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Chapter Eight - Checking ("Haga'ah")

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1. He who performs the check on a sofer's writing, about what issues must he be concerned?
- He must immerse himself in a mikvah, because he might need to fix flaws in the letters of the holy Names of G-d.

- Before he starts to check a mezuzah, a tefillin scroll, or a sefer Torah, owing to the fact that when he finds a correctible flaw, he will be writing on the parchment, he must make a verbal "prior sanctification" of his writing (See Chapter 7, Halacha 6). He says, for example, "Hareini kotaiv l'shaim kedushas mezuzah," or "Hareini kotaiv l'shaim kedushas tefillin." That is, "Behold, I write for the sake of the kedusha of mezuzah," or "Behold, I write for the sake of the kedusha of tefillin." When he finishes checking a mezuzah and moves on to check a tefillin scroll, he must be careful not to forget to separately sanctify the writing that he is about to do, too. It does not help if before he started work on the mezuzah, he verbally sanctified also the writing that he would do immediately afterwards on the tefillin scroll [for the sanctity of tefillin parshiot is greater]. First he works on a mezuzah, and on tefillin immediately afterwards. He properly uttered the prior sanctification of his writing on the mezuzah, but made no separate prior sanctification before he started his work on the tefillin. As he starts to check the tefillin he finds that the sofer inadvertently had left a space in the midst of one of the components of a letter. The letter, due to its proper shape, is fully identifiable and normally the checker could add ink and fill in the space and it would not be considered that the letter was written "out of sequence" relative to those that follow it. Here, however, although he sanctified his writing of the mezuzah, since he failed to separately sanctify his writing of the tefillin, if he goes ahead and fills in the space, without sanctifying what he is about to do, he has irreparably ruined the mezuzah. After the "repair" the letter looks better than it looked beforehand (the unwanted space has been filled in), but the letter lacks the necessary sanctification. And if you ask, "Let him erase his "joining," pronounce the required sanctification and redo the joining!" This is not an option. It is forbidden, because erasure of the unsanctified writing presents a risk of spoiling and ruining the letter.

- He must vigilantly be on the lookout for letters whose components need to be attached to one another, but they are not, particularly tops of letters that need to be attached to the letter's legs.

- He must pay attention to long letters that extend "below the line" – that they do not touch letters of the line below them. So, too, he must check "tall" letters – that they do not touch letters of the line above them.

- When he makes a pencil mark next to (above) a letter about which he has a question, he must take care that the mark does not touch the letter itself. Neither should his pencil mark be within the hollow of the letter. If the pencil mark is very light, however, it will not make the letter posul in any case, since obviously, the mark is not a part of the letter itself (Shevet HaKehati 1, pg. 214).

- After the check, remove all pencil marks, stickers and other indicators (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:120).

- Inform the customer of the type of writing, its quality and its condition.

