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Thursday
Jan172019

THANKS FROM THE REBBE FOR CHECKING THE SEIFER TORAH OF MOSHIACH

In light of the recent increased awareness regarding proper checking of the kosher status of STaM (Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzos), we present an interview with RDovid Leib Greenfield, who has been at the forefront of generating greater awareness of these issues in the Jewish community in America and in Eretz Yisroel for over forty years. * In this highly informative interview, he discussed the hardships he faced in the early years and the dogged efforts over many decades, which led to a worldwide revolution in the field. * He also shared the special interest and support shown by the Rebbe, the donation that the Rebbe sent along with a letter of blessing, the regular reports that he sent to the Rebbe, and the special privilege that he merited to check the Seifer Torah of Moshiach using the then newly developed computer check system.

A publication on Stam-related topics to strengthen awareness | Rabbi Shmuel Wosner visiting the office of the Vaad in B’nei Brak following the launch of computer checking of Stam

The two Lubavitcher bachurim who showed up at the Boro Park home of Rabbi Dovid Leib Greenfield in the summer of 1974 and placed a bundle of mezuzos on his table for checking, never dreamed that they would be the impetus for RGreenfield to launch the Vaad Mishmeres Stam and create a real revolution among the religious public in the field of the kashrus of Stam.

R’ Shraga Zalmanov (today a shliach of the Rebbe in Queens) and R’ Menashe Perman (today a shliach of the Rebbe in Peru), were two young and dynamic bachurim who devoted themselves to the new mivtza-campaign that the Rebbe had announced only a few weeks prior, mivtza mezuza. They administered an entire network of bachurim and young married men who went out each day to visit homes throughout New York and returned with hundreds of mezuzos that needed to be checked.

With many of the mezuzos, the main problem was the lack of tagim (“crowns” on the letters that required them) and kutzo shel yudim (the jot at the top edge of the letter yud). In their search of G-d-fearing sofrim (scribes), they found themselves at the home of R’ Greenfield.

Adding tagim is not a particularly lucrative job, but when one is on the receiving end of large amounts of mezuzos on a daily basis, it definitely can provide a consistent source of income. As such, R’ Greenfield was quite pleased with the new arrangement.

The one who “spoiled the party” was his father, R’ Boruch, a pious scribe who had then come for his very first visit to the United States. When he saw that many of the mezuzos in question were written on coated klaf (parchment), he rebuked him for certifying the mezuzos as kosher. He argued that they are only kosher b’dieved (after the fact), and since the sofrim who wrote them were not particular to write in a l’chat’chilla (initially preferred) manner with all of the tagim and every kutzo shel yud, it is reasonable to assume that the sofrim in question were not G-d-fearing people, and it is nearly impossible that there are no other “hidden invalidities,” such as chok tochos (lit. engraving insides) or shelo k’sidran (lit. not in their order) – (see box for explanation of the hidden factors that can invalidate mezuzos).

(In a conversation with R’ Zalmanov, he disclosed that when so many mezuzos on coated klaf came his way, he brought the matter to the renowned posek Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z”l, who ruled that they are kosher b’di’eved. That being the case, he could not tell people that they were not kosher and would try to fix them up as much as possible. However, he did try to convince people to purchase newer and more mehudar (enhanced) mezuzos. Obviously, any newly purchased mezuzos were not on coated klaf, and were bought only from G-d-fearing sofrim, well versed in the applicable laws.)

R’ Dovid Leib, who was a naive young man, was sure that all sofrim were G-d-fearing Jews who knew all the laws about writing Stam. He was shocked to hear from his father about people who were not G-d-fearing, who wrote tefillin and mezuzos without knowing the halachos, and even worse …

At first, he thought this problem did not exist in the frum world, but that summer, after his father opened a Stam center in Boro Park and all sorts of religious Jews brought their tefillin and mezuzos to be checked, his astonishment turned to utter shock. Nearly every day he was shaken yet again by Jews who would check the esrog they bought under a magnifying glass, and were bringing him mezuzos that, in the best case, had dozens of letters whose kashrus was b’di’eved, and in many instances the writing indicated that the writer had never properly learned the laws of the shapes of the letters.

This disturbing discovery led him and his partner, R’ Shmuel Eliyahu Granatstein, to open the Vaad Mishmeres Stam and to, in effect, promote mivtza mezuza in the frum world. In an interview with Beis Moshiach, he told us how his activities on this front evolved and about his connection with Chabad over the years.

