Who is permitted to write and deal in sefarim, tefillin & mezuzot
1. It is taught in a baraita (Eruvin 13a): Rabbi Meir said, when I came to Rabbi Ishmael, he said to me “My son, what is your trade?” I said to him “I am a scribe.” He said to me “My son, be meticulous in your work, for it is the work of heaven, and if you should omit a single letter or add a single letter, you destroy the entire world.” From this we may see that a scribe must be in extreme awe of God, for if he makes one error or fails to make one necessary correction, his soul will perish, because he steals from the masses and causes them to sin – they remain in a state of not performing commandments, and every day make blessings in vain. Of him it is written “One sinner destroys much good” (Kohelet 9:18), and “Cursed is he who does God’s work deceitfully” (Jeremiah 48:10). Therefore, those who have the power to appoint scribes should appoint, in each city, men of truth who hate bribes and know Torah, fear God and tremble at his words, just as we appoint kosher butchers. All who write tefillin as good and fit as they possibly can will have their reward doubled and doubled again, and will be saved from the judgement of Gehinnom.
2. Sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot which were written by a heresiarch are burned. If they were written by a non-Jew, one who rejects the commandments (see the H.M. sec. 488), a woman, a deaf-mute, one mentally impaired, or a minor – they are invalid, and are buried, as it says “Bind them…write them…”; the explanation is that all who are enjoined in binding are enjoined in writing, and all who are not enjoined in binding (not commanded or not believed to be performing it reliably) are not enjoined in writing. Since we learn this from the Torah itself, we require that only one who has definitely reached adulthood, that is, has produced two hairs and is past thirteen years of age (Magen Avraham, and see Noda be-Yehudah tinyana sec. 1 and the responsa Keter Cahunah sec. 1), but one who is only presumed to be an adult is invalid to write until he has come of age, or has attained twenty years of age without becoming pubescent.
3. Anyone who is invalid to write is invalid for all aspects of their manufacture (see 21:2), and scribes and artisans must take great care that no part of the work is done by women or children.
4. There are those who say that a sefer Torah written by a mamzer is invalid.
5. If one found a sefer Torah in the possession of a heresiarch, and it was not known who wrote it, it is buried. If it was in the possession of an idol-worshipper, some say it is valid and some say it should also be buried. However, if idol-worshippers are presumed to pillage the books of the Jews, we assume it originated with a Jew and is valid. So too in places where idol-worshippers don’t know how to write: we assume that they were plundered. Tefillin in the possession of an idol-worshipper are valid.
6. One should not buy sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot from idol-worshippers for more than their value, so as not to encourage their theft. One is, however, obliged to purchase them for their fair value (even if they require burial), and if the idol-worshipper wants a large price, one must bargain with him and offer him a fair price. If he won’t bring his price down, they remain with him (Taz). One must not give him the impression that they are worth significantly less than their true value, lest he tire of them and throw them away.
This translation copyright 2006 Jen Taylor Friedman