Purchasing STAM: Part 1

The STAM Industry

Download the “Purchasing STAM” series of blog posts as a free ebook.1

For a brief overview of the complete series, including links to all the posts, see Purchasing STAM: Index & Summary.

“STAM” is an acronym for Sifrei Torah, tefilin, and mezuzos.2 Nearly all observant Jews will be involved in at least one STAM-related purchase in their lifetimes. Every Jewish male adult needs a pair of tefilin. Every Jewish home needs several mezuzos. Megilos, while usually considered a luxury item, also represent a significant portion of the STAM business. Besides being bought for personal use, many STAM items are commonly purchased as gifts.3

In a perfect world, every person in the STAM-supply-chain would be a pious individual with a solid grasp of the relevant halachos, and it wouldn’t really matter where one would go to buy STAM. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, and by all accounts, the vast majority of STAM currently on the market ranges from borderline-kosher to totally-unfit-for-use.4 Even among the products that are sold as “mehudar”, many are at best kosher bidi’eved.5

Part of the problem is simple ignorance. The retailers and middlemen are relying on the manufacturers to supply them with a kosher product that adheres to a clearly defined standard. They are often uneducated with regard to the basics of the laws of STAM, so they don’t even know what questions to ask in determining the kashrus level of the product. The sofrim and other craftsmen may also be unaware of some of the finer points of halacha and may therefore be inadvertently creating invalid or marginally kosher STAM.

Additionally, even in situations where the people involved are well versed in halacha, there is a strong financial incentive to ignore potential problems and there are many opportunities to cut corners. Once the product is completed, there is often no way to know exactly what standards were adhered to in the production process.

Finally, all too often, the non-kosher STAM comes to market through deliberate deception. STAM is big business, and like any big business, it attracts shady operators who are interested in making easy money by preying on the uninformed. For example, costs can be cut drastically by moving the production of raw materials (parchment, etc.) overseas — often to China or Russia. Supervision is practically nonexistent, and many of these factories operate without regard for any halachic standards. They churn out 100% pasul materials that are brought to market at bargain-basement prices.

What can a STAM buyer do to protect himself? Read on

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  1. The blog posts have been revised to reflect edits and corrections made when preparing the ebook edition.

  2. Other STAM items include megilos and nevi’im.

  3. Sifrei Torah and nevi’im, although less likely to be bought by the average Jew, represent a large portion of the STAM market. Everything written here applies to them as well.

  4. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Historically, the STAM industry has had problems since the times of the early Rishonim. See Purchasing STAM: Addendum for more information. 

  5. See Purchasing STAM: part 7 for an explanation of these terms.