Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hanukka Candles and Mezuza

There's an interesting Halacha in Hanuka that is connected to the Safrut topic.

The Talmud in Shabbos (22a) says:
אמר רבה נר חנוכה מצוה להניחה בטפח הסמוכה לפתח והיכא מנח ליה רב אחא בריה דרבא אמר מימין רב שמואל מדפתי אמר משמאל והילכתא משמאל כדי שתהא נר חנוכה משמאל ומזוזה מימין
Rabbah said: The Hanukkah lamp should be placed within the handbreadth nearest the door. And where is it placed? — R. Aha son of Raba said: On the right hand side: R. Samuel of Difti said: On the left hand side. And the law is, on the left, so that the Hanukkah lamp shall be on the left and the mezuzah on the right.

From the Talmud is clear that the best place to light the Chanukia is by the door. But what door are we referring to? In Talmudic times people generally lived in houses with front gardens, and this Gemara is referring to the door which connects the garden to the street,that is, the garden door. That was the best place to publicize the miracle of Hanukka to the passerbyes. In addition to this, when lighting by the door you have on one side a Mezuza and in the other the Hanukka candles and that's something desirable. The Meiri explains why:


ותהא נר חנוכת משמאל
 ופירושו בתגדת ויבא בעל הבית בתפליו ובטלית מצוייצת ביניהם
 חונה מלאך ה׳ סביב ליראיו ויחלצם
The Hanukka candles should be placed in the left and the Haggada explains that by doing this, the man will come to the door with his Tallit and Tefillin in between them (Hanukka candles and Mezuza), in accordance to the Pasuk "Hashem places his angel around those who fear him".


So in other words, the point is to be surrounded by Mitzvot - Mezuza, Hanukka candles, Tefillin and Tallit.
The  Masechet Sofrim , a much earlier work, puts it differently:


"in accordance to the verse מה יפית ומה נעמת (How Beautiful and pleasant you are), מה יפית במזוזה ומה נעמת בנר חנוכה"

Unlike the Meiri, this explanation is more obscure and difficult to understand. How is this verse connected to placing the Mezuza at the right and candles at the left?

Be it as it may, this custom of lighting the Hanukka candles at the door fell in disuse in the last centuries. As people moved to the cities and colder climates, it was quite difficult and often times impossible to light at the door facing the street. The vast majority of people today don't have garden doors as they either live in apartments or in houses that have no front gardens. In addition to that, at many points in history Jews felt uncomfortable publicizing the Mitzva because of anti-semitism concerns, so the custom became to light inside the house either by the window or hidden somewhere in the house (in case of fear of persecution). 

In some cases, lighting by the window is also not a good alternative- for example, nobody will see the Hanukiot at the windows of a high penthouse apartment. In these cases, you should light by any door of your house (preferably the most used door) in order to light the candles next to the Mezuza as mentioned in the Talmud. 

In Israel today, there's a widespread initiative to light by the door at the streets once again, as it's fairly common there to have garden doors and there's no fear of anti-semitism. So as you can see, there are many opinions and different possibilities in choosing where to light your candles. I hope I helped you find the right one! Happy Hanukka

Friday, December 9, 2011

My Progress #8: 3rd Mezuza - Big Size

I'm moving soon to a new house and I will need quite a few Mezuzot, so wrote a third Mezuza. This time, I used a big size klaf, with lines as big as a Sefer Torah. And unlike the previous two Mezuzot, I used a plastic kulmus to write as it saves me a lot of time.
I did not check if it's Kosher yet so feel free to check and find mistakes, although I hope it is Kosher.
I will send it to be checked soon and I will post the comments of the Magia here.

A few hints: in the beggining of the second line the words Hashem and Elokecha are written a bit too close. In my opinion is perfectly Kosher because there's a space of a small Yud in between. Additionally, in two instances there a very close call for a Negia but with the naked eye I don't see a Negia.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Ink

The title of this post is rather short and simple but this topic in Safrut is obscure, confusing and very challenging. The scribes usually pay little attention to what ink they use - most will just buy what's offered in the Safrut stores - but there are many opinions and the conclusion is somewhat unclear. There are very few resources on the web in English on this topic and here I hope to organize everything concisely for you.

The earliest record we have about the Halachot of ink is brought in the Jerusalem Talmud, Megilla 12 (פרק א הלכה ט):

הלכה למשה מסיני שיהו כותבין בעורות וכותבין בדיו

One of the Halachot of Moshe taught in Sinai is that you should write (Sta"m) in parchement and write it with ink..


From this we see that a scribe must use ink and not other materials when writing Torahs, Tefillins and Mezuzot. The big question is if this Halacha refers to a specific, "holy" ink or just any black ink.

What's the diference? Well, there are two ways of making ink:

Carbon-based ink is made from soot or charcoal dust...soot was gathered from burning vegetable or animal fats. Charcoal dust was produced by burning vegetable matter such as beech trees or cedars... It is very clear that this was the ink used by Moshe Rabbeinu and onwards until recently. The ink the the Dead Sea scrolls is carbon based.

