Imagine You Heard This Before Your Plane Took Off

As the plane pushed back, the speaker system announces: “Thank you for flying Cheapskate Airlines, and we hope you get there in one peice…”

By The Vaad Kinus Hakhel for Sofrim

As the plane prepares for pushback, an announcement is heard in the cabin:

Attention passengers:

“As we operate as a budget airline, your pilot for the day isnot fully certified according to industry and FAA standards. Not to worry, however! Our CEO (who has been on lots of flights throughout his career, so he maybe knows some stuff about cockpit controls) has determined that 5 hours of simulator training to cover the the bare basics of flying is good enough for our pilots — not to mention much more budget friendly! 

Thank you for flying Cheapskate Airlines, and we hope you get there alive — you most probably will — we guess (eh, who knows)…”

Let’s face it: Chances are, nobody sane is getting on that plane, no matter how much money they’d save over having a real pilot. 

Yes, real pilots are expensive, but for good reason. Pilots must undergo tens of thousands of hours of rigorous training and and prepping — training that is both critical for routine operations, as well as highly unlikely emergency scenarios. They must log every detail, and report regularly to supervisors and regulatory bodies. Any unusual incident, no matter how small, must be thoroughly documented, investigated, and accounted for. 

This is not excessive — when hundreds of lives are in one man’s hands, there are no games to be played.

If such is the case with flying, why should things be any different with safrus? Pilot certification does not rely on the honor system. “I know him well, so what if he has no papers…” Is a no-go! Airlines and governing bodies don’t care how competent a pilot appears to be. Show me the papers! Where are your signatures? Who were your supervisors? What were their license numbers? Where are your flight hour logs? 

Safrus is not “stam!” Mistakes can be made. Some of which, in fact, could never be caught after the fact. 

This paragraph was penned after the proceeding paragraph was written. How could you tell? Because you were just told! Otherwise, you would simply never know. Sure, that’s perfectly OK for a typed article about safrus, but what if shema was written on tefillin klaf after veohavta? Completely posul! How would we tell by inspection? There is no way.

There are countless stories of a single scratch — just one letter, being the difference between health and peril, success and financial ruin, life and death. Anyone passingly familiar with the Rebbe’s correspondence would instantly recognize the repeating, ever-present theme in so many letters, audiences, and talks: Check your tefillin! Check your mezuzos! 

The halachos of safrus are numerous and complex. One dot being erased in the wrong place at the wrong time could easily invalidate an entire parsha — someone’s health, livelihood, wellbeing — often, undetectably so. 

When lives are on the line, standards are made, and accountability is enforced. A heart surgeon must be endorsed and in good standing with the cardiac surgery board before even thinking about laying hands on a patient. They must review the literature and pass regular exams to ensure their knowledge and skills are up to date. Pilots must practice regularly to keep their skills sharp and memory fresh. There is no such thing as one and done.

We must demand, at the very least, the same of our sofrim. A community must set standards for sofrim, and those standards must be enforced by their peers and the community at large. It should not faze any sofer worthy of the title to be asked about their ksav kaballa, to present proof of literacy, supervised internship, and continuing education. 

Most individuals are not familiar with the nuances of writing order, letter form, erasure and fill, spacing, and even the klaf itself — nor should that be expected of them. We trust our doctor to be familiar with anything that could possibly ail us, heaven forbid, and we trust that their diagnoses are well-researched and well-informed. A patient should not be expected to read medical textbooks and understand the lingo to make sure they’re being treated correctly. But a doctor very much should — a sofer absolutely must — maintain intricate familiarity with their trade

A proper sofer likely does not come cheap. For that matter, neither does a proper bodek. Inspecting a parsha is, in fact, a skillset almost entirely separate from writing that same parsha, with countless complexities and edge cases all its own. A good sofer would not necessarily have the crucial skills of an expert bodek and vice versa. We should recognize these facts, and be happy to pay the price for such expertise and specialization. But with that price comes accountability!

We trust our lives, both spiritual and physical, both infinitely valuable, into our sofrim’s steady hands. We are owed for that trust to be well-demonstrated, well-documented, fully accountable, and well-deserved.

May our collective care for whole and complete STAM immediately merit the whole and complete collective Geula now!

Based on various talks at a Kinnus Hakhel for Sofrim in the past Summer.

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  1. I just had all of my mezuzos checked last week by a store in crown heights, and all of them were found to be completely possul… I had just bought them about a year ago from a different crown heights store. These are mehudar Alter Rebbe mezuzos (supposed to be at least).. How is it possible that all four mezuzos were possul? How can you sell someone possule (and expensive) mezuzos—were they not checked before selling them??

    And I’ve heard that this is a very widespread issue..

    1. I too bought Mezuzos from a well known locale and several were found to be Pasul from day 1. When I informed the seller, they did not even deem it appropriate to reply. Buyers beware: do some research before you buy, and/or try to buy with a reliable Hechsher.

  2. Although inexperienced and overconfident soferim is certainly an issue, the one certifying agency likes to play politics, some perfectly qualified soferim choose not to get certified for that reason.
    In addition I’d like to ask if the “va’ad” would accept that sochrem should be expected to divulge more then “I trust them he has a certificate and a kosher phone” to their buyers?
    If you expect a high level of yoras shamayim and kashrus, why should the consumer just trust a socher who is most certainly nogea bedavar.
    Some of these people make there money off besmirching others.

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