Sunday, November 2, 2014

Girsology blog

I'm a longtime fan of the parshablog, where Rabbi Josh Waxman often writes about mesorah and scribal oddities in the Torah. He stands out for his eclectic selection of sources and also for not being afraid of thinking outside of the box.

Waxman started a new blog called Girsology, dedicated to the different girsaot of the Torah and he wrote an excellent post about the famous פצועי דכא/דכה controversy. 

For those interested in Safrut, this is a must read and something I intended to write about. 


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Chagiga 15b - the shape of the Lamed

Today's Daf, while discussing the sages of different centuries, says:
איה סופר המגדלים שהיו שונים שלוש מאות הלכות במגדל הפורח באויר
"Where is the one who counts the towers - for they would teach three hundred laws concerning a tower that floats in the air"

The artscroll note says that this is referring to the shape of the Lamed, which looks like a tower that is falling. Thus, many write the upper part of this letter slanted, as if it is falling. See here in full:

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tzitzis - wool, cashmere, cotton or silk?

As I wrote my Sefer Torah, I often look topically in a few commentaries to further understand the text and be more focused.

I'm now at Parshat Noach, and I had a chance to study the Ben Ish Chai commentary on the passage (Bereishit 9:7)

  ואתם, פרו ורבו; שרצו בארץ, ורבו-בה

While his kabalistic explanation to this passage is beyond the scope of this blog, the Ben Ish Chai does link this mitzva of having children to the mitzva of tzitzis. Both commandments provide a special protection to those who fulfill it and he goes on to detail the Halachot of tzitzis. By chance this mitzva is also to be found in this week's Parsha גדילים תעשה לך so although I usually only write about Safrut here, I will open an exception just this time. 

The Talmud says that only sheep wool and linen are considered "fabric" in regards to tzizis, and therefore one should only make tzizis from these two fabrics. Other garments are only rabinically required to have tzizis. The authoritative Shulchan Aruch rules this way, and the Sephardim generally are careful with this. 

However the Rema, followed by Ashkenazim, rules like another opinion of the Talmud that fabrics other than wool and linen are also biblically required to have tzizis. That's why Ashkenazim use cotton tzitzis, although many try to be machmir like the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. 

The catch - written in big letters Mehadrin
but on the left side "hashgacha only for
the threads".
Mesh tzitzit























However some fabrics seen today in the market are not required to have tzitzis even Rabinically; polyester is the best example. A square polyester garment does not need tzitzis, even though you can see many judaica stores (and even on Amazon) selling mesh polyester tzitzis as a solution for hot summer days. That's rather ironic - according to Halacha it's totally unnecessary to wear mesh tzitzis and the person might as well wear no tzitzis. If you want to perform the mitzva you should do it right and mesh tzitzis has no Halacha significance according to all (this is the widely accepted ruling of Iggrot Moshe 2:1). 

So we have established that wool and linen are undisputedly the best option for tzizis, as far as the Biblical miztva of tzitzis is concerned. 

Actually, that's imprecise. The wool that is undisputedly subject to tzizis is sheep's wool but other woolen fabrics such as cashmere, which is wool from goats, are not undisputed for Biblical miztva of tzitzis and therefore less optimal specially for Sephardim. Goat and sheep are two completely different animals, and while sheep wool is white, goats wool is more beige.

Cashmere goat wool
Sheep and goat





That's very relevant when buying a Tallit. Since we only wear Tallit briefly every day for shacharit, there's an unofficial consensus of wearing only woolen Tallit to make sure that at least once a day you will be wearing the optimal tzizis fabric - Ashkenazim and Sephardim alike. For this reason, virtually every Tallit sold in Judaica stores is made from sheep wool. 

However lately I've seen some specialty stores selling cashmere Tallit, which would go against the consensus I mentioned. Always make sure you buy Tallit from sheep wool.

Now let's turn to the second undisputedly good tzizis fabric - linen. I personally love everything made of linen for summer use, since it's a strong and breathable fabric - in fact, throughout history linen was regarded as the most superior and fine fabric (see here for more on that). But let's get back to Halacha:

Alongside sheep wool, linen is also a "Biblical fabric" and ideal for tzitzis use according to the Shulchan Aruch I quoted before, but an external factor is a threat to using linen tzitzis - Shaatnez, the Biblical prohibition of mixing linen and wool. I will quote a very good piece delineating this issue I found in YUTorah:

    The Gemara, Menachot 40a, states that the rabbis placed certain limitations on the use of linen garments for the mitzvah of tzitzit.  According to Rashi, ad loc., the rabbis prohibited placing techelet on a linen garment.  The reason is because techelet is not only unique in its color, but it must also be made of wool.  While the Torah does allow a wool techelet string to be placed on a linen garment, this leniency only applies if there is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of tzitzit.  However, if for whatever reason, there is no fulfillment of the mitzvah of tzitzit, one violates the prohibition of sha'atnez by wearing such a garment.  Out of concern that one might wear such a garment without adhering to the many laws of tzitzit and techelet, the rabbis banned placing techelet on linen garments.  Rabbeinu Tam, Shabbat 25b s.v. Sadin, disputes the opinion of Rashi and claims that the ban is not limited to techelet.  The ban extends to the use of any linen garment, even if no techelet is placed on the garment.
    Teshuvot HaRosh 2:8, claims that the common practice is to follow the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam and to disallow the use of all linen garments for the mitzvah of tzitzit.  However, he notes that upon arriving in Spain he noticed that many people used linen to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit.  He suggests that they might have been relying on the fact that there is no techelet, and perhaps even Rabbeinu Tam would agree that there is less of a concern.
      Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 9:6, cites the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam as normative.  However, Rama ad loc., mentions the leniency of Teshuvot HaRosh that if only linen is available one may use it for tzitzit, as there is no techelet available.  It should be noted, that nowadays there are many people who place techelet on their garments, and Teshuvot HaRosh's leniency may not be applicable.  This would apply even to those who question the authenticity of modern day techelet, as the concern exists that by allowing linen garments, it may lead to someone who does use modern day techelet to violate the prohibition of sha'atnez. 
It's also interesting to add that the influential Chaye Adam (Hil. Tzitzis 11:12) writes:
כלל י״א סי׳ י״ב ״וכבר
 נתפשט המנהג בקהלתינו לעשות טלית של פשתים
 וציצית של פשתים, ע״פ הגר״א ז״ל״
He is saying the custom of his community, in Poland, was to wear linen tzitzis like the ruling of the Gr"a, the Vilna Gaon. In other words, he is giving the same testimony teh Teshuvat HaRosh gave when he arrived in Spain. So it seems clear that it wasn't uncommon to wear linen tzitzit in both Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities.

