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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Scandal? What Scandal?

Over the past few days I have received numerous emails and phone calls from panicked customers who are reading about this retzuah controversy on the Internet. I really think this whole thing is overrated. Here's why:

1) These retzuos are still mehudar according to many poskim such as Rav Moshe S. Klien.
2) It's not like the guy did something deliberately wrong to be machte es horabim, he simply made an honest error and did not choose the correct manufacturing procedure.

If people are looking for scandals in Stam, then in my opinion, the following are far more scandalous:

1) Many  mezuzos and tefillin sold in Judaica shops around the world, many owned and run by by frum Yidden, are not written by sofrim with ksav kaballah. Based on my own research and experience, more than 50% of sofrim working in the "conveyor belt" safrus industry do not have ksav kaballah!

2) Many magihim operating both in Israel and the US do not have kaballa for "hagaha". Like in any industry, you need to be certified by a greater authority before you can practice. Could you imagine if you found out that your doctor did not have a medical license or did not graduate medical school?!? (What a scandal that would be, I think he would go to jail for that!). Why should the Stam industry be any different? We are also playing with people's lives (both ruchniyos and gashmiyos) !

3) The el cheapo gassos batim with the "hologram hechsher". I stopped buying them years ago, it is far more halachically superior as well as cheaper to use pshutim mehudarim than these batim. Of the last batch I received from a wholesaler in Benai Braq, The vast majority did not have the charitzim in the correct place. The few that did have good charitzim had other problems such as ribuah being way off. I understand that the hechsher is given until the painting only so the mashgiach / rav hamachshir cannot be responsible for possul charitzim mezuyafim. However most people do not read the fine print on the hechsher and these batim are sold complete with parshiyos all over the world (including Australia) to the unsuspecting public.

One final note:

Fraud and unscrupulous retailers have plagued the Stam industry for years. However I am not talking about the tourist shops and wider secular Jewish community. The three points above pertain to the "haimishe/ frum Stam industry and involve haimishe / frum sofrim/sochrim and retailers.

13 comments:

  1. I did not mean to offend anyone who may be a reader or member of this forum if they do not have ksav kaballah. My point was not to offend individual people CH'V but rather to draw attention to the general indifference within the industry to this very important isse. The fact that is just accepted as virtually normal and many non certified sofrim and magihim are accepted and practice without as much as a peep from either the powers that be or the general community, to me, is more mindblowing than a retzuah maker who made an honest technical error in the manufacturing process of retzuos.

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  2. I don't think there is a need to apologize for possibly offending people (although nice to do, and best not to offend anyway) But it's a serious issue and for those without a Ksav Kabballah reading this they should take note to what's being said. More importantly maybe see what R' Shmuel Wosner Shlit"a writes in ShuT Shevat HaLevi on this issue -- I think his word is pretty much final...

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  3. Eli,
    I posted about the retzuos issue in the section where this was originally raised on the forum. I will post it again. My information is accurate and direct from Rav Friedlander, who is acting as spokesman for the Edah, who are leading the investigation into this matter. The article posted in a so called kosher publication out of NY and their website was somewhat unclear and I posted there and on yeshivaworld as well to provide a clear psak of the Edah. (I call this publication "so called kosher" since they do not moderate their comments and allow commenters to attack talmidei chachamim, sofrim and spread lashon hara and motzei shem ra. This is one of the reasons why the rabbanim are against the Internet -sites that purport to be frum but are not guided and moderated by daas Torah.

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  4. I had spoken to my rebbi of 25 years, Rav Mordechai Friedlander a week ago in response to the first article (which shouldn’t have been published, as it was prior to the psak of the Edah and again after the psak of the Edah on Monday. I followed up with him again on Thursday when this latest article came out, which didn’t present the psak of the Edah clearly, as I understood it. He said that the retzuos should be physically checked to see if the paint peels/lifts off (like tape). This should be done with a knife. (I’d suggest having a sofer do it, if possible.) If it peels then it is passul. If it doesn’t peel then it is ok. While on a conference call with 2 dealers in a larger US city, who know I am close to Rav Friedlander, one said he checked his roll and it was peeling and the other said his wasn’t. Rav Friedlander also said that the all black retzuos are not problematic since the surface underneath is black.
    Based on talking to my colleagues here in Israel, including a major supplier of the retzuos in question, we are not aware of retzuos with this problem. (We haven’t noticed the problem nor have people returned with peeling retzuos.) Have you experienced this problem?? The retzuos are made overseas and it seems this problematic production was shipped to NY or at least were (mostly) pulled off the market in time before they were sold in Israel. Nevertheless, the Edah hasn’t made a distinction between locations.
    The Edah chose not to identify the source to the public so I will follow suit.

