An Important Discussion With Rabbi Greenfield About Used Sefrei Torah:

A customer asked me to look at a used sefer torah that his minyon was considering using. The sefer torah looked good enough from as far as the writing, but had letters that were being covered with a white substance. This white covering makes it look as if part of the letters are fading, but when rubbed with an erasure, the letters are revealed to be black. The white substance is actually a residue from the coating on other side of the klaf. Old sefrei torah that are shinny on the back of the klaf have this coating. This was part of the way klaf for a sefer torah was made in Lithuania prior to World War Two. I asked Reb Dovid Leib Greenfield if this was problematic, as it would be extremely time consuming (not to mention expensive) to erase all of this residue. He told me he was not concerned with the white coating, but he had another issue with this sefer torah. He could tell from the style of writing, and the type of klaf, that this sefer torah was written in Luthiania at a time most of the sofreim were not even Shomer Shabbos! He told me that no sefer torah from the time and place can be considered kosher!

Shiny outer coating of old Luthianian Sefer Torah
Shiny outer coating of old Luthianian Sefer Torah
View of Ksav of Old Luthianian Sefer Torah
View of the writing style. You can sort of see the white coating on some of the letters.

In response to my inquiry, Rabbi Greenfield sent me the following email:

מה אשיב לך? רוב סופרי ליט”א היו צובעין את הקלף מצד חוץ בסיד לבן מעורב בדבק, וברוב השנים הסיד מתייבש ומתפורר, וכשגוללין את היריעות עולה אבק ופירורי הסיד על האותיות.
ובלאו הכי כבר אמרתי לך, וגם שלחתי לך, חומר בענין כשרות (?) ספרי ליט”א מעיקרא, וכדהעיד הגאון מנאוואהרדוק בספרו “ערוך השלחן” חלק יו”ד סימן רפ”א סעיף ט’. וכן עדות של הגר”י קמינצקי זצ”ל מה שסיפר ברבים מה שעיני ראו “סופר” שכתב ס”ת בעצם שב”ק בעיירה ציטיוויאן הסמוכה לנובהארדוק, ויש תחת ידי עוד הרבה עדויות על “ספרי לבן” אלו, וראוי להשתדל להפטר מהם     

“What should I tell you? Most of the soferim in Lithuania would coat the klaf on the outside with white lime mixed with glue. Over time the lime would dry and crack of of the klaf and the dust would stick to the letters. But even without this, I have already explained to and sent you information on the kashrus situation of the soferim in Lithuania as it is brought down in the Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah chapter 281, section 9. Also, Reb Yaakov Kaminetsky has stated publicly that he saw with his own eyes a ‘sofer’ writing a sefer torah on Shabbos Kodesh in a city near Novardik. I myself have a great deal of evidence about these ‘white’ sefrei torah, and the best advice I can give is to stay away from them.”