I know that prior to writing a column in a Sefer Torah, a Sofer "scores" the parchment to mark the rows. I am also aware that certain letters have "risers" and "descenders" (e.g. a final nun has a descender and lamed has an ascender.) Similarly, there are a number of intentionally tiny (ze'ira) or large (Rabbati) letters.

Aside from these situations, must a sofer write each letter using the same "baseline" height when going across the row? Must the bottom "baseline" of each letter be the same across the row, or can they "jump around"? I've occasionally seen mezuzot and tefillin parchments having "curvy" rows, so I'm curious if this allowed? Are there different restrictions on this between a Torah and tefillin / mezuzot, perhaps?

  • It's likely the "curvy" mezuzos and tefillin parshiyos are not kosher. – ezra Apr 30 '18 at 17:24
  • @ezra Very possible. That's implied in my question. – DanF Apr 30 '18 at 17:24

The scores on the parchment are called sirtut and are mandatory on a sefer Torah (SA OC 32:6) and mezuza but not on tefillin (Hilchot Mezuza 1:12). They help to write straight. It doesn't mean however that the letters have to be the same size. The Rambam in Hilchot Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah does NOT mention that the letters have to be of the same size. The closest he gets (7:5) is to write that

One should not reduce the size of a letter in order to leave the proper amount of space between one passage and another.

and in 7:9 he doesn't mention equal letter size as a requirement (same in 10:1)

All the above matters were mentioned only because this is the most perfect way of performing the mitzvah. Should one, however, alter the structure [of a scroll from that] mentioned above or not be precise regarding the placement of the crowns, [the scroll is acceptable] if all the letters were written as they should be.

[Similarly,] if one wrote the lines closer together, separated them further, lengthened them, or shortened them, the scroll is acceptable, provided one letter does not touch another, no letters are omitted, extra letters are not added, the shape of even a single letter is not altered, and the [form of the passages, whether] p'tuchah or s'tumah, is not changed.

So equal size does not appear to be a requirement of a kosher Torah scroll and, in practice, they will sometimes not be the same size across a whole sefer Torah. However a more mehudar (beautiful) parchment will have as little difference as possible across letters.

R Reuvain Mendlowitz in his book Inside Stam explicitly mentions this (pp. 36-37) where he describes a sofer who changed his mind after writing 20 columns of a sefer Torah and wrote bigger letters for the rest of it as he felt they enhanced the beauty of the writing.

Experts who saw the Sefer Torah felt that this fell into the category of "normal" changes in letter size. Nevertheless the sofer felt that the change in letter size was not fitting for a high-quality Sefer Torah and, on his own initiative, offered to rewrite the first twenty columns (half a month's work) free of charge!

R Yerachmiel Askotzky in his book Tefillin and Mezuzos writes

(p. 135) Things which affect a pair of tefillin's aesthetic beauty include ... writing that is not uniform in width, thickness, height or style.

Note that he speaks of beauty, not halachic permissibility.

Later (p. 136-137) he writes

If the writing is not in a straight, horizontal line, the parchment is passul and irreparable according to all poskim. Letters that are written very slightly below the sirtut are acceptable. If there is writing clearly below the sirtut, some poskim say it is still kosher as long as the writing is straight. According to other poskim, writing below the sirtut will make a parchment passul. [...] If the writing is wavy or on an angle, it is passul and irreparable.

That would make the "curvy rows" very challenging halachically but, of course, they should be shown to an expert before deciding anything.

  • +1 It seems that I get a few interesting book ideas from you! If you can find something that addresses the "curvy line" issue, please edit this into your answer. – DanF May 1 '18 at 13:26
  • @DanF I found something on curvy - see end of my answer. If relevant I have R Askotzky email - I found him very approachable when I had detailed questions – mbloch May 1 '18 at 13:59

Yes. See Orach Chayim 32:6, especially the Biur Halacha.

  • 1
    Hi Yitzhak. A rather belated welcome to MY, as I don't think you have answered any of my questions, before. For, mainly, the benefit of the many readers that aren't competent in Hebrew, would you mind summarizing the main points? Also, as I've asked a few questions, please specify what "Yes" applies to? – DanF Apr 30 '18 at 18:31
  • Nice headshot, Yitzchak ! – Noach MiFrankfurt Apr 30 '18 at 19:27
  • You might want to use Sefaria to point readers in the right direction. OC with translation is here sefaria.org/Shulchan_Arukh,_Orach_Chayim.32.6?lang=bi and the Biur Halacha is here sefaria.org/… – mbloch May 1 '18 at 5:38
  • "Yes" what? He asked several questions, and a Yes to some implies a No to others. – msh210 May 1 '18 at 5:53
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    Also, maybe I'm missing it, but I don't see where the Beur Halacha discusses writing different-height letters in the same line. – msh210 May 1 '18 at 5:57

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