Halacha » Buying STA”M (Sefer Torah, Tefilin & Mezuzot)

Buying STA”M (Sefer Torah, Tefilin & Mezuzot)

When one goes to buy different things for himself, i.e. a new phone, etc. he doesn’t just walk into a store and get whatever the salesmen offers him; rather he first researches which phone would be most recommended and makes sure that it has all the features that he might need, like an advanced camera, lasting battery life, enough storage, many will also make sure the phone looks nice, etc. Because the phone is used on a regular basis, many wouldn’t mind paying much more for it since they feel a good expensive phone is worth the price.

For some reason, many times this is not the case when buying Mezuzot or a new pair of Tefillin–in that many rely on the place they are buying from without doubting that what they are getting might not be Kosher at all, despite being well aware of the importance of these Mezuzot.

Perhaps a quick review of the importance of those Mitzvot may enlighten us to change this practice. Besides enabling a person to garner tremendous reward every second the Mezuzah is in place (ספר מזוזות ביתך רפה,א), the Torah also grants the person with long life for him and his children (למען ירבו ימיכם וימי בניכם, דברים יא,כא) and promises that it will protect the house from all bad things (מנחות לג,ב). Concerning the Mitzvah of Tefillin, which are called a sign that we are the devoted nation of Hashem  (מעם לועז דברים עמוד שפח), one who puts them on is guaranteed to be protected from sinning (רמב״ם הל’ מזוזה ו,יג). The Rosh (ליקוטי מהר״ח ח״א תפילין) wrote that this Mitzvah is the greatest Mitzvah of all. To the contrary, regarding a person who doesn’t wear Tefillin, the Gemara says that he will not merit a portion in the Next World (with some other conditions).

Putting priorities straight, one would think that Tefillin and Mezuzot should have been treated at least as important as buying a new phone, but for some strange reason many ignore all that and purchase those very important holy items from their local Judaica store without knowing anything about their Kosher status.

But maybe the consumer’s attitude is correct and indeed they can rely on anyone selling Divrei Kedusha? After all, the person selling wouldn’t want someone to have non-Kosher things because of him.

Let us examine what the poskim said about that. A recent letter from the leading authority on Hilchot Stam, Harav Shlomo Mualem Shlit”a, the author of the sefarim Yeriot Shelomo, wrote about a recent problem in which hundreds of pairs of Tefillin which were sent to the States and other countries which are plainly passul.

He also mentioned the Satmar Rav, who also recently warned with an open letter to the public about such Tefillin and Mezuzot that are pasul. The headline of the letter reads ‘We are disgusted with the Stam merchants who come from Israel to sell here’.

The truth is that anyone who deals with Stam, knows well that much of the ‘merchandise’ which comes from Israel comes here after it was found to have problems in Kashrut, knowing that if they sell it there the costumer eventually would have it checked and it would be returned to the merchant with a complaint that he sold them passul items, and therefore the best way to “get rid of” those items is to ship it far away from their origin in hopes that they will probably never hear about them again. That includes Mezuzot and Tefillin that were returned already to the stores or the sofer who sold them.

Moreover, almost every Mezuzah or Parasha of Tefillin which is brought here has to be fixed before offering it to the public for sale. The way this market operates is that the sofer writes a Mezuzah and it still needs editing הגהה. The editing is done by a certified sofer who had to learn at length a very complex set of halachot, being thoroughly tested and only then, if he is found to know the Halachot well would he get certified.

The Kaf Hachayim (בקול יעקב סי’ לב ס״ק קטו) commends the following halacha:

״ולכן אין לקנות ספרים ותפילין ומזוזות אלא מן המומחה שנטל קבלה מן חכם שהוא אומן ביד ואין בכתיבתו שום ספק שינוי אותיות, וגם בקי בהלכות…ויש לו כתב לראיה מן החכם הבקי בזה.. ואם אין לו קבלה וכתב לראיה שהוא אומן ובקי בהלכות ויראת שמים על פניו לא יקנו ממנו כי רבה המכשלה…ועוד כי באזנינו שמענו שפעמים פתחו תפילין ומצאו בו פרשיות קרועים…וכן בסת״ם הנשלחים ממקום למקום לא יקנום כי אם יש להם כתב ועדות לראיה כי הם יוצאים מתחת יד סופר אשר הוא אומן ובקי בהלכות ומוסמך ע״י חכם שנתן לו קבלה״.

