May 24, 2013
Sofrim Unite In Online Forum
Photo: Robert Bontschek

Sofrim - scribes from around the world have been coming together via an online forum developed by Melbourne sofer Rabbi Eli Gutnick.

It is no secret that sofrim (and others in the field of STa"M) often lack the necessary level of organized support and rabbinical guidance available to assist them in their holy task.

This is mainly due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of communal rabbanim and poskim are not comfortable ruling on matters of STa"M, which requires years of shimush (specialized training) to master.

Most of the expert poskim are found only in big Jewish cities like Yerushalayim, Benai Brak and New York. Sofrim operating outside of these cities are essentially on their own, lacking fundamental support and guidance.

As a community sofer living in Melbourne, Australia, Rabbi Eli Gutnick felt this phenomenon more than others.

"When examining or repairing stam, I often encounter shailos such as incorrectly formed letters that are not clear cut in terms of their halachic status," he explains. “Many of these require a shalas chacham, an official ruling from a rav who is knowledgeable in the intricacies of these laws."

With scarce local resources, Rabbi Gutnick became accustomed to scanning or photographing his shailos in high resolution and emailing them to expert rabannim overseas. Upon receiving a psak he would often share it with other interested sofrim on his email list. They would likewise share their emails and answers with him.

Over the years Rabbi Gutnick amassed thousands of such emails. Then, about two years ago, Rabbi Gutnick created an online forum, www.stamforum.com, where sofrim could post shailos directly onto a website which could be publicly viewed. Subscribers could then discuss and comment on the items posted on the forum.

"We started with a handful of members and a received a few dozen hits a day," says Rabbi Gutnick. It was the first such public forum focusing exclusively on Stam. Since then then membership has steadily grown to include a long list of sofrim, magihim (examiners) and resellers of STa"M, from a wide range of backgrounds and locations.

"There are sofrim from Lakewood discussing shailos with sofrim from Crown Heights," he marvels. "We have members from South America, South Africa, Russia...virtually every place where there is Yiddishkeit."

Many of the shailos are answered by other members, some who are qualified to pasken (give a ruling). Sometimes shailos are downloaded and printed by members living in Israel who then show them to local poskim and share the answers they receive.

For example, one very active member in Israel often takes printouts of the shailos to Rav Shammai Gross shlitah, one of the leading poskim of STa"M in Israel. Rav Gross has answered many shailos posted on the forum.

Today the STa"M Forum is viewed by hundreds of sofrim daily and is constantly updated with new posts and comments by members. The questions do not always pertain to matters of halacha, but also include practical guidance, advice and support. Many members have a heter for the internet (because they use it for the business aspect of their profession, and maintain their own websites). Others subscribe by email only and can read the posts without accessing the internet.

About ten months ago the forum hit the headlines when one of its members, Rabbi Shmuel Traube from Boro Park, discovered the problem of peeling retzuos - a controversy which later erupted in the Jewish media. Upon discovering the problem, the first thing rabbi Traube did was post his concerns on the forum (which led to much discussion and several halachic verdicts). Subsequent reports in the mainstream Jewish media attributed the STa”M Forum for being the first to bring this issue to the public's attention.

The forum is strictly non profit and non commercial. It currently operates on BlogSpot, a simple but easy to use model. In the future Rabbi Gutnick hopes to change it to a more sophisticated design, with a better index system for the vast amount of information it now contains.


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Opinions and Comments
1
annoynmous
Rabbi Gutnick,

How innovative and important. Our mezuzos, tefillin, and especially Sifrei Torah are the foundation of our lives. They need to be kosher in every respect.

Kol Hakovod.

(5/24/2013 1:56:59 PM)
2
Wow.
Thank you, can't wait to become a Sofer
(5/24/2013 3:24:34 PM)
3
Do you need to be a sofer to join the blog?
(5/24/2013 4:11:11 PM)
4
Hounest Sofrim
I believe only Rabbi Zirkind and his original Talmidim will never sell a new mezuza or Tfillin to the same person they checked its the biggest scandel todays sofrim check and find issues and offer to sell them new ones!!
(5/24/2013 7:25:43 PM)
5
Rabbi Gutnick is an excellent Sofer!!
Melbourne is lucky to have him! He is so easily approachable - takes his work seriously and earnestly!!
May there be more Sofrim like Eli Gutnick!
(5/25/2013 5:30:45 AM)
6
Know him and family.
I personally know Rabbi Eli Gutnick he is an exceptional person in all respects. What he's doing is wonderful!
Blessings to go MayChail El Choyil.
(5/25/2013 6:24:06 AM)
7
Rabbi Moshe Weiner
Apologies for omitting Rabbi Moshe Weiner, author of Osiyos Harav, in the article. Thank you for answering so many of the shailos posted on the forum.
(5/25/2013 7:09:53 AM)
8
Melbournian
Shkoyach R' Eli.
Keep up the good work you do here
(5/25/2013 9:19:50 PM)
9
to #4
You stand correct! I never understood how these scribes (well now I know some DO NOT) can check your STAM and then show you why XYZ is not Mehudor and then inform you that they got better ones to offer for $$$$ I would stricly reccomend NEVER BUY from the same scribe that checks your STAM just a MAJOR conflict of intrest !! ( I was told that if you BUY today 5 mezuzos and keep them in a SAFE and go back to Same person 1 year later he will show you issues and try to resell you new ones!!).
(5/25/2013 10:19:43 PM)
10
To Number 4
Unfortunately the real scandal is when STa"M is written by unqualified and self taught sofrim who make a mockery of Halacha and Daas Torah.

