• Reading a Torah scroll. | Photo: Canva

Torah Scroll – Signs of the Faith

Rev. Kees de Vreugd - 4 August 2022

In this series, ‘Signs of Faith’, objects that express Jewish faith are explained and discussed.

Israel is set apart from the nations by the Torah. The Torah is holy and treated with the greatest possible reverence. In the synagogue service, therefore, the Torah is not simply read from a printed book. A special scroll is taken from the Torah chest. Sometimes, there is more than one reading from the Torah in the service. If possible, for each reading, a separate scroll is used. In every synagogue, therefore, several scrolls are present. After the reading, the scroll is rolled up again, clothed in a Torah cloak, and put behind a double curtain in the ‘Holy Ark’, the Torah chest.

The Torah scroll is made of parchment and handwritten by a specially trained writer, the sofer. Before he sets himself to writing, he immerses himself in the mikveh, the ritual bath, to devote himself to this special task. Writing a Torah scroll is a particularly precise job, as no mistakes can be made. No letter may be forgotten or added.

Only the consonants are written. The vowel and cantillation marks that were added to the original consonant text are found in the printed Chumash (Pentateuch), but not on the scroll. The Baal Qore, the lecturer in the synagogue, has to be well prepared. Besides, there is a special way of writing the letters, that sometimes slightly differs from the well-known printed letters.

The parchment is made from the skin of a kosher animal. The parchment sheets are needled together with a thread made of a kosher animal’s tendons. The scroll is rolled around two wooden sticks, called atsei chayyim (plural of Ets Chayyim, Tree of Life). The ink used for writing is also of a special composition, which is the secret of the soferim (plural of sofer).

Writing a complete Torah scroll takes about a year and a half. Therefore, a Torah scroll is an expensive object. It is customary to have a scroll written on the occasion of a special event or a jubilee. The one who has given the assignment may write the last words on the scroll. The handover and inauguration is a festive happening.

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