Iron-based ink is made from oak-nut galls, green vitriol, also called copperas...its chemical formula is FeSO4, 7H2O, that is, iron sulfate crystallized with seven water molecules... This is the ink used by virtually all Jewish scribes in the past few centuries.

If Moshe wrote with a specific ink how can we use something else? The Gemara discusses this topic in, Eiruvin 13A:
תניא רבי יהודה אומר ר״מ היה אומר לכל מטילין קנקנתום
לתוך הדיו חוץ מפרשת סוטה
R. Judah stated: R. Meir laid down that vitriol may be put into 
ink intended for any purpose except [that of writing]
the Pentateuchal section dealing with a suspected wife.
דתניא אמר ר״מ כשהייתי אצל
ר׳ ישמעאל הייתי מטיל קנקנתום לתוך הדיו
ולא אמר לי דבר כשבאתי אצל רבי עקיבא
אסרה עלי
for it was taught: R. Meir related, ‘When I was with R. Ishmael 
I used to put vitriol into my ink and he told me nothing [against it], but
when I subsequently came to R. Akiba, the latter forbade it to me.’

So here you have a classic Talmudic discussion - Rabbi Akiva against Rabbi Ishmael - about the permissibility of using Kankatum in the ink used for scribal work. So we have two types of ink; with and without this ingredient.

First, we need to understand what is Kankatum. Rashi there identifies it to be "adriment" in French, also known as Atramentum. However most commentators identify Kankatum as Vitriol, which in Latin refers to any metal sulfate but in this case, is identified to be specifically iron sulfate (also known as Copperas). Ink written with Kankatum is iron-based ink.

So the big question is what is the Maskana (conclusion) of the Gemara and who's opinion we follow in practice in regards to adding Kankatum.

Another way to understand this discussion is if there is a specific "holy" ink that must be used for writing Stam. Those who think that you can add Kankatum believe that any black ink is permissible even tough Moshe used a different ink but those who forbid it do believe that there's a specific "holy" ink and that Moshe in Sinai instructed us to write only with this specific ink.

Since almost every Rishon speaks about this topic, I will limit this discussion to the Halacha Lemaase, that is, practical Halacha. There are three main codifiers - Rosh, Rif and Rambam - and if two of the three follow one opinion, Halacha will follow it as well. So what do they say?
Rosh (Gitin 2:10): (Mei Tarya and) Afatzim can be used, unless the parchment was treated with Afatzim, for then the ink will not be visible.
R. Tam (cited in Rosh Hilchos Sefer Torah Siman 6): Ink made with Afatzim is not called ink. A Mishnah (Gitin 19a) discusses ink and dyes Kosher for a Get. R. Chiya's (our text - R. Chanina's) Beraisa permits Mei Tarya and Afatzim. It adds to the Mishnah. This shows that Afatzim are not called ink!
Rebuttal (Rosh): Afatzim themselves are not called ink, until they are mixed with sap. Then, it can be used to write even on a parchment treated with Afatzim.
We see from the Rosh that even an unusual ingredient like Afatzim (galls) can be used in the ink, as long as is mixed with other ingredient (and that it is black)
Rambam (Hilchos Tefilin 1:4): To make the ink, we gather the smoke of oils, tar, wax or similar things, and knead it with tree sap and a little honey. We soak it very much and pound it until it is like wafers. We dry it and store it. When it is time to write, we soak it in Mei Afatzim or similar things, so if it is erased, it will be erased. This (carbon based ink) is the best ink for Seforim, Tefilin and Mezuzos. If any of the three were written with Mei Afatzim and vitriol, which cannot be erased, it is Kosher.
The Rambam prefers to use the original carbon-based ink but clearly states that iron-based is also good. He, like the Rosh, doesn't think that there's a holy ink that must be used for Stam. For the Rambam, any black durable ink is acceptable.


The Rif is silent in this topic but we already have two views from the three permitting any ingredient to be added to the ink. So the Halacha in Shulchan Aruch is indeed like the Rambam and Rosh:

Shulchan Aruch (YD 271:6): A Sefer Torah must be written with ink made from smoke of oils soaked in Mei Afatzim.
 If it was written with Mei Afatzim and vitriol, it is Kosher.
This is the practical Halacha - you can use any ink, although the best one is the original, carbon-based ink. This was the simple part. Now you can fully appreciate the complications if you want:

1. When the Rambam says "If any of the three were written with Mei Afatzim and vitriol, which cannot be erased, it is Kosher." it sounds like it is Kosher Bedieved, that is, impromptu. If so, why do we write today with vitriol (iron-based) if it is only Bedieved? 

Answer: If a sofer has both inks to choose from, indeed the carbon-based is prefered. But for a few centuries already, we don't know how to make a good carbon-based ink and therefore we are only left with the iron-based ink(Birkei Yosef), which is also good and in such situation it's used even Lekatchila (Keset Hasofer).

It's interesting to note that even the Teimanim, who always follow the rulings of the Rambam, use the iron-based ink for many centuries already, certainly for the same reason.

