Lishkas Hakodesh, a public watchdog Stam (the Hebrew acronym of Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzas) organization, has uncovered a massive fraud on the part of the well-known sofer Shimon Cohen. Cohen writes with truly beautiful letters, and it was known that he had made a computer font based on his handwriting. In the course of a din Torah in Jerusalem, it was discovered that the font had been used to print entire safrus products that were then overwritten in regular sofer ink. The products were sold to unsuspecting customers all over the world.
According to information received by me, dozens of sifrei Torah, hundreds of tefillin, and thousands of mezuzas were produced this way. Sales were concentrated in New York, Monsey, Lakewood, Chicago and Mexico but sales were made elsewhere. The writing is Ksav Vellish, the style usually used by Sephardic Jews.
The technique of overwriting printed parchment using a metal pen is commonly used for art work and Judaica products such as the Psalm Lamenatzei'ach written in the shape of a Menorah or a Shivisi. The results appear to be normal safrus writing. Only a careful and close inspection will show small remnants of the gray color that was used for printing.
After inspecting a suspect sefer Torah and mezuza, the Vaad Lishkas Hakodesh reported that the letters are uncannily similar, and the space between the letters and words is very regular, without the usual small but noticeable changes. These results are impossible to achieve with normal safrus techniques, even if the sofer has written on a light table with a printed guide underneath. As we noted earlier, when overwriting a printed klaf, a sofer typically uses a metal pen rather than a feather which produces more regular shaped letters.
The Vaad also found letters in which there were evident lighter patches at the edges and at difficult corners and edges such as the curves of kaf and lamed and sharp tips of the yudim on alefs.
HaRav Mordechai Friedlander, the rav of the Shomrei Hachomos community in Ramat Shlomo, wrote, "I am coming to express my deep pain to kvod Toraso and to the public at large who is concerned about the holiness of Stam, about the great scandal that came to light recently. A Sofer Stam who was blessed with a wonderful handwriting has written for several years using writing overwriting other writing. He already wrote several sifrei Torah and many tefillin and mezuzas in this style, and he caused dozens and even hundreds of unsuspecting people to stumble, Rachmono litzlan.
"As soon as I was notified and verified this report I asked a great rov, one of the elders of those who frequent the home of HaRav Eliashiv shlita and a very meticulous person, to ask the Rov shlita about this subject. The answer of the Rov shlita was: `It is obvious that there is nothing to talk about on this subject, and not just what he wrote using writing overwriting other writing is completely posul, but even anything else written by this sofer in a kosher way should be put in genizah, since, from the time be started doing this (writing overwriting other writing) he has no ne'emonus on any matter in Stam.' This is the reply of the Gaon HaRav Eliashiv shlita. According to what I heard this sofer is still going to various places in America such as Chicago and continues in his way. Something that is a chilul kovod Shomayim and an awful stumbling block [like this] must be publicized and we must scream bitterly to high Heaven. He who writes from deep pain and a broken heart that after all our efforts we are still in such a state."
The rabbonim of Ahavat Shalom, headed by the Gaon HaRav Yaakov Hillel, also published a letter about this matter. "We the undersigned, the members of the Beis Horo'oh of Yeshivat Ahavat Shalom in Yerushalayim t"v, are coming to state that in the light of comprehensive checking through magnifying the letters, laboratory tests by experts, and the like, the sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzas that were distributed in many places under the name of the sofer Shimon Cohen are forgeries that are writing overwriting other writing, in which the underlying writing is printed by a computer and over that he has passed a pen with ink. It was done with deceptive intent so that the eye cannot discern the forgery except by magnifying the letters, and then everything is clear. And since many important people in many communities throughout the world were fooled by these Stam and the bless brochos levatoloh and they do not fulfill their mitzvah obligations, therefore it is a mitzvah to publicize the matter as much as possible and to remove a stumbling block from our people."
We apologize that due to the work on the article about the Vishnitzer Rebbe ztvk"l we were not able to finish this article this week. B'H the remainder, including photos showing the forgery, will be published next week.