פורום בינלאומי לנושא סת"ם

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Method and Approach to Writing – Traditional vs. Modern

The following is really a response to Rabbi Eli Gutnik’s post about Rabbi Zirkind Z”L, as if his approach is a bit extreme, not “mainstream”.

Thank you Eli for pointing out those principles that Rabbi Zirkind worked so hard to instill in his students. Please allow me to clarify.

Rabbi Zirkind learned by Sofrim of the previous generation, including Rabbi Pollak of Williamsburg, and Rabbi Matlin who was the Rebbe’s personal Sofer.

Rabbi Zirkind became the Rebbe’s personal Sofer after Rabbi Matlin’s passing. He checked and wrote Mezuzot for the Rebbe’s house, made Retzuot by the Rebbe’s request, sewed the Rebbe’s Tefilin (when the gid tore), and the Rebbe personally ordered by him tefilin for other people.

The Rebbe recommended him to Horav Moshe Feinstein to write for him Rabeinu Tam Tefilin & later also wrote a Sefer Torah for him, and discussed with him all of the Tsuras Haoityot.

So definitely he is someone we can all look up to and learn from.

You write:

“compared to most other styles is in its simplicity. This is because he strongly believed in the fact that it says "Uchsavtem" (not Utziyartem etc) and that many of the more detailed and ornate ksavim (particularly Ksav Chabad) done today are "drawn" rather than simply "written".”

This approach to “writing” is the way STa”M was written in past generations, that’s the way ALL older Lubavitch sofrim wrote, that’s the way Rabbi Zirkind learned from Rabbi Matlin, that’s the way Rabbi Aronow from Toronto זאל זיין געזונט און שטארק writes, who also learned from previous generation Lubavich Sofrim, and that’s the way Rabbi Zilberman from Montreal wrote and taught.

With this same Style Reb Zalman Vainshtein wrote, and the Rebbe Rayatz ordered by him very many Mezuzot and tells him to “write at least 4 a day, considering Friday and Motzoei Shabbos as one, for a total of about 90 Mezuzot a month! And the main thing is to write more and faster”!

See the letter to him in Igros Kodesh volume 1 letter 178:

"..ורק העיקר כי ישתדל לכתוב יותר, היינו שרייבין געכער, ואם יהי' יותר יהי' יותר טוב"

Reb Zalman who was the Lubavitcher Sofer in Warsaw, advertised in the “Kovetz Hatomim”, that he learned Sofrus in Lubavitch by the order of the Rebbe Rayatz and that the Rebbe had written by him Parshiyot for his sons in-law and grandson. Attached to that ad are letters from Lubavitcher Rabonim that his ksav is what’s Mekubal from the Alter Rebbe.

This advertisement with a copy of his Ktav was printed in the Kfar Chabad magazine issue 971, 8 Cheshvan 5762.

A copy of his Ktav is also available at the following link.

Today we B”H have plenty of Parshiyot & Sifrei Torah written by Lubavich Sofrim of the past, including the Megilot which the Rebbe MaHaR”SH himself wrote, and all are written with the same approach!  Simply “written” in a flowing manner, rather than “drawn".

The “modern" style was started close to 100 years ago by the Sofer Reb Nesanel b”r Shmuel Teplinsky of Yerushalaim, who claimed to have a Mesora from the GR”O, based on the sefer “Ksov Lechaim – Ksiva Tama”. It became popular in Eretz Yisroel and now all copy his handwriting and think that this is Ksav Arizal! The authenticity of this Mesora is questionable, as the Rebbe writes in the Igros Kodesh:

אגרות קודש ח"ג אגרת תשל"א
"אבל בספר כתוב לחיים להסופר ר' אברהם חיים ממינסק (ווילנא תרי"ח) כותב ששמע ... כמובן יסוד קלוש הוא ביותר לקבוע עפ"ז דעת הגר"א שהיא היפך מהאריז"ל, ובפרט שגם התקון בזהר אינו עולה יפה כלל.."

See Ha’oros Ubiurim – Oholei Torah, gilyon 31 (587) page 24, where Rabbi Zirkind clarifies this issue.

You write:

“This argument was consistent with his general shittah that there is no such thing as "hiddur" when itcomes to ksav, there is no makkor in halacha for a beautifully written ksav being in any way advantageous to a simple (yet obviously halachadic) one: Either it is kosher k'din or it is not.”