- In a mezuzah or tefillin scroll, and so, too, in a sefer Torah and even a Megillah, each letter must be formed by means of the application of ink, not by means of scraping ink away. For example, if there is unwanted ink on a line of writing on a parchment, where the letter ק ("kuf") needs to be, and because of the unwanted ink the letter's proper appearance has been destroyed and erasure of the unwanted ink will cause the appearance of the ק ("kuf") in its proper form, erasure of the unwanted ink is forbidden, for the ק ("kuf") would be born of erasure of ink, not of application of ink. Formation of letters by means erasure is called "chkok tochkos" (i.e. carving space "within" and "around" a letter instead of actually writing the letter). This method of bringing a letter into being is forbidden (Gitten 20a). It is not called "writing." In addition, sometimes, a sofer inadvertently connected two letters, and the result is something that very much resembles a different letter entirely. Or, in one letter, he inadvertently connected together two component parts of it that must remain separated (by a small space, so that each component is "surrounded" by empty parchment), and due to the inadvertent joining, the shape of a different letter appears. When a checker finds such unwanted "joining," whether he is checking a mezuzah, a tefillin scroll, a sefer Torah or even a Megillah, he is not allowed to simply scrape away the unwanted ink in order to create the necessary separations (between the two letters, or between the two component parts of the one letter). Simply scraping away the ink to create the required space (empty parchment "all around") is a problem of "chkok tochkos," because when the ink would be scraped away and the two letters that inadvertently had been connected and thus were largely "concealed" would now fully appear in their correct, individual forms, it would be as if they were coming into being only now, at the time of the "repair." The letters would be formed not by writing, but by erasing. Now, if the unwanted "joining" was in a sefer Torah or a Megillah, whose letters need not be written sequentially, such problems can be fixed. If unwanted ink completely destroyed the shape of a letter, the checker simply erases the whole problematic area and writes the letter over again. If the checker sees that the sofer inadvertently had joined two letters, the checker simply erases them both and writes them again, being careful to leave the necessary space between them. If what was inadvertently joined was two component parts of one letter, he erases the whole letter and writes it over again correctly, leaving space where space is required. Regarding a tefillin scroll or mezuzah, however, if unwanted ink had destroyed a letter's appearance, no repair is possible, because other letters already were written after the one whose shape was destroyed, and fixing the letter brings it into being only now, at the time of the "repair," which makes it "out of sequence" with all the letters that physically are found on the parchment after it. So, too, if a checker of a mezuzah or a tefillin scroll sees that the sofer inadvertently joined together two letters, or two component parts of one letter, no repair is possible. Scraping away the unwanted ink to create the required space (empty parchment "all around") is a problem of "chkok tochkos," because when the ink would be scraped away and the two letters that inadvertently had been connected and thus were largely "concealed" would now fully appear in their correct, individual forms, it would be as if they were coming into being only now, at the time of the "repair," which, in terms of time, would make them "out of sequence" relative to the letters that physically follow them on the parchment. So, too, when two components of one letter had inadvertently been connected together when they needed to be separate (i.e. they needed to be "surrounded" by empty parchment), were the ink of that inadvertent "joining" to be scraped away, it would be as if that letter would be coming into being only now, at the time of the "repair," so it would be posul, because its "birth" would be "out of sequence" relative to the "birth" of the letters that are found on the parchment after it. In terms of time, it is considered as if the letter that had the unwanted part of it scraped away would be coming into being after the letters that are physically found on the parchment after it, when in terms of time, that letter was supposed to have come into being before them. Therefore, such "scraping way" is a forbidden "repair," and the mezuzah or tefillin scroll is posul and irreparable. For example:

* The checker sees a final "noon" (ן) that extends downwards too far and touches the roof of either a כ ("chkoff") or a ב ("beis") on the line below. Sometimes, the tip of the "noon" touches the left end of the roof of the letter below, so that unexpectedly, the sofer had created what looks to be a very large letter ל ("lamed"). If such a ל ("lamed") is apparent, the checker is forbidden to scrape away the problematic ink in order to create the separation that needed to exist in the first place, because such a "repair" is a problem of "chkok tochkos." If he did scrape away the ink, everything would look fine. The letter below and the letter above would be surrounded by empty parchment, but actually, it would be considered as if the final "noon" and the "chkoff" (or "beis") below were coming into being only at the time of the "repair" – which would make them all "out of sequence" relative the letters that follow them on the parchment. They would be posul. Therefore, now, too, they are posul, for instead of looking like separate and individual letters, they look like one big ל ("lamed").

* Sometimes the lowermost point of the letter ע ("eyin") will be touching the bottom of the letter ו ("vov") that precedes it, or the bottom of the letter ז ("zayin") or ר ("raish") that precedes it, so that inadvertently, the sofer had created the letter ש ("shin"). Here, too, if the checker would scrape away the ink where the letters join, it is a problem of "chkok tochkos," for although the two letters now would have empty parchment between them, and they would appear to be kosher, it would be considered as if, in terms of time, they came into being written only after those that follow them on the parchment. Therefore (on a mezuzah or tefillin scroll), no repair is possible.

* Similarly, the roof or "tag" of either a ו ("vov") or ז ("zayin") might be touching the roof or "tag" of a ז ("zayin") that preceded it, so inadvertently, the sofer had created the letter ח ("chkess"). Scraping away this unwanted connection is a problem of "chkok tochkos," too.

* So, too, the letter נ ("noon") might touch letters adjacent to it –such as כ ("chkoff") or ע ("eyin") or ת ("tav") or ך ("chkess sofit") or another נ ("noon") in such a way that instead of two letters, it looks as if the sofer wrote a ט ("tess"). Scraping away the ink so that the נ ("noon") and the other letters become completely surrounded by empty parchment and thus become completely distinguishable letters is forbidden, for this, too, is "chkok tochos." No repair is possible.

