Thursday, February 12, 2009

Keset Hasofer and my Amazing Find

Countless books were written about Safrut throughout the centuries. The library of a Sofer must surely include the basics: Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Mishnat Sofrim (authored by the Chafetz Haim) and the Talmud passages relating to the writing of Sefer Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzot. But anyone trying to get down to the practical Halacha will soon find that the plethora of information in this subject makes it difficult to get the final answer of rather basic questions, like the permissibility of writing with feathers, opposed to reeds. This question is a very telling example. If one will only look at the Tur and Shulchan Aruch he will conclude that it's prohibited
to write with feathers, as stated in these books. But, hey, all Ashkenazi sofrim do write with feathers, so what is going on?

That's when the Keset Hasofer comes into the picture. Authored by same author of the popular Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried, this sefer intended to organize and give a final answer to all Safrut-related questions. Like he did in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Ganzfried compiled this book in a way anyone could understand and the Keset Hasofer was accepted as the last word for all Ashkenazi sofrim. For instance, he writes that the minhag of the scribes is to use feather quills and that there's absolutely nothing wrong with this practice. The final answer.

One of the leading rabbis of European Jewry in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Chatam Sofer said that no sofer could start to write a Sefer Torah, Mezuza or Tefillin before mastering the Keset Hasofer. In fact, he wrote the Haskama (letter of aprobation) featured in the beggining of the Keset Hasofer, alongside with the Haskama of the Tzanz Rebbe, also known as the Divrei Chaim.

Besides writing about the Halachot of Safrut, Rabbi Ganzfried decided between conflicting versions of the Torah and Megillat Esther, and that was perhaps his most important contribution to the Safrut world. Although all Jews have virtually the same text of the Torah, there are very few places - actually seven instances - where it's unclear how to write a particular word and the codices we posses have conflicting versions. Rabbi Ganzfried ruled which versions to follow in the latter part of the Keset Hasofer and thanks to him, we all follow the same unified text of the Torah (as I will explain in another post, the Teimanim differ).

Having all this in mind, I knew I had to buy the Keset Hasofer but I couldn't find it anywhere. I tried the usual book shops in Jerusalem, to no avail. So I forgot about it. I started to search for another important work, the Torah Shelema of Rabbi Kasher, and a friend directed me to a used-books shop in Mea Shearim. The smallest bookshop I've ever seen, this shop was specialized in old books but it is almost impossible to find anything there - all books, from the Zohar to Feldheim, are mixed together. So I decided to leave, but in my last look back something got my attention - a very old Keset Hasofer.

Unable to hide my excitement to the shop keeper, I was really happy to see that the book was in mint condition, despite its age. As I opened the front page, I saw the date - 1902. And I could also read the name of the owner in the top - "Aharon Toisig". I was sure this was no coincidence - this book was destined to come to my hands! So after some half hour discussing the price, I got this book for 120 shekels, or 30 dollars, a bargain.

Below are some pictures of this sefer.


Mordechai Pinchas/Marc Michaels said...

A real bargain - fantastic. Great old copy of Keset. It is the main text but actually in certain areas the halacha has moved on from Keset and Mishna Brurah on Tefillin is more authoratative in that particular area.

YK said...

Hey Marc,

I'm not as knowledgeable in Tefillin, but the Keset was more user-friendly to me than the Mishnat Sofrim, for instance.


naomi said...

Love your blog. Also, you can get the copy in PDF form here:

YK said...

hi naomi
tks so much, I hope you keep coming back!
tks for the hebrewbooks link, I didn't see it there before. amazing site.