Today the term “Mehudar” is used by Sofrim/marketers in a very unethical way! To grade artistically nicer looking parshios as “Mehudar” (which that by itself does not have any “Halachic” advantage), without considering other critical factors, such as the qualifications and years of experience of the Sofer (or lack thereof), what klaf was used, etc. and to grade that which to their eyes is not as artistic, as “not Mehudar”.

A typical example, a Mezuzah in which all lines start and finish perfectly even though some letters are stretched or narrow, may be called “very Mehudar” and a Mezuzah which the Sofer wrote normally without overly stretching, and a small space is left at the end of the line or a letter sticks out of line, is called “not as Mehudar”.

Another example: A Mezuzah written on beautiful white klaf, not knowing where it came from or by whom it was made, may be marketed as “Mehudar”. However, when a Sofer works and makes the Klaf himself to ensure the highest level of kashrus, and home-made klaf  may not be as white or have such a perfect finish, or there might be a little hole that’s only visible against the light, this “they” consider “not Mehudar”.

Aesthetics over substance is the real issue here. We may not give priority to so-called levels in “Hidur” that are not mentioned in Shulchan Oruch, over those things that really matter. Halacha is not Paskend that way! Whether it’s about Tsuras Haotiyot or anything else…


  1. Two points:

    1. "Mehudar" comes from the shoresh הדר, which means beauty (see in Vayikra where the etrog is referred to as פרי עץ הדר). Thus, while imprecisely applied, it is far from inaccurate.
    2. Different kehillot had different k'tavim prior to the Shoah. It is an unfortunate state of affairs that we have now where everyone follows R' Netanel Sofer's k'tav rather than writing their ancestral forms. For example, in Frankfurt aM, where my family is from, the general form of k'tav sta"m followed the B"Y, although the right yud of the צ is hafucha, similarly to K'tav haAri. Now, a magiha would be likely to passul such sta"m.

  2. Actually a magia would likely suggest that it's bedieved as is or would add a little to the left side of the head if it was a B"Y ksav where it's clear that the sofer mistakenly made 1 or a few Tzadi's according to the Ari. If the entire ksav was written this way then it should be brought to the customers attention to clarify if this is his mesora rather than "jump the gun". Similarly, if checking reveals ksav Ari belonging to someone who is not Chassidish, then it should be brought to his attention as it may be his mesora. For example, he may be a Yekki, for whom ksav Ari is lechatchila.

    1. I was advised to consider this issue with my parshiot although I decided to go with the Yekkisch k'tav due to my mesorah. Just as a clarification though, it's b"y with a yud hafucha for the right yud of the צ, rather than Arizal.

  3. Thanks for your very insightful post.

    My comment was in response to a question as to how Rabbi Zirkind's style of writing (and general outlook) differs from other Alter Rebbe styles written today. It was was a brief but factual description based on my many hours of talking with Rabbi Zirkind Z"L ( and some of his talmidim).

    I was not taking issue with his outlook, nor was my intention to call it extreme. I was merely explaining it, for the benefit of those who were unaware. Many, if not most sofrim in Chabad worldwide, particularly those in Eretz Yisroel, are completely oblivious to all of the above. Hence my comment.

  4. I should probably add that most sofrim today who write the Alter Rebbe's ksav, copy (to great detail) the ksav of "Reb Rueven" who's parshiyos were worn by the late R' Zalman Gurarie Z"L and are considered by many as closest thing we have to the genuine Alter Rebbe's ksav. (Reb Reuven was the Alter Rebbe's sofer, and its assumed these parshiyos were written after the A'R revealed the intricacies of his ksav to R' Reuven.)

    Since this ksav is very aesthetically pleasing and beautiful, and since many sofrim strive to replicate its detail and beauty, there will INEVITABLY BE A CONFLICT between those attempting to replicate the detail and beauty of R' Rueven's ksav, and those following the so called "older style" of writing as many mezuzos as possible in an unquestionably more simple (yet obviously kosher) ksav.

    Herein lies the crux of the issue.

  5. Who said the the Frierdike Rebbes Horaah to that Sofer was a Horaah L'rabbim? Especially in light of the words of the baruch Sheomar that we are to write slowly and methodically?
    What was the context then?


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