Inside Sta”m: A Complete Buyer’s Guide
By: Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz
Israel Bookshop Publications / 435 pp.
Reviewed by Rabbi Ari Enkin
Rabbi Reuvain Mendlowitz, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, has just released his latest work “Inside Stam: A Complete Buyer’s Guide”. The book, as its name implies, is an unprecedented and outstanding presentation of all Sta”m related issues. Among the topics covered is the purchase of tefillin, the manufacturing of klaf, the construction of battim, along with detailed explanations on where mezuzot are needed (and where they’re not!) and the truth regarding when tefillin and mezuzot must be checked. There is also a Sefer Torah buyer’s guide for those “in the parsha”. These issues are presented and covered in a way that has not previously been covered in any other existing English work.
Absolutely trailblazing is the section on Sifrei Nevi’im and Megillat Esther. Included in this unique section is a historical account on the development of the Haftara readings, and a discussion of the advantages and issues of using klaf over a printed Chumash for the Haftara reading. There is also an extensive discussion on how the neviim klaf is to be written (Ben-Asher vs. Berditchov) and whether one or two atzei chaim should be affixed to the scroll. Megillat Esther is well represented with explanations on how the Megilla is written, what one should look for, and an explanation of the familiar brick-on-brick style of certain verses. No, there is no advantage or hiddur to the popular “Hamelech” Megillot.
Written in a question- and-answer format, this sefer is unique in that it not only explains elementary to advanced safrut-related concepts, but it also focuses heavily on the “Why didn’t I think of that?!” and the “I’m too embarrassed to ask my Rabbi!” types of questions. The book is full of questions that you would slap yourself at not having asked yourself. Many concepts that are otherwise inaccessible to the layman are clearly explained and elucidated, such as “kuba v’zanav”, “chak tohochos” and “ziyunim” to name a few. No doubt, most readers are not familiar with the chumrot and hiddurim of the Rashba, Pri Megadim, and Radach, among others.
There are a few issues regarding the content of the book that are worthy of discussion. Unfortunately, in his exciting chapter on the different types of ketav that are in use today (extensive footnoting there for further study!), the author neglected to discuss the mysterious “Alter Rebbe” ketav that is becoming more and more common in Chabad circles. As there is no proper treatment of the Alter Rebbe ketav in English (to my knowledge) the author missed a golden opportunity to be the first to do so. (For some Hebrew sources on the Alter Rebbe ketav, see here: http://www.haoros.com/Archive/index.asp?kovetz=773&cat=11&haoro=2 and here: http://www.haoros.com/Archive/index.asp?kovetz=888&cat=11&haoro=2 ) Of interest: Urban legend has it that the last two Lubavitcher Rebbe’s used the Arizal script and not the Alter Rebbe script in the tefillin, though most Chabad Chassidim today opt for the latter.
In his chapter discussing how the mitzva to write a sefer Torah applies nowadays, including a number of limudei zechus on why people are not careful to fulfill this mitzva today, the author does not discuss the view that in our day and age the mitzva of writing a Torah is fulfilled by purchasing Torah sefarim to learn from. (See: Rosh, Sefer Torah 1; YD 270:2 and commentaries). A discussion on whether women are obligated in the mitzva of writing a sefer Torah would have added a nice touch to the chapter, as well. (See: Shaagat Aryeh 53; Aruch Hashulchan, YD 270:5,6.). I would have truly appreciated a chapter on Shimusha Rabba and Raavad tefillin which would have made a great appendix to the book or it could have been included as an extension in the chapter on Rabbeinu Tam tefillin. Readers interested in these latter two types of tefillin can see my Amot Shel Halacha for more.
Nevertheless, Rabbi Mendlowitz has done the near-impossible, and as far as I’m concerned, the unprecedented. From among all the existing safrut-related works in the English language, there is no work that presents safrut-related matters with the clarity and accessibility that Rabbi Mendlowitz does. While there are plenty of books in the English language that deal with Tefillin, Mezuzot, and Sifrei Torah, there is no work that covers all three issues in a single volume so comprehensively. The author unmasks one myth and misconception after the other and fearlessly dissects chumrot from halachot which makes the book even more intruiging and credible considering the author’s right-wing affiliations. The real-life personal stories and anecdotes sprinkled throughout the text are a welcome addition, as well. The author’s search for the truth in halacha is palatable, and frankly, appreciated by this writer.
The advanced reader will surely appreciate the detailed and expanded Hebrew footnotes that include extensive discussions, additional sources, and dissenting opinions. In fact, some footnotes are worthy to be chapters of their own. There is also a Hebrew section at the back that tackles many of the chumrot that are currently “in style”, including writing the shel-yad before the shel-rosh and double-sided blackened retzuot.
It would be remiss not to mention the physical beauty of this work. Inside Sta”m is written on high-quality glossy paper with clear, attractive, and readable fonts. Most pages includes full-color high-quality graphics and illustrations that clarify uncertain and potentially confusing applications. The color dust jacket adds to the book’s elegance. The beauty of the book motivates one to want to learn from its pages.
Inside Sta”m is written in a conversational and personable manner. The author speaks to the reader not at the reader. Although the book’s sub-title is “A Complete Buyer’s Guide” – don’t be deceived. It is a buyer’s guide, a sofer’s guide, a rabbi’s guide, and a scholar’s guide. There is no one, regardless of their level of knowledge, who will not benefit from this work. And one thing is for sure: No one, but no one, will be able to pull the wool over your eyes concerning anything Sta”m ever again!
At this time the book is only available in Israel or by request directly from the author: email@example.com. It will be on shelves in North America after Sukkot.
Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (4 Vol) and the General Editor and Halacha columnist at Torahmusings.com. He welcomes books of a halachic nature for review on the Torah Musings website. firstname.lastname@example.org