Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Teves 5763 - January 1, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Silk Screened Kisvei Stam: An Immediate Danger

by Yisroel Friedman

Kislev 5762. A surprise awaited Rav Menachem Yehuda Halevi Gross, head of the Vaad Lishkas Hakodesh, when he finished his regular shiur for proofreaders of stam (Sifrei Torah, Tefillin, Mezuzas and Megillos). Several participants of the shiur approached him with the question whether kisvei stam created by silk screening were kosher.

He did not think this was a practical, relevant question. This issue had already surfaced two years previously in the United States, and the impressions left by that proposal still reverberated in the public consciousness -- or so he thought. The person behind that theoretical initiative was also behind the silk curtain in Eretz Yisroel.

The fact that this initiative reappeared on the agenda sent alarm signals to all those concerned with protecting the integrity of kisvei stam. The Chairman of the Vaad Mishmeres Stam of the U.S. and Canada, Rabbi Dovid L. Greenfield, asked HaRav Wosner for his opinion. The Shevet Halevi's teshuvoh was explicit and unequivocal:

"It is clearly prohibited and constitutes uprooting a Torah commandment. It is not considered to be writing a Sefer Torah at all . . . It is absolutely prohibited and is a complete sin, and it is forbidden to produce them and thereby cause others to sin. In truth, it is even difficult to believe that it would occur to anyone who has smelt the fragrance of Torah to place such a stumbling block in front of the public, and it a mitzva to prevent this and stand in the breach."

It looked as if this topic had been removed from the public agenda and that this invalid initiative had been nipped in the bud. When the students of Rav Menachem Yehuda Halevi Gross told him in confidence about what was happening, he could not believe his ears.

"Over there," in a certain neighborhood in Yerushalayim, "preparations are being made to flood the market with kisvei stam created by silk screening. This dangerous plan is in its final stages."

Frightened by this idea, Rav Gross decided to visit the place himself for a firsthand impression. The person behind the whole business was not at home at the time. He was welcomed instead by the man's chavrusa, and Rav Gross entered the house with some apprehension.

His host was actually very friendly. During their conversation, he told Rav Gross that they had already consulted with rabbonim who had given their haskomoh for the initiative, and he even mentioned their names. (Subsequent investigations revealed that not one of them had permitted it -- in fact they had all ruled unequivocally that it was absolutely forbidden.) In their published literature they state: "Many prominent Rabbis were consulted and were thrilled with the idea," but they fail to mention even one rabbinic authority by name!

In the course of the same meeting, the man demonstrated all stages of the process of printing by silk screen. As the picture became clearer, Rav Gross's heart skipped a beat. Thoughts of the future gave him no rest. He visualized the silk threads spun like a spider's web capturing all the genuine kisvei stam in its net. Afterwards he put into writing what he had witnessed, and his intense emotions are also clearly evident between the lines:

"I was shown the silk screen process, which they use. Silk cloth is stretched out on a square wooden frame. All the holes of the silk fabric are sealed except where the shapes of the letters appear, where there are holes and the letters are arrayed on it as a form for a column of a Sefer Torah.

"This is how the printing process works: they put the silk on a frame over a piece of parchment and pour thick ink on the sealed side of the material and, with the assistance of a squeegee (which looks similar to a wiper used to wipe kitchen countertops) they pour and push the ink across the silk material from right to left, so that the ink passes through the perforations that are in the shapes of the letters on the material and is absorbed by the parchment underneath. When the silk is removed, perfect printing remains on the klaf, looking identical to a column of a Sefer Torah. They claim that this printing process is preferred to the handwriting of a sofer . . .

"I was dumbfounded by this sight for a time and could not believe my eyes. How could they overlook several sections of the Shulchan Oruch and eliminate explicit halochos of the Shulchan Oruch and its commentaries, with which anyone who deals in this holy work must be familiar . . . and undertake an unacceptable activity? Has it become permitted in this generation for sofrim to become wiser than the rulings of the Shulchan Oruch? This must amaze us!

"Consider the words of the Noda Biyehudo (Mahaduro Kamo, Orach Chaim 38) on the incident in the Yerushalmi (Avodoh Zora 2:8) where Rebbi and his beis din permitted oil of Akum. Shmuel ate but Rav acted stringently and refrained from eating. Shmuel said to Rav, `Either eat or I will declare you a zokein mamrei (elder rebel)!' The Noda Biyehudo writes about this as follows: `Although Rav was greater than Shmuel, but where it is a case of chilul Hashem . . . How much more so in our orphaned generation, we only have the words of the Rishonim to guide us. If it be permitted to disagree with them the whole Torah already becomes annulled and everybody will build his own altar.'