Linen tzitsis with Techelet
It seems to me to be a case of Halacha VeEin Morim Kein i.e. it's permissible and optimal to wear linen tzitzit but this should not be a publicized practice because of the concern than less knowledgeable people will eventually transgress Shaatnez as a result. 

And I will also add that this concern for other people is not farfetched - the vast majority of people, even among the observant communities, don't know Hilchot Tzitzis in depth and as you have seen, these Halachot are rather complex and often times a little confusing (I did try my best to keep this post as organized and short as possible..). Click here to see a website selling linen tzizis with techelet, which questionable according to what we have seen.

SO, Tzitzis - wool, cashmere, cotton or silk? Answer: Tallit surely should be made of sheep wool and tzizis you wear all day can be from cotton too.


Friday, September 5, 2014

Amazing Megillot 12: Yonah Weinrib




Rabbi Yonah Weinrib is a great illuminator and also a very knowledgeble scholar who adds explanations next to his works. My Bar Mitzva birkon was made by him and today he is a very famous artist.

Rabbi Weinrib published a very nice Megillat Esther on paper, based on a Megilla he was comissioned to write.

I love the unusual motifs like the Queen of Hearts, symbolizing the demise of Vashti and rise of Esther and the chess board, which is a metaphor for how all the story was orchestraded by Hashem and how each character of the story was carefully controlled by His hidden hand.

Very clever and very beautiful!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Column 2 of 214


One line is missing since I need to repair de Klaf.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Book Review: Sacred Monsters by N. Slifkin

As I was writing Parshat Bereishit in my ongoing Sefer Torah project, one theme stood out from the story of creation: the Bnei Elohim. The Torah says:

6:2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
6:3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
6:4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
The Torah seems to speak negatively of these "sons of God". I quickly realized that although I learn this Parsha every year since I'm a small kid, I never really stopped to think about this.

I suppose my teachers in school intentionally didn't spend much time exploring who these people were. I was told by a very knowledgeable educator that specifically today, in times where Lord of the Rings and other fantasy stories are so popular, there is a point not to explore the theme of giants and unusual creatures mentioned in the Torah. Many educators are afraid kids will start looking at Torah as just another fantasy book, cv"s. 

But even worst than confusing the Torah with fantasy books, kids can find many cartoons and movies inspired in Biblical stories that are visually stunning and often have their own takes on some creatures of the Torah. Most notably, as I a started writing Parshat Noach a few weeks ago, Hollywood released "Noah", a blockbuster movie loosely inspired in the story of Noach. 

Hollywood's Bnei Elohim
These movies can be actually even more dangerous for our kids since they always take artistic license and make up a whole bunch of things. Specifically in "Noah", the film, the Bnei Elohim are depicted as stone monsters made of light, with seven hands (see picture). If we don't teach the "giants" theme for our kids in school, I would say that they should equally not be exposed to cartoons and movies based on Torah stories. 

But not everyone agrees with this mindset. Recently, a Rabbi launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a fantasy book for kids based on the Torah, with the argument that Jewish-fantasy books can be a good alternative to kids who like to read Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I disagree. 

So I decided to look for somebody that would shed light in the concept of giants like Bnei Elohim and Og but I found very little resources. The best one I've come across is Sacred Monsters, by Rabbi Natan Slifkin aka Zoo Rabbi. 

For the unninitiated, Rabbi Slifkin was in the epicenter of a huge theological feud a few years ago. He wrote about Creation and how to reconcile the Torah's account with science, based of classical Jewish commentators. Although he got an endorsement from the very respected Rosh Yeshiva of Philadelphia, his book became subject to virulent attacks from a segment of the Haredi world that rejects scientific reconciliation with Torah. I was learning in Ner Yisrael at the time and my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Aharon Feldman, was a very important figure in this debate. Click here for Rabbi Slifkin's own link list of this controversy.

Be it as it may, Sacred Monsters is a very open and honest discussion about how we should look at the many unusual and strange creatures mentioned in the Torah. Rabbi Slifkin uses a scientific approach and is not afraid of asking questions nor shy to offer unusual answers. 

Og as a real super giant
Rabbi Slifkin discusses how big were the giants mentioned in the Torah. According to some, they were literarily hundeds of meters tall. But he also mentions the Rambam, who says that Og was probably not taller than 5 meters since it's organically impossible to be taller than that. 

Rabbi Slifkin brings many examples of modern day "giants" that measure over 3 meters and notes that the Rambam's estimation would indeed make sense from a scientific point of view. 

Although the book does mention other giants and also the very tall Moshe Rabbeinu, I was disappointed not to see a specific discussion of the Bnei Elohim. After all, they were the first giants mentioned in the Torah and the forebearers of Og. 