TRAGEDY IN THE STAM MARKET

The mitzva of mezuza is one of the most widespread mitzvos, perhaps coming in second after bris mila. It has become the way to recognize a Jewish home even if the inhabitants are not religious. How is it possible that of all mitzvos, this one is rampant with neglect? Was it this way throughout the generations or is this a recent phenomenon?

Sadly and absurdly, the popularity of this mitzva among the ranks of the Jewish people actually served as a detriment to this important mitzva.

During the Holocaust, European Jewry lost thousands of sofrim who perished along with the communities they lived in. Eastern Jewry also underwent upheavals when entire communities were expelled from Arab lands. These changes interrupted the continuity of tradition in training sofrim and in the transmission of the craft from generation to generation.

At the same time, after World War II, hundreds of Jewish communities formed, both in Eretz Yisroel and the U.S., generating a huge demand for mezuzos. We lacked G-d-fearing scribes to keep up with the demand.

Surprisingly, despite the lack of sofrim, there was no lack of Stam products. In stores that sold Stam and Judaica, there were plenty of tefillin and mezuzos. In research we did over the years, we learned of hundreds of thousands of mezuzos that were sold in the years following the war.

In those years, nobody thought of stopping to ask: Where are all these tefillin and mezuzos coming from? It was obvious, if one just stopped to think about it, that there did not exist trained sofrim who could produce even ten percent of the volume being sold!

When you did raise the question and what did you discover?

It turns out that Stam, along with being sacred objects, have monetary value and thus, market forces apply to them. In the market, there is no vacuum. When there is a demand, there is a supply. And when there isn’t a supply of quality merchandise, the market will supply items of lesser quality. If there isn’t a supply that meets the standard, there will be a supply that is substandard. In other words, if there isn’t a supply of kosher items, the market will be flooded with invalid merchandise, to the extent that the market will bear…

That is how a market of kosher b’di’eved Stam products, in the best case, began to flourish, and completely pasul items in the worst case. This market consists of three points: 1) coated parchment, 2) small mezuzos, 3) scribes who are not G-d-fearing and even some who are not religiously observant!

The natural feel of parchment is soft and fuzzy like velvet, which makes it hard to write on. This is why, even though there are only 713 letters in a mezuza, it can take three or more hours to write. To avoid having to contend with the challenges of the parchment there is a shortcut in which you smear the parchment with a layer of white plaster. The surface of the parchment becomes smooth and this enables the quill to move quickly over it so the writing of a mezuza takes less than an hour.

If you want to be even more cost efficient and earn more, you stop writing large mezuzos that take more time, ink and parchment, and write small mezuzos. The cost of the materials is less, the writing is quicker, and it’s possible to write a mezuza in half an hour.

What’s wrong with coated parchment?

First of all, from a halachic perspective, there is a dispute among the poskim whether it is permitted to write on coated parchment. Some say that the plaster has the halachic status of a barrier. Some allow it; some don’t. But what’s worse is the practical perspective. The plaster that is used to coat the mezuza hardens after a short time and when you roll the mezuza or fold the parshiyos of tefillin, the plaster crumbles and develops cracks. This often causes the mezuza or tefillin to become 100% pasul. So even if when it was written it may have been kosher according to some opinions, when it was folded and inserted it likely became pasul according to all poskim.

SOFRIM AND “SOFROS” WHO WRITE ON SHABBOS

Are there really irreligious sofrim?

That was the most shocking discovery. Unfortunately, it’s true. I once heard from Rabbi Reuven Elbaz (head of the Ohr HaChayim institutes with 350 branches all over Eretz Yisroel and a member of the Moetzes Chachmei Ha’Torah) that at one of his lectures, a bareheaded young man introduced himself as a sofer. R’ Elbaz asked him for which newspaper he was a sofer (i.e., a writer, not a scribe). To his shock, the man said he was a sofer Stam.

R’ Elbaz asked him whether he observed Shabbos and the man said that Shabbos was the day when he had time to write! When the horrified rav asked him how he could write on Shabbos, the man coldly said: What’s the connection? Shabbos is religion and writing mezuzos is parnasa.

Over the years, we have heard hundreds of testimonies about scribes like these. A man from Netanya told me that one Shabbos he went over to visit his neighbor, a policeman who was not religious, and was appalled to see the entire family sitting around the dining room table and writing mezuzos.

The most egregious of all was the role of the “checking agencies” of the Rabbanut Harashit in this terrible travesty. This was the result of a process that began with good intentions but quickly went downhill and became corrupted. The checking agencies were founded to fight the problem of printed mezuzos after the rabbanut discovered that there were crooks that were printing mezuzos and shipping them all around the world. The main goal of these agencies was to differentiate between printed mezuzos and handwritten ones.

