||It’s the year 2003, the whole world shook and people began to panic. Things were in an uproar. A new invention was unveiled that threatened to destroy the very fabric of Judaism. This ancient religion, dating back thousands of years, is one of the oldest religions, yet it’s doctrine prohibits any change. For generations the people successfully fought off the natural tendencies of society, it’s neighbors, and host countries to evolve, to move to more modern doctrines, or even to modify the existing one to reflect the changes in society. Through thousands of years in exile, the Jewish people maintained their original laws, the integrity, and respect of Judaism. When King Talmai forced Rabbinical Scholars to translate the Torah into Greek, the world went into complete darkness for three full days (Megilat Taanit), and it was considered to be a comparable time to the day that the Jews made the Golden Calf (the Egel) (Mesechet Sofrim). This most recent situation was a direct threat to the entire religion, causing all the Rabbinic leaders to go up in arms against it, to protect the people and the religion from going into extinction. It is referred to as a “silk-screen” process to write Torahs, Tefillen, and Mezuzas (STA”M). All the years these religious articles, the mainstay of the religion, were only written by hand with a quill on parchment. The silk-screen process would write a full page at a time by using a silk-screen type stencil with cutouts matching the required letters, putting it on the parchment, and then pressing the ink onto the entire page at once. You pick up the stencil and voila, you have a whole page completed. This process is less expensive and more efficient than the ancient system, and would quickly spread throughout the world. Every Synagogue, every home, every office, would trade in the old for the new, and suddenly the original doctrine will be lost, replaced by a new one, a manufactured one.
The leading Rabbis of the generation knew the risks involved, and thus strongly opposed everything and anything about it. Each in his own personality, some softer, while others tougher than ever before. Newspapers across the globe joined in to this holy war, in their duties of keeping the people informed. Signs were posted everywhere. Many Jewish leaders wrote that it is important for all to know that this process is absolutely not allowed, and anything written by silk-screen must not be kept in your house. Another went around the world speaking publicly, telling people and posting signs explaining that this process is an extreme sin, and the people who are involved in producing it are “sinners and are causing the multitudes to sin.” This is a label reserved for the most extreme sinners of history. He would go on to point out that the transgression being done by those people, put them in a category all their own. Even Yerav’am Ben Nevat, who was the epitome of this, being a “sinner and causing the multitudes to sin,” did not come close to these people, who are trying to destroy our religion as we know it. Leaders of the largest institutions in the world met to discuss ideas of putting them into Cherem, excommunication, which is the toughest punishment within our power today in Judaism.
I felt like a fool, a real uneducated fellow. This is my religion, I’ve practiced it my entire life. If this is such a severe crime, why don’t I know about it? What if I was in a situation to purchase one of those Torahs? My ignorance would have caused me to join the most extreme anti-Judaism group in recent history. I would be shunned by my God, and everything that I held dear to me would go right out the window. I immediately scrambled to the nearest Yeshiva, and began reading anything that I could find on the subject. My research took me across the Talmuds, both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem ones, and to many of the various books of Responsa and commentaries from the sages throughout the ages. What I found out was fascinating and inevitably confusing. The following is a summary of the things that I learned on the topic.