After reading almost the entire book, I leave with a feeling that we know very little about most of the unusual creatures of the Torah. There are opinions  that offer some plausible possibilities and Rabbi Slifkin often broadens the discussion bringing in achademics and zoologists, but from the classical Jewish commentators there are many gaps and speculation. 

I do think the book is an excellent resource and introduction guide for those who want to know the a little of everything. It did kind of leave me with even more questions than before but that's not necessarily a bad thing!


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hamas in Scripture



As Israel gets more and more entangled in what looks like a full blown war with Hamas, I got to the pasuk which mentions the very name of this terrorist group, when describing the world in the times of Noah. 

וַתִּשָּׁחֵת הָאָרֶץ לִפְנֵי הָאֱלהִים וַתִּמָּלֵא הָאָרֶץ חָמָס
"The world was filled with 'Hamas'" Genesis

What’s the translation of the scriptural word “Hamas”? Although I’ve studied the Torah many times, I realized that I didn’t really know the exact translation of this word. I knew it meant something bad, since this was the reason why G-d got angry at mankind and brought the great flood in the times of Noach.

The Artscroll Chumash translates “the earth became filled with robbery”, which is the understanding of Rashi, the main medieval commentary of the Torah. 

Interestingly, the other classic commentator of the Torah - Unkulos -goes in another direction and translates Chamas to mean  חטופין, kidnappers, meaning that the world was full of kidnappers. 

Some commentators relate this to the Bnei Elohim mentioned in the end of Parshat Bereishit, which kidnapped and married woman. But it's clear that Unkulos understands Hamas to mean not monetary robbery but kidnapping, which is a violent act. In fact, many other translations of the Torah mention that "the earth was filled with violence", possibly following the Unkulos' understanding. 

Now the Targum Yerushalmi, which is occasionally different than the Unkelos, seems to merge the explanations of Rashi and Onkelos. 

In other words, the Targum Yerushalmi understands that Hamas is an umbrella term that includes kidnapping and robbery. 

The Or Hachaim goes one step further, perhaps troubled by the fact that the Yerushlami derives two translations for one word. How is that possible? Hamas should either be kidnapping or robbery - how can this word refer to both? 

The Or Hachaim says that Hamas is the umbrella term for evil, in all its different manifestations:

It includes robbery, sexual misconduct, killing, idol worshipping and more. So according to this, Rashi, Unkulos and Targum Yerushlami actually all agree with what Hamas means. They simply struggle to choose one aspect that best represents evil. 

It's interesting to note that like in the times of Noach, when the earth got overrun by Hamas, today we seem to be living a very similar situation. The world today is full of Hamas ideology, be it Hamas itself or other violent ideologies like Al Qaeda, Isis and their kin. 

In the present war between Hamas and Israel, a very large portion of the world is siding with Hamas, be it by explicitly endorsing them or simply by failing to condone their violent ideology. In this sense, the world seems to be full of violent people or people who endorse violence. 

And this present day violent ideology, like in the times of Noach, is multi faceted: it's based on murder, robbery, dishonesty, sexual harassment and kidnappings.

Noach could only save his family by barricating himself in his ark. He publicly built his ark for many years so everyone could see and perhaps change their ways. Eventually only Noach's family got in the ark and got saved. 

How can we react to the modern day world which seems to be more and more full of Hamas and the people who support them? We have to build our ark, which is Israel. That's the only place where we can defend ourselves without relying in others. And like Noach was the last stand against evil, Israel today is the world's last stand against this evil, violent ideology of death that is taking over the world. 

PS: it's interesting to note that according to some, the flood in times of Noah never reached Israel - the holy land enjoys special protection. And many commentators say that this is why the olive branch brought to Noah came from Israel - Israel was the only place that survived. See below:



Thursday, May 15, 2014

My progress: Parshat Bereishit is done!


Today is BH a special day for me as I finished the first Parsha of my Sefer Torah - parshat Bereishit. I never thought I would actually start my own Torah but this is happening! It's important to celebrate this milestone. 

It took me a long time to write it, something like six months, as I have prioritized Daf Yomi but the most important thing is that the project is moving. Moving slow, but moving. 

I will post pictures of all the amudim soon. I BH had very few mistakes and typos - I guess that's one advantage of writing slow. In terms of the quality of my ktav, I'm still not 100% happy with the beauty of the letters, and I'm having difficulty perfecting my Tzadi. 

Also, I twice mispelled the word ויולד, omitting the second Vav. For some reason in my head, unconsciously, the right way to spell it is וילד, which sounds more like the right verb. But I'm wrong and I had to pay special attention at it since this word is recurring in the end of the Parsha. 

In this rithym it will take me a few years, perhaps six, to complete my Torah Scroll but as you see in the picture I'm young and patient. We will get there iiH. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Christie's sells a Chumash from 1400's for record price

The Chumash was sold for almost 4 million dollars, above the 2 million estimate. It is just like a Torah Scroll, but with vowelization, cantillation marks and Unkulus commentary on the side. Below you can read all the information:

Paris – The Department of Books and Manuscripts is pleased to announce the auction of an 
exceptional printed Torah (or Pentateuch: the first five books of the Bible) at their sale on 30 
April 2014. 

A major turning point in the history of printing in general and of Hebrew books in particular, 
this rare incunable, whose value is estimated at €1,000,000-1,500,000, will undoubtedly be the 
highlight of the sale. Printed in Hebrew in Bologna in January 1482, the volume represents the 
very first appearance in print of all five books of the Pentateuch as well as the first to which 
vocalisation and cantillation marks have been added. It is equally the first time that the printed 
Biblical text is accompanied by Rashi’s commentary and the paraphrase in Aramaic (Targum 
Onkelos). The significance of this edition is demonstrated by the fact that this format is still in use 
today when printing the Torah. 

