1. Is a person allowed to write sifrei Torah, tefillin scrolls and mezuzos if he does not possess written certification that he learned the laws and knows them?
In the introduction to Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried's classic sefer, "Kesset HaSofer," the Chasam Sofer writes, "One must not give permission or a ksav kaballah (certification) to any sofer who is not expert in the contents of this sefer. A sofer who does not posses the needed expertise is posul (unfit, disqualified) to engage in this craft..."
Rabbi Chaim Pilagi writes (Tnufas Chaim p. 247), "Without semicha (authorization) he is forbidden to write even one letter of the Torah."
Rabbi Shmuel Vozner adds, "Without a ksav kabbalah, a sofer is forbidden to write a sefer Torah, and once three years have passed, a ksav kabbalah expires (and needs to be renewed)."
2. For the sake of writing sifrei Torah, tefillin scrolls and mezuzos, must a sofer ritually immerse himself in a kosher mikvah on a daily basis?
It is fitting to be particular about this matter (Aruch HaShulchan; Kesset HaSofer).
"Ritual immersion on a regular basis (not just because of the decree of Ezra) is fitting for a sofer" (Chida).
3. Regarding the writing of a sefer Torah, since the words and letters need not be written one after the other ("k'sidran"), the question arises: Is one permitted to leave blank the places where HaShem's Name needs to be written, and after ritual immersion go back and write in the Name?
It is permitted (Kesset HaSofer).
4. Should one write a sefer Torah, tefillin and mezuzos only on parchments that were worked and processed by hand – by manual power only?
According to the straight letter of the law, one need not be concerned about this. It is enough that a Jew manually places the skins into the soaking pool that contains the needed substances. As he does so, however, the Jew must have intent that he is doing so for the sake of the mitzvah (Mishnah Berurah 32:30; Chazon Ish, Tefillin 6:10). Afterwards, the stirring of the soaking pool need not be done manually.
Some are stringent about this matter (in accordance to the opinion of Gidulei HaKodesh 3:4).
5. Can the sofer's pen (quill) be made of metal or plastic?
According to the straight letter of the law, yes, it can [although metal and plastic are inedible] (Bnei Yonah, Yoreh Deah 271:6). However, the pen should not be made of iron [for iron is used to make weapons].
Preferably, though, one should use a kosher [i.e. edible] bird's feather (Chasam Sofer, cited in Kesset HaSofer 3; Shevet HaLevi, Chelek 2:136).
6. The Shulchan Aruch rules (Orach Chaim 32:19) that when a sofer is about to start a session of writing, or he is about to write HaShem's Name, so he has explicit intent to write with holiness and for the sake of the mitzvah, he must express this intent verbally. Before starting to write tefillin, he says, "Hareini kotaiv l'shaim kedushas tefillin" i.e. "Behold, I am writing for the sake of the holiness of tefillin." Before writing one of the seven Names of G-d, he says, "Hareini kotaiv l'shaim kedushas haShaim" i.e. "Behold I am writing for the sake of the holiness of the Name." When he does so, must he hear his own words?
According to the straight letter of the law, it is enough that he says the words, even if he does not hear them (i.e. there was noise in the room). Of course, though, it is preferable that when he says the words, he does hear them (Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 690:6).
7. If he only had intent to write with holiness and for the sake of the mitzvah, but he did not say the words at all, what should he do?
He must say the words aloud and write a second time, over what he wrote the first time (R. Yosef Shalom Eliashiv; Shevet HaLevi, Chelek 5:8).
8. If one says the words aloud when about to start to write a sefer Torah, and his intention is that, in fact, he will write the entire sefer with holiness and for the sake of the mitzvah, is it enough, or must he say the words again, every day, or after every interruption?
According to the straight letter of the law, his stated intention at the outset is enough, even if he stopped writing for an extended period of time (Mishnah Berurah 11:5), provided that he did not completely take his mind off of the writing and always intended to return to it.
It is better, though, to say the words again, each time one is about to begin to write a new parashah (Mishnah Berurah 32:92). It is the same regarding someone who writes several mezuzos at one sitting. He should say the words again before starting to write each one.
The same should be done after any interruption in writing (Chida 18:15).
9. What is the halacha if one utters the words absent-mindedly, without thinking about their meaning?
He has fulfilled his obligation (Chida 6:13), but of course, he should be more careful about this in the future (Kol Yaakov 274).
10. Regarding the letter ה which appears twice in the four-letter Name of HaShem, what is the source for "chiluk osios" -- writing the components of these letters in an order and fashion other than the usual?