"If this was the response to someone who wanted to be stringent contrary to a takonoh enacted by a beis din, what can we say in our generation, where we are like orphans of orphans, about someone who wishes to abolish absolute prohibitions with a wave of the hand, prohibitions which are cited explicitly and unanimously in the gemora, Rishonim and Acharonim up to the Shulchan Oruch and its commentators . . . and to start printing Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzas using a silk printing method, based on his own svora, and to go even further and state that this method is `more mehudar than the handwriting of a sofer?' Woe unto us that this has happened in our days!"

An Unequivocal Teshuvoh

We are sitting in the home of Rav Shamai Kehos Hakohen Gross, one of the leaders spearheading the battl, and Rav Menachem Yehuda Halevi Gross is still visibly shaken when recalling that sight. Who is behind the attempt to introduce silk screening? I asked.

On the table lay the teshuva of HaRav Ben Tzion Yaakov Halevi Wosner, head of the Shevet Halevi Beis Din and Beis Horo'oh in Monsey (and the son of HaRav Shmuel Wosner of Bnei Brak) to a question put to him in 5761 (2001) about the kashrus of printing by silk screening. The letter speaks for itself, and served to replace the deafening silence of those present:

"Regarding your doubt about the new megillos and Sifrei Torah invented by some terrible (personality) whereby instead of writing them with his own handwriting and quill as the Torah requires and as is the holy custom of the Jews, he prints them using silk printing . . . all this with the inspiration and hechsher of a certain rav who is known as a lightheaded person who breaches fences and who in the past has already breached several fundamental fences and explicit halochos and traditions of our ancestors and rabbonim concerning the sanctity of the Jewish home . . .

"Recently I was approached concerning this matter by people from Lakewood, with the request that I should strongly protest this terrible breach before it is too late, and although we were deeply shocked by what we heard and saw, we let the matter be because we did not believe that the day would come when this would be put into practice, nor that a man from inside the camp would openly undertake this wicked activity. And so we kept quiet. But now it would appear that his actions . . . have succeeded . . . it is not the time to remain silent."

On the table around which this interview is being held lie some old books, which describe the development of printing. A diagram from 1942, which illustrates one of the articles, describes the method of silk screening. It should be noted that this method of printing has been used for many years in the art industry: in the past, when famous artists wanted to market their paintings, an original painting was unaffordable for the masses and so the painting was copied using the meticulous method known as lithography. The painting would be printed in a limited number of copies, under the supervision of the artist, of course, and each sold copy was numbered and signed by the artist as proof of its authenticity. Printing by silk screening eventually replaced lithography, and nowadays it is used in the art industry, but now people want to introduce it into the stam industry.

The book describing the method is in English. The printer in the illustration looks like a non-Jew. "If the squeegee replaces the feather, why shouldn't the non-Jew replace a Jew?" Rav Gross asks bitterly.

"The gedolim have made explicit rulings that this method is totally posul and is not considered writing at all," says Rav Gross. Therefore, we will not go into the halachic discussions and all its details. Of course, if someone opposes the gedolei haposkim that is not considered an opinion one has to take into account. Still, in this context we should perhaps stress the following statement by Rav Shlomo Kluger ztvk"l (Shut stam, siman 61, in Hilchos Krias Shema): " . . . apart from this, it is one thing if a Jewish scribe is writing [it], who is meticulous about being a yirei Shomayim, practices his Divine craft faithfully, and is certainly careful to observe the dinei Sefer Torah and have lishmoh intentions. Printing, on the other hand, is usually undertaken by am haratzim and frivolous people, and it is done quickly. It is inevitable that their intentions will not be lishmoh and that they will not be careful about the other dinei Sefer Torah. Therefore, this method would become entrenched and chas vesholom that it should be adopted. It does not require genizah and all the more so one should not chas vesholom make a brochoh on such a Sefer Torah. Whoever introduced this method, and all the more so anybody who supports such a person will be held in judgment for this in the future. May Hashem save us from such an opinion and may He guide me in the way of truth as my soul desires . . . "


"Most of them are frivolous" . . . the picture in the illustration in the book about printing demonstrates this very well . . . is that how the writing of kisvei stam will look? The results of the current campaign will be critical in deciding whether the halocho will prevail over the reality which these people would like to initiate.