Essential to reading and chanting the text of the Torah, the addition of vocalisation and 
cantillation marks represented a considerable challenge for 15th
 century printers. Abraham ben 
Hayyim of Pesaro was the first to overcome this technical difficulty during the printing of the 
present Pentateuch. Having overcome this first hurdle, he also had the talent and intelligence to 
frame the Biblical text with Rashi’s commentaries in order to facilitate the parallel study of the 
text. The majority of the copies were printed on vellum in accordance with the precepts of the 
Law. 

The back of the present copy bears the signature of three 16th
 and 17th century censors, testifying to its presence in an Italian library until at least the mid 17th
century: Luigi da Bologna in 1599, Camillo Jaghel in 1613 and Renato da Modena in 1626. The censors had the task of examining and checking all books, both manuscript and printed, in order to authorise or ban ownership and distribution of the work: the text of the Rashi commentary here bears the marks of their work, having been erased or crossed out in a number of places. 

Over the last hundred years only two copies of this rare edition have come to auction: the first in 
1970, printed on vellum and complete, the second in 1998, printed on paper and missing eight 
pages. The Pentateuch to be presented next April is printed on vellum, complete (apart from the 
rear free end paper) and in exceptionally fresh condition. 

Two years after the sensational price realised at Christie’s Paris for a manuscript Mahzor in May 
2012, which set a world record for an illuminated Hebrew manuscript, this is now the second 
occasion on which the Department of Books and Manuscripts has presented a Hebrew book of 
outstanding significance, considered by many to stand alongside the Gutenberg Bible as one of 
the monuments of the history of printing. 



Monday, March 17, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Old Torah Scroll

Last week I was approached by a Christian Copt, who was offering this Torah Scroll for sale. 

This Torah was missing one Eitz Chayim and the ink was already fading away. All in all, the scroll was in not a grade state, and surely not Kosher. Note how it has been cut in the bottom margin, rendering it not Mukaf Gevil, which by itself enough to invalidate the whole scroll. 

The guy wanted 5000 dollars for it, which is an exhibits to amount of money to spend in a scroll that is not usable. Plus, there's a prohibition of purchasing a scroll like this because of the fear of encouraging others to steal scrolls intending to sell it back to jewish communities. 

Nowadays, many scrolls are inscribed with an invisible mark which allows experts to trace back the origin of the scroll but 150 year old scrolls like this one and difficult to trace and identify. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Yoma 70a - the miztva of "showing off" your Torah Scroll

Here's an interesting anecdote from the Daf Yomi of last month. In Yom Kippur, all (yes, all) the people that were in the temple for the day would bring their personal Torah Scrolls the day before to have a chance of reading from it on Yom Kippur day and displaying the beauty of their scroll. 

From this Gemara we see two important concepts of the Mitzva of writing your own Torah. 
1) you are supposed to use it, be it for learning or just for Krias Hatorah. It is not supposed to be a relic locked inside a safe. 
2) it's commendable to beautify it as much as a person can, so others will see it and appreciate it. This is often called in Halacha זה קלי ואנוויהו. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mezuza Case in Ktav Ivri

This is an interesting Mezuza case - instead of the usual Shin Daled Yud (or in many cases, just the Shin), it has the equivalent letters in Ktav Ivri, also known as Paleo Hebrew.

Ideally, the Mezuza case should be see through so the shem Shakai can be seen to all, however today most cases are not see-through. See more about the source of this custom here.

But I found this to be interesting because it reminded me of the connection between Mezuza and Ktav Ivri, which I worte about it when explaining the Mark of Cain (see here). In brief, the Mezuza of Mitzraim, which protected the Jews from the plagues, was actually one letter from the Ktav Ivri - the X (which is the Tav in today hebrew alphabet, a letter that means Tichie - you shall live. See alphabet below). The Jews painted this letter with blood of the Pesach sacrifice in their doorposts.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Column 1 of 214

I will be posting each column here, and I'm happy to hear feedback. In the third day, it's missing a few words, which I will complete soon. Also some blurbs of ink here and there, but all in all I'm happy I got to this first milestone.
Although in the picture it looks like everything it's slanted that's an illusion - if you zoom you can see the sirtut.
I had difficulty in the beginning but now my writing is going smooth, specially in the second half of the column. I perfected my Aleph in that section, which now is more straight (I want to avoid "wavy" Alephs; I prefer straight lines).
Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Judaica

A childhood friend of mine started this interesting Judaica website featuring Hebrew calligraphy works by his late grandfather. They have good prices and free shipping; here are two of my favorites.



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Amazing Megillot #11: Megillah Case


I saw this magnificent Megilla case in the Mamila shop of Haddad Brothers, in Jerusalem. I have seen many cases, but this one is my all time favorite - the craftsmanship stands out, with many details and of course, a whopping high price of 192,000 shekels/55,000usd. It's unfortunate that my 11-lined Megillah is too fat to fit there!

My Sefer Torah #2

I didn't write much yet, but I decided to post anyways.

I'm a little rusty as I haven't done any Safrut in the past year, and contrary to my tutor's advice, I started from the very beginning. He argued that it would take me a bit of time to get used to writing a Torah and because of that I should leave the beginning for when I'm in top form, as people usually look at the beginning of a scroll more carefully and this would hide my learning curve.

But to me, this is like a journey. And the beginning will be difficult and far from perfect but if you think about it, everything in life is like that. So it felt right to start from Bereishis.