The source is the Zohar (VaYikra 11). This was the custom of the Arizal, and it also is the Sephardic custom.
11. For whom is such writing appropriate?
"It is appropriate only for a sofer who can write this way in good conscience, knowing that he is able to do it correctly. On the other hand, if he is not absolutely certain about the matter, he might spoil the letters, so he is better off not concerning himself with the Kabbalistic thoughts and intentions" (Imrei Sheffer 1:19).
12. While writing a mezuzah or the parshiot of tefillin, is the sofer allowed to talk to someone, or is speech considered a prohibited interruption?
When writing the parshiot of tefillin, either of the head or the arm, it is best not to speak or interrupt in any other way, until all the parshiot are completed (Shaarei Teshuva, cited in Mishnah Berurah 32:5).
If this is difficult for him, he at least should take care to not interrupt in the midst of any individual parashah (ibid.; adds the Ramah [32:19] that if a sofer is drowsy, he should not write, because it is unlikely that he will write with the proper and required intention – for the sake of the mitzvah. All the more so, if a sofer starts talking, all the while that he speaks, it is unlikely that he will be writing for the sake of the mitzvah). All this is so regarding the writing of a mezuzah, too.
If the sofer did speak while writing, he should take his pen and write over again the first word of each parashah – covering over what he wrote originally (Shaarei Teshuva there). Today, though, this is not the custom, out of fear of spoiling the penmanship (Mishnas HaSofer 25).
13. What is the halacha regarding "panim chadoshos"? That is, a letter is written incorrectly, but one "puts a new face" onto it. One scrapes away the incorrect part of the letter and then applies ink properly, where it should be, making sure that in the end, as one looks at the letter, it is impossible to see that originally, the letter was written incorrectly.
It is best not to do so (Chasam Sofer 189). For example, the letter "tzadi" (צ) is made of a "yud" (י) attached towards the top of the letter "noon" (נ), on the right side of the part of the "noon" that rises (at an angle) from its base. The thick "head" of the "yud" must face to the left -- towards the "noon" and slightly upwards. If the sofer wrote the "yud "backwards so that its head faces to the right and away from the "noon," he should not scrape away the incorrectly formed head of the "yud" and add ink so that the top of the "yud" now faces in the proper direction. However, if a sofer did so he can rely on most poskim, for most maintain that this method of repair is permitted (Shibolei HaLecket 1:12; and R. Yosef Shalom Eliashiv is lenient, Piskei Halachos p. 84).
14. Let us say that while writing parshiot for a mezuzah or tefillin, the sofer formed a certain letter incorrectly. The letter was posul, but the sofer did not notice until after he had written other letters after it. Having noticed his error, he did not completely scrape off the incorrectly formed letter and each kosher letter that he wrote after it, which would have been the best thing to do (so that all of the letters would be rewritten in the proper sequence – first the first letter, then the second, and so on). Instead, he scraped off only portions of the kosher letters that he wrote after the posul one, so that not one of those kosher letters had its full, correct shape anymore. Then he completely scraped off the letter that he had formed incorrectly and rewrote it correctly, as if to start "all" over again. Afterwards, starting with the first letter after the one that he just rewrote completely, he repaired -- one letter at a time -- in the proper sequence, every kosher letter that he had partially scraped away. Do the sections of the letters that were not scraped away represent a problem of "out of sequence" writing? After all, although the ink of those sections physically is located (on the parchment) after that of the posul letter that was scraped away and rewritten, the ink of those sections (in terms of time) came onto the parchment beforehand.
The Mishnah Berurah is lenient and allows this l'chatchila. Such is the Sephardic custom. According to the Avnei Nezer, however (Siman 9), one cannot use such writing for the mitzvah. He who is lenient, though, has authorities on whom he can rely (Shevet HaLevi 1:11). Nevertheless, if the sofer does this, he must inform the person who commissioned him.
15. In the parchments of a sefer Torah and mezuzos, if the tops of the letters do not reach up to the "sirtut" (the required straight, parallel etched lines that must be made at the outset, to facilitate that all of the writing will be straight), is the writing still kosher?
According to the Pitchei Teshuva, if the distance between the tops of the letters and the "sirtut" is "more than one or two hairbreadths" (i.e. one hairbreadth if the writing is small, and two if the writing is large), no – the writing is posul, but the Bach in a responsa (87) says that the writing remains kosher. One should be stringent about the matter.
One is permitted to add ink to the tops of the letters to cause them to reach the "sirtut" (Daas Kedoshim).
According to the Sephardic custom, so long as the writing is straight, it remains kosher.