* Similarly, sometimes there is unwanted contact between the letter מ ("mem") and the letter ז ("zayin") that follows it. The joining creates the appearance of the letter ח ("chkess") (Shaarei Yosher, Chelek 2:10).

- The person checking also must be on the lookout for where the letter ו ("vov") is followed too closely by the letter כ ("chkoff"). The space between the two letters is so small a child thinks that the two letters are really one – a מ ("mem"). One needs to be stringent about this matter, for the Gidulei HaKodesh (32:33) says the two letters are posul. The Mahrshag disagrees (Chelek 1:3).

- The checker must also look to see if there is any place where the top of the letter ל ("lamed") enters the empty space within a ר ("raish") on the line above, so that it looks as if the sofer wrote the letter ק ("kuf").

- Sometimes, if the top of a ל ("lamed") enters the airspace of a ר ("raish") on the line above, or the airspace of a ו ("vov") there, the intrusion makes it appear as if the sofer wrote the letter ה ("hay").

- The letter ל ("lamed") is made of a ו ("vov") which is the letter's rising "neck," and this "neck" is attached to the lower "body" of the ל ("lamed'), which is the letter כ ("chkoff"). Of course, if the sofer failed to connect the two component letters, the checker is not allowed to add ink to create the desired connection, for were he to do so, it would be considered as if the ל ("lamed") was written after the letters that followed it. Some authorities maintain that if the checker sees a place where along the length of the "neck" of the ל ("lamed") there is an unwanted separation, and the neck itself was not originally "one," here, too, the checker is forbidden to add ink to create the desired connection, because here, as well, before the checker adds the ink, it appears as if the sofer wrote two letters in that place, instead of one. It looks as if a "lamed" and a "vov" are there instead of just a "lamed." As a result, after the checker would add the ink, although the ל ("lamed") would look completely kosher, it would be considered as if it were written "out of sequence" i.e. only after the letters that physically follow it on the parchment (Lishkat HaSofer 9:3). Others maintain that adding ink is permitted in this case, because originally, while the unwanted space exists, it remains obvious (especially from afar) that the only letter present is the ל ("lamed"). As this ל ("lamed") was written, its rising "neck" i.e. the letter ("vov") was supposed to be one "unit," so the part of it that is above the unwanted space is obviously not a ו ("vov") in its own right, for no one writes a ו ("vov") needlessly between two lines of writing (Mikdosh M'aht 32:15).

- There is a problem unique to the Sephardic way of writing (Vollish) regarding the letter נ ("noon"), according to the Sephardic custom that the "tagim" of the letters are put on later, after the writing is completed (See "Tagim" Halacha 34). If the sofer made the "tagim" of the נ ("noon") thick, although now, at the time of the check, all the "tagim" are present and the letter looks fine, still, after the sofer had put on just the first "tag," had he put it where he normally does i.e. on the far left-hand side of the roof of the נ ("noon"), the letter had taken on the appearance of a ל ("lamed"). Afterwards, when the sofer completed the "tagim," only then was it again clear that the letter was actually a נ ("noon"), so in effect, that נ ("noon") was written "out of order" i.e. "after" the letters that follow it physically on the parchment.

- Before he starts his check, if he notices a letter that needs fixing, he should immediately make a pencil mark by it, and not trust that he will remember later.

- It is normal practice to make the pencil mark above the problematic letter, not below it, and to mark at the start of a line that a problem in it.

- If due to doubt about a letter, he sought out a child and saw from the child's reaction that no problem exists, it is fitting that, nevertheless, he attend to the shortcoming that triggered his doubt (Shevet HaKehati 1:29).

2. If a bit of dirt or parchment got stuck onto one of the letters, how does one fix it?
He must remove these things. He cannot just cover them over with ink, hoping to make it appear as if no foreign substance is there. After removal of the problematic item, if a bit of damage was done to the letter, but he sees that the letter still is kosher, he should not go over that place with his quill to improve the letter's looks, because that would amount to writing the letter "out of sequence" relative to those after it.

If dirt or some other foreign substance got stuck onto a letter of one of the seven Names, nothing can be done, because these names cannot be erased, even partially, and removal of the foreign substance presents a risk of erasure (See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:3, removal of "gold dust" from a letter of one of these names).

