There is possibly no area in Jewish life with as glaring a gap between the ideal and the reality as the area of STaM, (an acronym for Sifrel Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzos).
In September 1975 the Jewish Observer published an article entitled "The Point of the Yud," which revealecl shocking data about the current status of STaM.5 The subsequent issue contained a strongly-worded letter to the editor maintaining the implicit trust of laymen in the integrity of these religious artifacts, a trust which heretofore had never been questioned or undermined. Included in this letter was the strong query, "What do you want from the layman?"
The layman has never been led to believe that there was anything for him to do in this field. Why should he suspect the retailer - whom he knows to be a trustworthy person - of defrauding him with possul wares? Why should it occur to the layman to question the kashruth of these products? Are they not written by observant scribes for Jewish people who wish to fulfill the Mitzvah? Does it stand to reason that this field would be fraught with fraud? It is understood that the kashruth of food needs constant supervision, since most of the food produced and sold in the world is non-kosher, and it is the exceptional individual who seeks to purchase kosher food. But STaM...? Who but a Jew uses STaM and who but an observant Jew makes STaM? Thus, "What do you want from the layman?"
Isn't he right? Theoretically, yes. But when we compare that which actually does exist in the area of STaM with that which should exist, we find that our theoretical assumptions are not operative.
|A properly written Mezuza||Mezuzas improperly written, scribbled, printed as well as Hebrew passages sold as "Mezuzas"|
In order for STaM to be kosher they must meet certain absolute standards which were transmitted to us by our Talmudic sages as given to our teacher Moses at Sinai (the very same source which serves as our reason for placing a Mezuzah on our doors or putting on Tefillin in the first place). These standards concern themselves primarily with the form of the letters and the procedure used in writing them.
Every possible form of forgery and deception currently exists in this area. Before the establishment of the Vaad, the vast majority of Mezuzos available on the market did not even meet the minimal requirements of Halacha. A large number of the Mezuzos sold contained doodles in place of letters,9 not to mention the many Mezuzos which were printed (rather than written) on parchment or paper or contained substitute phrases for those actually required in the Mezuzos.
In addition to personality traits, there are specific characteristics and behavior patterns required of the producer of sacramental works. 10
The facts in this area are simply frightening.
|Painstaking examination of a Mezuzah|
A Mezuzah has 713 letters, the Tefillin 3,188.14 Every letter has a number of laws pertaining to its form.15 In order for a Mezuzah to be written in accordance with all of the laws, it must thus meet thousands of requirements.16 If even one of the 713 letters in a Mezuzah is missing or shaped incorrectly, the Mezuzah is rendered invalid, the Mitzvah is unfulfilled, and the b'racha recited over it is in vain. Even the best scribe is human and subject to error. While some errors may be corrected in accordance with Halachic decree, others cannot. STaM, even when written by the most expert of scribes, have many possibilities of being unfit. They therefore must be inspected before being purchased.
Painstaking examination of a Mezuzah.
Furthermore, STaM, like anything else subject to the ravages of time and elements, deteriorate. It behooves us then to inspect our STaM from time to time, either for the purpose of determining their fitness or for making preventative corrections. The Halacha sets the requirements for periodic inspection of the Mezuzah at every 3½ years.17
There is a definite causal relationship between the trusting attitude of the consumers of STaM (including the merchants who buy from the scribes), and the increased flooding of the marketplace with possul Mezuzos. Let us examine two examples of how this vicious cycle operates.
Because of the almost axiomatic belief that there is very little ground for deception in the area of STaM, there exists a lackadaisical attitude regarding inspections upon their purchase. Such inspections would, undoubtedly, uncover a large percentage of unfit or possul Mezuzos. The lack of demand for inspections discouraged the development of a generation of inspectors (scribes). Consequently, even those
who do seek inspection find it difficult to secure a scribe, and accept the reality, leaving their STaM uninspected. Since the existence of the unfit Mezuzah thus remains hidden, people have come increasingly to believe that there is no cause to suspect deception in this area, and therefore, no reason to seek inspections. Thus, we have come full circle.
Our second example is one of the more classic tragedies of this field.