Sefer Torah, Tefillen, and Mezuzot, also referred to as STA”M, have very specific criteria to the way that they must be written. This goes to such an extreme, that if a small leg of a Yud, which itself is the smallest letter, is missing, the entire Sefer is not kosher. It must be written on parchment, which is made from skins of kosher animals. The rules go on and on describing very specifically every aspect of the writing process, the tools used, and the proper shapes of the letters. The silk-screen concept affects many of the rules that are standards in STA”M. Fortunately, this entire issue was raised hundreds of years ago upon the widespread use of printing. It turns out that a well-publicized debate began, and continued throughout the years. Even in the recent generation the Aruch Hashulchan addressed this issue with a clear decision and opinion. The printing process was opposed by some esteemed Rabbis because of a specific concept that has been somewhat unclear to the others, and to the Rabbis of later generations. The Rabbinic opinion that came out against printing STA”M was led by Rabbi Moshe Probinsalo (A - Siman #73), who was a leading Halachic authority over four hundred years ago. His concern was that printing utilized a form of writing call Chakikah, which is not acceptable for STA”M. The standard form of Chakikah is when someone creates the letters by doing an action around the letters that causes the letters to be made, rather than writing the letters themselves. The classic example given by the Talmud is when a coin is made. The lettering is created by a stamp that presses down the sides around the shape of the letters, thus creating the lettering. The work that was done to these letters was all done outside the letters. The body of the letters themselves is never touched. Somehow Rabbi Moshe equated the printing process to this type of stamping, and thus forbid printing for STA”M. He agreed that if however the coin or plate were stamped from the rear, pressing out the letters, it would be considered writing, since the “Tzitz,” the gold plate with God’s name written on it that is worn by the Kohen Gadol, was written in this way, and the Talmud clearly considered it as Ketivah, writing (Gittin #20). The Ram’a MePano (Shu’t Siman #93) quotes Rabbi Moshe, but adamantly disagrees. He says that his family has been in the printing business for years with extensive experience, and it is clear to him that there is no validity to these words, both from the printing process and the Halachic point of view. He said that there is no Chakika in the printing process, it is perfectly acceptable writing. The debate began with these two giants and spanned the generations with some Rabbis siding with Rabbi Moshe and others Rabbis agreeing with the Ram”a. Many of the Rabbinic authorities of the generations refrained from presenting an opinion on this matter, and therefore our information must come from the ones that did, both for and against. Speculating what other Rabbis would have said goes against the ABC’s of Jewish law, and is counterproductive. To list all the opinions on either side would be impossible, since I have not read every book written on Jewish Law. The ones that I have found certainly give us a significant sampling of the various opinions. As is clear in the way the Torah was given, each Posek (Rabbi qualified to make Halachic decisions) must make his own determinations, after a thorough review of the Talmud and the Rishonim, which refers to the Rabbis of the earlier generations prior to the Shulchan Aruch. Rabbi Moshe Feinstien describes the details and explanations of this concept, and the understanding of the authority of a Posek in our generation, with such clarity in his sefer Igrot Moshe (Orach Chaim A) in the Hakdamah (preface). The Hakdamot of the Rav Akiva Eiger, the Chayei Adam, and many others say the very same things. It’s not debatable, because it is based on the Talmud and even various Pesukim in the Torah. The Torah is not in the heavens, but rather was given to the Jewish people to interpret it properly from generation to generation. Each interpretation of each qualified Posek is considered “the live Torah of God,” even though they argue on each other. The Talmud and the commentaries address this at length, explaining how it’s possible with two contradicting opinions for both to be right. In the time when the Sanhedrin (highest court) sat at the entrance to the Temple, their word was the final word, and once presented, all Rabbis had to follow their decision. Due to our multitude of sins, and especially our unnecessary hatred (Sin’at Chinam), the Sanhedrin was removed and our Temple was destroyed. Consequently the law states that there is no one entity, group, or governing body with a final word any longer, but rather each Posek should determine his own decision, and his community is required to follow. The Talmud is abound with stories that show the rewards of communities who followed their Rabbi to do an act that he permitted, even when all other Rabbis disagreed, even to the point where the others held that doing that act is deserving of capital punishment. Rabbis were always careful when traveling through another Rabbi’s community, to adhere completely to the opinions of the Rabbi of the community they were visiting. The issue of actual printing of STA”M, not just silk-screen, effects the laws in different ways. On one hand, if it were a proper form of writing, then one can use this form to write STA”M. On the other hand, if it was not a proper form of writing, then possibly all the printed Seforim that we use today from Chumashim to the recently printed ones, would not have the special holiness afforded the holy books. The Rabbis that