Here and there, some innovative scribes tried to come up with reliable carbon-based inks and some had success. It is said that R' Reuven, a very esteemed Chasidic scribe whol lived some 200 years ago, only used carbon ink and the same is said about R' Netanel Tfilinsky, who lived in the early 1900's and developed a secret carbon ink that still looks good in his works (people collect them). But the fact is that there hasn't been a reliable carbon-ink for Safrut in the market for many centuries now.


Zvi Shkedi, a Chabad scientist from Scranton (see his knol here and his video about this topic), recently started to produce a carbon-based ink that is available for purchase - I purchased a bottle for a try. While I dislike his vitriolic (pun intended) attacks on our esteemed iron-based ink, his work is interesting and perhaps a game changer. I will leave my complaints and my compliments about his Dio Lanetzach for another post.


2. Rabbeinu Tam understands that the conclusion of the Talmud Eiruvin, brought above, is like the opinion that forbids Virtriol (iron-based) ink and therefore he unequivocally states that a Sefer Torah written with iron-based ink is Pasul! Why we don't consider his opinion?

This is actually the third instance in Safrut of a discussion between Rabbeinu Tam and his uncle Rashi, who holds that iron-based ink is 100% Kosher. How fascinating is to think that the grandson disqualified the Torah of the grandfather! Remember that their discussions are based in earlier discussions as explained in my earlier posts. Be it as it may, we have demonstrated above that Halacha Lemaase does not render iron ink Pasul and that's all that matters.

A very liberal blogger asked a seemingly powerful question. Why do some people put on a second pair of Tefillin that is made according to Rabbeinu Tam if the scribes today write the Tefillin parchements with iron-based ink which is Pasul according to Rabbeinu Tam himself. If you are trying to follow Rabbeinu Tam you should write his Tefillins only with carbon-based inks!

The question is better than the answer. The answer is that the opinions of Rabbeinu Tam throughout the Talmud are not necessarily interdependent. For instance, the first discussion between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam is about the shape of the letter Chet (see here) and the Ashkenazim follow Rabbeinu Tam. In the other hand, there's another discussion about how we should manufacture our Tefillins - once again between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam - and the Ashkenazim follow Rashi's opnion. So they put Rashi's Tefillin but write the letters Chet in it according to Rabbeinu Tam. You see clearly that Halacha will not always follow Rashi nor Rabbeinu Tam; Halacha is dealt in a case by case fashion.

I only wonder if the Belz dynasty, who have a history of adering to Rabbeinu Tam's opinions (as mentioned here), are Machmir to write Stam with carbon based inks. Anyone knows?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Short Q&A - Machon Ot

Founded by Rabbi Yitzchak Shteiner and Rabbi Yitzchak Goldshtein, Machon Ot is a non-profit organization based in Jerusalem which has developed computerized techniques of torah identification.


Every examined scroll is entered into The International Torah Registry, a worldwide computer database assigning a unique torah code (likened to a fingerprint) to every torah scroll analyzed. Using this technique, any torah scroll can be immediately identified and matched with its owner. This technique is the only one used by both The Israel National Police, Interpol and The New York Police Department for returning a recovered stolen torah scroll.


I've seen their sticker in the Aron Kodesh of many Israeli synagogues and they are well known there. This is a great initiative and I hope it catches on in the rest of the world. Their service is very affordable and it can help in case of robbery or loss - something unfortunatedly not uncommon today (see here about a case last year in Europe)


Here's my short interview:


1. When was the Machon founded?
1988. It's a non-profit organization and our mission is to repair and donate Torah to places which do not have a Kosher Torah Scroll.

2. How can a client send a scroll for analysis? Must he send to Israel only or also other locations?

He needs to fill up a registration form and submit it to Israel. We also come to the US from time to time.


3. How many Torah scrolls have the "fingerprint" identification today? 
15000.


4. Do you also analyse other scrolls, like Megillat Esther or only Sefer Torah?
We analyze both Torah Scrolls and Megillat Esther.


5. Do you check who wrote the Sefer Torah you analyze? The scrolls with Machon Ot fingerprint are all Kosher?
We can't know who wrote the Torah but we have signs that tell us if it was written by a Kosher Scribe. We check Kosher and damaged Torahs and provide an estimate in case of need of repair.


6. How much it costs to fingerprint a Torah Scroll, roughly?
About U$100.


7. Did the police recover any scrolls because of the fingerprint? 
Yes, in Yahud (Israel).


8. What's the oldest Torah you received in the Machon?
500 years.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Halacha LeMaase: Hanging Words

A student from Indiana University emailed me some pictures of an old Sefer Torah which reminded me of a
few obscure Halachot. Take a look in the first two pics:


This Torah is written in Veilish - the Sephardic Script - and it has inverted Tzadi (and Shin), which means that it was influenced by the Ktav Ari. The Sofer follows the Rambam's opinion of Parshiot Petuchot and Setumot but he used an odd layout for the Parsha of Shma, not sure why. I will research further.

As you can see, the words of Shema have many extra Taggim which are today only found in our Tefillins (reminds me of the popular practice of writing Sifrei Torah in Ktav Ari, a script was supposed to be used only in Tefillin - click here for my post on this topic). 

