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Q&A from the Bais HaVaad Halacha Hotline

The Write Stuff

July 11, 2024

Q What writing instrument may be used to fix a broken letter in a sefer Torah?

A The Rama (Y.D. 271:7) cites a ruling of the Mordechai (Gittin 321) that a get or sefer Torah is to be written with a hollow reed, not a feather quill. The Taz (ibid. 8) says this is because ideally, ink should be applied to the parchment without otherwise affecting it. Reed is slightly elastic and releases ink freely, whereas a sharpened feather etches the parchment while writing. For this reason, he says not to use a metal instrument.

The Gra cites a symbolic reason for using a reed: The Gemara (Ta’anis 20a) says that the reed’s softness symbolizes humility, a trait required of a talmid chacham; and the reed’s pliability, which allows it to withstand buffeting winds, symbolizes a Jew’s need for resilience to withstand the onslaught of harmful influences.

The Shach (ibid. 13) and several of his contemporaries write that the minhag does not follow the Mordechai, and a feather may be used for writing gittin and sta”m. Later Acharonim debate whether the Shach meant to exclude metal instruments. The Kessess Hasofer (3 note 5) allows them, but the Chasam Sofer (glosses to Kessess Hasofer ibid.) disapproves, saying that a feather should be used, and from a kosher bird.

The Aruch Hashulchan (ibid. 38) offers a reason to avoid metal in writing a sefer Torah: Writing words of Torah with materials used in weaponry would be paradoxical, because weapons shorten lives, while Torah lengthens them. (This is similar to the reason that metal tools are prohibited in the construction of the mizbeiach; see Rashi to Shmos 20:22).

The Sheivet Halevi (2:136) says that a gold or silver pen may be used, because those metals are not used for weaponry, and they don’t etch the parchment. A plastic quill also suffices. Ideally, he says, follow the minhag to use a feather.

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