The Guide To STa"M

Before choosing STa"M, a person has to know what he is looking for, and hence what he is looking at. This is a basic guide to the factors that are used to define the quality and therefore the price of Mezuzos, Tefillin and Sifrei Torah.

Mezuzos are the simplest to start with, being that they are made up of only the Klaf and Ksav. The Ksav is the most defining factor when dealing with any STa"M, particularly in regard to price, and there are two basic things to look at when looking at the Ksav:

1. If every letter is written perfectly from a halachic standpoint. There are many things that are not meokev, but make Ksav more mehudar, for example if the tagin on the letters look like zayins [as opposed to being straight lines] or the tag on the right of the lamed being higher than the tag on the left. Fascinatingly enough, sometimes "Hidurim" can have severe ramifications. According to Kaballah, if in ones Mezuzah the left tag of a lamed is higher than the right tag, it can be "Meorer Dinim" on a person and cause them צרות

2. The beauty of the letters, if they are perfectly formed, uniform and evenly spaced. This also has a halachic ramification, since there is a halachic requirement to beautify our Tashmishei Kedushah - התנאה לפניו במצוות.
The Ksav has the largest effect on the price since it is very hard to write with extreme precision, especially when taking into account that each line has a different amount of letters and the Sofer must compensate to fill each line.
The Klaf for any STa"M must be Meubad Lishmah, which means that the process which turns the raw hides into Klaf must be done with intention that the Klaf will be used for that particular piece of STa"M. There are different views on exactly what qualifies as part of the "Ibud", and there are different chumros in this respect. "Klaf Avodas Yad" and "Zees' Klaf" are nicknames for different chumros regarding the Ibud Lishmah, and can have a minor effect on the cost. The color of the Klaf is solely aesthetic, as is the size, and should normally not affect the quality or price.

Sifrei Torah are basically the same as Mezuzos, and again the first thing to look at is the Ksav. With Sifrei Torah in particular there is an extra emphasis on the aesthetic beauty of the letters, since its is written to be read from weekly. The letters should all be perfectly formed, uniform, evenly spaced. As mentioned earlier, the quality of the Ksav is the largest factor when determining the price.
The size of a Sefer Torah is a matter of taste, and it does not affect the price when within the regular range (which is when the Klaf is between 15 and 19 inches tall). However, since traditionally all Sifrei Torah have 42 lines on each Amud (Page), very small Sifrei Torah are more expensive, due to the extreme precision needed to write them. They usually start at around $50,000, yet may also be attained on occasion for much less.
Usually large Sifrei Torah cost more due to the cost of the Klaf, yet the different chumros in the "Ibud Lishmah" can affect the price of the Klaf more than the size of the Klaf does. The color of the Klaf is again solely aesthetic.
The Atzei Chaim (Torah Rollers) are a minuscule factor in the price. Regularly they are solid wood and cost a few hundred dollars. Sterling silver Atzei Chaim can also be attained, but the price can only be quoted on the spot, due to the rapidly changing price of silver.

Tefillin by nature have very small Ksav and must therefore be written by more expert Sofrim. With that in mind, their overall gradation as far as Klaf and Ksav is the same as Mezuzos and Sifrei Torah, i.e. the better the Ksav the more they are worth.
Tefillin Batim play a large roll as far as quality and cost, even more than the Ksav itself. For starters, the Shel Rosh must be four separate compartments yet must retain a square shape. In order to maintain their form they are often glued together. There is much discussion among the poskim if and how this may be done, and there are different ways of making the Batim to be as mehudar as possible. There are also many other intricate details, like how the "Shin" on the side is formed, that affect how Mehudar the Batim are. While the cost of the Parshiyos usually only varies between $500 to $1000, the price of the Batim can vary between $500 to $1500 dollars.
The Retzuos are usually black on one side, yet some are Mehader to have Retzuos that are black on both sides. The cost difference is negligible.
Retzuos must also be specialized:
A. Righty or Lefty
B. The knot on the Shel rosh can be either a "daled" or a "square" [dependant on ones Minhag].
C. For the Shel yad to be wrapped towards oneself [Litvish] or away from oneself [Chassidish].

When choosing STa"M, one should insure that the Ksav is in accordance with the Minhag that he follows, whether Beis Yosef [Litvish] or Ksav Ari [Chassidish].

1. The price of ready made Sifrei Torah is generally 10% more than custom ordered, and obviously the variety is much more limited.

2. The handful of Sofrim with the most outstanding Ksav in the world charge $75,000 (or more) for their Sifrei Torah. We did not display them on the site since the waiting period to purchase Sifrei Torah from them can be a few years! However, at any point in time there may be an opening so feel free to call and ask for details.

3. Sifrei Torah written by relatively amateur Sofrim are often cheaper than those written by more expert Sofrim, since their handwriting is less uniform. If you would like to find out more please contact us.