The student notes that the parchement is made from sheep skin and although that's very unusual, halachically speaking that's 100% kosher since you can write on the Klaf of any kosher animal - be it deer, sheep or even chicken (never seen this one but it's mentioned by all early sources).

But the most interesting bit comes now:


This section is very interesting - note the ultra small writing. Here's what I think happened.
This Parsha is an "open" parsha (Petucha) but the Sofer originally erred and used the Setumah layout (see the evidence at the end of line 3) which looks like this:

The Sofer only realized the mistake later and it was too late to fix it properly, since the next lines were all in place already. Since this is a mistake that would render a Sefer Torah 100% Pasul, the Sofer came up with an ingenious solution found in Halacha. He erased the words at the end of line 3, effectively erasing the wrong layout and rewrote the words by "hanging" them at the beggining of line 4. This changed the layout to a proper Parsha Petucha (according to the Rambam) and it magically turned the Sefer Torah kosher again.

But can you hang letters? Yes you can. This is already brought in the Tannaic Masecht Sofrim but I could only find this Halacha online in the Aruch Hashulchan:
טעה ודילג תיבה או יותר – יכול לתלותו בין השיטין במקום שנחסר
ולאו דווקא תיבה אחת יכול לתלות בין השיטין, אלא אפילו כמה תיבות ויותר מזה. כתב התשב"ץ (חלק ראשון סימן קע"ו הביאו בבד"ה) דאפילו דילג פסוק שלם – יכול לתלותו בין השיטין, דאין לחלק בין חסרון מרובה לחסרון מועט

That is, that you can always "hang" a letter or even a whole Pasuk on the space between the lines. Now we can fully appreciate the smart solution of this Sofer.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Baruch Shekivanti!

"In the beit midrash, it is considered an exciting delight to find that one's original thought was actually innovated by an earlier source, unbeknownst to the current thinker. This is usually taken to be a vindication of the thought patterns of the learner, and an exoneration of his logic. The happy student may exclaim, 'baruch shekivanti!', which ostensibly means 'blessed is He who directed me [to the same conclusion as source x]'. This phrase has become of modern parlance in orthodox circles, and is used in situations removed from torah learning, as well. (...)" Source
Exactly one year after my novel explanation about the Ot of Cain, which I identified to be the Tav just like the Ot of Mitzraim in Exodus 12:13 , I was shown a source to this claim - the Siftei Chachamim (see here, last line): אות ת רמז בו תחיה כלומר שלא יהרגנו

So it turns out that it was the letter Tav indeed and the Tav is in fact the short version of תחיה, "You shall live". My only source for that until now was Rabbi Kasher's chidush on the Odd letters in the Mezuzot, where he used the same logic. Now the Siftei Chachamim validates Rabbi Kasher's insight and confirms that the Ot of Cain is indeed connected to the Ot of Mitztraim. Fascinating.

It's just remains unclear if Hashem inscribed in Cain the letter Tav in Ktav Ivri or Ashurit. The Ot of Mitzraim was in Ktav Ivri, like an X. So did Cain have our traditional Tav or an X in his forehead?

Just an addendum, the Siftei Chachamim also brings that the letter could have been the Hey, one of the letters in G-d's name. As I mentioned in the original post, the Peirush Hasulam says that it was a Vav. I thought that was all - Tav, Hey and Vav. Then I looked in older Mikraot Gedolot and found this alternative version of the Siftei Chachamim (see here):  אות י רמז בו יחיה כלומר שלא יהרגנו. Somebody obviously messed up in the copying because that is NOT what the Siftei Chachamim says, so in case you see it, it's a clear Taut Sofer, copier's error.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Melechet Shamayim

Just came across a very good blog that also focuses on Safrut. The author is very handy and like experiments, and I specially like his series about Gevil parchment. In fact, I will look for a Gevil on my upcoming trip to Jerusalem. The question is what I should write on it - I'm thinking maybe a Lamnatzeach (see post about it here), a psalm that was inscribed in David's shield for protection. It's short, easy to write and it will look stunning in Gevil.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ze Keili VeAnveihu זה אלי ואנוהו

This is an addendum to one of my earlier posts which discussed Ze Keili Veanveihu.

Just a quick briefing:
"זה אלי ואנוהו" - התנאה לפניו במצוות 
(מסכת שבת קלג/ב)


In that post I mentioned that according to some rabbanim, there's no concept of Ze Keili Veanveihu in something which is concealed from the eye (i.e. Tefillin). Yesterday I saw that the Keset HaSofer explicitly disagrees and even brings a proof from the Aron HaKodesh, which was gold coated not only externally but internally as well. That is because, says the Keset Hasofer, of Ze Keili Veanveihu. See below (here is the original):

 ג) ל כ ת ח ל ה  יכ ת ו ב  כ ת י ב ה  גס ה  ק צ ת  של א  יהיו נמ ח ק י ם  מ ה ר ה  וכ ן
 מצו ר ,  לי פ ו ת ן  מ ב פ נ י ם  שה ר י  בי ה מ ״ ק  הי ה  מצ ו פ ה  זה ב  מ ב פ נ י ם ,

 ה) הס ו פ ר י ם  הז ר י ז ים עו ש י ם  ג׳  מי נ י  קל פ י ם  לש ל  רא ש  ה ע ב  י ו ת ר
 ל כ ת ו ב  בו  פ׳  שמ ע  שה י א  ק ט נ ה ,  ו ה ד ק  ממ נ ו  לפ י  וה י ה  כי
 י ב י א ך  שה י א  יו ת ר  ג ד ו ל ה ,  ול פ י  קד ש  ול פ י  וה י ה  א ם  שס ו ע  שה ן
 א ר ו כ ו ת  עו ש י ם  קל ף  דק  מ א ד  וב ז ה  י ת מ ל א ו  ה ב ת י ם  בש ו ה  וזהו  נו י
 ה פ י ל י ן 
Just delving a bit more in this subject, I think we can use the classical yeshivish distinction of Gavra (גברא) and Cheftza (חפצא) to explain the two sides of this discussion; if the concept of Ze Keili is upon the person (גברא) so he knows what's hidden and if there's something nice in it like a well-written parsha or in the case of the Aron Kodesh, gold coated wood, the person will think he is exalting the Mitzva and it will count as Ze Keili Veanveihu.

However, if Ze Keili relates exclusively to the item (חפצא), then when you look at the item there's nothing special about the hidden gold coat or the special parshiot. The item just looks the same as any other and therefore only an external embelishment will make it special. Hence the wording ZE keili, the word ZE ("this") is usually referred to something you can point at i.e. not hidden.

What option do you think is more correct? If you think nobody would spend money on a hidden embellishment and that therefore the first opinion doesn't make sense, here's a famous story that illustrates the psychology behind the first opinion, although is not Torah related. Here it is - Lehavdil!
Steve Jobs has a many enviable qualities. His attention to detail, his ability to grasp what people actually want, his management style and presentation skills are all things that many CEO's envy.

(...)That scenario almost repeated itself with the original Mac. Upon seeing the mother board Steve deemed it ugly. When designers pointed out that the only service technicians would actually see the motherboard, Steve shot back famously "I'll see it." (source)
 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Saving an Holocaust Torah Scroll - Part II

This is a follow-up of an earlier post.

So here we are, a year since I first saw the Holocaust Torah I wrote about. For a full year nothing much happened and, to my great pain, I wasn't managing to get any breakthrough in saving this very special scroll.

During the course of this year, I kept this story to myself and my family, as I had no interest in spreading a sad story like this one to my friends. But on Shavuot, the day we celebrate the Giving of the Torah, I was sitting next to a family friend who mentioned he was involved with an Holocaust claim in another European city. I then told him about this story and he volunteered to solve the stalemate. A very respected figure in the community, this friend had the connections, experience and the latitude to negotiate the return of the Torah scroll.

In very little time, he was able to mobilize the local Jewish community and gain the support of the city's vice-mayor, Ludo Van Campenhout. After a very eloquent letter from Rabbi Lieberman, the city's Chief Rabbi, this story broke out in the news. Now that this story is public I can give you the specifics. The Torah Scroll is housed in Hendrik Conscience Biblioteek, one of Antwerp's main libraries.

Here is a quick Google translation of the original article, from the Gazet Van Anwterpen:
  

Jews claim the Torah Scroll backJews back to Torah scroll from erfgoedbib
20.9 The Jewish Community of Antwerp is claiming an ancient Torah scroll to be returned from the Heritage Library. But that's not so simple. 
Chief Rabbi Lieberman of the Jewish Community of Antwerp wants the Heritage Library to return an original handwritten Torah scroll to the community. The roll, like a Bible, is now in the archives of the library.According to chief rabbi Lieberman, the Torah scroll's home is at the community's synagogue and that  according to Jewish religious practices, that is the only proper place for such scroll. The Torah scroll has been decades in the library. Only a few years ago, the religious writing was discovered by staff
History
The history of the Torah scroll is as exciting as sinister. The writings, rolled nearly 20 feet long, were given during the Second World War by a Antwerp Jew to the former city librarian.The man hoped this would keep the roll out of the hands of the Germans. And he succeeded. Torah Scrolls during the Second World War were without exception burned. It is likely that the role of the Heritage Library is the only one that survived the German destruction in Antwerp.
"Belongs in the synagogue"
As per Rabbi Lieberman's letter to Ludo Van Campenhout, "I think that really belongs Torah scroll in a synagogue, and I will do whatever I can to return the scroll to the Jewish community."The Heritage Library will restore the Torah scroll and a few years to the public display in the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), where a show about religion in Antwerp will take place. "That seems a good idea. Especially since the Jews themselves say that a Torah scroll is only one place: the synagogue. It would mean that we give back the role, "concludes Ludo Van Campenhout.
Complications
"We know there is a demand from the Jewish community to take over the Torah scroll," said director of the Heritage Library An Renard. "But there are a few complications. We do not know who brought  the Torah scroll during the war. "Apart from the Jewish Community of Antwerp , there are other Jewish communities in the area. Who is the rightful owner? "We do not know. This makes it difficult to transfer the scroll. "Furthermore, the Torah scroll is in poor condition and in urgent need of restoration. "Before we assign any role, we want to do the necessary investigation and ensure that the role is well conserved," says An Renard.Minister of Culture and Worship Philip Heylen (CD & V) shares this opinion. "I think that with the Jewish communities and the Heritage Library should sit around the table. It would be very unwise to act quickly and without proper research to make a decision. That does not mean we exclude that the Torah scroll is transferred to the Jewish community in Antwerp".


