The Tabernacle Times
September 2017 ......................... Elul 5777 - Tishrei 5778 ......................... Volume 12 Issue 9

Let’s Talk Torah

Angela Kunkel
Angela Kunkel
  Torah scrolls (Sifre Torah) are works of simple beauty written with devoted care by a trained scribe. This scribe is known as a “sofer”. The word sofer probably reflects the fact that some of the early scribes used to count all the letters, words, and verses of the Torah— to make absolutely sure that nothing was added or omitted. Each and every word had to be perfect.

Working full time, a sofer, had to spend nine months to complete 5,888 verses and 79,976 words in the Torah.
The words of the Torah are written with a quill pen made from the feathers of a kosher bird, usually a goose or a turkey. The use of metal instruments are forbidden because iron and steel are reminders of war and violence and the Torah is an instrument of Peace. The ink must be jet black and durable, but not indelible. During the talmudic times, a sticky, thick, adhesive ink was made by heating a vessel with an olive oil flame, then scraping off the soot produced on both sides of the vessel and mixing it with oil, honey, and gall nuts (Shab. 23a). Today the ink preparation is made by boiling a mixture of powdered gall nuts, gum arabic, and copper sulfate crystals. Some scribes also add vinegar and alcohol to make it glossy. Fresh ink is always important, so only small amounts are prepared at a time.
A sofer would begin his day immersing in a mikveh. This ritual bath was an act of spiritual purification in preparation for his holy task. If a sofer was unable to immerse himself then he would leave a space for the name of G~d, postponing writing it for a day when he can properly purify himself. Before writing one letter the sofer would declare out loud, “I am writing the Torah for the sake of the holiness of a Torah Scroll, and all of the names of G~d in it for the sake of the holiness of The Name.

When writing a new Torah, the scribe is forbidden to rely on his memory. He must have before him a correct scroll or a printed Pentateuch to serve as a guide. Any incorrect words would render the scroll unusable. Indeed, simple errors were made on occasion and could be scratched out with a sharp blade or a pumice stone. However, the most serious error, the omission or misspelling of the name of G~d cannot be corrected, the Divine Name of the Holy One cannot be erased. If this type of error is made, the entire sheet of parchment must be discarded. When a mistake is found in the Torah, a cloth ribbon is tied around the mantle as a sign that it cannot be used until it is corrected. A scroll that cannot be corrected or repaired must be placed in an earthenware container and buried in a cemetery.

The parchment in which the rules are written has to be prepared according to the following rules: The parchment used for the Torah scroll is made from specified sections of the hide of a kosher animal. The hide consists of three layers, but only the flesh side of the inner layer and the outer side of the hairy layer may be used for Torah Parchment (Shab. 79b). The method of cleaning and softening the hide has changed throughout the centuries. During talmudic times, salt and barley flour were sprinkled on the skins, which were soaked in the juice of gall nuts (Meg. 19a). In the modern era, the skins were softened by soaking them in clear water for two days, after which the hair is removed by soaking the hides in lime water for nine days. Finally the skins are rinsed and dried, the creases are ironed out with a press (similar to the process of curing leather). The individual parchments are sewn together with thread made from the foot tendons of a kosher animal.
            (Continued at top of next column)
  Tisha b'Av

The Torah is written in a square script, and the precise method for writing each letter is prescribed. There are two basic styles of script—the Ashkenazic, which resembles the script described in the Talmud, and the Sephardic, which is identical to the printed letters of the Hebrew alphabet used in sacred texts. Each letter must be surrounded by white space and cannot run into the one adjacent to it. Although Hebrew is read from right to left, each letter in the Sefer Torah is written from left to right.

One thing is for certain, each carefully written Torah scroll is a work of art. The beautiful words of Our Heavenly Father, written first by the hand of Moses and, by instruction, placed into the Ark. As the Children of Israel prepared to cross the Jordan into the land flowing with milk and honey, they were instructed to set up large stones for themselves and cover them with plaster. On these stones they were to write all the words of the Torah very clearly. The Holy One wanted everyone to know His Words for they are His “loving instructions” to His People. From Genesis to Revelation we are warned of how important our obedience is to His Words. On the sermon on the mount, Yeshua declares how he came to fulfill the words of Torah and until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or serif shall ever pass away from the Torah until all things have come to pass.

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