Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah - Chapter One
Four passages [of the Torah]: Kadesh Li and V'hayah ki y'viacha Ado-nai in the book of Exodus (13:1-10 and 13:11-16) and Shema and V'hayah im shamo'a (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) should be written separately and covered with leather. They are called tefillin.
They are placed on the head and tied on the arm. According to Torah law, even a mere point of one of the letters from these four passages prevents all of them from being acceptable. All four must be written in the proper manner.
Similarly, if even one letter of the two passages contained in the mezuzah, Shema and V'hayah im shamo'a (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21), is lacking a point, it is not acceptable according to Torah law, which requires that they [each] be written in a perfect manner. Similarly, a Torah scroll which is lacking even one letter is unacceptable.
There are ten requirements for tefillin. All of them are halachot transmitted to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is necessary to fulfill them all. Therefore, if one made any changes with regard to them, the tefillin are not fit for use: Two of them involve their composition, and eight involve the coverings [placed around the passages] and the tying of their straps.
These are the two that involve their composition:
a) They must be written in ink;
b) They must be written on parchment.
How is ink prepared? One collects the vapor of oils, of tar, of wax, or the like, [causes it to condense,] and kneads it together with sap from a tree and a drop of honey. It is moistened extensively, crushed until it is formed into flat cakes, dried, and then stored.
When one desires to write with it, one soaks [the cakes of ink] in gallnut juice or the like and writes with it. Thus, if one attempts to rub it out, he would be able to.
This is the ink with which it is most preferable to write scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot. If, however, one wrote any of the three with gallnut juice or vitriol, which remains without being rubbed out, it is acceptable.
If so, what was excluded by the halachah conveyed to Moses on Mount Sinai, which stated that it be written in ink?
It excludes tints of other colors, such as red, green, and the like. If even one letter of a Torah scroll, tefillin, or mezuzot is in another tint or in gold, they are invalid.
There are three types of parchment: g'vil, k'laf, and duchsustos.
What is implied? The hide of a domesticated or wild animal is taken. First, the hair is removed from it. Afterwards, it is salted and then prepared with flour. Then resin and other substances which cause the skin to contract and become harder are applied to it. In this state, it is called g'vil.
After the hair is removed, the hide may be taken and divided in half in the manner known to the parchment processors. Thus, there are two pieces of parchment: a thin one, which is on the side where the hair grew, and a thicker one, on the side of the flesh.
After it has been processed using salt, then flour, and then resin and the like, the portion on the side where the hair grew is called k'laf and the portion on the side of the flesh is called duchsustos.
It is a halachah transmitted to Moses on Mount Sinai that a Torah scroll should be written on g'vil on the side on which the hair had grown. When tefillin are written on k'laf, they should be written on the side of the flesh. When a mezuzah is written onduchsustos, it should be written on the side of the hair.
Whenever one writes on k'laf on the side of the hair or on g'vil or duchsustos on the side of the flesh, it is unacceptable.
Although it is a halachah which was transmitted to Moses on Mount Sinai, that if one wrote a Torah scroll on k'laf, it is acceptable. G'vil was mentioned only to exclude duchsustos. If a Torah scroll was written on the latter, it is not acceptable.
Similarly, if a mezuzah was written on k'laf or on g'vil, it is acceptable. Duchsustos was mentioned only as a mitzvah.
[Torah] scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot may not be written on hide from a non-kosher animal, fowl, or wild animal. One may write on the hides of [all] kosher animals, wild beasts, and fowl. This applies even when these animals died without being ritually slaughtered or when they were killed by wild beasts.
We may not write on the skin of a kosher fish because of the foul secretions, since the processing of the skin will not cause the foul secretions to cease.
The g'vil for a Torah scroll and the k'laf for tefillin and for a Torah scroll must be processed with this purpose in mind. If they were not processed with this intent, they are not acceptable.
Accordingly, if they were processed by a gentile, they are not acceptable. Even when [a Jew] instructed a gentile to process the parchment with the intent that it be used for a Torah scroll or for tefillin, it is not acceptable. The gentile follows his own intentions and not those of the person who hires him. Therefore, whenever an article must be made with a specific intent in mind, it is unacceptable if made by a gentile.
[The parchment used for] a mezuzah need not be processed with this purpose in mind.
It is a halachah transmitted to Moses on Mount Sinai that a Torah scroll or mezuzah should be written only [on parchment] which has been ruled. [The parchment used for] tefillin, however, need not be ruled, because they are covered.
It is permissible to write tefillin and mezuzot without [looking at] an existent text, because everyone is familiar with these passages. It is, however, forbidden to write even one letter of a Torah scroll without [looking at] an existent text.