Well, this is major news. Before any comment, I must enphasize that we should display great respect and gratitude to the Biblioteek, which managed to store and preserve the scroll for over 60 years. That's truly remarkable.

With that said, it seems there's a real chance this special Sefer Torah will be finding its way back to a synagogue after over 60 years of isolation. Imagine the impact of reading from it on a Shabbath prayer for the first time in so many decades... I think that's a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, kind of a closing of a cicle for the Antwerp Jewish community. Many local Holocaust survivors relate that after the Nazi occupation all the Torah scrolls from the city's two main Synagogues were taken to the street and burned in front of the community, with the exception of one scroll which was rushed away. Is this the same scroll? Impossible to know but be it as it may, this surviving scroll is perhaps the only of its kind in this city and a testament of the endurance and rebirth of the Jewish Community of Antwerp. I hope we can get it on time for Simchat Torah.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Lost Torah Scroll from Munkatch

This is for the Hebrew speaking readers - the remarkable story of a small Sefer Torah from Munktach which survived the WW2.
Enjoy

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stam Stories #5: The Sofer and the Quill

Horav Moshe Zaggaro, zl, one of the distinguished rabbanim in Fez, Morocco, was also a sofer, scribe. He had an interesting way of writing a Torah. He wrote the entire Torah, leaving space for Hashem's Name. When he concluded writing the entire Torah, except for Hashem's Name, he would then take a special quill which was used exclusively for this purpose, and write Hashem's Name, with all of the esoteric, Kabbalistic kavanos, intentions. Shortly before he passed from this world, he asked that the pen which he had designated for writing Hashem's Name should be buried with him.

Rav Moshe passed from this world, but, regrettably, during the commotion, they forgot to place the quill in his coffin. As the students were about to lift the coffin for its last time, they found it impossible to lift. Try as they did, the coffin was impossible to raise. They could not figure out why this had happened, until someone remembered the quill. They had forgotten to carry out Rav Moshe's tzavaah, last request. As soon as they brought the quill, the hand of the deceased reached out from within the coffin and took the pen in the natural way it was used. Suddenly, the coffin became as light as a feather, and it was taken to its final resting place.

A holy man; a holy quill; a kiddush Shem Shomayim, a sanctification of the Name of Heaven. We now have an idea of the kedsushas Sefer Torah, sanctity of a Sefer Torah.

(Source)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Matzos and Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam













Someone presented me with a brand new Sefer called Ot Yatziv, from Zanz, which deals exclusively with the Minhaguim of Zanz in Safrut, with lots of citations from Zanz's most famous Rebbe, the Divrei Chaim.

The Divrei Chaim says that his Chassidim should only buy Rabbeinu Tam tefillin from a Sofer who actually puts Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin everyday. The reason? The main "drasha" of the Talmud in regards to Tefillin is:

וקשרתם... וכתבתם, כל שישנו בקשירה ישנו בכתיבה, וכל שאינו בקשירה אינו בכתיבה (Gittin 45)

This means that a person who's obligated to put on Tefillin is the person who's permitted to write it, thus excluding woman, children and others from writing Tefillin. But the Divrei Chaim uses this drasha further to exclude a Sofer who doesn't puts Rebbeinu Tam Tefillin from writing such a Tefillin, since in this regard he is not "Bar Keshira". Of course, this is a Chumra and a Tefillin written by a non-Rabbeinu Tam Sofer is Kosher. But it's an interesting point.

The Ot Yatziv says that this stringency of the Divrei Chaim is related ("לשיטתו") to the famous Minhag of Zanz of not eating machine matzos on Pessach. The Rebbe said that there is a hidden reason for it ("taam kamus") and Zanz Chassidim treat machine matzos like Chometz - that's right, don't try to bring Yehuda Matzos to your Zanz friends on Pessach.

(In the other hand, I have a friend who's family will not eat hand-made Matzos on Pessach because they claim that the computerized system of the machine matzos is far more reliable than the hand made process, which they consider more prone to causing chametz. Which begs the question - how did the Jews survive 3000 years without the machine matzos?)

The Divrei Chaim goes so far to rule that if your Minhag is that machine matzos is chometz, like Zanz, you cannot make Zimun with friends who eat machine matzos next to you, because as far as you are concerned these people are eating Chometz - having Zimun with them is a paradox you should avoid. That's the same underlying principle of the Divrei Chaim's chumra in regards to Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam - you shouldn't buy it from a person who doesn't supports this opinion, since the Drasha of שישנו בקשירה ישנו בכתיבה will not work in this case and will thus cause a paradox to you.

