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    Is the OU now giving hasgachas on mezuzahs, tefillin & sifreiTorah?
    The timing you asked me is the most appropriate because Rabbi Genack, lay leader in these efforts, Yehuda Neuberger, who’s the chairman of the board of the OU and has been leading
    these efforts, and I just met this past Thursday. We spent quite a few hours in Monroe and we met with the Satmar Rebbe of Monroe, who’s also most concerned about this issue. This
    is a project that we at the OU are extremely committed to and think that it’s of a great need. The writing of a mezuzah, sifrei Torah, and tefillin, is a very serious undertaking that could
    easily be abused. Unfortunately, we’re finding that happening. There are people who are writing or selling mezuzos and we don’t know who the sofrim are. For all we know, the sofrim could be Arabs in Israel who know how to write Hebrew. If you know how to write Hebrew and you have a nice handwriting, you could produce a beautiful sefer Torah, tefillin or a mezuzah and it could be 100% not kosher. There are many halachos involved in the writing of a mezuzah for example. One of the halachos that’s involved in the writing of a mezuzah, is the halacha that
    it has to be written k’sidra. The letters have to be written in the proper order. Let’s say you are almost finished with writing a mezuzah and you realize that you made a mistake and there’s
    a letter missing. You can’t just go back and correct it, but if you did, nobody would ever know that’s what you did because a finished mezuzah, looks like a finished mezuzah.

    The Satmar Rebbe told us an incredible story. He said that there was somebody in Israel who was a sofer, who people were buying all sorts of tashmishei kedusha from. A copy machine technician came to see him because the sofer said that his copy machine was broken. He came to the sofer’s home and he found something very unusual. The copy machine was in the bathroom. Why would you leave a copy machine in the bathroom? Then he realized, he wasn’t writing mezuzos. He had a very sophisticated copier, and the mezuzos were being copied. Of course he didn’t want anyone to see it, so he kept it in the bathroom. This technician was not a religious individual, but he realized the kind of fraud that was going on and reported it to Rabbanim. That’s how they were able to catch this supposed great sofer.

    There are so many difficult situations that happen with safrus and we have no way of knowing the kashurus of the sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzos that we’re buying. The OU has undertaken a project where we will have a system in place to make sure that the people who are writing mezuzahs are people who are qualified to write, people who are tested, people who we know behave properly and are truly religious individuals. It is difficult to supervise the actual writing of a mezuzah because there are so many questions. I spoke to a sofer and he explained that if the OU wants to supervise the writing, we would need somebody from the OU to tell him exactly how to write the letter Alef because he has twenty two questions on the writing of the letter Alef. We didn’t even get to the letter Beis. So, we are working with an organization in Israel called “STAMP,” who is very involved in coming up with systems on how to have mezuzos that are approved by the OU. The word we are using is not “B’Hashgacha.” The word we are using is “B’P’kuach.” We’re also trying to accomplish transparency, so that when you buy a mezuzah, you’ll know exactly who the sofer that wrote the mezuzah is, what type of parchment was used, and who gave supervision for that parchment.

    The OU is doing this as a free service; the OU is not getting paid for doing the supervision. We are doing this as a public service that we believe is so necessary; we need to build awareness for people to understand the severity and the depth of the issue. Every time I have a meeting about these issues, I come home not well because I realize more and more the depth of the issue and that there are so many difficulties and so many details.

    I do want to make a point. My goal here is not to tell anybody that they should remove the mezuzos from their home and buy new mezuzos. There’s enough reason not to have to do so. But
    what we are proposing is that moving forward, if somebody buys a new mezuzah, whether they’re moving into a new home or a couple that’s getting married, whatever the situation is, they
    should buy a mezuzah that has a recognized approval. If you know a sofer personally and you know that the sofer is an upstanding individual, if he told you that he wrote the mezuzah then that’s great. However, that’s complicated because most mezuzos that are bought are not through a sofer that they personally know or that was asked to write a mezuzah on their behalf. They’re going to a store who’s selling them a mezuzah, and even the storekeeper himself is not aware of who wrote that mezuzah.

    If one were to go into the typical Jewish bookstore they would see 3 or more different types of categories of mezuzos. What does that mean exactly?
    Jewish bookstores typically do not know who wrote the mezuzah. The categories are really more about how nice it is etc. but the person who is selling you a mezuzah in a Judaica store doesn’t know who wrote the mezuzah. He can’t tell you the name of the sofer and even if he were to tell you the name of the sofer, what does that mean? You don’t know who that sofer is and you have no way of verifying his claims. If he told you Ari Hirsch wrote the mezuzah, how do you know it was really Ari Hirsch who wrote it?