This affair has had two installments. The first one occurred about a year ago, when the Vaad Mishmeres Stam in the United States discovered this project. Following their handling of the matter and their approaches [to the rabbonim] the gedolei haposkim of every group and community expressed their unequivocal opinion forbidding this method.

At the same time, rumors started circulating about a terrible scheme that was gathering ground. Dealers whispered to each other that expensive megillos were being sold very cheaply and investigations pointed towards this project. Immediate action was called for. Time was running out, and the threat of this project's printing engines progressing at full capacity meant that this issue could not be handled with silk gloves.

Rav Shamai Kehos Hakohen Gross, who had already acquired a reputation as an expert and staunch defender of hilchos stam, went ahead with the necessary activities at full speed. When he brought the matter to the attention of HaRav Eliashiv, he was aghast. He asked Rav Shamai Gross to warn the Torah world and halachic authorities and to do everything within his means to stop this terrible stumbling block, before many well-meaning innocent people who are unaware of the severity of this matter got caught in its net. Fearing that this breach could become even bigger Rav Gross wanted to put this question on the public agenda, and he asked other great poskim to express their opinion, too.

Within a few days, the rulings of the gedolei haposkim of all groups and communities were published, headed by the unambiguous letter of HaRav Eliashiv: "They are posul and forbidden to be used . . . anyone who issues a halachic ruling permitting them and anyone involved in their sale or distribution is a sinner and causes the public to sin."

"The halochoh requires one to distance himself from this aberration," wrote the Shevet Halevi.

HaRav Nissim Karelitz wrote, "All those involved in this are subject to double retribution."

These statements were also published in the United States and Canada and caused quite a stir.

Why has this topic resurfaced after a period during which it appeared as though the matter was no longer of relevance?

For a while it looked as if the unequivocal appeals and rulings of the gedolei haposkim had been successful in stemming the breach of the fortress, but the mole continued to nibble at the foundations of the halocho, as it finds expression in the rulings of the gedolei haposkim. No one knew that secret attempts were being made to continue printing kisvei stam using silk screening.

The discovery of "incriminating evidence" caused an earthquake. A printed megilla and even a full page of a Sefer Torah reached the hands of those active in protecting the integrity of kisvei stam.

Rav Ezriel Auerbach told me: "I was shocked when I heard details of this grave episode. In the past there were also serious attempts at various forgeries, including attempts to print kisvei stam, but this is a more serious problem, because identification is much more difficult. However, the most serious problem is the fact that here we are not dealing with money- hungry people who know that they are guilty of forgery and deception, but with the hechsher of a person who believes that this process -- which is not writing at all -- is kosher! This is a much more serious danger."

The statements issued by all the gedolei haposkim, headed by HaRav Eliashiv, were published a month ago in the chareidi press, but several questions remain unanswered: Have these people already managed to print Sifrei Torah? Are they marketing them? If so, on what scale? What is the focus of their activities and from which address do they market their printed kisvei stam?

Then came a turning point: someone came to one of the poskim and told him sorrowfully that after reading the letters of the gedolei haposkim he realized that he had been deceived, and that there were printed kisvei stam in his possession. The posek asked him how he had heard about them, and the man replied that he had found their website on the Internet.

When we heard about this, we approached a computer expert, who located the site for us. It turns out that these people do not even bother to hide their identity. Their names and photos are there for all to see, as well as the address for ordering printed kisvei stam. The contents of the website reveal plans for 30 Sifrei Torah to be printed! (However, this announcement was made over a year ago, and there are no further progress reports on the website.) Due to the severity of this matter, we are quoting their statements:

"A new process was created to tackle an old problem. The sofer starts by purchasing some of the highest quality klaf (parchment). The klaf is checked, tested, and cut to size. The sirtut (engraved lines) is scored to the exact depth, thickness, height, and length. Silk screens are created with the exact lettering. Computers are utilized to achieve a perfectly balanced page using proportionate letters. No need for elongated or squished letters to reach the end of the line. The screens are placed on top of the klaf in an exact position to meet the sirtut. The sofer then puts ink on the screen, and applies the ink by hand passing a squeegee across the klaf. In a matter of seconds this klaf has a full page written perfectly. The page is then dried. After the pages are all written, they are sewed properly and the new Torah scroll is ready to use. This is a combination of many patented and patent pending processes."