Be it in Tefillin DeRabbeinu Tam, be it in Zimun between hand-matzo eaters and machine-matzo eaters, this is a very big chumra from Zanz. And a very annoying one for people with Zanz in-laws like me...!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saving an Holocaust Torah Scroll - Part I

There's has been a lot of press surrounding the veracity of a few Holocaust Torah Scrolls sold by a Maryland Rabbi, and being that I'm not here to judge anyone, all I can say is that this story highlights the special importance of Holocaust scrolls and how many people are willing to pay top money for these special scrolls.

Well, I myself am dealing with a Holocaust scroll which is housed in an European library since World War 2. The library tells me that after the Nazi occupation, a Jewish man came to the library and asked them to protect the Torah Scroll he had in his possession. I guess he felt that people who preserve books would understand the importance of the scroll and keep it from being destructed. And so it was. They kept the scroll and took great care of it since 1941, and in one way or another they contacted me because they wanted to know more about its history.

So I went there with one of my Safrut teachers to take a look at this unique Torah. First, the librarian takes us to a tour and tells us that they actually have many Jewish books with them but can't organize them as they are all in Hebrew. "These books are part of city's heritage and we would love to involve the Jewish residents in this and work together towards organizing all what we have".

We finally enter the room to see the Sefer Torah. We see the scroll is on top of the desk, wrapped in a special green carton paper ("to prevent corrosion") and sealed. It was a very emotional sight as it literary felt like visiting a long forsaken prisoner, albeit one that was kept well.

We were expecting a low quality Torah, with broken Yeriot and inferior Ktav. But as we unwrap the carton, it becomes evident that this is a top-quality Torah. It was missing the last 5 parshiot of Devarim and the Ktav was immaculate - really nice Polish style Torah. I took pictures but to my despair I can't find them and share it with you.
Now I'm trying to somehow save this Torah and bring it back to where it belongs - to a Shul, in the Bima, being read by the Baal Koreh on Shabbos. But for now, that is just a dream. Chazal say that a person who fixes a pasul Sefer Torah is Mekaiem the Mizva of Kitvu Lachem. But even if I somehow miracoulosly turn out to be the Sofer fixing this Torah, this is so much more than personal gain. It's about changing history and correcting a very big mistake!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ktav Ari


Check my previous post on the different Ashurit scripts before reading this one.

The Ktav Ari is one of Safrut's most fascinating topics for me. Actually, the Arizal in general always fascinated me, as few other individuals have impacted Judaism as much as he did.

First, it's important to understand who he was. Here is Wikipedia's take on him:

He was born in Jerusalem[1] in 1534 to an Ashkenazi father, Solomon, and a Sephardic mother;[6] died at Safed, Ottoman Empire controlled land of Israel July 25, 1572 (5 Av 5332). While still a child he lost his father, and was brought up by his rich uncle Mordechai Frances, on his mother's side, atax-farmer out of Cairo, Egypt.
At the age of fifteen he married his cousin and, being amply provided for financially, was able to continue his studies. Though he initially may have pursued a career in business, he soon turned to asceticism and mysticism. About the age of twenty-two years old he became engrossed in the study of the Zohar, a major work of the Kabbalah that had recently been printed for the first time, and adopted the life of a recluse. He retreated to the banks of the Nile, and for seven years secluded himself in an
isolated cottage, giving himself up entirely to meditation. He visited his family only on the Shabbat, speaking very seldom, and always in Hebrew.
The Ari passed away at the early age of 38 but his teachings changed Judaism in an unprecedented manner.

Until his time, there were two scripts - Veillish and Beit Yosef. In fact, the Beit Yosef lived in the same town as the Ari and was that generation's main posek.


The Ari introduced a new script that wasn't entirely "new". He made a mix of the Veillish and Beit Yosef, a new Ktav that incorporated characteristics of both scripts. Namely, he incorporated the "inverted Tzadi" from Veillish but also the Ashkenazi Peh. He did introduce some very subtle novel details based on his Kabbalistic teachings, but all in all, the major change was the inverted Tzadi. And he was heavily criticized for that "change".

Perhaps he was inspired by his hibrid Ashkenazi/Sephardic upbringing to make this new "intermediary" ktav. The Ari believed his generation needed some specific "Tikkunim" and he adapted the way we write our holy scrolls to achieve these mysterious Tikkunim. For instance, the white Bet inside the Peh, the Chaf within the Shin and the Chet comprised of a Vav and a Nun. But above all, he instructed scribes to write the Shem Hashem in a very unique and difficult way - in parts - based on the Zohar. All these are very subtle details that are inspired by his Kabbalistic teachings and he sought to perpetuate them in his Ktav - the Ktav Ari.

The Ari's changes were recorded by his student Rabbi Chaim Vital and it was clearly intended to be used only when writing Tefillin. But why only in Tefillin? That's subject to debate, but the most compelling reason I've heard is that changes motivated by Kabbalistic reasons shouldn't be evident when a person reads a scroll. It's ok to make a change that is subtle and hidden but to do it in a Torah Scroll, for instance, would be too evident and undesirable. The parshiot of Tefillin, in the other hand, are always hidden and if a scribe makes special details in it nobody will actually realize. That's why the Ari was very specific about using his Kabbalah-inspired Ktav only in Tefillin.