If the sofer or the editor isn’t certified, he isn’t allowed to write or check Mezuzot (חתם סופר בהסכמה לקסת הסופר), even to fix or correct one letter (ר״ח פלאג’י בתנופה חיים דף רמז), and we aren’t allowed to buy from his as well. This is also the way the sofrim are certified today and without that certification, they aren’t permitted to write (שבט הלוי ח״ח ס״ט).

But this isn’t a new problem at all, the Rishonim already warned about this very problem in their time. Rabbi Shimshon Baruch Sheamar (who is one of the main Rishon who dealt in length with Halachot Stam and that the Shulchan Aruch follows throughout his Sefer) writes over and over about this and says that the majority of Stam in his time were passul. See similarly in the Rivash (סי’ קמו) and the Sefer Zichronot (זכרון תשיעי פרק שלישי).

Many poskim of the previous generations wrote the same. The Ben Ish Chai (ברב פעלים או״ח ח״ד ס״ב) wrote that almost all of the Tefillin in his city were passul, and Rabbi Epstein in Aruch Hashulchan (יו״ד סי’ רפא ס״ט) writes that one of the cities had sofrim writing passul Stam and distributing them and this problem had spread throughout Europe.

ובפרט בדור פרוץ הלזה, שבעונותינו הרבים האמונה נתרופפה, והסופרים רבו כארבה. ובעיר אחת ידענו לדאבון לבבינו למאות סופרים, ורובם אינם יראי שמים כלל. ומשם פשתה המספחת בכל ערי מדינתינו, מזלזלים במקח מאוד, ולוקחים ללמוד נערים ריקים שאין בהם לחלוחית יראת שמים, ומוכרים תפילין ומזוזות בעד מטבעות קטנות, מפני שכותבים כמה בכל יום. ובבירור שאינם מקדשים שמות, ומעשיהם חול ולא קודש. ואין בידינו במה לפוסלם, כי הוא דבר המסור ללב. וכל מי שנגע יראת ה’ בלבו – לא יקנה תפילין ומזוזות רק מסופר ידוע שהוא ירא שמים, וכן בכתיבת ספר תורה.

The same was brought down in the Mishna Berura (סי’ לב ס״ק קג).

The Shevet Halevi also (שבט הלוי ח״ו סי’ קנא)complained of the same, and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (אגר״מ או״ח ח״ה ס״א) wrote that the majority of Stam sold are passul:

״הנה מחמת ריבוי הנכשלים בעניין זה רציתי לכתוב בזה דברים עבור נחיצות הזהירות בקניית תפלין ומזוזות…. וגם סתם פרשיות דתפילין ומזוזות איכא בהרוב שבהן פסולין ניכרין, והסופרים לא ידעו שהם פסולין, והכשילו להרבה אינשי שסומכים על המוכרים שמסתמא נתנו להם כשרים, אבל המוכרים לא בדקו אותן כי איכא טרחא גדולה בבדיקת הפרשיות והמזוזות, ויש גם מוכרים שאין יודעים כלום והם עצמם קונים מסופרים שאינם מהוגנים ואין יודעים הדינים. לכן יש לפרסם להציבור שצריך לקנות תפילין ומזוזות כשרים, שבלא זה לא רק שלא קיימו המצווה אלא הוא עוד גרוע שברכו לבטלה וגו’״.

After this summary one can only come to the conclusion that you have to make sure your Tefillin and Mezuzot were bought from a reliable sofer which one is sure is trustworthy, and going forward when buying, to do the same.