Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fraudulent Scribe - are ALL his works invalid or just some?

Just a short introduction, in this post I bring a fascinating Teshuva I heard in Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s weekly shiur last month. In my Yeshiva years I had the great fortune of spending two years under his tutelage in Ner Yisrael, Baltimore, and I dedicate this post to him. He taught me the essence of learning Halacha Lemaase - Practical Halacha - and how important it is not to make things complicated but to be concise and understand the bottom line of every topic. This approach eventually pushed me towards learning Safrut, one of the most hands-on areas of the Torah.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (siman 69, mahadura kama) brings a case of a community who found out that a one of the city’s scribes was selling Tefillin with no Parshiot in it - a scammer. The question was what is the status of the Torah Scrolls he wrote during that time. Unlike the Tefillin, which had to Parshiot, his Torah Scrolls looked ok and seemed perfectly Kosher. Do we consider them Kosher or is there a credibility issue on all his works?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger tries to prove that the Torah Scrolls could be rendered Kosher and among his arguments he brings a very very interesting point. He brings a similar case from Halachot of Kashrut, about a butcher who was found to be guilty of selling treif chicken. Can you eat in his house? Or perhaps his behaviour of selling treif chicken invalidates his home’s kitchen?

The Halacha is:

אם אינו חשוד לאכול דברים אסורים אבל חשוד למכרן - מתארח אצלו ואוכל עמו
“If he is not suspected of eating treif, but he is suspected of selling treif - a person may stay at his house and eat with him”

Says Rabbi Eiger, the same can be said in the case of the fraudulent sofer. Even if he is found to be guilty of selling pasul Tefillin, the Torah Scrolls that he wrote for his own use are surely free of suspicion and, I quote, “may even be used to read Parshat Zachor” - which is (likely) a Biblical Commandment and thus a very important Mitzva. Why? He may be a dishonest businessman, but that doesn’t necessarily means that he doesn’t believe in anything. In fact, the opposite is true and we can rely that since he knew he would need the community Sefer Torah to fulfill the Mitzva of Parshat Zachor and say Brachot when reading from it on Shabbos, his Torahs are 100% kosher! 

However, the Sifrei Torah he sold to individuals and other communities do have a credibility issue and one should not use it.

I had a similar situation. When I gave my Mezuzot to be checked, the expert sofer told me that all of them were beautiful and Kosher, but that he would advise me to avoid using two of them, which he recognized as being from a specific sofer. I asked why but he would not answer.

I had a feeling that also in my case, there was a similar credibility problem with the person who had this handwriting. I speculate that my friend had already seen some very problematic things in other works of this scribe and thus advised me to stay away from his Mezuzot, even though they look perfectly Kosher.


Ben of Ben's Tallit Shop said...

Fascinating. The tshuva by R' Akiva Eiger is moradik! I think the main point is a famous dictum in the Gemara: "Adam karov lemamono," which you could very loosely translate as "people are slow to part with their money."

YK said...

That's right but it's still a big Chidush! If he would not say it, I think nobody today would come up with such leniency.