You are surely thinking "what about Mezuza?", after all the Mezuza is also hidden. I haven't heard a very good answer but I have my own speculation. Even though the Mezuza is hidden, the word Sha-dai is always visible (it should be, at least in theory) and you would be able to notice that the Ari Shin is different than the usual one.

Be it as it may, the Chassidic scribes always wrote Tefillins with the Ktav Ari - that custom was universally accepted by them. I don't know if that was the case with Sephardic Jews. I do know that the non-Chassidic Ashkenazi Jews never adopted the Ktav Ari in the scrolls.

It's hard to pin point an exact date, but slowly the Chassidic scribes started to use the Ktav Ari in Mezuzot and even Sifrei Torah, and today virtually all Chassidic sects have Ktav Ari Sifrei Torah in the Synagogues. It's hard to understand what's their justification as the Ari clearly did not intend to change the way Mezuzot and Torahs are written. In fact, I would bet that the Ari's own Sefer Torah was written in either Veillish or Ktav Ashurit; not Ktav Ari.


One Chassidic Rabbi was very critical of this practice - the holy Divrei Yatziv of Zanz (make sure you read about his remarkable life story on wikipedia). He had a special Kisharon for Halachot pertaining to Safrut (for instance, he figured out a revolutionary way to make the Batim of the Tefillin - but that's a topic for another post) and was very much against the use of Ktav Ari in Sifrei Torah, even for writing the Shem Hashem.

But Minhag Israel Torah and there's Halachic backing for writing Torahs with the Ktav Ari. The Mishnat Avraham (source) says that there's no problem to write Torah Scrolls with the Ktav Ari and bless the scribes who do it - "Tavo Alav Bracha". And he brings an Halachic justification for it: the Sefer Torah should be written in the same way Tefillin are, because if you write Tefillin with Ktav Ari and Torahs with Ktav Beit Yosef this will cause a Tartei DeSatrei (contradiction) when a person gets an Aliyah. Tartei DeSatrei is a well-established Halacha argument and perhaps this is why Chassidic Sofrim started to write all holy scrolls in Ktav Ari - even Megillat Esther.

The question is what should I do when I start writing my Torah (yes, I plan to start it very soon). Ktav Ari or Beit Yosef?

My teacher writes Sifrei Torah in Ktav Ari and when he is commissioned to write a Torah in Ktav Beit Yosef he writes the Shem Hashem according to the Ari but makes sure this is not evident (he is afraid the commisioners might realize and dissaprove it..). I found that the Kol Yaakov mentions here that this was the Minhag of the scribes of his city, Baghdad.

At first I was thinking I would do the same, but I recently realized it wouldn't make sense to do that in my case. Here's why:

Although I'm not really Chassidic, my father's name is Yekutiel Yehuda - the name of the Divrei Yatziv of Zanz - after my grandfather's father and my grandmother was born in Cluj/Klausenburg, the town where the Divrei Yatziv lived. The Tefillin I wear each and every day was written by a far away relative who lives in Netanya and is a Zanz Chassid. And on top of that, I married into a family of Zanz sympathizers, having a Sheva Brachot in Netanya hosted by the current Rebbe of Zanz. So I eventually realized that I cannot turn my back to all that; if I was ever meant to write a Sefer Torah, it was surely meant to be in same way the Chassidim of Zanz do, Ktav Beit Yosef - it's just seems to be destiny!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Progress #7: 2nd Mezuza is reviewed by expert sofer..

... and it's 100% kosher! The sofer who checks my works is VERY attentive and is known for seeing what no one else sees. For many he is just always making up problems but that's specifically why I like him: he really does his job well, regardless if you will like it or not.

Here are two issues he raised about my 2nd Mezuza:
  • In the word Deganecha, the Gimel's right leg doesn't comes lower than the left side ("gimel's yud") - both legs are leveled and that's not optimal. Solution: Make the right leg bigger and there's no problem of Kesidran (Mezuza cannot be fixed after it's finished) because this is not a fix, only a hiddur.
  • In the word Besadecha, the lamed in the next line is coming inside the Daled slightly. There's a potential issue with that because the Daled could look like a Hey, as the only difference between these two letter (Daled and Hey) is the little dot in the bottom-left side. Solution: This is not a major problem since what's coming inside the Daled is not the actual Lamed but the Lamed's Tag, therefore it's fixable. There are tow possible solutions: either make the Daled's leg a bit shorter, so the Tag of Lamed will not be inside of the Daled; or erase a bit of the Lamed's Tag - i.e. make it smaller. The latter solution is preferable since it's always better to touch a tag instead of the actual letter. (note the small Tag in the Beit next to the Lamed - I did that to avoid having the Tag coming into the Chaf)


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Amazing Megillot #9 - JTS




This is a Megilla from Jewish Theological Seminary's Rare Book Room. The "hang-man" illustration of the ten sons of Haman is really unique!