It is unfathomable that in today's day and age there is Sta"m being sold that are written by sofrim without ksav kaballah (certification / accreditation). Would you go to a doctor who was not properly trained and accredited?

Unfortunately it is Today's sofrim, many who are B"H properly trained and accredited by Mishmeres Stam and other recognized institutions that are left to clean up the mess.
(5/25/2013 10:20:16 PM)
11
#4 honest vs hounest.
If there is a spelling mistake in the mezuza will they also not offer him a new one?

Meshuga meshuga ober...

(5/25/2013 10:40:19 PM)
12
Nice guy
When i was becoming frum some years ago i went to rav eli gutnick to buy rabbenu tam tefillin but i couldnt really afford them. Rabbi gutnick said just take them and pay when you can. Dont know too many folks who would do a thing like that
(5/26/2013 12:13:41 AM)
13
senor
keep up the graet work
(5/26/2013 2:13:50 AM)
14
Eli's Chavrusa
Rabbi Eli Gutnick is always ahead of the game, keep up your good work
(5/26/2013 2:21:21 AM)
15
A Forum member
To #3 - No, anyone can join but obviously if you don't have a strong interest or knowledge in stam it may be a bit too technical.
(5/26/2013 6:20:42 AM)
16
much needed idea
Well done, I believe if run properly this has potential to be an excellent resource.
(5/26/2013 7:57:48 AM)
17
To # 9 (and # 4)
You must be from Crown Heights. And you are correct.

Unfortunately there is a BIG problem in Crown Heights where there is a lot of fragmentation between different groups of sofrim and it is not uncommon for sofrim to passel each others schoirah (or at least find problems).

This is due to both lack of rabbinical involvement (none of the CH rabbonim pasken on stam) and also a high proportion of sofrim are not properly trained and make up their own hiddurim and chumros as well as the opposite r"l.

As a result the customers get burned because they buy stam in good faith by Sofer X and then a few years later have it checked by sofer Y who finds problems with them.
So the customer is the big looser here and thinks its all about $$$ as commenter # 9 obviously does.

I don't think its as much about $$$ as people think, (it is not good for a sofer's rep to passel too much) I think its more to do with different shittos, some of them OTT (over the top) and unheard of in the mainstream safrus world, a lot of it is unfortunately am haratzus.

As a chabad sofer practicing out of town (but having spent time in CH), I think the CH sofrim could learn a lot from the Israeli model as well as other places outside of CH where all sofrim are more or less on the same page, and the system is that the rav (obviously qualified) decides on the status of the Stam in question, not the sofer (this takes away the conflict of interest as well as OTT shtusim).

Also sofrim should not be able to practice unless they are properly qualified (ksav kaballah) and do proper shimush (by proper rabbonei moreh horoeh).

If these two things could be achieved a lot of the problems specific to CH would be remedied
(5/26/2013 9:14:38 AM)
18
the most important thing is for a sofer to be a mentch
I will never forget a terrible experience I had with a supposedly reputable senior sofer who sold me mezuzos that were later found to have problems, so I went back to him for a refund and he was so nasty about it. So I took it to a rov who said it was possul and when I went back to him hE started yelling and saying terrible things about this respected rov. So I took it to a few other sofrim and rabannim and everyone said it was problematic but he was still so obnoxious about it, I was so turned off from his behaviour. In the end I left the mezuzos by him I told him I don't want my mezuzos written by someone who is such a person I think first and foremost a sofer has to be a mentch
(5/26/2013 9:55:45 AM)
19
to #4
no they wont offer to sell them a new one, they will exchange it or give a refund
(5/26/2013 3:23:28 PM)
20
...I agree that there is a conflict of interest...
when selling to the same person who brought their mezuzos to be checked by you. As a sofer in a small town I never pressure anyone to buy from me and I always show them exactly what I found wrong and why i have an issue and if it requires she'elas rav, i send them to their own rabbi of thier shul.

How can one be mekpid on hiddurim, if you have tzuras ho'oisios, and its kosher, you must say its kosher. You cannot al pi halacha, be mehader on someone elses cheshbon, 'Chas al Momonam shel Yisrael'.

Of course there are other issues, such as if the person wants to upgrade to better ksav etc. I have found it a problem for me when outside sofrim come into town invited by one shliach or another and disregard the local sofer, whats the halacha about that?

Also, i will never sell a pair of tefillin sealed i must see the parshiyos before they go in so i know what i am selling. We have a big achrayos....
(5/26/2013 11:29:10 PM)
21
Rabbi Gutnick
Rabbi Gutnick is wonderful! thank you.
(7/15/2014 3:44:49 PM)
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