Purchasing STAM: Part 8

Evaluating STAM in the Market

This series of blog posts can be downloaded as a free ebook.1

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

MezuzosThe previous post defined the different halachic levels of STAM. Once the levels are established, the next step will be correctly grading the various items in the marketplace. This is much more complicated than it would seem. Although much of the STAM on the market is only kosher bidi’eved,2 one would be hard pressed to find STAM that is actually labeled as such. If any identifying labels exist at all, usually phrases like “basic kosher” or “entry level” will be used. As a good rule of thumb, even if we can assume that all the STAM in a given establishment is actually kosher, we should always assume that the less expensive items in any category are only kosher bidi’eved.

At the other end of the spectrum, when shopping for mehudar items a similar problem arises. Since “mehudar” has multiple meanings, often it is used to describe an item that is aesthetically beautiful, even if it is not at all halachically “enhanced”. Also, even when the finished product looks halachically mehudar, there are many important hidurim that can’t be seen. Finally, since there are so many different hidurim, STAM is sometimes graded “mehudar+”, “mehadrin min hamehadrin”, and other meaningless labels. There is often no way of identifying which hidurim these items have, and the average consumer has no way of knowing which hidurim are truly important and which are simply nice extras.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to list and rate all of the different hidurim. Nevertheless, according to many contemporary poskim there are three hidden hidurim that are all required for the STAM to be considered “mehudar”:

  • Avodas Yad: As discussed in parts 4 and 5 of this series, the various materials used in the production of STAM can be made by hand or by machine. All poskim agree that the handmade materials are mehudar. With regard to machine made materials, the opinions of contemporary poskim are split: Some hold that they can be called mehudar; others regard them as kosher lechatchila; and some poskim only consider them kosher bidi’eved. Given the range of opinions regarding machine made materials, STAM should not be called “mehudar” unless it is produced exclusively from handmade materials.

  • Rashba: Each letter in STAM must be mukaf gevil – surrounded by gevil (i.e. klaf). One aspect of hakafas gevil is that the letters can not touch each other. According to the Rashba, if in the course of writing a letter it touches another letter, any part of the second letter that was written after the letters touched is invalid and must be erased and rewritten.3 The Shulchan Aruch rules like other Rishonim that it is not necessary to erase any portion of the second letter, and just erasing the connection between the two letters makes it kosher.4 STAM that was written following the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch but not the stringency of the Rashba is still kosher lechatchila, but it should not be sold as “mehudar”.

  • Avnei Nezer: Tefilin and mezuzos (but not Sifrei Torah, megilos, or nevi’im) must be written kisidran (in sequential order). This means that even if the letters appear in the right place, but were written out of sequence, the tefilin or mezuza is pasul. If only part of a later letter was written before the completion of an earlier letter (for example: In the word שמע, if the sofer wrote the top of the ש, then the top of the מ, then he went back and finished the ש, then finished the מ), the letters were still written kisidran according to the Mishna Berura, but not according to the Avnei Nezer. Tefilin or mezuzos which were written without accounting for the opinion of the Avnei Nezer can be considered kosher lechatchila, but should not be called “mehudar”.

note: The presence of these hidurim (or lack thereof) can not be ascertained by merely inspecting the final product – the only way to find out if a STAM item meets these standards is to ask the sofer who wrote it.5

There is one last point worth considering when looking to buy good quality STAM from a retailer: The STAM item that is labeled “mehudar” may not be halachically mehudar, but there is a good chance that it is – at the very least – kosher lechatchila. In contrast, STAM that is labeled “lechatchila” may very well be only kosher bidi’eved according to many poskim.

Having defined and evaluated the different levels of STAM, the question remains: What to buy? For some guidance towards the answer, see the concluding installment in this series.

-= 8 =-

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

  2. As mentioned in Part 1, a great deal of the STAM in the market is not kosher at all.

  3. Depending on how the letters are touching, sometimes the whole second letter must be erased and rewritten.

  4. This is all assuming that the connection between the letters does not affect their ikar tzura (essential form) in any way. For example, a ו following a כ can be transformed into a מ with just a small hairline connection at the tops of the letters. In those types of situations, both letters must be erased and rewritten according to all opinions. 

  5. Most sofrim will not provide these hidurim unless the buyer specifically requests them.