I had difficulty writing the large initial Bet in the right proportions. Ideally, it should be not only taller but also lower than the other letters. When I realized it wasn't low enough, it was too late, so I left it like that. Also, I was careful to make the four taggim in the large Bet (see here my post on this), a Minhag recorded in the Masechet Sofrim that is often times neglected. The Masechet Sofrim can be found as an appendium to the Talmud and it's one of the earliest compediums dealing exclusively with Safrut. I rarely see Sofrim doing these four Taggim but I've heard that Davidovici, the most revered Sofer of our time, does it too. I don't really know the reason behind these four Taggim, I would welcome suggestions

You can see that my writing is very thick (7mm), something I do in purpose. I think it's nicer and more ornate but it does causes me to think more about how to fit the lameds and long chafs without touching other lines. You can see I left a space in the second line - I wrote the Lamed of Elokim below it too tall. That's a problem.

I also have to fix the minor "blurps" in the works Le'or and Rokia.

Also my kulmus wasn't great, so it took me a long time to write this little segment. All in all, I at the same time a little dissapointed with the sluggish start but in the other hand happy with the overall look, which is at least nice and uniform.

I welcome any comments, positive or negative.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Sefer Torah #1: Getting Started

This post is actually a follow-up to my post about how many lines my Torah will have.

I B"H managed to exchange the 42 lines klafim I had purchased for a special 48 lines klafim, a number which is favored by the Keset Hasofer and many others. Being that I live in Europe, it was really diificult to make the exchange, making me realize how difficult it is to get the gear needed to write a Torah - ink, kulmus, klaf and tikkun - from afar. It's interesting how the Safrut world is not yet in the information age and that most suppliers I dealt with didn't even have email - a cellphone is already unusual in these circles.

A notable exception is hasofer.com, run by Rabbi Moshe Flumenthal. I found his shop by chance in Jerusalem in my last trip to the city and from my experience, he was easy to reach, efficient and very helpful. I got ink, kulmusim and other basic supplies from him. But for the tikkun and klafim I have other sources and it was really hard to pull all together. But thank Gd all is set and I got started.

Here you can see my safrus "cage". Until now I didn't write with an inclined table but I'm testing it, hoping it will be better for my back. Let's see.

It's interesting to note how many times there's the word Elokim in the first page of the Tikkun, while the four letter Shem doesn't appear at all - see image below. That fits with the concept that the world was created with Middat HaDin, which is represented by Elokim.


Here is my "keset", or base, that I adapted from Parker. The ink is obviously not from them; I use Nahari. Next time I will post more of my writing. Chag Sameach.




Thursday, August 22, 2013

How many lines should my Torah Scroll Have?

So after some 4 years in the waiting, the stars seemed to have aligned for me and I have the time, place and yishuv hada'as to start writing my own Sefer Torah.

I met my Jerusalem-based tutor, who is also a klafim maker, and asked him for some yerios to get started. He asked, "so what size do you want and how many lines?", making me realize I had no idea of this key technicality. He told me the standard sizes are 45cm, 48cm or 50cm long klaf and since the table I use for writing is rather small I went for the smaller option, 45cm.

When I got back home in Europe, I realized I still needed a tikkun. And that's when things got really complicated.

Everyone I asked told me to call a Rabbi in Bnei Brak who's the authoritative tikkun-maker today, and I had a very interesting conversation with him. It turns out that until some 30 years ago, Sofrim didn't really have a good tikkun to copy from. They either used Chumashim, old codices like the Berdichev Codice or another Sefer Torah, until the renowed Sofer Davidovich took on himself to write a Tikkun for others to copy from, arranging all the Torah in Amudim of 42 lines. Now that's the important piece of information - 42 lines. In this arrangement, Davidovich's tikkun had 245 columns ("amudim"), and after some feedback from fellow Sofrim, who said that the lines where too "cramped", Davidovich made a longer, spaced up version of 247 Amudim.

Just a side point, it's important not to underestimate Davidovich's work - it was not easy to make the tikkun. In these days there was no PC and Davidovich had to arrange everything in his mind as he wrote - a work of a genius. And there are many rules to follow, for instance, we have a Mesora that some columns of the Torah must start with specific words - ביה שמו is the acronym for such columns (see in the right the column of "Yehuda Ata" which is one of these columns). Davidovich also followed the Minhag of starting all other columns with words containing a Vav as their first letter ("Vavei Amudim" - similar concept to the Hamelech Megillot) - further restricting the arrangement of the letters in the columns.

From then on, the 42-lined Tikkun became the standard tikkun all Sofrim used. For that reason, I understood why the Tikkun of 45cm I purchased from my tutor was also made for a 42 lines tikkun - this is virtually the case in all modern Sefer Torahs you will see.

This Rabbi told me that around five years ago, a Sofer asked him if he could supply him with an unusual 48 lines tikkun. He answered he only had the standard 42 lines arrangement but with the help of the computer and his experience, he could make a new one, although that would take time and money. The Sofer accepted it and because of him, now you can get a newer, more mehudar tikkun of 48 lines from this tikkun-maker. In other words, until five years ago there was no tikkun other than the 42 lines in the market for Ashkenazi scribes.

But why is the 48-lined tikkun better? Is it more Mehudar after all?

If you research deeper, you will realize that in Halacha, the 42 lined Tikkun is subject to debate. The most authoritative Sefer in Safrut, the Keset Hasofer, says (13:6):

(The Sofrim) have a custom of using (a tikkun) of not less than 48 lines and some say 42 lines and not more than 60 (...)

