In the times of Chazal a reed (קנה) was used for writing (as is clear from Ta'anit 20b). When did the practice of writing with a feather begin? Also, since feathers did exist in those times, why did they not use them?

The Ashkenazic custom is to use a feather, and although Sephardic sofrim have been writing with reeds until recently, nowadays even most Sephardic sofrim use quills. (I have very close contact with many Sephardic sofrim and have found only one, a man in his 80s, who uses a reed.)

  • Even in Ashkenaz circles I’ve seen Sofrim use reeds that are just decorated to look like quills for the fun of it. – DonielF Feb 11 '18 at 8:33
  • They didn't have turkey feathers back then – Double AA Feb 11 '18 at 13:40
  • @DoubleAA What did Ashkenazim use before the turkey was discovered in the New World and brought back to Europe? – ezra Feb 11 '18 at 16:38
  • @ezra Maybe goose feathers? They did use reeds to. The Rama writes that you shouldn't use a feather. – Double AA Feb 11 '18 at 16:45
  • @DoubleAA Certainly a good guess. That's interesting that you mention the Rema, and that he writes you shouldn't use a feather. Why, then, do most Ashkenazi sofrim have historically used a feather, then? Why wouldn't they pasken like the Rema (who usually defends Ashkenazi practice to the Shulchan Aruch)? – ezra Feb 11 '18 at 16:52

It is permissible to use feathers as well as reeds and even metal nibs (as well as plastic once invented). The differences in use was more related to writing properties and the type of klaf (parchment) in use. Reeds are more commonly used by Sefaradim whose klaf is much softer and thicker (I believe that feathers skip too much on such klaf). Also, there is a trade-off: reeds write smoother but need to be sharpened more frequently, while metal has the opposite properties. feathers seem to strike the happy medium. Source for this is my Safrus teacher, Rabbi Schneid (personal lessons, although he teaches Safrus at YU as well)

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