    Rav Friedlander mentioned the new, potentially more serious, issue with the testing results, as published in the 2nd article. He said the matter should not have been mentioned and the tzibbur will be informed if necessary after the investigation is completed and a psak rendered.

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  5. Rav Klein is a leading posek and expert in StaM and is giving a hechsher to many of the batim (yet they must each be carefully checked) and avodas yad retzuos on the market. Nevertheless, as has been posted online "in the name of a rav close to Rav Klein", there is a distinction in policy between him and the Edah and is worthy of knowing for yourself and if you deal with bnei Torah you may want to have Edah retzuos so you can give your customers the option or suggest they consult their rav for guidance. I personally offer both to bnei Torah, when I have the Edah retzuos available. They will cost you around $3 more per meter. (As an aside, Rav Friedlander suggested and hence my policy is to only offer retzuos with a hechsher, which excludes machine made, plus many poskim, including Rav Klein, say machine made are not lechatchila.)
    The Edah is makpid to oversee the complete production, hence the additional cost, particularly since most retzuos are made overseas. Rav Klein, after investigating and overseeing the process, gives his hechsher on the producer so is not overseeing the process.

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  6. Also, Rav Klein doesn't consider the retzuos in which the paint can be peeled off like tape to be mehudar. He is obviously saying that unless shown otherwise, they are mehudar.

    Regarding your comment about cheaper gasos, after the batim are ready to sell, the charitzim can open, affecting the ribua and some cheaper painters may not be as careful about making sure the real chariztim remain revealed. They are mostly not doing it purposely but are just sloppy. The standard hechsher is given before painting. However, even various problems in the making are sometimes overlooked so you must know the halachos of batim well (which many sofrim don't nor have shumush) and check each pair. Peshutim mehudarim (which I have found in the last number of years to be very problematic as the quality has dropped significantly and I give back far more than with gasos) are okay for beginners or those who refuse or absolutely can't afford an extra $100 for gasos. They are qualitatively and halachically inferior to gasos. Spend a bit more or find a lower priced gasos maker who makes decent batim for your lower end gasos tefillin.

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    Replies
    1. I am not talking about charitzim that open, I am talking about charitzim not in the correct place. There is at least one charedi place in benai braq where I used to buy cheap gassos batim that sell many batim with completely false charitzim as well as other problems which are meakev. The batim used to have a green and white sticker hechsher on the underside of the bayis, now they have a silver hologram hechsher in the same place.

      In the last batch I received from them (with the hechsher) the vast majority of batim were possul either with false charitzim (obviously you may ruin the paint when testinmg for this) and ribah that was way off.

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  7. the biggist issue by gassos is that %80 of the problems cannot be detectet, in pshutim mehudarim however there is a lot more you can see.

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  8. I'd take an ehrlicher yid without a Ksav Kabbalah over the unscrupulous sofrim with their fancy Ksav Kabbalah.

    In certain Chassidishe communities (and perhaps other communities as well), they don't care if a sofer has a Ksav -- they care about the ehrlichkeit of the sofer.

    I know of a "sofer" who is a conservative rabbi (who publicly drives on Shabbos) with a Ksav Kabbalah from a frum rov.

    Which leads me into this question: supposed reliable sofrim who cheat customers financially -- can we trust that they are not also cheating in their safrus. (Probably a subject for its own post.)

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  9. Obviously we should strive to buy for sofrim the be erlich and yiras shomayim. I always try to get references before starting with a new sofer.

    Having said that - no matter how erlich the guy is, if he doesn't know halacha he will in all likelihood make mistakes r'l and may make tikunnim etc neged halacha r"l. I have seen plenty of erliche sofrim who mean well and are what I would consider very sincere and yiras shomayim, but they make the mistakes out of ignorance, not rishus. I have seen this with my own eyes.

    (I recently returned parshiyos with negiyos that were 100% meakev and received them back with the negiyos scraped away. When I confronted the guy, who is a very ehrliche frum guy he admitted that he simply did not know that at least some of the negiyos were problematic. And this was a sofer who had been writing for many years.)