This is followed by the most dangerous statement:

"This project is completely under the auspices of . . . who has thoroughly reviewed every aspect of this process and declared it kosher for "mehadrin min hamehadrin." The ability to control the perfection of the writing makes it a better choice than conventional Sifrei Torah. Many prominent Rabbis were consulted and were thrilled with the idea. When they were able to view an actual sample they agreed to the high quality and the kashrut of this type of Sefer Torah. All writing will be done by hand by a prominent rabbi and sofer.

"The Highlights:

a. Suddenly every person can have his own Sefer Torah!

b. Highest quality Seforim & Megillot will become affordable to all.

c. The writing will be the finest available in the world.

d. Sifrei Torah can be written with special requirements to accommodate the different styles of writing.

e. Many different sizes will be made available, including smaller, more portable, Sifrei Torah.

f. With this technology, smaller sizes can be as accurate and clear as the larger ones.

g. Sifrei Torah will take just a few months from start to finish.

h. The cost will be less than ever imagined.

i. Financing will be made available to make the purchase even easier.

"We are preparing for the first group of Sifrei Torah and Mezuzot to be written. A Sefer Torah will cost $18,000.00. An initial deposit of $10,000.00 will be required, with the remainder upon completion. The expected start date for this is in January 01, 2002. Our estimated completion date for the first 30 Sifrei Torah will be in November 2002. Many orders have been accepted already, and we hope to be sold out shortly. Our goal is to accommodate the demand and to allow anyone who desires a Sefer Torah, to be capable of purchasing one."

This is followed by the exact address for placing orders . . .

November 2002 -- this date has already passed. Has the worst possible scenario in this affair already taken place? Have 30 Sifrei Torah really been printed? Are many shuls already being machshil their congregants with posul Sifrei Torah? How many more kisvei stam are in the advanced stages of printing?

HaRav Dovid Freulich, one of the members of Vaad HaRabbonim LeInyonei Stam told us as follows: "We have been dealing with the topic of kisvei stam for a long time, and all the questions are brought to HaRav Eliashiv. When we heard about a Sefer Torah and megilla which were printed but without the sirtut, the matter became urgent. HaRav Eliashiv examined the yerios of the printed Sefer Torah and megilla for a quite a while, and he could not believe his eyes."

"How did you obtain these yerios?" I asked Rav Shamai Kehos Gross. This he was unable to reveal, for obvious reasons.

Rav Shamai Gross: "Following HaRav Eliashiv's call to stir up the poskim, we turned to HaRav Ezriel Auerbach. After he looked deeply into the matter, all the gedolei haposkim of all groups and communities issued rulings stating very clearly that it was forbidden to print and market these products. Anyone in possession of them has to dispose of them. It is forbidden to sell them and the seller of such is a sinner and causes the masses to sin and whoever breaks through a fence, a serpent shall bite him. In addition, anyone selling the parchments thus enabling them to implement their terrible plan, shall also not be free from sin."

In order to get a better idea of the extent of the danger, we made our way to the studio of R' Elazar Shushan in Beitar, who is an expert in artistic printing on parchment. He deals with facsimile printing of illustrated megillos, of pitum haketores and so on. He told us as follows about his own work: "According to the rulings of the Sephardim, it is not permitted to write [only] one parsha of the Torah. On the other hand, it is well known that the Chido held that it was a seguloh for parnossoh to read the parshas haketores from a parchment, but how can you read form a parchment if it is forbidden to write on it? Therefore, we print it . . . "

I asked Rav Shamai Gross why the Ashkenazim do write it. He said that the Taz (Yoreh Deah, 283) brings a reason for this in the name of the Bach. There are in fact some people who are particular to write only three words at a time: see the Shulchan Oruch.

During our conversation R' Shushan explains the difficulty involved in printing on parchment: "Parchment is a living, changing material, which [breathes]. Since it is not straight, a printer gets stuck when you put parchment through it. This created difficulties, but today ways have been found of overcoming this, and this certainly represents a danger for the writing of kisvei stam. However, there are ways of discovering regular printing -- although this sometimes requires the eye of an expert -- mainly because it is a smooth, insubstantial writing (which does not project above the surface).

"Printing by silk screening, on the other hand, is difficult to identify. Only an extremely sensitive and professional eye can detect it. Generally speaking, the writing is flat and not embossed, but you have to realize that with this method you can attain a color layer, and therefore also embossed [protruding] letters by pressing harder. This, of course, makes the identification process even more difficult. There is also a certain difference in the shine [gloss]. The vast majority of people, however, will not be able to discern these products at all, and it is therefore very important to nip this breach in the bud."