He comments further that the source is the Masechet Sofrim, an appendice to the Talmud, which says that the Amud should have at least 42 lines like the number of travels of the Hebrews in the desert. However, the Rambam (here), Tur and Rosh all say, based on the same source, that ideally the Amud should have no less than 48 lines and the Keset Hasofer concludes that they must have had a different version of this Masechet Sofrim, a very likely possibility as this Masechta is full of variant readings. But all in all, that's the reason why the new 48-lined tikkun this Rabbi has now is more mehudar.

The Keset Hasofer concludes that if it's possible one should write with at least 48 lines rather than 42. If it's too difficult, it's ok to write in 42 lines.

Interestingly, the Rambam also reveals that when he wrote his own Sefer Torah, he wrote in Amudim of 51 lines, which is within the ideal 48-60 bracket of how many lines a column should have. For this very reason, the Yemenite Jews to this day write their Torah with tikkunim of 51 lines in line with their custom of following all of the Rambam's rulings.

The truth is that the vast majority of old Sifrei Torahs have at least 48 lines or more (the recently discovered Bologna Torah has 48 lines, see on the right a 70-lines Torah, see here for 58 and see here for 55-lined examples); only the modern ones have the prevalent 42 that is the standard today.

My million dollar question is why Davidovich decided to write his Tikkun speicfically with 42 lines when he could have chosen to write with 48 or more lines. I don't know the answer to this question but one thing is for sure, the current 42-lines tikkun has 247 columns while a 48 lines tikkun has 213 or so - the extra columns of the 42 tikkun is extra money for the klafim-makers so perhaps they lobbied for this. Just a conspiracy theory...

Coming back to my case, I was thinking to give back the few yeriot of 42 lines I bought and make a special order of the unusal 48 lines klafim. I will only write one Sefer Torah and why not do it in the most Mehudar way?

My priority is to have the best, smoothest klaf possible - that's also a hiddur. When writing my 11-lined Megillah I got one bad yeria and it's really torture to write in bad klaf. If I make a special order for 48-lines klaf, I was afraid that since I couldn't pick and choose - special order means that the klaf is made to measure - I would surely get a few bad yerios without having the luxury of rejecting them. However if I went for a standard size, I could look around and be picky. So in one hand you have the hiddur of 48 lines without a guarantee of top klaf and in the other you have a 42 lines tikkun with a guarantee that you can always get the best klaf. Quite a paradox.

After another chat with my tutor, I learned that when making a special order you can request another hiddur - that the klaf should be "made without a tnai" i.e. that the person making this klaf has in mind that the klaf will be used for a Sefer Torah, and not for the lesser kedushot of Mezuza and Tefillin (normally he has in mind a condition - "tnai" - that he is making it for whatever purpose the sofer chooses - either for Torah or Tefillin or Mezuza).

So what did I decide? I will return the few yerios of 42 lines I got and make the special order for 48 lines klaf, taking a chance with the quality of the klaf. Maximum I will throw a few yerios away. Like this I have two extra hiddurim, 48 lines and klaf without tnai.

I will see in the coming weeks if all has worked out and if I end up receiving the new klaf. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eiruvin 64: Torah Scroll's Amulet Power


I found this interesting custom, mentioned in the Talmud in this week's Daf Yomi cycle:
R. Aba and R. Menasiya: One who takes possession of the property of a convert [who died without heirs] should buy a Sefer Torah [with some of the money. People will envy him, for he profited without toil. The Mitzvah will protect him from Ayin ha'Ra'ah];

Rav Sheshes: The same applies even to one who married a woman with property. (He may use her property. He should buy a Sefer Torah with some of the profits);
Rava: The same applies even to one who profited from a business venture;
Rav Papa: The same applies even to [smaller profits that come easily, e.g.] one who found a lost object [in a case that he may keep it].
Version #1 (our text) (Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak): Even writing Tefilin will protect him. (end of Version #1)
Rav Chanin or R. Chanina: He learns from "va'Yidar Yisrael Neder..." (Bnei Yisrael vowed to be Makdish spoils that they will take from the nation that was about to fight them.) source

            It emerges from this Gemara that the Torah Scroll seems to have some sort of amulet power which will protect the person who got this money from envy. Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchak goes a step further and says that not only a Torah Scroll, which is used in public and seen by all, protects the person; even a Tefillin, which is private and usually hidden from the eyes of the public will protect the person's newfound fortune against Evil Eye (ayin harah).

           This is Rashi's understanding of the Talmud and it is quite puzzling. It's novel to say that the Torah Scroll and Tefillin have amulet-like powers and we actually only find this in the laws of Mezuza, which has the unique feature of protecting one's house. But that's a priori unique to Mezuza (see here a long and interesting achademic dissertation about that), and Rashi seems to somehow extend this property to Torah Scrolls and Tefillin as well. 
           The Meiri interprets this piece slightly different, ignoring the Evil Eye issue in his usual rationalistic approach to things. In his opinion, the person who  inherited money should use part of it for a Miztva solely so he shouldn't forget that this money is not his nor a result of his skills; it came to him because Hashem granted him this good fortune and the Torah Scroll (or Tefillin) will remind him that. According to this, the Gemara mentioned Sefer Torah and Tefillin solely as an example of a physical Mitzva which can remind the person about this important lesson.
          Now we get the last and most dissonant interpretation - the Maharsha. He doesn't understand why according to Rashi/Meiri, the Talmud writes that one should be "koneh" (buy) a Sefer Torah whereas when speaking about the Tefillin, the Gemara writes that one can even "kosev" (write) a Tefillin. The Maharsha says this doesn't makes sense - if anything, there's a clear Miztva of writing a Torah Scroll yourself opposed to Tefillin which doesn't necessarily needs to be written personally. Based on a differing manuscript of the Talmud, the Maharsha says that the Gemara means to say that only a Torah Scroll will be effective in protecting one's wealth. Period. The Tefillin will not. The proper understanding of the piece of Gemara which speaks about Tefillin is radically different:  
Version #2 (Maharsha's preferred text) (Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak): The same applies even to one who profits from writing Tefilin [in spite of Chachamim's prayer that scribes not get rich. He should attribute this to Hash-m, and buy a Sefer Torah].

