Not All Soferim are Alike

In many ways Soferim are like physicians. There are many types and many subspecialties among medical physicians. The same is true for Soferim.
A Sofer is a generic description of a halachic functional, who is been trained in a particular defined area of technical practical halachah. In general, the Sofer is someone who was trained to write articles of STaM. The same certification is used for a Sofer who writes Torah scrolls tefilin and mezuzos or megillos and Navi. In reality, there are very few crossovers between Soferim who write various size script. While being certified technically not every Sofer is able to write extremely small or large. We therefore see that soferim tend to write one type of STaM. They specialize with in a particular discipline focusing in on a particular size. It is indeed rare to find today a Sofer who will write a Torah scrolls, tefilin and mezuzos.
A Sofer is trained both technically and halachically to write the letters for STaM. That training is very specific and limited to writing. A Sofer who is been trained to examine is actually called a” MAGIHA” . His training is far more intense and diversified. In order to ascertain if a letter has been written correctly the examiner must know not only how the letter is to be formed in ideal fashion but also to know and recognize all the deviations which could possibly invalidate the kashrus of the letter or the article. This includes the spacing of letters words and paragraphs. This also includes all the laws which an examiner cannot see such as properly sanctifying the work and G~d’s name, not forming letters by scratching, or writing mezuzoth and tefillin not in chronological order . His training which will include deviations not only within the letters also include scenarios such as cracking chipping and fading of ink. The higher-level trained examiner also is an expert at restoration and preservation of articles of STaM.

A third area, which many do not understand it’s importance because it does not deal with the actual writing, or the article you are purchasing. These are the adjunct specialized professionals who will make the parchment, the tefillin straps, tefillin batim, and tefillin painters , ink and “giddin” manufacturers. These individuals and their work require extensive specialized halachic and technical knowledge. Each one of these subcategories are a specialty in and of itself. It is only when all of them come together that we can have kosher articles of STaM.

When purchasing articles of STaM, having been examined, or restoring them, it is imperative that we go to the appropriate individual. These simple analogy would be going to an eye doctor to take care of a broken leg while both the ophthalmologist and the orthopedist are physicians they don’t do the same work and their specialty is far different from each other.

The first question which we must ask is what type of Sofer do you need and what is the certification required. Is hard for us to fathom going into a store and buying meat without supervision, it’s even harder for us to fathom the idea that someone would be selling kosher meats from a “shochet., who is not certified. It is hard to imagine going to a physician when ill and not asking what type of doctor is about to treat me. The unfortunate reality is that the majority of those producing and selling articles of STaM are not certified and are not under the jurisdiction of any rabbinical supervision. We therefore have a personal obligation to find out before we purchase our tefillin and mezuzoth or give them to be examined who is doing the professional trained work which we are seeking.

When purchasing new articles of STaM one must first ask who wrote what we are about to buy and his certification. It is well within the consumer’s right to demand to see certification.

A letter of recommendation is not a letter of certification! It is perfectly fine to be paranoid in order to make sure what you are buying is what you actually want. When purchasing from a store, demand to see which rabbinical authority certifies the store and what that certification includes. Remember as have seen with tzitzis the certification on the strings but not on the tying. The same can apply to STaM the writer is certified or the examiner is certified but the materials and the others are not certified or the reverse the batim are certified but the parchments are not, even the gid sinew which is used to close the tefilin can invalidate the tefillin or cause the entire set to be rendered as only minimally kosher — never assume anything !!! — be safe and smart — ask the questions it can save much aggravation later.
If a store only can produce a letter of bracha from a Rav or a personal recommendation or if the certification is coming from an unknown entity and or an organization from out of town then read the warning lights should go off. Legitimate certifications or letters should always include contact information so that you can verify authenticity. A name and rubber stamp are meaningless unless you can independently validate the certification. If you’re buying from a local Sofer who you know when you trust, one still must ask if what he is written has been examined and certified. Ask for the name of the certified examiner. If is been computer checked at the name of the organization or program that is certifying it, Such as Mishmeres STaM. If they are tefillin who made the tefillin, the batim, giddin and straps and who put them together. Yes even those who paint the batim and assemble tefilin need to be certified.

Remember you control the situation with your wallet and you decide from whom to purchase tefilin and other STaM products. Make sure the article you are purchasing is actually the article you are seeking.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask a Rav who specializes in STaM or contact me at (Rabbi Moshe Flumenbaum)

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