3. If a letter is slightly miss-shaped but still is identifiable to most people but the checker brings in a child and the child's reaction is otherwise, what is the halacha?
The letter is kosher (Shibolei HaLecket Chelek 10, 277:2).

4. What is the halacha if the ink of a letter looks as if it is about to "jump off" the parchment?
Such ink is considered as if it is already gone, so the letter is posul. The sign of this is when one looks at a letter, its ink is cracked in many places (Toras HaLevi 13:16).

5. Can repairs be made with (black) ink from a fountain pen (synthetic ink, i.e. made of chemicals)?
One should be stringent and refrain from this regarding completion of letters, filling in unwanted spaces and repairing the roofs of the letters (Bnei Yissachar 271:66; See above, "Tagim," Halacha 32, 34).

6. What is the halacha if before he made a repair on the one of the seven Names, he said, as required, that he was doing so "l'shem kedushas haShem" i.e. "for the sake of the holiness of the Name," but he had neglected to say that his writing was "l'shem kedushas sefer Torah," or "l'shem kedushas tefillin," or "l'shem kedushas mezuzah."
The repair is kosher (Shevet HaKehati, Chelek 1, pg. 221).

7. When we say that a letter has its normal, proper shape, and is clearly the letter that it is supposed to be (i.e. it is clearly "identifiable"), is the determining factor the looks of the letter as it is viewed in isolation, or is the determining factor how the letter looks in relation to the other letters on the parchment? For example, a sofer used a quill that writes very thin. As a result, when the writing is brought to a checker, he sees that all of the letters on the parchment are tall and thin. Regarding the letter ז ("zayin"), if the checker looks at this parchment's ז ("zayin") in relation to the rest of the letters on the parchment, it is the normal, proper shape, and is easily identifiable as a ז ("zayin"). On the other hand, if any ז ("zayin") on this parchment is viewed in isolation, it looks very much like a final "noon" (ן).
The halacha of the letter is determined according to how it looks in relation to the other letters on the parchment. (R. Yosef Shalom Eliashiv). [R. Eliashiv explained that one should not think that this ruling contradicts a ruling of the Mikdosh M'aht about where the adjacent letters פן ("pay" and final "noon") allegedly looked too much like the word פז("pay" and "zayin"). The Mikdosh M'aht ruled that the final "noon" was kosher, because if viewed in isolation, it was clearly identifiable as a final "noon." That was a special case, explained R. Eliashiv, for there, the sofer had made the letter פ ("pay") unusually tall, compared to other similar letters on the parchment. Only because of that was the determining factor the looks of the final "noon" in isolation. Normally, the determining factor is how the letter looks in relation to the other letters on the parchment.]

8. Is a woman allowed to be the checker of the writing?
According to the straight letter of the law, yes, but she must not be the one who makes the repairs (Shevet HaKehati, Chelek 1, 25).

9. If a child is able to read only when the vowels are present, does the halacha allow him to be asked about a letter?
Yes (R. Yosef Shalom Eliashiv).

10. What if all of the corrections to writing were made on the basis of a check performed only mechanically, by means of a computer program, instead of by a person?
One is forbidden to rely upon a computer program for anything, except for detection of extra elements or omissions (Shibolei HaLecket, Chelek 7: 2, 8).

11. When the one who performed the check gives over his report to the one who commissioned him, must he tell him about every problem that he found in the writing? Must he report every shortcoming that he discovered?
In the checker's estimation, if the one who commissioned him is particular even about "hidur," the checker must report even his discoveries of shortcomings in "hidur." On the other hand, if he sees that the only interest of the one who commissioned him is that the writing be kosher, the checker need report only problems that, if left unattended, would prevent the writing from being kosher.

12. If errors are found in a sefer Torah, must the whole sefer Torah be rechecked?
If three or more are found, yes (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 279:3). This is so because as soon as there are three errors, it no longer can be assumed that the checker was qualified for the job. On the other hand, if it is known that the one who performed the check was an expert in these matters, or the problems could well have arisen because of the age of the writing, the entire sefer need not be rechecked (Shevet HaLevi, Chelek 5: 166:2).

13. If one sees that between two letters, scraping was done, so suspicion arises regarding "chkok tochkos," what is the halacha?
If the identity of the sofer is unknown, and it is known that the writing was done for a low price, one must worry that, indeed, in this spot the sofer violated the prohibition on "chkok tochkos" and the mezuzah or tefillin scroll is posul.