        In other words, the Gemara in this version never said that even a Tefillin will protect you. The Gemara is talking about a specific case - a scribe who manages to make a lot of money from a pair of Tefillin.   


    Tuesday, May 14, 2013

    Auction Sefer Torah


    Nice recent story from a friend:

    "Since we mainly hear negative things that the internet produces, please read the following true story that happened to me over the last few days - it involves a rare Mitzvah that I have B'H managed to be mekayem - and the Mitzvah came our way ......thanks to the internet!
     
    I recently came across an "on-line" auction taking place in Berlin and whilst viewing the various lots to be auctioned - I saw one particular lot that gave me a big shock!
     
    I saw a picture of a sefer toireh that had been taken 'upside-down' and could see that the sefer was open to Parshas VeZois Habrucheh and the description of the auction was: 19th Century Jewish Scroll in very good condition. Size 98 Centimeters (they did not even know exactly what type of Jewish scroll it was (they may have thought that it was some type of megilloh) and had pictured it upside-down!).
     
    The Auction of this lot was fixed for Saturday. I could not believe my eyes - a Sefer Toireh of circa 200 years old to be sold on a Shabbos in Berlin?!
     
    I phoned up the Auction House and told them that I was interested in purchasing this lot but since I was an Orthodox Jew and  Orthodox Jews must not do business on the Sabbath, could they please assist me by moving the Auction date of this lot to Friday or any other day of the week - excluding Shabbos. They said that they would discuss it with the Auction House owner but did not believe that he would agree to move an Auction due to 'my religious problem'.
     
    I received a call back a day later telling me that the owner did not agree to move the auction date but if I wanted to, they would accept a bid from me in advance of the Auction which would be submitted by the Auctioneer on my behalf on Shabbos.
     
    They told me that the minimum that the Seller was looking to achieve was circa 5.000 EUR (including Auction commission). I was also told that the Owner of the "scroll" was a Goy - a dealer in Antiques. I immediately had a Shaaloh - was I allowed to submit a bid before Shabbos for a Sefer Toireh that was to be sold on a Shabbos?
     
    The Shaaloh was presented to Rav Padwa and he paskened that in order to be Matzil a Sefer Toireh - one was allowed to put in a bid before Shabbos as Hatzolas Sefer Toireh Midei Nochri was allowed via a chilul shabbos deRabonnon (mekach uMemker al yedei Nochri)
     
    I decided to speak again to the Auctioneer and asked him more details about the Sefer Toireh - the Seller did not want to provide any more information but they had tested the wood and silver atzei chaim and it was dated from the 19th Century. I understood that this was possibly a sefer toireh that a goy had stolen from a Shul on Kristallnacht and it had been hidden in the Goy's family for the last 75 years+ - but was already over 100 years old before Kristallnacht.
     
    I discussed this with my shutef and we decided that since it was 'bashert' that this goy was silly enough to have placed the sefer in an auction on shabbos - hopefully no Jew would buy it and if it was left unsold - we would be able to buy it at a cheaper price.
     
    B'H - our calculation of what would happen on Shabbos was correct - and on Monday after the auction I called the Auctioneer and it had been left unsold - no bidders at all! I decided to ask a Shaaloh here in London and in Eretz Yisroel when I was there last week, regarding the Shaaloh of being poideh a sefer toireh midei nochri and whether it mattered if the sefer was kosher or possul and the psak was clear - there is a chiyuv and a mitzvah to be poideh the sefer (no difference if kosher or possul) from the goy and it was a rare mitzvah nowadays almost 70 years after the end of World War 2.
     
    I  wrote a long email to the Auction House and asked them to pass it on to the Owner of the Sefer. I mentioned in my email that a Sefer Toireh only had any value if it was Kosher and since this scroll will require major amount of work by a soifer to repair it - it was not worth much money at all and certainly nothing near the 5.000 EUR he was looking for, but if he agreed to sell it to us for 2.000 EUR, we would agree to buy it from him. B'H on Erev Shabbos - we received an email back from the Auction House and the owner has agreed to sell it to us at this price.
     
    We expect to receive the Sefer Toireh in London this week and B'H we managed to mekayem a special & rare mitzvah". See the actual pictures of this Torah Scroll.










    Tuesday, December 18, 2012

    The Aleppo Codex: Book Review from a Scribe's Perspective

    I've been meaning to write about the Aleppo/Ben Asher Codex for a long time. Now that Matti Friedman came out with a masterpiece book on this topic, I will try my best to write about how this Codex is very relevant for Safrut enthusiasts and scribes in particular.

    Briefing

    Until now I had only seen books on this subject from scholars, aimed for the academic audience. Matti's book is a mainstream book written like a thriller, so it's a very enjoyable and easy read. Matti is careful to create an interesting story line while sticking to the facts and stating his sources in the appendix, chapter by chapter. He successfully provides the full context in which the fabulous story of the Codex took place and goes back and forth in time delving into the historical relevance of the book and also how it affected so many different people and communities throughout its existence.

