The Sacred Torah Scroll

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Torah Scroll is the text of the Pentateuch of Moses (Humash), used for the public reading of the Torah in the synagogue.

First Torah Scrolls

It is known that the Almighty spelled out the Torah of Moshe on Mount Sinai. Before his death, Moshe wrote in the Holy language thirteen Scrolls of Torah. Twelve of them were distributed between the twelve tribes. Thirteenth (along with the stone Tablets of the Covenant) – placed in the Ark of the Covenant. If someone would try to change the text of the Torah, the Scroll from the Ark of the Covenant would be a testimony against him. And if an attempt had been made to falsify the text of the thirteenth Scroll, the remaining twelve copies would immediately have revealed any inconsistency. This “control copy” from the Ark of the Covenant was

According to the Mishnah, Jewish kings took the Torah scroll to war. During public fasts and periods of drought, the Ark containing the Torah scroll was taken out to the square where they prayed in front of it. In the Middle Ages, a vow was made, looking at the Torah scroll.

The Holiness of the Torah Scroll

Each Jewish community must have at least one Torah Scroll. The scroll has a special status of holiness. It is treated with reverence, and no one can touch the parchment with bare hands; therefore, a special pointer (“yad”) is used when reading the Torah Scroll. A defective or obsolete scroll should be buried in a special way in the genizah (a special place for storing the Torah scrolls and other sacred texts that have fallen into disrepair).

The Torah scroll cannot be sold, except in special cases, such as the redemption of prisoners, the tuition fees for studying the Torah, or the construction of a mikveh.

In the synagogue, the Torah Scroll is stored in a special cabinet (Aron a-Kodesh), on which a beautiful curtain is hung (“parokhet”). The scroll itself is placed in an inlaid case (Sephardic custom) or wrapped in special vestments (Ashkenazi customs). When the Torah is taken out on Saturdays, it is customary to decorate the scroll with a crown. When the Torah is carried out and brought in, everyone stands up.

If the scroll is accidentally dropped to the floor, the entire community should fast during the day.

The Commandment to Write Your Own Torah Scroll

It is said in the Torah (Dvarim 31:19): “And write this song for yourself, and teach it to the sons of Israel, and place it in their mouth, that this song is a testimony to Me in the sons of Israel.”

The sages concluded from this: there is a special commandment to write your own Torah Scroll. The fulfillment of this commandment is commanded to every Jew. When each person has his own Torah Scroll at hand, this will allow him to study it and teach him the fear of Heaven consistently.

You can fulfill this commandment by writing the Torah Scroll yourself or by hiring a scribe, but don’t buy a ready-made scroll or inherit a gift.

There is a custom to write the Torah Scroll in memory of the righteous. Everyone can join the writing of such a Scroll by paying for a letter, a word, or for a whole passage, expressing thereby their love and respect for the departed righteous, and also receive a share in the commandment.

Scribe – Sofer STaM

Sofer (Yiddish: Soifer) is a person that creates by handwriting Torah Scrolls, Tefilin, and Mezuzah scrolls.

A copyist-sofer (or Soifer) can only be an educated, religious Jew who has undergone specialized training and received certification. He must have sincere trepidation before the Almighty: to correctly write the scroll, you need to know a vast number of laws. Once the text is written, it is impossible to examine if it is kosher [i.e., if it is suitable]. The process of carefully handwriting the scroll takes about 2000 hours – a whole year of work in normal mode.

It is necessary to write for the sake of fulfilling the commandment, for which the scribe says out loud that he writes this to fulfill the commandment of writing the Torah Scroll. The Soifer must keep this intention in mind all the time he writes the Torah Scroll. The scribe must be in a state of spiritual and physical purity. For this, before starting work, he thoroughly bathes and dips in a mikveh.

The copyist has no right to write the Torah from memory. In front of him, there should always be another, kosher scroll, with which he must regularly consult.

