Sefer Torah Information
A Sefer Torah – a Torah Scroll, is the Bible, hand written on parchment [animal skin]. And it’s the most holiest of all books. Portions of the Torah are read from it weekly in the Shuls [Synygouge]. A Torah scroll containing the entire text of the Five Books of Moses, hand-written in the original Hebrew, in the Ashuri / Assyrian Jewish Script.
Kept in the Ark of each synagogue, the Sefer Torah is routinely read aloud in all synagogues, and in its presence we offer prayers and blessings for all those in need. Yet the Sefer Torah is much more than that. It is the quintessential, core representation of Israel itself. It is the tangible embodiment of our connection to G-d and of His wisdom and guidance. On the most joyous day of the year, we embrace it in our arms, as we dance ecstatically and celebrate that connection. Our holiest and most precious treasure, the Torah is literally G-d’s gift to the world. The Torah is our guide to life. Actually, the Torah is our life. Without it, the People of Israel cannot live. It is the heart, mind and soul of Israel, right there in front of you, black on white. The original hard copy.
The first Sefer Torah in history was dictated by G-d verbatim and written by Moses, just before his passing. In his parting words, he told them to listen to the words found in that scroll and to reference them in response to life’s questions. They taught their children to do the same, and that’s how we’ve kept its tradition until this day. From that Sefer Torah, many identical copies were made, and likewise in all subsequent generations. Today there are many thousands of Sifrei Torah in existence.
The Torah scrolls of Ashkenazim have a very different look than those of Sepharadim. Ashkenazim just roll the parchment onto two poles, and read it in a horizontal position; the Sepharadim install the poles into an elaborate hinged casing, which is opened and read in a vertical position.
One must be extremely scrupulous concerning the Blessings of the Torah. It is forbidden to utter any words of Torah before these blessings are recited.
As we come before the reading of the Torah, we say: Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us concerning the words of the Torah.
After the reading of the Torah we say: Blessed are You, HaShem our G-d, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all the nations and given us His Torah. Blessed are You HaShem, who gives the Torah.
A Torah Scroll is handwritten by a scribe with a feather and special ink on carefully prepared parchment. The parchment needs to be processed for the sake of the sanctity of making a Sefer Torah. The best parchment is finished to a soft white velvety texture. As the wet ink dries, it attaches itself to the parchment as the roots of a tree do to the soil. Parchments written in this manner can last many hundreds of years. The ink needs to be durable, but not indelible. It was originally made from a mixture of soot, gallnut juice, the sap of a tree (gum Arabic), and honey or pomegranate juice. Today, most Sofers make ink by boiling crushed gallnuts together with gum Arabic and copper sulfate. Carbon is also added at times, allowing the ink to dry to a deep shiny black. The shiny black ink on the white parchment alludes to the Torah being given as "black fire on white fire.
A few basic things you should know about a Sefer Torah
- All ingredients used for the Sefer Torah must be Kosher.
- There are over 4000 laws a Sofer (scribe) must know before he starts writing the Sefer Torah!
- There are 304,805 letters in a Sefer Torah.
- If one letter is missing the whole Torah is Pasul (not Kosher).
- One letter from that amount is – 0.000328%!!!
- Even if there is an extra letter it is also Pasul.
- Exchanging one letter with the other is also no good.
- 99% Kosher = 100% Pasul (not Kosher).
- There are (approx.) 245 pages in the Torah.
- Each page has 42 lines.
- Even the spacing between words & paragraphs must be exact.
About the letters;
- No letter may touch another one.
- Even in the letter itself, it may not touch itself only when it should.
- There are 22 letters and 5 final letters.
- The most common letter in the Torah is a Yud = 31,530.
- The least common letter in the Torah is a Tet = 1,802.
- The most common final letter in the Torah is Final Mem =10,623.
- The least common final letter in the Torah is Final Feh = 834.
The materials used for the Sefer Torah
- The Torah must be hand written on Parchment [animal skin].
- The parchment – is made from a kosher animal.
- The ink – all ingredients are Kosher or synthetic.
- The ink must be black (not dark blue or any other color).
- The string to sew the parchments together is made from the veins of the animal (Kosher), which is specially treated for this purpose.
- The quill [the pen] is from a kosher bird – usually a turkey.
The Sofer – Scribe
- He must be Bar Mitzvah (13 years old) [some say even married].
- Must be fluent and tested in all the laws of writing the Torah.
- Must be a certified Sofer.
- Must write with his right hand or left if he is a lefty.
- Must have the proper intention, when writing the Torah and especially when writing Gods name.
The average Torah takes 6 months to a year to complete. A Sefer Torah is intended to bring Life and Peace to the world.
Writing HaShem’s Holy Name is the most momentous part of writing a Sefer Torah. The Scribe must direct his heart and mind with purity and declare that he is writing each Name for the sake of the sanctity of The Name. If a mistake is done in writing HaShem’s name, it cannot be corrected. That particular section of the Torah must be given a dignified burial and entombed.
Here are some sample laws regarding the sanctity of a Torah:
- It is housed in a Holy Ark; one may not place items unrelated to the Torah in the Ark.
- A Torah scroll is kept covered in a velvet (or other expensive) cover when it’s not being read.
- When a Torah scroll is being carried, all people in the room must stand up.
- One may not use one’s bare hands to touch the parchment on which the words are actually written; one holds the ornamental pillars instead.
- It is customary to cover the table on which the Torah will be placed while it’s being read with a velvet cover.
- One may not get undressed – nor relieve oneself – in a room where a Sefer Torah
is, even if the Sefer Torah is inside the Ark. Similarly one may not diaper a baby in that room.
- If a Torah scroll falls onto the floor, or is dropped, all those who saw it falling fast for a full day.
- All the words in the Torah have to be correctly written; if words are missing or incorrect then they have to be corrected by a Sofer … a scribe trained and certified to write a Sefer Torah. If a correction is not possible then the Sefer Torah is buried.
- If the words in a Sefer Torah start fading and are no longer black, they must be re-inked. If this is not possible then the Torah is buried.
- The Torah is an integrated whole. If a Torah scroll has a mistake in it, or a faded or illegible letter, then none of it can be used for public reading, even if the rest of it is perfect.
- If a Torah gets burned, the remains are buried.
- If a Torah needs to be buried, it is put into a clay vessel and buried in a special section of a Jewish cemetery.
- It is customary to bedeck the Torah with an expensive cover and to crown it with a silver crown and other silver ornaments.
- Other books or items can’t be placed on top of a Torah scroll. One may not sit on a box in which a Torah is placed. One may not sit on a bench on which a Sefer Torah is placed.
In the Mizrachi and Romaniote traditions, the Sefer Torah is generally not robed in a mantle, but rather housed in an ornamental wooden case which protects the scroll, called a "tik". On the other hand, most Sephardi communities — those communities associated with the Spanish diaspora, such as Moroccan Jews, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews (with the exception of the Hamburg tradition), and the Judaeo-Spanish (Ladino-speaking) communities of the Ottoman Empire — do not use tikim, but rather vestidos (mantles).