A Torah scroll is the first five books of the Bible written on special paper made from a kosher animal’s skin. The Torah scroll is the holiest object to the Jewish people. It is so important that the Jewish people are often referred to as “am ha-sefer,” meaning “people of the book” in Hebrew.
Because of its importance, the Torah scroll must be written by specific people according to strict regulations. The Jewish people have worked hard to maintain purity in the writing of Torah scrolls; according to Jewish tradition, today’s Torah scrolls are written in the same way that Moses wrote the first Torah some 3,300 years ago.
When in Israel, you don’t want to miss witnessing the making of a Torah scroll. Here are the details on who is qualified to write a Torah scroll and specifications on how it’s done.
Who can be a Torah Scribe?
A Torah scribe is called a “sofer stam” in Hebrew. “Sofer” comes from the Hebrew word “to count” as the scribe traditionally counts each letter of the Troah he writes. “Stam” comes from the Hebrew acronym for sefer Torah (Torah scroll), tefillin (phylacteries), and Mezuzah, all of which a scribe is qualified to write.
Being a scribe is traditionally a Jewish male’s position. It stays within specific families and is passed down from generation to generation. The scribe begins learning the trade from his father at a young age and starts studying the Torah. In order to become a scribe, the learner must know over 4,000 Judaic laws.
Writing the Torah Scroll
The Torah scroll must be written by hand with a quill and ink that are specifically designed for the occasion. The scribe writes on parchment made from goat, cattle, or deer skin. Each piece of this parchment is called a klaf in Hebrew. When a parchment is complete, it is sown to the parchment in front of it, creating a long scroll.
Parchment by parchment, the scribe carefully writes each of the Torah’s 304,805 letters. He copies from a completed Torah scroll to ensure that no mistakes are made. If one letter on a parchment is done wrong, the whole parchment must be thrown out and the scribe must start on a new parchment. Because of this, if the name of God is on the page, the scribe leaves an empty space and doesn’t write the name of God until the rest of the page is completed without error. Once complete, he goes back and fills in the name of God. This is done to ensure that the name of God will not have to possibly be thrown out because of a mistake made in the rest of the page; according to Jewish tradition, this would be taking the Lord’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7). When a parchment is completed properly, the scribe goes back and fixes any imperfections with a small razor.
The whole process takes about a year. Scribes are simultaneously writing Torah scrolls in numerous locations throughout Israel. It is a fascinating sight to see that will enhance your trip to Israel and your understanding of the Jewish people.