Regarding mezuzos one must pay particular attention to the places where the letters ע ("eyin") and ש ("shin") are written larger than normal, for the top portion of the exceptionally large letters is likely to extend above the "sirtut."
16. The bottoms of the letters of a line must be found halfway between each successive "sirtut." Is it permitted to make a light "sirtut" midway between each successive "sirtut" to mark the mid-way point?
It is permitted, but it is better not to do so (Maharam Shik, Yoreh Deah 264). The Sephardic custom is to be lenient.
17. If, to the naked eye, adjacent letters look as if they are touching one another, but with the help of a magnifying glass, one can see that they actually are not touching (so each has the required bit of blank parchment around it – i.e. each letter is "mukaf g'vil"), are the letters kosher?
No, what matters is how they look according to the naked eye. If, by virtue of the naked eye alone, one is in doubt, use of a magnifying glass is permitted in order to remove the doubt (Shevet HaLevi, Chelek 1:7).
18. Is it permitted to scrape around a kosher letter into order to improve its appearance?
It is permitted, but some say that it is preferable not to do so (Torah HaLevi 12:4).
19. As noted (See Halacha 15), there must be "sirtut" on the parchment of mezuzos and sifrei Torah. In addition to the parallel etched lines that run horizontally on the parchment, there also are two vertical etched lines that mark where each line of writing must start and end (these are present for tefillin parchments, too). Sometimes, a sofer is guilty of "kuba" or "zanav." "Kuba" is where, at the end of three successive lines, the last letter goes past the "sirtut" that marks where the line must end. On the first of the three problematic lines, the final letter of the writing juts out a bit beyond the end-mark, and on the next line the final letter juts out a bit more, and on the third line the final letter juts out the greatest distance. The three overlaps occur after a line concludes correctly, exactly on the end-mark. "Zanav" is where the re-occurring problem is in the opposite direction. On the three successive lines, the final letter falls short of the end-mark. The final letter of the first line falls slightly short of the end-mark, while the final letter of the next line falls farther short of the end-mark, while on the third line the last letter falls even farther short of the end-mark. At what point does the increasing "jutting out" or the increasing "falling short" become problematic?
If the measure of the "jutting out" or the "falling short" is no more than the width of a small letter (i.e. a "yud") one need not worry. That is, on the first line, the last letter juts out no more that the width of a "yud," and on the next line the last letter juts out no more than twice that distance from the end mark, and the last letter of the third line juts out no more than three times that distance from the end mark. In this situation one need not worry. On the other hand, if the measure each time is the width of a normal letter, perhaps it makes the writing posul i.e. unfit for the mitzvah (Shevet HaLevi, Chelek 2:155). This is so, however, only if the jutting out or the falling short occurs on three successive lines (Ibid., Chelek 8:15). Regarding "zanav" one does not count the last line of "Shema" or the last line of a mezuzah as the third "falling short," for the last letter of both these lines always is "naturally" is found very far from the end-mark (the large space after the last letter of those two lines is "natural").
20. If a hole was pierced in the parchment after the time of the writing of a line, and now, one of the letters touches the hole, so that no longer is that letter "mukaf g'vil" i.e. it is not "surrounded by parchment," what can be done as a repair?
One scrapes off the ink from the part of the letter that is touching the hole, so that now there is empty parchment between the letter and the hole, so that once again, the requirement of "mukaf g'vil" is satisfied (Mishnah Berurah 32:60). Afterwards, one can add ink to touch up and nicely shape that part of the letter, being careful to leave a bit of empty parchment between the letter and the hole. Thus, it appears as if the hole came onto the scene at a distance from the letter after the letter already was written (Shevet HaKehati 1:38). At the outset, when one scrapes away the ink from the part of the letter that is touching the hole, one needs to take care not to spoil (and nullify) the letter's shape.
21. At the tops of letters such as ש ("shin"), ע ("eyin") and ט("tes") a thin line juts out, and sometimes, by mistake, the sofer lets this line touch the adjacent letter, so that the requirement of "mukaf g'vil" is not fulfilled for either letter. The Mishnah Berurah writes that if this happens on a mezuzah or a tefillin scroll, scraping away the ink to eliminate the connection is permitted. On the other hand, is the writing now considered b'di'eved (not preferred)?
The words of the Shevet HaLevi (Chelek 5:8:9) imply that the writing is "l'chatchila" (perfectly fine).
On the other hand, the Responsa L'horot Natan (Chelek 4:8) rules that the sofer must inform the one who commissioned him, since some authorities maintain that doing such a thing makes the mezuzah or tefillin posul.