At first, they also checked the kashrus of the letters but due to the huge amounts that came in for approval, they could not check them properly. The merchants pressured them to give back the mezuzos with a written certification, and within a short time they sufficed with just checking for missing or extra letters. Over time, even this was dropped when unscrupulous dealings developed between the merchants and the clerks in the checking agencies.

At the time, Rabbi Scheinfeld, president of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), volunteered to go to Eretz Yisroel and research the matter. He returned shaken up and said, “I sat in the Ministry of Religions and I saw with my own eyes how people came in bringing hundreds of mezuzos and parshiyos of tefillin. The clerk certified them wholesale without any checking whatsoever, and without trying to check the source of the parshiyos and who wrote them.”

It was a tragedy. Jews from all over the world relied on the certification of the chief rabbinate. The rabbinate relied on the checking agencies who relied on the clerks who relied on the merchants who relied on the writers. The latter were very happy with the money that flowed into their pockets without interference. This was the situation in the winter of 5735.

THE SOLUTION: AWARENESS

Once you became aware of these shocking facts, what did you do?

In the initial months we despaired. We felt that we were facing a giant network of counterfeit and fraud, an organized, well-oiled network, which traffics in vast sums of money. Even if we screamed, our voices would not be heard. That was how we felt.

One of the wonders of divine providence is how sometimes the wheel begins to turn from an unexpected source. One day, someone from Flatbush came to us with 14 mezuzos. When they all turned out to be pasul he said: Shame on you! These mezuzos have the seal of the chief rabbinate. The chief rabbis testify that these mezuzos are kosher. Who are you to argue with them?

Hashem gifted us with the right approach, and we said to him: Let’s not argue. We will show you the section in Shulchan Aruch based on which we declared them pasul, and you see for yourself. Don’t rely on us. Go to a rav that you trust and show him the mezuzos and the relevant passages and ask his opinion.

He did so and after checking the mezuzos for himself against the clear halacha, he was stunned. He found it hard to digest the reality that mezuzos that were pasul were being sold with the hechsher of the rabbinate.

This story was an eye-opening lesson to us, that it is possible to fight the counterfeits when we make the public aware of the halachos and that there is a counterfeit industry.

We began publishing articles in the papers as well as brochures. The message began to get through but still, in a very limited way. A significant breakthrough occurred when we realized that hearing is nothing like seeing and the best way to get through to people is when you show it to them with pictures.

In those years, the way to show pictures was with a slide show. We spent a significant amount of time taking photos and having them converted into slides. When it was all ready, we began a series of lectures.

SUPPORT FROM THE REBBE

Throughout those years, did you have a connection with the Rebbe?

Yes. The first time that I paid a visit to the Rebbe was in Sivan 5736, when the gaon Rav Shmuel Wosner z”l, author of Shevet Halevi, made a special trip from Eretz Yisroel for a lecture tour which we had arranged, to alert the public on the matter of counterfeit and pasul tefillin and mezuzos. I had the privilege of becoming very close to Rav Wosner, and he was the one who prodded and encouraged us in the holy work of Vaad Mishmeres Stam.

When he was here, Rav Wosner told me that he greatly desired to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and I told him that it would be an honor for me to escort him to the Rebbe; and that is how I had the privilege of going together with him to yechidus. At a certain point, the Rav made a request that he wished to be alone with the Rebbe, and so they sat and talked in private for the next three quarters of an hour. When the yechidus concluded, the Rebbe accompanied him outdoors with great honor.

During that summer, we also traveled to Toronto for a series of lectures. Over a period of two weeks, we delivered thirty-four talks; in yeshivas, in schools and in shuls. Boruch Hashem, the informative outreach efforts left a deep impression on the Jewish community there.

We heard testimony regarding the effectiveness of the publicity tour a few months later, when we were paid a visit in our office by Rav Moshe Yehuda Blau, who published many works of the Rishonim, and he would travel to different Jewish communities to raise funds to publish those s’farim. He told us very excitedly that in earlier years when he would travel to Toronto, he was very disturbed by the sight of the miniature sized mezuzos on doors, which tended mostly, to be not kosher. He had tried talking to people about it, but to little effect.

“This time,” he said excitedly, “when I arrived in Toronto, most of the doors of the homes I visited had large and mehudar mezuzos! When I inquired, I was told that it is all thanks to you, and I decided to tell you a personal ‘yeyasher ko’ach!’”