At this stage of the conversation R' Shushan warns us of other dangers: this is not the only method, he says, nor the most dangerous one. Other methods exist, such as oven printing, wax printing, ink jet printing, and also a very dangerous method known as electromagnetic printing.

In the presence of Rav Gross, Rabbi Shushan explains all the various methods in great detail. It was a fascinating lesson on printing on parchment. In order not to give rise to further breaches by entrepreneurs with evil intentions, it was decided not to describe these methods in detail. "If we don't increase our awareness right now, and if we do not stem the breach, we are likely to find ourselves in a difficult situation. Do whatever you can," warns this expert on parchment printing, almost in a beseeching manner. We would do well to take his words seriously.

Comments From a Safrus Expert

According to another safrus expert who also visited the production facilities, there are a number of further problems. For one, they have not been able to use kosher ink in the silk screen process effectively. They are using the regular printer's ink used for silk screening.

Ink for a Sefer Torah is supposed to include kankantum (ferrous sulfate), mei afotzim (tannic acid from gall nuts), and guma (gum Arabic, sometimes called kuma).

The Gra, brought down in the Mishna Berurah on Orach Chaim (32:3, se'if kotton 8) says that without all these three ingredients the ink is posul.

Another problem is that even the ink that they do use is designed for solid surfaces that do not bend. (Many products are printed with silk screening, such as soft drink containers.) The stress that will be put on the ink in a Sefer Torah which is read from constantly and rolled back and forth, requires that the ink retain a high degree of elasticity that is not present in the ink they have used so far. So aside from the problem of the kashrus of the ink, the stresses of normal Sefer Torah use will almost certainly cause the Sifrei Torah produced in this method to flake after only three or four years.

The safrus expert also told Yated that as of a month ago they had not yet produced any sifrei Torah and they are having serious difficulties with the requirement of sirtut (Yoreh De'ah 284). The silk is stretched about a centimeter above the klaf when set up, and during the printing it is pushed down to touch the klaf and the ink forced through the holes. This process makes it difficult, and maybe impossible, to properly align the eventual letters with a preexisting sirtut.

There is also a serious problem with all the Sheimos (Holy Names of Hashem) in a Sefer Torah. There is a requirement upon the sofer to sanctify each Sheim, individually, as he writes (See Orach Chaim 32:19 and Mishna Berurah 99). By the nature of the silk screen method which prints a whole column in one operation, it is not possible to single out any of the Sheimos.

Most fundamentally, the posuk (Devorim 6:9) says, "Uchesavtom - - And you must write." This is brought down in the Shulchan Oruch (Orach Chaim 32:5, and Mishnah Berurah 17-19) as a requirement that the Stam be produced by a conventional writing process, that is, by hand with a writing instrument. Any deviation from the conventional writing process is unequivocally posul. Even for a right-handed person to use his left hand is posul.

A case cited in the Mishnah Berurah involved someone in Egypt who held the writing instrument in his mouth and this was ruled unfit in any circumstance, even where no other products were available. The silk screen process is certainly a larger deviation from the conventional writing method than any of these, even if the ink is squeegeed with someone's right hand.

HaRav Eliashiv's Letter

Bs"d, 21st Kislev 5763

"A Megillas Esther bearing peculiar writing on a klaf was brought before me and, although it appears to have been written by a skilled professional with a variety of hiddurim, a special examination indicates this is not kesivoh at all, but was done through silk screening.

"In addition to the michsholim that could result, it remains to be determined whether this falls under the rubric of `kosav, velo shofach' discussed in Perek Beis of Gittin Yerushalmi. In kisvei stam there is also a lack in sanctifying the Holy Names, rendering the Sheimos absolutely posul and [the writings are] unfit and forbidden for mitzvah use. Anyone who issues a halachic ruling permitting them and anyone involved in their sale or distribution is a sinner and causes the public to sin.

"According to the Maharshal they require genizah: `Writes Chochmas Shlomo on Gittin 54b, "He pays nothing, not even their value for study use. Although Sifrei Torah were once studied from [directly], in the case of Sifrei Torah it is prohibited since they are liable to be used for public readings; instead they should be destroyed through genizah."' The Tiferes Shlomo on the Rosh and the Taz on Yoreh Deah (271) rule similarly.

"He who wants to fulfill the mitzvos of laying tefillin, fixing a mezuzoh, reading a megilloh or writing a Sefer Torah should verify that the item was written by a skilled sofer with yiras Shomayim."


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