style of writing (Beit Yosef or another), what knot (daled or square)? Everything is addressed and answered, even why the tefillin are black, why they are square, why we use the parchment we use and why some letters have tagin (crowns) to name some of the topics addressed.
I dare say that since launching JKN I have not felt compelled to release an unsolicited book recommendation, but here is the first. There is so much to know if we are planning to spend our hard-earned money for tefillin let’s say, then this is the book to read before making the purchase. The topics are so clearly marked and defined one needn’t read the entire text, but one may read the pertinent chapter. It is more than an eye-opener. We must be awakened to the realities of the marketplace and the rabbi takes Halacha into account as well as bringing it down to a practical level for consumers. For you see, it is not only about finding a suitable sofer, but it is about knowing what to ask and what to order.
I was aware that like food kashrus industry, the kashrus of STaM has also fallen prey to some deceptive merchants and manufacturers in addition to well-intending store owners and sofrim (scribes) who simply lack the knowledge to handle these holy items in today’s mass production world.
Permit me to urge anyone and everyone who plans to purchase a mezuzah, tefillin or other STaM products to get a copy of this book first. I also feel many who have made the purchase will find it fascinating reading, educational, and it may compel you to ask your local rabbi a question or two about your mezuzos, tefillin or other STaM items.
The book is available at Shanky’s (Jerusalem), Lehmann’s (Europe), Gold’s Book & Gift Company (Australia), Kollel Bookshop (Johannesburg), and Israel Bookshop Publications (Lakewood, NJ).
The author may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org