We found out later, that in his great enthusiasm Rav Blau told his brother-in-law, the secretary of the Rebbe, R’ Chaim Mordechai Eizik Chadakov about our work. A short while later, we had the privilege of receiving a donation with a letter of blessing and encouragement from the Rebbe, as follows (free translation):

11 Iyar, 5738

T’shuos chein, t’shuos chein, for the good tidings of the aforementioned rectifications in the matters of mezuzos and tefillin, and may it be the will that they convey good tidings in this in the future. And the merit of the public lends assistance etc., and based on the verse, “I am a comrade to all who fear you and those who observe…” – attached herein is a symbolic participation. I will mention it at the gravesite.

* * *

Along with the series of lectures that we held, we also met with influential rabbis, and we finally succeeded, in 5742, to have the checking agencies of the chief rabbinate shut down.

In a letter that I received from the secretary of the chief rabbinate it said that, “We already publicized and informed those responsible for these deplorable acts, as well as the public at large, that they should not rely on Stam products that claim to be checked under the supervision of the Israeli chief rabbinate or by the chief rabbinate of Tel Aviv.

“… An announcement to this effect was published in the Israeli daily papers and if you want, you can publicize it and bring it to the awareness of the Jewish public abroad.”

TECHNOLOGY IN THE SERVICE OF STAM

Rumor has it that you were given the “Torah of Moshiach” for computer checking. Can you tell us about computer checking and when it began?

We developed the first computer program that enables checking for missing or extra letters. This was after many years of work to deepen public awareness about Stam. We were very successful with tefillin and mezuzos but there was a widespread and problematic matter for which we found no solution.

Nearly every Shabbos, in large Jewish concentrations around the world, mistakes are found in Sifrei Torah when they are read. Obviously, not in every shul.

Usually, most of the p’sulim are because of a missing or extra letter and the like. I’ll explain. The kashrus of Stam is comprised of two essential things: 1) the completeness of the parsha, i.e., that there are 713 letters in a mezuza, 1594 letters in a pair of tefillin, and 304,805 letters in a Torah, each in its right place, and 2) the completeness of the letters, that each letter is written perfectly, according to halacha.

When a sofer knows the halachos, he usually writes correctly and there is no problem with the completeness of the letters. After the writing is done, the magia (trained checker/proofreader) reviews it and he is also supposed to know the halachos. If there is a problem with a letter, it will hopefully come to the attention of the checker.

Great poskim have written that if you want to be sure that a Torah is kosher l’mehadrin, four proofing checks and three inspections should be done! In the Kaf HaChayim it says that the proofing process should be done by two expert sofrim, each of whom holds a Torah, one reads and the other listens.

There is no question that if the sofrim invested in seven checks and inspections with two sofrim, hardly any p’sulim would be found in Sifrei Torah. But the way checks are actually done is nothing like that.

The breakthrough began in 5744/1984, when I met with Dr. Yechiel Neiman of Boston, a Torah scholar and internationally known computer expert.

The project took four long years and an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In 5748 the computer program was ready. Great rabbanim, who were involved in the details of the program, told us that its use should be limited to missing and extra letters, not for checking the kashrus of the letters, which often depends on the considered opinion of the accredited Stam checker or a well-versed posek, who need to see the original for themselves.

Word got around and within a short time we were given hundreds of Sifrei Torah to be checked by computer. Even though, from our experience, we anticipated a high percentage of mistakes, we were flabbergasted by the results of the computer check. Out of 100 Sifrei Torah, only 18 were free of mistakes!

Here’s an interesting fact: In old Sifrei Torah, that were written before the Holocaust, only 48% had mistakes, while in the Sifrei Torah written later, the percentage of mistakes was 93%! We think this is a result of our fast-paced, pressured way of life, which doesn’t allow a sofer to write in peace.

As is usually the case with good things, computer checking also had its opponents. A certain Chassidus attacked it vociferously saying “chadash assur min ha’Torah” (i.e., the Torah prohibits anything “new”). They claimed it wasn’t respectful for the Torah.

At a certain point, I was invited to the home of the Admor to a meeting to discuss the project. After he presented his concerns and I explained the halachic principles behind this checking, he was reassured. He asked me to check the Torah that he inherited from his uncle, the previous Admor. 10 mistakes were discovered of either missing, extra or wrong letters.

MOSHIACH’S TORAH

Throughout those years, I occasionally reported to the Rebbe about our work. Although I am not a Lubavitcher Chassid, I was taught to greatly admire the Rebbe who is a Nasi Yisroel, and I felt that I wanted to update him. When there was a breakthrough with computers, I reported this to him.

One day, I got a phone call from the Rebbe’s secretary with a request to computer check the “Torah of Moshiach.” We scanned the Torah and I was so pleased when the results were that there were no mistakes.

