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November 29, 2014 / 7 Kislev, 5775
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The Art of the Scribe

There are thousands of unqualified soferim in both America and Israel who sell items that, far from being first-rate, are not even kosher.
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Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90

There are thousands of unqualified soferim in both America and Israel who sell items that, far from being first-rate, are not even kosher. There is hardly any oversight of the ancient profession of the Jewish scribe, leading to untold chaos in the marketplace. Just imagine going to the trouble of actually putting on tefillin every day, and having mezuzos on your doors, without even knowing that they are not kosher and are spiritually illegitimate. And tefillin and mezuzos which are pumped out by scribes quickly and in their thousands to make the scribe more money are likely not even kosher because if the writing is even off even just a little, let alone illegible in its sloppiness, like many I’ve seen, then the entire item is unkosher. In Jewish law 99% kosher is 100% not kosher. It’s like having a computer code or even an e-mail address that’s missing just a single letter and throws the code off completely.

In the course of looking for the best tefillin for my son Yosef, I discovered Rabbi Yitzchok Raskin in Crown Heights, who had helped our shule in Englewood acquire its sefer torah. Rabbi Raskin impressed me immediately when he shared the following observation. When a person goes for open-heart surgery, they research the surgeon extensively in order to ascertain that he knows the most competent professional. By contrast, people travel by air all the time without doing any research about whether or not the pilot is responsible. You just walk on the plane and expect it to easily cross the Atlantic. What gives? The difference between the two, Rabbi Raskin argued, is that the airline pilot travels with his passengers, putting his life in as much risk as theirs. Since he shares in the risk he gains an added level of credibility. From a spiritual perspective, tefillin and mezuzahs need to follow the open-heart surgery model. The scribe is simply selling you a product. He is not putting them on with you and his credibility should be ascertained before you walk out his door with your new mezuzah.

Rabbi Raskin developed a unique business model, bringing the most modern technology to bear upon the ancient art of the Jewish scribe, like employing computer checks of parchment scrolls. I was especially impressed by their “Mezuzah Guide App,” meant to afford people the ease of checking a mezuzah’s quality by snapping a photo of the mezuzah to be sent directly to the scribes at Machon Stam. This is a quick, high-tech antidote to rampant mezuzah fraud. No longer can a store owner waive a parchment and claim that it’s kosher with no method for the consumer to verify his claim. Now, with a picture and an email a consumer can discover the truth of his mezuzah.

The app was developed by Shmuel Aber, who developed vital tool in memory of his daughter Sheina Bracha. The app is now available for free download for Apple, Android, and Blackberry.

A new Tefillin Guide was just released with detailed instructions for laying tefillin. The prayers can be read in seven languages, use the Tefillin mirror, navigate with the Jerusalem compass, and read and watch tutorials, all with the design interface of Apple’s new operating system. You can also use the app to acquire a new pair of quality authentic tefillin through Machon Stam.

While speaking to Rabbi Raskin, I was impressed at his eagerness to bring professional market considerations, like quality and customer support, to the often-neglected art of safrus. The greater the professionalism when it comes to things of Jewish ritual observance the higher the integrity and quality of the product.

Likewise, when you hand over Tefillin to be checked, you need to know that punctuality will be respected. After all, you need your tefillin on your arm and heart, not sitting in someone’s store being checked. When we purchased our sefer Torah, Machon Stam was able to show us that top experts in the field had inspected it, both the quality of the parchment and every single one of hundreds of thousands of letters. Rabbi Raskin’s work has considerably raised the bar of the ancient art of the scribe, ensuring high quality Torahs, tefillin, and mezuzas at competitive prices that do not compromise quality.

About the Author: Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, including The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


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One Response to “The Art of the Scribe”

  1. Basha Kline says:

    We have been blessed with so many articles to prove our past and reasoning for our existence, most of which we take for granted but it will take a non-Jew to remind us who we are!

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