The marketplace offers the buyer a class of Mezuzos at half price, approximately $6.00 - $8.00. The investment of the manufacturer for this Mezuzah is approximately 1/8 of that required for standard Mezuzos. As a first step in making these Mezuzos, the parchment is coated with a thin layer of paint before the scribe begins to write.21 This process makes it possible to complete writing in twenty minutes to a half hour instead of the usual 2½ to 3 hours required for a standard Mezuzah (because of the difficulty of writing on parchment which is naturally uneven in texture).
Aside from the Halachic problem of writing on a smeared parchment22 the sale of such merchandise is outright misrepresentation. Even if this Mezuzah were written according to Halacha, it would remain usable only until encased. The slightest fold would be likely to crack the paint resulting in the breaking of the letters and the ultimate invalidation of the Mezuzah.23 Would a sensible person knowingly buy such a product? In this respect, a vicious cycle also exists.
Years ago, smeared Mezuzos comprised only a small percentage of the market (as reputable scribes would not write on a smeared parchment). However, the trusting attitude of the unsuspecting public has created an increase in the demand for cheap Mezuzos. Consequently, the number of those who write on smeared parchment has increased (especially since they realize greater profits than the reputable scribes who write Mezuzos on unsmeared parchments).
Until recently, before the intervention of the Vaad, smeared Mezuzos comprised 80 to 90% of the market and had become the norm, whereas standard Mezuzos had come to be known as the "expensive ones", and were considered luxury items created for the exclusive use of a special class of pious Jews. the situation had reached such astronomic proportions that Israel's Ministry of Religion, when asked why it did not fight this phenomenon, responded that it has indeed attempted to obligate the scribes to use exclusively non-smeared parchment, but realized that it was beyond its power to alter the situation. the vicious cycle of deception had thus been completed and the unsuspecting public had fallen prey to its own trusting attitude. "It was this desperate situation that brought about the active involvement of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
World Wide Statistics
|1976 - 1980||1980 - 1983|
If the individual buyer does not insist upon inspection of the Mezuzos in accordance with the Halacha, then it is he who is creating a generation of unscrupulous scribes. If the consumer does not ascertain who the writer of the Mezuzah is, then it is he who is responsible for the creation of a cadre of irreligious scribes. If the consumer is remiss by not ascertaining for himself that the writer of a Mezuzah is a certified scribe, well-versed with the minutiae of halacha, then it is he who is responsible for this abominable situation. Unless and until the consumer demands controls, the area of STaM will remain without supervision, and forgeries will go unchecked and increase dramatically. This is what is demanded of the laymen-to stop the vicious cycle and reverse it. Are we asking for the impossible?
The consumer created the problem and only the consumer can solve it!
About 250 years ago, the Maharam Hagiz, one of the leading sages of his time wrote,24 "My heart pains me and I do not have in my power the means of enforcement to right the situation. I can only make my pain known to the public." It is not in any way possible for any single individual, be he a consumer or a leader of his generation, to change the picture. The public, however, can. It is imperative that we have a drive organized and directed by a central authority enjoying the concentrated cooperation and effort of the public. And thus the Maharam Hagiz in his farseeing manner concludes, "Perhaps G-d will show grace and in later generations a solution will be found."
In 1935 a central organization, Shomrei STaM25 was created in Europe by 87 of the leading sages of that generation. They set for themselves a specific program, which was largely geared toward mass education of the buying public. Unfortunately for us, before they could carry out their program, their sacred work was cut short by the holocaust.
Merkaz Shomrei STaM logo.
In 1975 Vaad Mishmeres STaM26 was organized in the United States. The stated purpose of this organization was to create a revolution in the area of STaM. Its goal, first and foremost, was to organize the consumer and, with cooperative efforts, stop the avalanche of deception. Occupying a primary position among its various programs is a public education drive (described at length at the end of this booklet), utilizing various public forums and programs. This "Guide to Mezuzah" is published as a basic tool in this drive.
The Goals are:
Since only you, the educated consumer, can help solve this problem, Vaad Mishmeres STaM presents this "Guide to Mezuzah" as a basic primer a first step in your education. The Vaad invites you to read it and to learn from it. It is hoped that it will fulfill השעמ ידיל איבמה דומלת לודג learning which will generate deeds and activities on your part in behalf of the sanctity of STaM.
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