Shortly after we delivered the results of the checking, I got a phone call from the Rebbe’s office and was told that the Rebbe wanted to thank me for the checking and he gave a bracha, “t’shuos chein for the good news.” Afterward, I also received the booklet, Siyum V’Hachnasas Seifer Torah from the Rebbe.

(Remarkably, when I examined the booklet, I noticed that when the Rebbe stressed that a Torah must be complete, he said that even the letter vav of the word “v’shosaas shesa” needs to be complete. In the footnotes, the Rebbe just cites the source of the verse in Chumash and does not explain why he chose this verse especially.

I did research and found that in the holy Zohar there is a frightening story about R’ Chizkiya and R’ Yeisa, in whose time there was a terrible decree and they went out with Sifrei Torah to arouse the souls of tzaddikim in the cemetery in Gush Chalav, but the souls of the tzaddikim were pushed away because of a mistake in the letter vav of the word “v’shosaas shesa.”)

APPROACHING THE GEULA

What is the current Stam market like?

As I mentioned earlier, Stam are products with monetary value and, as such, all market rules apply to them. In the marketplace there are always shifts this way and that way, and you need to constantly have your finger on the pulse, alert to changes.

On the one hand, over the years, there has been a great awakening on the subject. There is no comparison between the situation today and the way it was 40 years ago. There is tremendous awareness and people know that when you buy a mezuza or tefillin, you need to find out who wrote them and whether he has a valid certificate of ordination.

The development of technology enables us to do computer checks. However, the technology for silk printing also developed, which makes it very hard to identify whether a mezuza was printed and not written by a sofer Stam. That emphasizes even more the importance of being personally familiar with the sofer who writes the mezuzos and not relying on dealers.

We are approaching the coming of Moshiach and how beautiful are the words of the Bobover Rebbe zt”l, after the invention of computer checking, “When we look into the deeper significance of the matter, how must our hearts rejoice, as this is a clear sign that our salvation is at hand, and that from heaven they had mercy on us to grant us the merit in such a lofty matter, allowing us to make kosher all of the Torah scrolls before the coming of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, so we do not stumble again in mentioning G-d’s name in vain, heaven forbid, which causes a delay in our redemption and the requital of our souls.”

HIDDEN INVALIDATING FACTORS

Writing Stam entails knowledge of hundreds of laws and detailed instructions, some of which can be checked and some of which only the sofer himself knows whether the product is kosher or not. This is why, when you buy Stam products without knowing who the sofer is who wrote them, and without ascertaining that the sofer learned all the halachos of Stam and has a valid certificate of ordination, you are taking a huge gamble. It is possible that despite no p’sul being found in many rounds of checking, the product is still pasul.

For example:

Chok tochos” is one of the p’sulim in writing Stam, when the correct form of the letter is not accomplished by writing but by scraping away or erasing ink and the like. For example, if the sofer wanted to write the letter hei and mistakenly filled in the space so it’s a ches, and he erases the filled-in area and it becomes a hei, the writing is pasul. He then must erase the entire letter and write it anew. If the sofer does not know the halacha or is not G-d-fearing and he decided to “fix” the letter without rewriting, the final product will be absolutely invalid and that fact will never come to light.

Shelo k’sidran” is a p’sul that is unique to tefillin and mezuzos, as the law is that the parshiyos and the letters of each parsha have to be written in order. What this means is that if the sofer missed a letter or wrote it improperly, and he continued to write further, he can’t go back and just fix the letter, because then it will not be written “k’sidran.” The only repair that can be made is to scratch off whatever was written all the way back to the mistake, and to write the letter over again.

If in the interim, the sofer wrote one of the holy names of Hashem which may not be erased, it is forbidden to scratch off the writing, and this mezuza (or tefillin) cannot be repaired. If the sofer does not know this halacha or is not G-d-fearing, he is liable to fix the problematic letter, thus rendering the mezuza or tefillin invalid in a way that any subsequent inspection will not be able to discover.

L’sheim k’dushas” means that the writing must be carried out with specific intention. The Alter Rebbe writes regarding the writing of the parshiyos of tefillin: He should write the parshiyos with the explicit intention of the holiness of tefillin, and if he wrote them ordinarily, they are pasul. And the Azkaros (divine names) need to be written with the explicit intention of their holiness, and if he wrote them ordinarily, they should be hidden away (g’niza).

Obviously, if the sofer did not write lishma, whether due to ignorance or lack of fear of heaven, it is absolutely impossible to identify that these are in fact pasul tefillin or mezuzos

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