Torah Scrolls – Sifrei Torah

Why does it take so long to write a Torah Scroll?

Torah scrolls – Sifrei Torah contain the Five Books of Moses (The Pentateuch), written with special black ink on sacred specially  lined parchment. Hundreds of laws govern the most minute details of the materials, letter shapes and writing of a Sefer Torah.

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Written entirely in ancient scribal Hebrew, a Sefer Torah contains 304,805 letters, all of which must be duplicated precisely by a trained Sofer (“scribe”), an effort which may take as long as a year working an 8-10hour day. Any error during inscription renders the Sefer Torah pasul (“invalid”).

Today Sifrei Torah are usually written with 42 lines of text per column – known as Vavei Amudim because the top of each Amud (column) begins with a Vav.  This has been designed to give the Torah scroll a uniform artistic appearance but has nothing to do with Halacha. Very strict rules about the position and appearance of the Hebrew letters are observed. Any of several Hebrew scripts may be used, but usually complex and elegant calligraphy is employed. The Hebrew text of the Tanakh, and the Torah, in particular, is considered holy, down to the last letter: translations or transcriptions are frowned upon for formal service use, and transcribing is done with painstaking care.

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Many of the letters have ornamentations known as Tagim – crowns.  This takes considerable time and skill and hence a Torah scribe is a specialist and in fact, many Sofrim do not even consider writing a Sefer Torah in their lifetime.

Today, as above there is a standard for writing and copying a Sefer Torah but there are lots of different styles and typefaces of the actual letters including otiot meshunnot and usually embellished calligraphy. Unfortunately, these letters due to their time consuming and artistic style have been unused for the last 300-400 years. These letters go back to the time of the Baalei Tosfot and the only community using some of these letters are those in Yemeniteite community (not Adenis)

If 99.9% of the Torah Scroll is written correctly, is it still Kosher?

No, our Sages have explained that even if the Kutzo Shel Yud  – the small tail of the Yud – is not the minimum length it renders the letter invalid and consequently the letter would need to be repaired.

This is why new Torah Scrolls are checked three times for mistakes, and repaired if necessary. Despite the best efforts of the expert scribe, checkers usually find a number of mistakes and problems requiring improvement or correction.

It has become the norm to substitute a check by computer – no longer by scanning but by digital imaging- for one of the human checks. The computer is better than human checkers at locating mistakes in the consonantal text–missing, garbled, or extra words–but it cannot substitute entirely for expert human inspectors (Magi’him), who also locate fine breaks and joins between letters and various other problems which the computer doesn’t catch.

If you are interested in dedicating a new Torah scroll and would like some advice or have specifications in mind,  we would be delighted to assist.  If you are purchasing a Torah scroll from Israel, but would like independant advice or just need assistance with the actual Hachnasat Sefer Torah, please do contact us.

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What about older Sifrei Torah – do they need checking? Can they be repaired?

Even Old Torah scrolls can also benefit by being checked by computer. Experience indicates that there are unnoticed mistakes even in many Torah scrolls which have been read for long periods of time. While the halakha (Jewish law) does not require rechecking an old Torah which has presumably already been read many years and checked properly, a computer check is nonetheless recommended if the owners of the Torah can afford the expense which is around £1000 Stirling.

Often Torah scrolls deteriorate and need to be repaired. Even a single broken or wrong letter in a Torah scroll renders it unfit for public reading. It is especially common for the fine lines of the script to crack, for entire letters or parts of letters to break off the parchment, or for the writing to fade until it no longer has any body. All of these problems can be dealt with if they are not too severe. We specialise in the repair and restoration of old scrolls here in the UK.

Jewish law does not require checking an old Torah scroll unless several mistakes or problems are found in it. If you have a Torah with problems, please contact us and we will be happy to assist.

For those interested in reconditioned Sifrei Torah, please contact us in confidence.