Book Review: Inside Sta”m: A Complete Buyer’s Guide

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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: and here: ) 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 protected]. 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 He welcomes books of a halachic nature for review on the Torah Musings website. [email protected]

About Ari Enkin

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 of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot.


  1. I’ve never heard of “Berditchov” as opposed to Ben-Asher. Isn’t Ben-Naftali the usual word for the opposite of Ben Asher?

    “and the truth regarding when tefillin and mezuzot must be checked”

    Never, if you don’t have reason to suspect they’ve gone bad.

  2. r’nachum,
    שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות מזוזה סימן רצא

    סעיף א
    (א) מזוזת יחיד (ב) נבדקת פעמים בשבע שנים. א (ג) ושל רבים, פעמים ביובל. ?

  3. See Section II C 1. of R. Lebowitz’s article, where he quotes R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to the effect that mezuzos which are encased in plastic can be checked much less frequently:

  4. Nachum, Berdichev refers to a tikkun sofrim printed there, supposedly based on the ruling of the GRA and what he did in Vilna. The whole thing is bologne but it caused considerable controversy in recent years and it was reprinted fairly recently by repudiators of Ben Asher.

    BTW there was a whole book written about the Chabad script, called אותיות הרב by R’ Moshe Viener. A synopsis was printed in Kovetz Lishkas HaKodesh II. The whole thing quite stupid if you ask me. All it is is a Russian script which was adapted with changes from the Ari. The same thing happened all over Europe in its own way with Chassidem trying to superimpose the Arizal sfardi script on the local ashknazi genre. With Chabbad it is even worse since the first Chabad rebbe used questionable seforim such as Matzot Shimurim to create it; and in addition he didn’t have Shmonah Shiarrim. There are a few different genres of European script still in use. Why should he single out Chabad of all groups?

  5. Joel: Back in the day, there was no such thing as a mezuzah case. Now they’re in cases, in plastic bags, in paper, in cellophane, indoors…

    Ephrayim: It should be noted that Ari script isn’t Sephardi either (neither is “Beit Yosef”). Sephardi script is what Ashkenazim called “Vellish” (although real Vellish is something else entirely, German script). And there are others…in reality, simple block letters are kosher for Stam. The type of script you see in the Dead Sea Scrolls is pretty much OK, too.

  6. Nachum,
    Who told you that the fact that there are cases now makes the halacha in shulchan aruch obsolete?

  7. “Never, if you don’t have reason to suspect they’ve gone bad.”

    I’ll share my stories.

    1)I just had my mezuzahs checked (which I do twice every 7 years, more or less) and to my surprise, the sofer told me that the one from my back door was in bad shape because of water that had seeped in. This hadn’t happened the previous times I had them checked.

    I use a “waterproof” case, but my back door is very exposed (there’s no porch or anything else to give protection) and I guess rain must have gotten in at some point (maybe Hurricane Irene).

    I put it in a different waterproof case, but Sofer said none of those on the market are perfect. He recommended that for that location, I should take a quick look at the klaf annually or even more often to make sure it’s still OK.

    2) I also had my tefillin checked. That I know is not necessary, but I decided to have it done now anyway. This sofer specializes in batim, and he offers a batim refurbishing service (repainting, sharpen corners, and he even scrapes off the accumulated grime on the bottom surface. Also other more technical stuff that I didn’t catch). _That_ was a worthwhile investment. I can’t say if it made them more kosher, but definitely more mehudar (the zeh kaili v’anvaihu type). I know this sounds like a cliche, but my 30 year old tefillin really did come back looking like new.

  8. Chaim – R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. See the reference in Halichos Shlomo cited above.

  9. I am well aware of this quote from RSZA. However, considering that no one else has said this, and the quote itself is a cryptic line with its source in reshimos (meaning its just what one person heard, vhamevin yavin), I find it hard to believe that we can throw away a line in shulchan aruch for the masses. maybe the person who heard the quote, or maybe his talmidim, btu to make it a mass heter based ona daas yachid (as great as RSZA was) is suspect.

  10. R’ Nachum,
    Yes, I reviewed that shiur on the audioroundup – I was a bit surprised similar to what r’ chaim says above. There was an interesting debate on the Avodah mail list on whether you get schar mitzvah if you rely on such a chazakah but lmaaseh the klaf was pasul (actually I favor the yes side) but personally I still get the mezuzot checked on the 2 per 7 ( a separate interesting question that I was not able to answer – was 2/7 a model for a particular probability distribution?)

  11. Nachum, I was not speaking about contemporary Ari script, but what it was originally. Much like the story of nusach hatfilah where chassidim overlaid things recorded in the name of the Arizal onto to the tefillah they knew, occurred with the script. The disciples of the Ari recorded what he had said in regards to script but the record it does not state what script he was diverging from. Of course we know it was the ‘vellish’ script of the time, and we actually still have the original writings of R Chaim Vital to see how he formed the letters; but for some reason this did not occur to the Chassidic leaders in Europe. R’ Yaakov Hillel has a teshuvah in VaYashav HaYom justifying this practice; or rather claiming others have already understood that the Ari meant that these changes were the main thing regardless of the script. I don’t buy that, you can if you want.