A Torah scroll, tefillin, or mezuzah written by an apikoros should be burned. If they were written by a gentile, an apostate Jew, a person who betrays [the Jews] to a powerful person, a slave, a woman, or a minor, they are not acceptable and must be entombed, as [implied by Deuteronomy 6:8-9]: "And you shall tie... and you shall write." [Our Sages explain that this includes only] those who are commanded to tie [tefillin on their arms] and those who believe in what they write.
[Sacred articles] which are found in the possession of an apikoros, and it is not known who wrote them, should be entombed. Those which are found in the possession of a gentile are kosher. We should not, however, purchase Torah scrolls, tefillin, or mezuzot from gentiles for more than they are worth, so that they do not become accustomed to stealing them.
A Torah scroll, tefillin, or mezuzah that was written on parchment from a non-kosher animal, beast, or fowl, or on parchment that was not processed [properly, is not acceptable]. [Similarly,] a Torah scroll or tefillin that was written on parchment that was not processed with the intent to use it for these sacred purposes is not acceptable.
When a person writes a Torah scroll, tefillin, or mezuzah without having [the proper] intention, should he write one of God's names without the desired intent, they are not acceptable.
Therefore, when a person is writing God's name, he should not reply even if the king of Israel greets him. If he is writing two or three names, he may interrupt between them and reply.
[When a scribe] dips his pen [in ink] to write God's name, he should not begin [writing] one of the letters of God's name. Rather, he should begin with the letter preceding [God's name].
If [a scribe] forgot to write God's name in its entirety, he may insert it in between the lines. It is, however, unacceptable to have a portion of God's name on the line and a portion inserted [between the lines]. With regard to other words, if one forgets, one may write half the word on the line and half above the line.
When does the above apply? With regard to a Torah scroll. In contrast, with regard to tefillin and mezuzot, one should not insert even one letter [between the lines]. Rather, if one forgets even one letter, one should entomb what one has written and write another one.
It is permitted to write God's name on [parchment where letters] have been scraped off or rubbed out on all [of these sacred articles].
Scribes who write Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot may not turn the parchment face down. Rather, they should spread a cloth over them or fold them.
[The following rule applies when] a scribe who wrote a Torah scroll, tefillin, or mezuzah states: "I did not write the names of God with the proper intent." Once they have left his hand, his statements are not believed with regard to the disqualification of the scroll. They are, however, accepted to the extent that he must forfeit his entire wage.
Why isn't he believed with regard to the disqualification of the scroll? Because it is possible that he wanted to cause a loss to the purchaser or to the person who hired him, thinking that with this statement all that he would be required to forfeit would be the payment for the names of God.
Accordingly, were he to say that the parchment of this Torah scroll or tefillin was not processed with the proper intent in mind, his statements are accepted with regard to the disqualification of the sacred articles because, [by virtue of these statements,] he forfeits his entire wage. Everyone knows that if the parchments were not processed with the proper intent, he does not deserve any payment.
Tefillin and mezuzot may be written only in Assyrian script. Permission was granted to write Torah scrolls in Greek as well. That Greek language has, however, been forgotten from the world. It has been confused and has sunk into oblivion. Therefore, at present, all three sacred articles may be written using Assyrian script alone.
One must be precise while writing them, making sure that one letter does not become attached to another one, because any letter which is not surrounded by parchment on all four sides is unacceptable.
Any letter that cannot be read by a child who is neither wise nor foolish is not acceptable. Therefore, one must be careful with regard to the form of the letters, so that a yud will not resemble a vav, nor a vav a yud; a kaf should not resemble a beit, nor a beit a kaf; a dalet should not resemble a resh, nor a resh a dalet.
[The same applies in] other similar instances. [The text must be written in a manner] that a reader will be able to read without difficulty.
[The following rules apply to] parchment which has holes: One should not write over a hole. If, however, ink passes over the hole [without seeping through], the presence of the hole is of no consequence, and one may write upon it. Accordingly, if the skin of a fowl has been processed, it is permissible to write upon it.
[The following rules apply] when a parchment becomes perforated after it has been written on: If the perforation is within the inside of a letter - e.g., in the space inside a heh, inside amem, or inside any of the other letters - it is acceptable.
Despite the fact that a leg of a letter becomes perforated to the extent that it becomes separated [into two portions], it is acceptable if:
a) [the length of the leg] is equivalent to that of a small letter; and
b) the letter's [present form] does not resemble another letter.
If [the length of the leg] is not equivalent to that of a small letter, it is not acceptable.
Published and copyright by Moznaim Publications, all rights reserved.
To purchase this book or the entire series, please click here
The text on this page contains sacred literature. Please do not deface or discard.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy