My letter To Ami Magazine - Feedback or corrections would be appreciated before I submit it

Dear Editor,

Thank you for your your informative article on the controversy over the Kashrus of retzuos for tefillin by Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter.

As correctly reported in the article, this issue was first raised on an online forum for sofrim, back in December of 2011. However the name of the forum was incorrectly quoted in the article as being called "Soferstamblog". The correct name is "The STa"M Forum" which can be viewed online at The forum, which is completely non commerical and non profit, started with a handful of sofrim less than a year ago. Today there are dozens of contributing members from around the world, mostly sofrim and others in the STa"M (Sefer Torah, tefillin and Mezuzah) industry who regularly post shailos and discuss halachic matters relevant to STa"M. Over 600 articles have been posted to date, with the site receiving several hundred hits per day. It is proving to be a valuable resource for many sofrim, rabannim and laymen alike.

Furthermore, I wish to reiterate that the public consensus amongst sofrim is that the recent "retzuah controversy" has been somewhat blown out of proportion. Firstly, it was an honest mistake by a person who had no bad intent. He was not out to commit fraud or break halacha, he simply did not manufacture the retzuos correctly. Secondly, as reported in the article, the retzuos are still kosher according to many opinions.

I think if people are looking to find fault in the STa"M industry, there are more serious concerns that have been raised on the Forum that need to be correctly addressed. Firstly, a large percentage of sofrim who write STa"M today do not have the proper credentials and training. According to my own research, as many as 50% of frum sofrim working in the "conveyor belt" STa"M industry in Israel do not have "Ksav kaballah" - rabbinic ordination necessary to practice as a sofer.

Unfortunatley, most resellers of STa"M (such as Judaica shops) are not careful to buy STa'M only from ordained sofrim. There are thousands of halachos that need to be learned in order to qualify as a sofer, and if a sofer is not proficient in these laws there is a high chance that the STa"m he writes may be halachically problematic, including errors that will never be able to be detected by future examiners.

Other concerns raised on the Forum pertain to halachic standards of some of the cheaper gassos batim (the black leather boxes housing the tefillin parchments) which are being sold to the unsuspecting public . Some of these batim have been found to have "false partition lines", which render the batim unkosher. Others are not properly square. Many of these batim have hechshairim which pertain only to the manufacturing of the hides prior to painting, whilst these problems occur during the painting process. Most people do not read the fine print, and this is very misleading.

With more information being made accessible to educate the consumer through printed media such as Ami Magazine, these problems will hopefully be minimized and standards of Kashrus raised.


Rabbi Eli Gutnick
Ordained sofer
Melbourne, Australia


  1. I wouldn't say that *many* opinions consider the retzuos kosher. You also make it sound like it is just fine/lechatchila. However, the Edah holds they are passul and I understand that most concur including Rav Miller and Rav Fuerst, 2 of the leading poskim in North America. Rav Friedlander saw the teshuva from Rav Klein, who says it is kosher, and he disagrees, even though he did tell me that I should mention it in my upcoming article. Even Rav Klein says that such retzuos are a mekach taus and can be returned. He also told me that while the Karlburger rav holds they aren't passul, he does hold they are bedieved. Rav Friedlander told me not to mention his opinion since his psak was after someone asked him the sheila and not that it was written up by him as a teshuva. If and when it comes out as a teshuva he'd consider it more official.

    The issue of fake chariztim in the shel rosh has been written up a few times over the last few years in English and Hebrew newspapers, like the Yated and is not a new matter.

    "...Others are not properly square. Many of these batim have hechshairim which pertain only to the manufacturing of the *hides* prior to painting..."
    I suggest changing hides to batim.

    1. Thanks.

      Where was the fake charitzim issue written up about and was it concerning batim with a hechsher (that was my chiddush/point).

      When I say many opinions comsider the retzuos kosher, I should change it to kosher bedieved I guess.

      gmar chasimah tovah

  2. I showed R' Shammai Gross the teshuva from R' Moshe Shaul Klein and he said he is in agreement to what he writes there.

    (Note however in the past R' Shammai told me one lichatchila shouldn't buy ratzuos like these however if they did and already using them they don't have to change.)

  3. Almost all gasos have a hechsher and the issue was egarding gasos in general, which would then include those with a hechsher. It was a big to do in Israel a few times over the last few years and it was also in the English hamodia and I think I saw an article in a frum Baltimore paper and I'd expect that it was in the Yated as well.

    1. i'm not sure how much things have changed since this article was written

  4. In Israel a significant % of people went to sofrim to have their charitzim checked or at least asked their sofrim if they need to have them checked. It is of course worth mentioning again. My only point was that this isn't a chiddush.


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