    Regarding what is kosher; you will have a hard time finding any rabbi say that the Dead Sea Scroll script is kosher. Not to say that I don’t agree, but in contemporary halacha things like Qufs that touch are passul. One exception that I found was R’ Goren who wrote that the teffilin found in Judaean Desert are kosher. The script in the teffilin is barley legible; but then again R’ Goren was working backwards. He attempted to prove what was kosher from the tefflin, not if the teffilin were kosher according to what we know. He does start out trying to prove they were written by a perushim and how it aligns with what is related in the Gemarah, but he doesn’t make the bold claim that contemporary halacha would say they are kosher.

  12. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone

    who taught you to be so disrespectful and self opinionated.
    Your assertions are vacuous and your assumption are puerile

  13. How exactly does plastic change anything? In Talmudic times many a time the mezuzah was placed deeply recessed within the door frame, which I’d think is in a better guard than flimsy plastic case, open to the rain and wind outside. Regarding changing Shulchan Aruch, I should point out that the Talmudic dictum is not absolute. The mezuzah on the gates of the city only need to be checked once every fifty years (assuming that didn’t use ‘once in a yoval’ colloquially like we do now). Twice every 7 years isn’t very specific either. These were practical guidelines that were codified and changed based on circumstances. If the mezuzah is protected in such a manner that is will not get ruined then no checking is necessary. Teffilin according to Bais Hillel don’t need checking ever, and tefilin back then were only incased in a thin pliable leather, but then again they were not out in the open.

  14. Rabbi Pinchos–

    Not to worry. Having dueled with Ephrayaim in the past — I think he may not have been intending to be disprespectful….

    He need to sharpen his ‘tact’. Thats all.

  15. Please Rabbi Woolstone refute them. I’m sure a seasoned rabbi like you should have no problem dunking it out with me.

  16. Chaim-Can you point to any instance where what was noted as “Reshimos” in any of the three volumes of Halichos Shlomoh was demonstrated by any objective observer as not representing the views of RSZA?

  17. Minhag Ashkenaz

    “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.”

    Shorshei minhagei ashkenaz has a discussion on this.

  18. Steve-
    This is an example of what happens with many gedolim after they are niftar. Everybody wants to put stuff out in their name so look for anything possible. Everyone writes down what they heard and prints it. I have heard people in the know question posthumous statements in the name of RSZA, Rav Yakov Kaminetsky, and of course rav soloveitchik. As a well known ram once said to me “That’s what one person thinks they heard.”

  19. Chaim-The question remains-have you ever heard anyone prove, as opposed to merely claim and allege, that any of the Reshimos in Halichos Shlomoh are inaccurate? As far as RYBS is concerned, obviously, the key is who is quoting what he heard in the name of RYBS and when he learned of such a comment.

  20. Minhagei Ashkenaz-

    Thank you for that. I was unaware.

    Ari Enkin

  21. r’sb,
    imho that’s a next to impossible task-can anyone prove someone didn’t say something in some specific circumstace. iirc r’hs has a case where r’ybs allowed a “bar mitzvah” boy (just a few days short” to lein the parsha. people assumed lchatchila , when later asked, he said shaat hadechak kdieved-due to specific circumstances.

  22. Does the author discuss the issue of Rav Abadi’s ‘silk-screen’ process for producing “STAM”?

  23. My last comment was a bit too brief. I wonder if the author also discusses other potential techniques for producing “STAM” such as using a stencil and inking the letters sequentially, or using a stencil bar, e.g., a Hebrew Leroy lettering kit, and a pen on a pantograph to write?

  24. If I recall correctly there was a short paragraph on the silk-screen process which he gracefully dismisses as illigitimate.

    Ari Enkin

  25. Those interested in a very thorough treatment of the “Silk-Screen” Torah scrolls should see “Tradition” Spring 2003.

    Ari Enkin

  26. Thank you foe the review. I heard he was working on a book and look forward to getting a copy to read over Succos. I can only imagine how much time was invested. My book is geared more to the community rabbi, layman and bar mitzvah boy and what I thought would be a short guide turned into an 8 year project and that was without the extensive footnotes and not getting into advanced and very technical topics. Surely there is such a need for Rabbi Mendlowitz’s book!

    Rabbi Yerachmiel Askotzky
    Tefillin & Mezuzos

  27. Dear Readers-

    A rather large number of copies of my latest sefer “Shu”t Hashulchani” have very slight damages/imperfections. I am giving them away for the price of shipping ($8). If you’re interested: [email protected].

    Ari Enkin

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