    Are the prices of the mezuzos or the sifrei Torah going to go up in price because of this hashgacha?
    When we certify a company, we charge them for the certification. We won’t charge for that here, but there are inherent costs, such as operations. We’re actually creating a new computer program for this project. The halacha says that every mezuzah that’s written should be checked twice by somebody who’s called a “Magiah” and they have to get paid. So, if you’re buying a mezuzah now, you have no way of knowing if it had hagaah. The mezuzah that you’re going to buy with this approval will have a hagaah, and you’ll even be able to know who did it. Those people need to get paid. We’re trying not to charge for this service, but I can’t ask the sofer not to get paid for his work. That’s what he does for a living. I can’t ask a magiah not to get paid for his work. If the mezuzah that you bought in the past did not have a hagaah, and therefore it did not have that associated cost, the mezuzos are now going to have that additional cost included in its pricing. I can’t prevent that. But what I can do and what I am trying to do is to have as few possible additional costs. To say it more bluntly, people are cynical. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do what we have to do.

    The average person when they purchase a home has 15 or more mezuzos that they have to put up. The last time I walked into a Jewish book store I believe the price of a mezuzah on average was $150. How does one afford that?
    I can make a number of points. Number one, I don’t know about your house, but people are spending a million plus dollars for a house, so I find it fascinating that a person can find a way to spend a million dollars plus for a home and all of a sudden when it comes to buying a mezuzah that may cost ten dollars more, that’s where he runs out of money. When they put in a custom kitchen and all sorts of other amenities, and I’m happy people can have that, it didn’t stop them from doing it. When it comes to the mezuzah which will cost ten dollars more, that’s where the finances become a big deal. The mezuzahs are what brings shemira, it brings Hashem to watch our home. It’s a mitzvah and it’s an investment for life. We replace many things in our home; a mezuzah we have forever. I think it’s a worthwhile investment. If you want to make sure that it’s really kosher, even if it’ll cost a few dollars more, which I emphasize we are trying to avoid, but even if it’ll cost a few dollars more, I think it’s well worth it to know that the mezuzah that you bought is really kosher. You can buy food that’s not kosher and you could make an argument that it’s cheaper also, but we want to eat kosher food. We recognize that a piece of kosher meat is more expensive than a piece of non-kosher meat, but does that mean somebody would buy non-kosher meat? Of course not.

    Is what you’re saying about mezuzos also applicable to tefillin and Sifrei torah? Is it in the same category?
    Absolutely. It’s the same for them, as well. One of the issues that we’re very concerned about is that we will have a large enough supply of kosher mezuzos. We began the project with mezuzos, but sifrei Torah and tefillin are issues of equal importance. The exact same issues exist for them. That is a more expensive issue; someone could spend a hundred thousand dollars plus for a new sefer Torah and not be certain that it’s really kosher.

    What about mikvaos? Is the OU working on giving mikvaos hechsherim?
    They say that if you want to get something done, give it to a busy guy. We at the Ou are very busy but even we run out of time. There are so many different places that we can get involved. Mezuzos are a project which is under OU Kosher supervision. Another project that the OU is involved with, and again I was brought into it, but I’m not really very involved with it, are eruvim. We even had a conference in our office a couple of months ago for people from many communities around the country who are involved in eruvim. It’s also a very complicated issue. An eruv is built and the people in the community rely on the eruv being built and maintained. Sometimes it’s checked, but it may not be checked properly. The conditions of a town affect the kashrus of the eruv: The walls, telephone wires and everything else which is the basis of building an eruv can change the status of an eruv. Every town has new construction walls going up, walls going down, gates going up, gates going down, telephone wires going up and down and who is on a regular basis making sure that the eruv in your community is still an eruv that
    you could rely on? I have to tell you from when I’ve gotten involved, as I said I’m not completely involved in that project I’m just somewhat involved in that project, I stopped carrying in an eruv because I realized how complicated it is. So, eruv is a project that we at the OU have gotten involved with. Mezuzos is something else that we are involved with. But you’re right, there are so many issues that should be supervised to make certain that they’re being done right; mikvaos are no different.