Chapter 3

Ink, lines, quill, writing with one’s right hand

1. It is halakha from Moses at Sinai that one writes sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot with ink alone. Ideally it is made thus: one combines ash from fat, pitch, wax and suchlike (that is, פלאמרוס or קיהנרוס) with tree resin (gum) and a little honey, and crushes it well until it cakes, whereupon he dries it. Before writing, he dissolves it in gallnut-juice or similar, and writes with it, so that if he comes to blot it off, it will go away. This is the ideal ink with which to write sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot. If one wrote any of these three with gallnut-juice and kankantom (copperwasser) [ferrous sulphate solution], which doesn’t blot off, it is valid, and this is how ink is generally made these days – gallnut-juice, gum [arabic], and kankantom – but one must take care that it is properly black from the start [gallotannic inks darken on exposure to air]. The Mosaic halakha specified “ink” to preclude use of other colours – red, green and so on; if one wrote even one letter in another colour, or in gold, it would be invalid. So too one may not write Tanakh in anything other than ink; some say that the requirement of ink is limited to sifrei Torah.

2. Ink is invalidated if it started black but faded to red over time; one must take great care that it be good.

3. Ink need not be made lishmah; if it is made from wine handled by non-Jews it is technically fit for use. However, for holy work and writing so many Names it is proper that we sanctify ourselves with that which is permitted to us, and distance ourselves from inappropriate matters.

4. If one sprinkled gold dust over the letters, he may remove the dust, and the writing which remains is valid, even in tefillin and mezuzot. But if the dust got onto a letter of the Name, there is nothing he can do about it; removing the dust constitutes erasure of the Name.

5. It is halakha from Moses at Sinai that sifrei Torah and mezuzot require ruled lines, and if they are written without lines, they are invalid. The lines must be made with a scoring tool, which makes grooves (“sirtut,” ruled lines, is like “sarita,” groove), and may not be made with lead or other colouring materials. It is proper to rule the lines lishmah. If one made a mistake and had to erase a word, and the line was also erased, he should rule the line afresh. Likewise if one had to suspend a word or words in a sefer Torah between the lines – he must score a line there. Tefillin don’t require ruled lines, save the topmost line – some say they require lines at top, bottom and the two sides, even if he is able to keep his writing straight. If one isn’t able to keep his writing straight, he must rule every line.

6. One should take care to have a nice-looking pen, even if it doesn’t make the writing itself look any different. Some say that one should write with a reed pen and not a feather, but this is not the custom; we write with feathers, and even with metal. Some doubt whether one may write with the feather of a ritually impure bird.

7. One must write with his right hand, and if he wrote with the left, it is invalid. If one had tefillin which were written with the left hand, and could not find any which were written with the right hand, he should put them on, but should not make a blessing. One who is left-handed should here read “left” for “right;” if he wrote with his right hand it is invalid. If one is ambidextrous, he should write with the right hand, but if he wrote with his left it is valid. If one writes with his right hand but his left is dominant for everything else, or vice versa, he should not train to become a sofer, but if he writes, he falls into the category of an ambidexter. It once happened that someone with no hands wrote by holding the pen in his lips, and those tefillin were declared invalid even if no others were to be found, because writing is simply not done with the lips.

This translation copyright 2006 Jen Taylor Friedman

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