Computer Checking of STa"M
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Ideally, in today's world all STa"M should undergo computer checking in addition to human examination. Chazal, our Torah Sages who codified our obligations in all areas of religious law, itemized for us what constitutes a kosher product. Their instructions about checking STa"M include myriad detailed points that the baal magiha must master requiring of him tremendous halachic knowledge, expertise born of experience, and human judgment. These cannot be replaced by modern technology. In one area, however, new technology available to us today can be extremely valuable to the baal magiha in his work.
It has been found that even STa"M that was written by an experienced, certified sofer and checked by an independent baal magiha who is also experienced and certified, can contain textual errors called chasair v'yeter, extra, missing or misplaced letters or words, as much as 3% of the time. The computer is an excellent tool to help us find this type of error.
The pioneering organization which undertook to utilize the computer for this purpose is Va'ad Mishmeres STa"M, the International Center for Preserving and Promoting the Halachic Integrity of Scribal Arts: Scrolls, Tefillin and Mezuzot. Under the auspices of major rabbinical authorities, Mishmeres STa"M during the 1980's developed the first computer program for examining STa"M. This program includes the complete and correct text to be used for all STa"M and rudimentary general formation of the letters. The item to be checked is scanned and the computer compares the scanned text to the standard. If letters or words are found that are missing, extra, or not recognized by the computer this is detailed in the report that is generated. The baal magiha then checks the item again, reviewing all discrepancies flagged by the computer and determines if there is actually an error in the text.
Computer checking by itself is definitely not enough. Technical problems such as a speck of dirt on the scanner's surface or an incorrect optic setting may cause the computer to incorrectly flag what appear to be cracks in letters or two letters as touching. Similarly, structural flaws in one or more letters that will cause the baal magiha to declare the item pasul, invalid, cannot be picked up by the computer in most cases.
The computer cannot replace the experienced baal magiha in determining the kashrut of STa"M. But modern technology provides us with new, supplementary tools to aid the baal magiha in his work. In fact, many Rabbis and experts in the field of STa"m advocate that we may be halachically obligated, or at least highly recommended, to utilize this new tool for checking both new and used STa"M, in addition to the exam done by the baal magiha.
Now look again at the text in the triangle at the top of this page. What it really says is "PARIS IN THE THE SPRING". This example shows why you should have your tefillin and mezuzot also examined by computer.
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