Op Ed: Mezuzah Controversy, Explained
This OpEd was submitted anonymously, and its sources verified by crownheights.info.
Like everyone else, I was smitten by the horror video posted regarding the state of safrus today. I needed clarity and decided to dig deeper. I found out that the noise is all pathetic and the truth is there for anyone looking for it. I’m not part of this fight, but I hate to see reshayim govrim bo – evil winning and saying that all the mezuzos my ba’alei batim have on their homes are pasul. What this individual has brought upon countless families, from children being bullied to fathers not knowing how they’ll pay their bills, is astounding – and we are to blame for allowing it.
Once the letter stating Rabbi Vainer’s opinion came up, I knew I had to get to the bottom of it quick. I corresponded with sofrim and Rabbi Vainer, and found out that Wolf is actually misleading everyone. Here is what I found out:
I’ll be breaking this into a few parts:
- What is the real question?
- Why are stores actually selling the cheaper mezuzos?
- So what is and isn’t kosher in mezuzos and what does Rabbi Vainer actually hold?
- But didn’t a sofer say they’re pasul, so Wolf should be believed?
- Words about the sofer
- Words of advice
- Now, an explanation as to how b’dieved works
What is the real question?
It’s a question of trust. Once mezuzos are (seemingly) found pasul, those stores shouldn’t be trusted.
If comparing $42 mezuzahs and up, the mezuzos from the stores that came out on top in the unscientific experiment are far from being the nicest ones around at each price-point. For one to push people to go to one specific store because “he has the best mezuzahs” is misleading. Know that once you reach the low price point of $42, those that you think are better may actually be of a lower halachic standard than the rest of the stores.
Cheaper mezuzos we will get to in a minute, but all should be trusted in their $42 and up range.
The question of kashrus applies to all mezuzos
We’re only dealing with the mezuzos that are less than $40. All the more expensive mezuzos are written to be more mehudar.
Are the cheaper (below $40) mezuzos Kosher?
Why are stores actually selling the cheaper mezuzos:
We’re dealing with a situation where people will just buy more expensive mezuzos
People buy cheaper mezuzos either because they can’t afford and/or they’re for mivtzoyim and people will be less likely to spend more for a mezuzah. How many times have we heard people’s shock at how much mezuzos cost and them politely saying “ah, never mind. I’m ok.”
So the real question is only whether cheaper mezuzahs should be sold at all. This is a question of whether one can kosher the mezuzos rather than whether one can pasul these mezuzos. Rabbi Vainer in his emails to me advised that for mivtzoyim and people who cannot afford more expensive mezuzos, one may lechatchila write b’dieved mezuzos – mezuzos with leniencies. At the end of this I’ll explain how b’dieved is lechatchila good.
So what is and isn’t kosher in mezuzos and what does Rabbi Vainer actually hold
Rabbi Vainer holds that mivtzoyim mezuzos need the same standard as all other mezuzos
Rabbi Vainer wrote to me that he isn’t against mivtzoyim mezuzos that are lchatchila written with leniencies and heteirim. Furthermore, one SHOULD rely on the more lenient opinions so that more Jews can keep the mitzvah of mezuzah.
But didn’t a sofer say they’re pasul, so Wolf should be believed?
Safrus is black and white and blanket rules govern it
Much of safrus is judged case by case. Most of the time the rule doesn’t apply as I’ll explain below
Safrus is objective and everyone will have the same opinion
Safrus has parts of it which are objectively black and white and parts of it which are subjective
Let’s break this down a bit:
- Must be written
- Must be written on parchment
- Must have the parshiyos of Shema and Vehaya
- Must be written by a scribe
- Must be written for the sake of mezuzah
- Letters must look correct – how far misshapen can letters be and still be kosher, this is subjective. In fact, the very same sofer or Rav given two of the exact same sefeikos might disqualify one and not the other because it’s inherently subjective. For cheaper mivtzoyim tefilin and mezuzos one can follow the more lenient approach AS RABBI VAINER ADVISED!!!
- Spacing must be correct – what is considered too much space? The halacha is that there needs to be space for a letter yud between each word (in general), but how big of a yud is subjective and also depends on the writing. Look at the examples of the mezuzos checked in the video and see how many other spacing issues you find with THE MEZUZOS THAT SOFER SAID ARE 100% KOSHER. It’s obvious how subjective it is. For cheap mezuzos one can follow the more lenient approach AS RABBI VAINER ADVISED!!!
- Letters must not touch – The halacha is that if a sofer reads the mezuzah, without a magnifying glass, and the letters do not appear to touch, the mezuzah is kosher. If the sofer sees letters that are touching, of course he’ll make sure to correct it if he halachically can and pasul the mezuzah if he can’t. However, there are times when one sofer won’t see the letters touching and will consider it kosher while another will and consider it pasul. Both are legitimate opinions. The same is in every halacha where rabbis disagree, one can follow either. For cheaper mivtzoyim tefilin and mezuzos one can follow the more lenient approach AS RABBI VAINER ADVISED!!!
As we see, although Shulchan Aruch states rules, how those rules are applied is subjective. Spacing is an issue, but what is considered spacing is a question. Touching is an issue, but only if the sofer sees it easily. This rule makes it subjective. A reliable sofer who is yarei shamayim has a mesorah of how it’s applied and follows it. And when he’s unsure he asks a rov. For Wolf to come out and state unequivocally that all the sofrim’s mesorah’s are worthless is total apikorsus.
Words about the sofer:
- This sofer is part of the more stringent sofrim. But like by a rabbi, it’s easy to be machmir but more respectable to be able to understand a need and try to be more lenient – so long as halacha allows.
- When dealing with cheaper mezuzos, there is no way a machmir sofer will say they’re kosher; same as when you need a heter, going to a more stringent rov will not get you that heter.
Words of advice:
- Explain to ba’alei batim/ anash that these mezuzos are the simplest kind and they should upgrade when/if they can.
- When checking these mezuzos, take them to a sofer who UNDERSTANDS and IDENTIFIES with the concept of mivtzoyim mezuzos and the need for cheaper mezuzos – just like you would choose a rov to whom to ask a shaila to.
When putting all this together, one realizes that although Wolf makes himself sound credible, he’s far from it. He’s narcissistic, ignorant, too full of himself to be able to comprehend anything other than what he believes. If he doesn’t want to buy cheaper mezuzos, don’t. But don’t go ahead and decide that there should be no cheaper mezuzos at all. The cheaper mezuzos have a place and SHOULD be used for mivtzoyim purposes. (The students of Rabbi Akiva also only saw their way and couldn’t comprehend any other way. We see where that got them…)
Now, an explanation as to how b’dieved works:
There are a number of categories of b’dieved. Among them:
- Once something was done – such as a mezuzah already having been written – and we have the choice of either saying it’s kosher or saying it’s pasul and needing burial. In such a case we try to be lenient so that the mezuzah doesn’t have to be pasul.
- A person who cannot afford better or, in a case like mivtzoyim, where he won’t want them at more expensive, the case itself causes this mezuzah before it is even written to fall into a b’dieved category. Therefore, any leniencies that we would give to b’dieved mezuzos after they were already written, we lechatchila give to the writing of these mezuzos.
The cheapest mezuzos fall into the second category. Therefore, sofrim write the cheapest mezuzos quickly and with those b’dieved leniencies, however these mezuzos are kosher lechatchila to be used.
Rabbi Vainer suggested overseer/hashgacha, and that may be overdue. However, let no one come and say that the mezuzos that so many people have on their homes are pasul.