Friday, October 30, 2009

Caveat Emptor: Tefillin Fraud

As we all know, extreme care must be exerted when purchasing Tefillin and Mezuzot. Many people (especially from חו"ל) buy at specific emporia in Meah Shearim and Geulah, often assuming that if we order Tefillin with all the Hiddurim, that that is what we'll get.

Today, I encountered a case where a pair of tefillin which were specially ordered were barely kosher, and the Sofer who checked them informed me that the ktav was an obvious case of 'get it over with minimally, who cares about the person who wears them.' In this case, the parshiyyot were written in a mishmash of Bes Yosef and Ksav Ari. The tefillin fetched good money, needless to say.

They were purchased at HaMeyfitz at 70 Meah Shearim Street, which had been known for being a bit cheaper for Gasos Tefillin than the competition. Obviously, you get what you pay for.

There are many upstanding Sofrim in Israel (and I can recommend more than a few. Noone should buy into the 'it's Merah Shearim and the Sofer is a Hassid/has a long beard/looks right therefore reliable' trap.

Anyway, HaMeyfitz should not be trusted.

HaShem Yismarenu me-remiyah,


Anonymous said...

Exactly the same p'sul was found in a pair of Tefillin I purchased from Flumenbaum. According to R. Moshe Feinstein, such a mixture of Beis Yosef and Ari pasuls the tefillin, but others are meikil.

Anonymous said...

i appreciate your courage in publishing this, complete with details and names

Jeffrey Woolf said...

According to the Sofer from whom I bought new parshiyyot, most Israeli Poskim allow it be-diavad. Even so, I still feel violated.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

As you noted, many Israeli rabbanim will allow a mixed k'tav as less-than-ideal. As I recall, the Hazon Ish was asked about using k'tav which is not according to one's custom, Ari for an Ashkenazi or Beit Yosef for someone who holds by the Ari. Related, but not identical question. Rav Ovadiah Yosef also dealt with the issue.

If someone is buying t'fillin or m'zuzot, etc. they must ask 'how valid' they are. Are they really l'chathila, or something less? Then, of course, there are 'beautifications' - hidurim - which are usually internal and undiscernable to the consumer. And all of this makes a difference in price. Often substantially so.

My hevruta and I learned the halachot for STaM almost 30 years ago in Yerushalayim. We spent quite a bit of time on the topic, as well as learning the practicalities. At some point, we heard several repeated reports that a store on Rehov Meah Shearim was cheating tourists with m'zuzot. If one went in and requested m'zuzot in Hebrew or Yiddish, they got shown one pile or package of average quality m'zuzot. If one entered speaking English or Hebrew with difficulty, they were shown a second pile for the same price or higher of m'zuzot that were barely kosher or not kosher at all. This was done intentionally. I saw this for myself. It was a store on the first block in from Kikar Shabbat, on the north side of the street. I was going to protest at the store and pass out handbills to the folks entering the store. Clearly a remnant of my days demonstrating for Soviet Jewry and such. ;-) Rav Mordechai Freidlander, who many sofrim dealt with in those days and a local figure in Geulah, stopped me. He told me I was taking my life in my hands if I do such a thing. He said I was right, but that I shouldn't risk my life over it.

Over the years I have seen quite a bit of fraud and theft in this area. There was also a rash of thefts at the Meah Shearim mikvah early in the morning. Fellows would go tovel, and someone would steal and resell their t'fillin. Simply mystifies me how something so holy can be treated with such disdain.

BTW, I would be very surprised if a p'sul was intentionally sold by Moshe Flumenbaum, since Anonymous mentioned his name outright. (Isn't that a hutzpa to accuse someone else anonymously?) He always had a reputation of offering people options with their t'fillin with the attendant variations in price. I have witnessed him speaking with potential customers and explaining to them differences in what their money buys. There is nothing wrong with selling something b'diavad if that is all the customer can afford or is willing to pay. That is a question that has been asked many times.