    And if the guy is indeed boki in halachos, let him take the test and satisfy daas torah who say today ksav kaballah is mandatory. (I always get these sochrim pushing what they say are amazing sofrim and when I ask if they have ksav kaballah they say "NO, but he's a big mumcheh and he's a big talmid chochom etc,". My reply alwyas is that if he's such a big talmid chochom and mumche it should be a cinch for him to get ksav kaballah, let him spend the hour to take the test and be over with it. And then contact me and I will support him. And I never hear from these guys again.

    I'm sorry if I'm rambling but it really irks me.

    And regarding sofrim who cheat in business. I agree 100% they should not be given a cheskas kashrus in their safrus. Particualrly sochrim. but as you say this is another (sad) topic alltogether.



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  10. Eli, I fully agree. being in Israel I have the advantage to work direct with the sofrim so get a handle on their erlichkeit via various means. They also usually come recommended by another sofer I trust. The ksav kabbala shows that they have learned the halachos. Rav Friendlander told me that there is no taana against the older sofrim who were writing before the Mishmeres Stam made the ksav kabbala popular. However, there is no excuse for others. The fact alone that they go out of their way to take the tests is already an important sign. They are also required, as part of the ksav kaabala, to get a signature from a beis din or known rav who can establish that they are erlich.

    Also, I understand you were talking about false charitzim, which I mentioned as well. However, you also mentioned ribua issues and I wrote that the shel rosh can open, hence one of the causes of a problematic ribua happens after the manufacture/sale/hechsher. Insufficient time t dry and weather/humidity are primary factors.

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  11. Our fellow forum member, R' Traube is quoted from Ami magazine on yeshivaworld:
    The supposed retzuos scandal has put the Torah world on edge, as various claims about the kashrus of retzuos have been bandied about during recent days. But several sofrim who have been involved with the question for months have denied the claim that there is any “scandal” involved.

    Rabbi Shmiel Aharon Traube, the proprietor of Bais Hastam in Boro Park, who first discovered the problem, told Ami Magazine this week that the manufacturer was not intentionally misleading sofrim and consumers. “No one was trying to dupe anyone here.” Rabbi Traube, in describing the difficulties that sofrim have faced regarding retzuos, explained that he has had to accept heavy financial losses when manufacturers have delivered problematic merchandise due to natural imperfections and changes in the tanning industry.

    Who has paskened on the questionable retzuos? The sofrim described a multitude of opinions on the matter. Rav Moshe Roth, son of the Karlsberger Rav, confirmed that his father issued a psak that the retzuos are kosher b’dieved, and that he has not retracted his opinion, despite claims in the media to the contrary.

    I submitted a comment to the piece as follows:
    While the matter was blown out of proportion, the issue prematurely publicized, premature hints made that there was a potential scandal and erliche sofrim wrongly attacked for supposedly covering up the matter, the fact is that the Edah Charedis with Harav Mordechai Friedlander as it’s spokesman, who are the lead poskim investigating the matter, did pasken that if in fact the paint on the retzuos peel off (started by lifting the edge with a blade) like tape that the retzuos would then be passul and if they don’t lift then they are just fine.
    The one who published the first articles on this matter is apparently in Israel now to meet Rav Friedlander (Edah) among others to get the matter clarified.

    ------------------
    Rabbi Traube, can you clarify what the Karlsburger Rav means by bedieved? mima nafshach- If they have peeled they are no good. If you can't peel then then they are perfectly fine. If you want to know if they are the type that peel off then check them. If you don't check them you won't know if they are the peelable kind. Is he saying that if you don't check them then they are minimally bedieved if they would turn out to be the type that peels off when tested? If so, then since there is a way to prove one way or the other then just test them and find out if they are fine or not. Perhaps he is saying that they need to be tested but if they hadn't peeled until then yet do so once tested then the wearer was yotzeh bedieved.

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  12. I just spoke to Rav Friedlander and he said that the Karlbuger Rav holds that if the retzuos is the type that will peel when tested but the paint is presently attached to the leather that it is kosher bedieved. This is based on not well know psak of a daas yachid. Rav Friedlander didn't have the sefer with him and forgot the name. The Edah paskened that if they are the type that will peel they are pasul.

    In any case, the one who first made this public is in Israel and met with Rav Friedlander and the retzuos maker and more investigation is required as there are a few new twists. In the meantime the psak of the Edah remains unchanged and there is no reason to be concerned about the type of leather used. He'll surely put out a new article, hopefully only after the matter has been clarified and with the okay of the Edah.

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