were against printing STA”M are the BA”CH (691:4), the Rokeach (#280), the Maharsha”m (C #357), the Benei Yonah (end of #271), the Maharashda”m (YO”D #184), the Zera Emet (YO”D #117), the Yafeh Lalev (O”CH #32:6), the Teshuvah MeAhavah (A #9), and several others. Their main concerns were the Chakika problem explained above. Only one or two held that this was not writing at all, based on their interpretation of a Talmud Yerushalmi (Gittin Perek B Halachah #3). The Talmud Yerushalmi says Vekatav Velo Hashofech, which means you cannot pour the ink onto the page. There were a few other concerns listed, including the fact that the letters are put on upside down, and the fact that many pages must be discarded during the process. The ones that consider real printing to be 100% writing include the Mahara”m Ben Chabib, the TA”Z (YO”D #271:8), the Magen Avraham (#32:57 & #284:1), the Beit Shmuel, the Knesset Yechezkel, the Erech Hashulchan, the Pri Chadash in even HaEzer, the Pri Megadim, the Machazit Hashekel, the Yaave”tz, the Maharitz Chiyut, the Aruch Hashulchan, and several others. When we look at the silk-screen process, we see that the concerns presented by the overwhelming majority of the dissenting Rabbis would not apply. There is no Chakikah, just straightforward ink being pressed directly onto the parchment. It is right side up in the same way as any writing, and there is less discarded than writing with a quill. Suddenly silk-screen writing begins to look much better. By presenting their specific concerns, these Rabbis confirmed that the writing by silk-screen was writing and not pouring. They disagreed with that interpretation of the Yerushalmi. The conventional understanding of that Yerushalmi is that you cannot write with invisible ink and then pour on the chemical that makes that ink visible. The reason is obvious, because the act that really creates the readable written letters is an act of pouring, which is certainly not writing. Silk-screen and even printing is not at all like this. Thus as it is clear that the silk-screen process lacks the problems that conventional printing presents to many of the Rabbis, now the side approving of the silk-screen process begins to grow. The more than ten Rabbis who held printing to be a form of writing would most certainly approve of silk-screen writing. Then we can now add 5, 6, or more from the opposing camp, who would oppose printing, but clearly approve of the silk-screen writing, since their concerns have been properly addressed. Suddenly, we have twenty or so of our most prominent Rabbis saying that Silk-screen is OK, and one or two that do not consider it writing based on their interpretation of that Yerushalmi. That’s when the confusion and disbelief began to set in. How could this entire situation have been created? How could Rabbis in our generation come out so strongly against a process that would be acceptable to almost all the previous Rabbis? How could they be so forceful as to require all Rabbis to conform to their opinion at the risk of degradation, abuse, insults, and even excommunication? Is this all in the honor of the Torah? Is this how we were taught to behave? I spoke to friends to assist me in dealing with this confusion and to try to find another side. The consensus was that since most of those Rabbis who were on the anti-silk-screen committee did not ever see the process in person, they must have been sold a bill of goods. They could have been presented with a picture of an almost Conservative Rabbi who is looking to cut out as much of the religion as he can get away with. That the process is a stencil and they spray paint on it, like on the side of a truck. That there is this major Robert Ludlum style conspiracy to banish Torahs from the world. These words consoled me a bit. It made me feel like there was some explanation, some method to the madness. But my heart still ached. Why don’t these Rabbis request to be shown the process exactly before uttering and writing these most dangerous and slanderous words? Why wouldn’t they look into the whole story before making judgments? I may never get the answers to these questions. There are certainly some very powerful and dangerous forces out there that are strongly pushing for these sanctions against the silk-screen process. I know someone who was at Rabbi Tuvia Golstien’s (A”H) house in Brooklyn together with a group of people, when he was preparing to write a letter documenting his opinion that the silk-screen process was perfectly kosher to all standards. His son-in-law, who lives right under him, came in and literally begged the Rosh Yeshiva on behalf of the family and for the benefit of the Rosh Yeshiva’s own health, not to write or publicize his approval to this. He said that it was a matter of life and death. Rabbi Pinchas Scheinberg, who is well known for the multiple layers of Tzitzit that he wears, told many people that it was perfectly kosher. Yet, when he was approached, he was reluctant to write anything. His son was dominating the conversation, and was adamantly refusing to allow any written approvals. He cited fears of serious political reprisals. It got everyone around scared, too. Who are these dangerous figures lurking in the shadows, that have kidnapped all our leaders, holding them literally at gunpoint? I begin to hallucinate. Maybe these are supernatural creatures? Then my mind began playing tricks on me. I start to realize that two of the leaders that signed the Bada”tz letter passed away within two weeks. The Sifrei Torah in Rabbi Nissim Karelitz’s Shul went up in flames. Rabbi Tuvia Goldstien was taken from us just recently. Something is going on. Now Rabbi Elyashiv is very sick. Help! What do we do now? How can we stop this?!