22. As said, the tefillin of the head have four batim (compartments), and a different parashah is placed into each compartment. Is a sofer permitted to write two of the parshios on the same piece of parchment, and then cut the parchment into two?
No, it is not permitted (Tikun Tefillin, 166), because when he cuts the parchment into two, he reduces its level of kedusha. On the other hand, he is allowed to write the same parashah twice on the same piece of parchment, and then cut that into two (Minchas Solet, 166).
23. As said, the parshios of the tefillin of the arm all are written on one piece of parchment. If a sofer writes them on two separate pieces of parchment and then attachkess the two pieces together, is it considered a shortcoming in "hidur" i.e. beautification of the mitzvah?
Yes, it is preferable to write all four of them on one piece of parchment (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 32:47). If he writes them on two pieces of parchment that he already attached to one another, it is as if he wrote them all on one piece of parchment. If, however, he already wrote them on two separate pieces, he is allowed to attach the pieces together, and in this form insert the parshios into the tefillin. So, too, if he found a mistake in the fourth parashah, he can cut that piece of the parchment off and write the fourth parashah correctly on a different parchment and then attach the two parchments together (Mishnah Berurah 32:219). On the other hand, if the tefillin are mehudar he must inform the person who commissioned him (Responsa Keren Dovid, Siman 8).
24. As said, no two letters can be touching. There must be a bit of parchment separating them. Between two words the space must be the width of the sofer's "yud" [on this particular parchment] (Mishnah Berurah 32:143). Between two parshiot it is best if the space is the width of nine regular letters, but according to the Rosh it suffices if the space is the width of three such letters. All this being so, what is the halacha if, on a parchment of tefillin of the arm, in the midst of one of the parshiot, the space between two words is the width of three letters, so according to the Rosh, it is possible to think that a new parashah is beginning?
We must worry that the Rosh is correct, and between two parshiot, a space the width of only three letters suffices. Therefore, the tefillin are posul, until the letters on each side of the space are thickened, so that the space becomes smaller.
According to Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Yoreh Deah 271), there is another option. One can pierce a hole in the parchment in the midst of the space, in a way that makes it impossible to write there. Some authorities say that this is not an option (Biur Halacha 32:36, "Manichom" in the name of the Pri Megadim).
If one uses the method of R. Akiva Eiger, he must inform the one who commissioned him.
25. If two consecutive letters are thickly joined together from top to bottom but the shape of neither one has been changed from what is required, is one permitted to separate them by scraping of ink where the letters are joined, even if it is the writing of a mezuzah or tefillin scroll?
The Mishnah Berurah (32:81) notes that a dispute exists about this and he does not decide the issue. The custom is to be stringent.
26. Often, before the parchments of sifrei Torah are stitched together, there is a good amount of empty space on the sides of one or more of them. Is one allowed to cut away this empty parchment? Also, while writing the sefer, is the sofer allowed to use the empty space for testing his quill?
Most poskim are lenient regarding both matters (Maharshag 1:310:220; Machatzis HaShekel 32:10). Some poskin, however, are strict regarding both. Preferably, therefore, before starting to write, the sofer should have explicit intent that the empty areas will be cut away.
27. What is the halacha if the letters that need "tagim" are written without them?
According to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 36:8) the letters are still kosher. According to the Bach they are posul. The Mishnah Berurah (36:15) is strict about the matter.
28. What is the halacha where a letter's "tagim" were written in such a way that they never touched the letter itself?
Citing the Ramah M'Pano, the Mishnah Berurah writes (36:13) that this is worse than if a letter is missing one of its actual component parts, for if the "tagim" from the outset never were connected to the letter, it is as if a whole letter was written in the empty space between the two lines of writing. Therefore, the "tagim" must be erased and the sofer must rewrite them.
The Chazon Ish maintains that the poskim argue with the Ramah M'Pano on this point and permit repair without having to erase the "tagim" and without having to rewrite any letters (Orach Chaim 8:11).
29. If a letter's "tagim" were erased, or they became disconnected from the letter after they and the letter were written, what should be done?
If necessary, and if none of the "tagim" have the appearance of a (small) letter (i.e. a "yud" or a '"zayin" or a "vov") the situation can be left as is. No repair is required (Minchas Yitzchak 7:116).
30. Since regarding tefillin and mezuzos, the letters and words must be written in the proper sequence, the question arises: Is one allowed to add the "tagim" later, after other letters are written, or after all the writing is finished?