    The Story (short version + spoliers)

    The Ben Asher Codex was written sometime in the 10th century c.e., in Tiberias while the  Masoretes were focusing in gathering and establishing the Mesora of vowels, words and missing letters of the Torah. Aaron Ben Asher was the prince of the Masoretes and his codex was widely believed to be the most accurate ever produced, an opinion shared by Maimonides when he saw this book in his own desk in Fustat some centuries later.

    The Codex eventually was brought to the Aleppo community, where it was guarded for many centuries until the Arab riots following the creation of the State of Israel. That's when Matti's book gets more interesting.

    In 1958, the Aleppo Rabbis sent the Codex with Faham, who was fleeing to Israel via Alexandretta (Turkey). Faham was supposed to give the Codex to the head of the Syrian community in Israel but instead, he gave it to the head of the Aliya Department, Shragai, who gave it to the then President of Israel, Ben Tzvi, a turn of events that triggered a court case a few years later.

    The big question discussed in Matti's book is the fact the only about 65% of the Aleppo Codex is in possession of the Ben Zvi Institute in Israel today. What happened to the rest? Interesting to note that the missing pages pretty much cover the whole Bible part of the Codex - the most important section. What we have today is pretty much most of Book of Prophets (Neviim) and Book of Writings (Ketuvim).

    To summarize Matti's research, all the possibilities are narrowed down to two options. Either the agent of the Aliya Department in Alexandretta stole the missing parts from Faham, who publicly complained he had been robbed there. Or the Codex was received by President Itzhak Ben Zvi in its entirety but after it was stored in the Institute, someone stole it - other very important manuscripts were reported missing in the early days of the Institute. These two possibilities were and still are potentially very embarrassing for the Israeli authorities so the Institute did their best to cover-up and have always adopted the version that the missing parts were lost in the mob of the Aleppo synagogue, a version that is conclusively not true according to Matti. He also brings good evidence that the missing parts were actually in the manuscript black market as late as 1985, in a colorful story featuring the Bukharian jeweler Shlomo Moussaief (see here a NYT Magazine article based on Matti's book with some additional reporting)

    sample page of the Codex with Ben Asher's Masoretic notes
    Halachic Status of the Aleppo Codex

    The Rambam (Maimonides) explicitly pushed for the usage of the Aleppo/Ben Asher Codex, and here you can see verbatim:

    :(משנה תורה" (הלכות ספר תורה פרק ח הלכה ד"
    וספר שסמכנו עליו בדברים אלו הוא הספר הידוע במצרים שהוא כולל ארבעה ועשרים ספרים שהיה בירושלים מכמה שנים להגיה ממנו הספרים ועליו היו הכל סומכין לפי שהגיהו בן אשר ודקדק בו שנים הרבה והגיהו פעמים רבות כמו שהעתיקוּ ועליו סמכתי בספר התורה שכתבתי כהלכתו


    Although the Rosh argues on the Rambam in regards to the layout of the "open" and "closed" Parshiot (see my post about this here), the Shulchan Aruch ruled that if it's impossible to write it in a universal layout, which both Rambam and Rosh will agree, one should follow the Rambam because he had the Aleppo/Ben Asher Codex in his possession and based his opinion on this Codex, which is superior to all others. Therefore the opinion of the Rosh is "overruled" by the Ben Asher Codex.

    After the Ben Asher Codex found its way to Aleppo, the community safeguarded it as a holy relic and effectively made it impossible for other communities to fully study it, so its unique features remained unnacessible for the Ashkenazi scribes by and large throughout the centuries.

    Halachic Implications of the Codex

    As the years passed, the Ben Zvi Institute made the Aleppo Codex available for the public and recently many groups started to push its adoption for the scrolls of the Na"ch. The Aleppo Codex differs from the traditional layout used in Megillat Esther, for instance, and that alone would be a significant controversy since all Jewish communities use this scroll in Purim for public readings, and any change would no doubt bring disputes.

    But aside from the Megillat Esther issue, some communities have custom of reading the Shabbat's Haftarot from scrolls and adopting the Aleppo Codex would also bring disputes. This custom was instituted by the Gr"a, one of Judaism's brightest minds, and anybody living in Jerusalem has seen this numerous times - many of the early settlers of Jerusalem were disciples of the Gr"a and in general, the holy city follows his customs. The Gr"a instructed the scribes to use what is known in the field as the Berditchev tikkun layout, a puzzling book that doesn't conform with the Aleppo Codex layout in the Neviim and Ketuvim.

    So in no time, there was a battle between the Jerusalem-based disciples of the Gr"a, who always wrote their Na"ch scrolls according to the Gr"a's Berdichev tikkun versus Bnei Brak, one of Israel centers of Torah learning and a city who generally doesn't follow the Gr"a customs. The Bnei Brak-based groups favored the use of the Aleppo Codex, as it is undeniably the most accurate one.

    So any scribe trying to buy a Tikkun, his personal codice to guide him in layout and spelling, will find different options depending where he goes. In Jerusalem, the shops will usually sell Tikunim following the instructions of the Gr"a while in Bnei Brak you will see some Aleppo Codex options too. But even more than that, there's a war of words betweeen the two camps, and when I got my Tikkunim, I snapped some pictures from both sides' claims. See below, the first two are from Talmidei HaGra and the last is from the Aleppo Codex backers.



    So as you see, the 65% of what we have from the Crown already brought considerate challenges and disputes in the Safrut world and not all have backed its adoption. You can only begin to imagine what would've happened if we had all the Codex, more specifically , the Bible part. While the usage of scrolls for Na"ch is limited, all Jewish communities and synagogues have numerous Torah scrolls and continue to write new ones every day. If the Aleppo Codex for the Bible would be available, I anticipate that we would have a similar, but much more heated war of words and I wonder how many communities would start adopting the Aleppo Codex for their own scrolls.