Purchasing STAM: Index & Summary

The “Purchasing STAM” series of blog posts was published sporadically over several months. Below are links to all the posts in the series, as well as an outline of the main points of each post. For more details, click the links to read the complete posts.

The complete series is also available as a free ebook.

Index

Summary

The STAM Industry

  • Much of the STAM currently on the market is borderline-kosher. Some is not at all kosher.
  • Most people who purchase STAM have no way of knowing the true quality or value of the items they’re buying.

The Sofer

  • A Sofer must hold a certificate in STAM from a reputable organization.
  • Frequent review of the laws of STAM is necessary to prevent the Sofer from unknowingly making mistakes that produce invalid STAM.
  • Yiras shamayim — a trait incorporating honesty, integrity, reliability, and trustworthiness — is as important as halachic knowledge.

Proofreading & Psak

  • All STAM must be checked by a certified magi’ah and by computer before it is brought to market.
  • Halachic questions come up all the time. Some questions require a Posek — they should be brought to a Posek who specializes in hilchos STAM.
  • The skills and knowledge required to be a Magi’ah are different than those required to be a Sofer — not every Sofer is qualified to check STAM.

Klaf & Klaf-Making

  • Klaf factories should have a reliable hechsher.
  • Handmade klaf is more mehudar that machine made klaf.

Batim & Retzu’os

  • Should the batim or retzu’os come from a factory, they should have a reliable hechsher. If the batim or retzu’os are made by a private craftsman, there should be (at the very least) rabbinic supervision.
  • Private craftsmen are preferred over factories.
  • Handmade batim and retzu’os are more mehudar that machine made batim and retzu’os.

Sochrim (Dealers, Retailers & Other Middlemen)

  • Whoever sells STAM must be an expert in the laws of STAM.
  • It is essential that the buyer has the option of taking the STAM item for an independent third-party evaluation.

Bidi’eved, Lechatchila and Mehudar

  • Items that are kosher bidi’eved might be acceptable in situations that are themselves less than ideal.
  • Lechatchila is the minimum requirement for most people.
  • “Mehudar” items are both aesthetically and halachically enhanced.
  • Mehudar STAM is an ideal to strive for and not just the “chumra of the week”

Evaluating STAM in the Market

  • Of the kosher STAM on the market, the lower price range in any category is probably only kosher bidi’eved.
  • The different labels given to mehudar-graded STAM by retailers (“mehudar+”, “mehadrin-min-hamehadrin”, etc.) often have no real significance.
  • According to many Poskim, the following hidurim are necessary for the STAM to be called “mehudar”:
    1. Avodas yad materials
    2. Rashba
    3. Avnei Nezer (in tefilin and mezuzos)
  • Even if the STAM that is labeled “mehudar” is not actually mehudar, it should be at least kosher lechatchila. STAM that is labeled “lechatchila” may only be kosher bidi’eved.

Conclusion

  • Relative price is usually correlated with relative kashrus levels.
  • Each situation is different, but everyone should try to buy the highest quality STAM they can afford.

Addendum

  • The sorry state of the STAM industry in modern times is not a new development.
  • From the writings of the Rishonim and Achronim it is clear that there have been serious issues with the quality of STAM for hundreds of years.

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