Preferably, one should put on the "tagim" as one writes, giving each letter its "tagim" at the time one writes the letter itself. However, even if a sofer writes for hours without putting "tagim" on any of the letters, he can go back and put them on later, even regarding tefillin and mezuzos, and it is not a problem of writing letters "out of sequence."
31. When adding the "tagim," should the sofer have explicit intent that this is what he is doing?
Yes, it is preferable that he have explicit intent.
32. Can the "tagim" be written with a fountain pen?
Owing to the fact that the ink of fountain pens is synthetic (chemical) and lacks the three ingredients that are mentioned in the Gemara, use of fountain pen ink (even if it is black) is a shortcoming in "hidur" -- beautification of the mitzvah (The Ramah writes [Yoreh Deah 271:6] that preferably, the ink should be made only of ingredients from trees. See also Mishnah Berurah on 32:3).
33. If the sofer inadvertently joined together the tops the "tagim" but the desired shape of each "tag" remains, can the ink that creates the problem be scraped away? Is it a problem of "chkok tochkos" or not? (See Chapter 8, Haga'ah)
The problematic ink can be scraped away without worry. It is not a problem of "chkok tochkos" (Mikdosh M'aht 32:68).
34. What is the Sephardic custom about these matters?
The custom is leniency if the "tagim" are missing (Halacha 27), or if they are written in such a way that they never touched the letter itself (Halacha 28). So, too, adding the "tagim" later, after the writing of the letters, is permitted l'chatchila (Halacha 30), and so, too, one can write the "tagim" with synthetic fountain pen ink, so long as it is black (Halacha 32).
Writing the [Seven] Holy Names (that cannot be erased)
35. While a sofer is writing one of the holy Names of G-d, if he is unaware that he is doing so (e.g. he thinks he is writing something else) does the Name that he wrote gain special holiness anyway, so it cannot be erased?
No, it lacks that holiness, so he can erase it (Toras HaLevi 9:7).
36. How does one invest the Names with the desired holiness?
Just before the sofer starts to write the Name, he says aloud, "Hareini kotaiv l'shaim kedushas haShaim" ("Behold, I am writing for the sake of the holiness of the Name") intending that this pronouncement will invest each individual letter with the required holiness. Alternatively, just before he writes each letter, the sofer says aloud the name of the letter that he is about to write, intending to sanctify the letter with the Name's holiness (Mikdosh M'aht 274:11).
If he wrote the four-letter Ineffable Name of G-d, but instead of sanctifying it beforehand by saying, "Hareini kotaiv l'shaim kedushas haShaim," he said instead, "Hareini kotaiv l'shaim kedushas Elokim," the necessary holiness is created, nevertheless.
37. Sometimes, by mistake, a sofer (verbally) sanctifies a word that is not a holy Name at all (such as the word "gods" [elohim] in Devarim 11:16). Having created the holiness of a Name of G-d, he is forbidden to erase any of the letters of this word or harm them in any way. What must he do about that word?
He must remove it entirely, either by cutting out a hole in the parchment – one that is a bit larger than the word itself -- or he shaves off the upper layer of the parchment where the word appears. Either way, he must take in hand a razor-sharp knife. According to the first alternative, he cuts around the whole Name, making a hole in the parchment (afterwards patching the hole up somehow) and the removed piece of parchment that has the Name on it must be placed in genizah. Alternatively, he shaves off just the upper layer of the parchment, making sure to keep the Name intact, but removing it from the parchment entirely. Here, too, the piece of parchment that he removed must be afforded ritual burial (genizah).
38. The three-letter Name ("Shakai") is written on the back side of mezuzah. When the sofer writes this Name, must he sanctify it as he sanctifies the holy Names in the parshiot themselves?
Preferably, yes, and in the same way, as he writes the letters, and he must write the letters according to all the halachic requirements that apply to the mezuzah itself. If he did not write the letters this way, he should write the Name again, adjacent to what he wrote the first time.
39. On the back side of a mezuzah we also find a name that is composed of the letters כ ("chkoff"), ו ("vov"), ז ("zayin") and ו ("vov"). So, too, there is a name that has these letters plus the letters ב ("beis") and מ ("mem"). Must the sofer to sanctify the writing of these names?
No, because these are not amongst the seven Names that cannot be erased. They have no holiness. Also, they need not be written across from Names that do have the holiness (on the opposite side of the parchment from those Names), though many have the custom of doing so (R. Yosef Shalom Eliashiv).
40. What is the halacha of a holy Name of G-d that appears on a computer screen? Is one allowed to erase it?
Yes, but some are stringent about the matter.