Each Creator Name that appears in the text must be written with the knowledge that it is a holy Name. Before writing it, Sofer says aloud that he writes the sacred Name of the Creator. At the same time, the ink on the pen should be enough to write the full Name.

Kosher Torah Scroll

According to the Talmud, more than twenty requirements are made to the Torah Scroll, and only that scroll that satisfies all these requirements is considered kosher. The Shulchan Aruch Code of Law provides precise rules for writing each letter and sign; the law also regulates the length of lines, the height, and width of parchment, the number of lines, the size of spaces and indents. The text is written without division into verses, without vocalizations, and punctuation marks.

If at least one of the twenty conditions is violated, the Torah Scroll cannot be considered sacred, and the Torah text cannot be read on it during public readings.

Only the skin of kosher animals can be used to write the Torah scroll (as well as to write the Scrolls of the Prophets and Scriptures, tefillin and mezuzah). For the animal’s skin to acquire the status of parchment, it must undergo special treatment.

There are two types of parchment: “machine” – claf mehona and “handmade” – claf avodat yad. Although a more modern “machine-made” parchment turns out to be much better, many sages of our time do not fully accept it, since the level of “dedication” that can be achieved with manual skin dressing is higher than the level that can be achieved using technology.

The ink must be blue-black and made according to the technology obtained by the sages of the Torah.

The pen (kulmus) should be beautiful – although this does not affect the text – and made according to specific rules. In the days of the Talmud, they used to write with reeds, nowadays they write with birds’ feathers.

After the copy is made, the parchment pages are stitched with special threads made from the tendons of the legs of kosher animals. Every four pages are stapled together to form a section. The sections are then sewn into a scroll, the ends of which are attached to round wooden rollers called “atsay haim” (lit. “tree of life”), with handles on both sides; between the handles and the roller itself, wooden discs are put on to support the scroll when it is in an upright position. They read the scroll, rewinding it from the left roller to the right without touching it with their hands.

Not a Single Wrong Letter

The Torah scroll is considered unsuitable for reading if at least one letter is added to the text, if at least one letter is missing, or if at least one letter is damaged so that it cannot be read.

It is accepted that having finished writing the Scroll, Sofer gives his work for examination to a professional auditor, who is called “magic” in the holy language. Magia must check each letter to make sure that they are written in strict accordance with the law.

The Talmud in the treatise Heruvin (13a) reports that Rabbi Ishmael, referring to his disciple Rabbi Meir, who was a Sofer, said: “My son, be very careful in his work since this is a work for the glory of Heaven. And if you miss at least one letter or add at least one extra letter, you will destroy the whole world.”

The prominent Jewish sage Rashi gives examples of how adding or skipping a single, single letter can lead to a heretical reading of the Torah. This, in essence, is the real mistake that can destroy the whole world.

Commentator of Talmud Maarsha (Poland, 16th century) explains that danger exists even if the error does not affect the meaning of the word. Indeed, according to the Kabbalistic tradition, the letters of the Torah constitute the Sacred Names of the Most High, written: “black fire on white fire.” These letters were used by Him when creating the world, and it is with their help that He ensures the functioning of the Universe at the moment. That is why one erased letter jeopardizes the existence of the whole world.

Customs and Rites

Taking out the Torah scroll and reading it is the most solemn part of the service in the synagogue.

The call to the Torah reading takes place in a specific order: first, they call the Cohen, then the Levite, and then five more Jews are called one after another. Being invited to the Torah is a great honor.

The completion of writing and the introduction of a new Torah Scroll into the synagogue is such a joyful event that it occurs when a large number of people gather together and is accompanied by a special ceremony: with a wedding canopy (chuppah), torches, music, and dancing.

On Simchat Torah holiday, all the Torah scrolls stored in the synagogue are removed from the Aron a-Kodesh and make a seven-fold round (hakafot) of the synagogue with them.

Since the Middle Ages, there is a custom of going out to meet royal people visiting the community with the Torah Scroll.

The Sacred Torah Scroll

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