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Home » Judaica » All About Torah Scrolls (Sefer Torah)

All About Torah Scrolls (Sefer Torah)

Written by Zev on February 2, 2009 – 9:08 pm -

The holiest and thus by nature the most important book in the Jewish religion is the┬áSefer Torah – the Hebrew Bible. For as long as the Jewish people of the World have celebrated and studied their religion, the scrolls of the Sefer Torah have always been their focal point.

At the center of every religious service held in a synagogue, where Jewish people go to pray, you will find the Sefer Torah. There are a few interpretations of the literal meaning of the words “Sefer Torah” –┬áthe closest probably being “book of the law”. This in itself is something of contradiction in terms, as their actually five books contained in the torah and the Sefer in this form is not a traditional book but actually a scroll.

The Sefer Torah is always written on a parchment which not only has to have been made from the skin of an animal that not only was kosher (of cloven foot), but also was slaughtered according to the Jewish dietary laws of kashrut. . Once the animal has been “flayed” and the skin treated, a Torah scribe or sofer is called on to transcribe the Torah onto the parchment, under the strictest of religious regimens.

The five books of the Torah are written by hand which can take a considerable time. Estimates run between eighteen months and two years, depending on the extent of the sofer’s experience, The many reasons why it is such a painstaking task include that the sofer may not write even one letter into a Torah Scroll from memory, and instead that he must have a second scroll opened before him at all times. As he writes, the scribe must read out every word with its correct voul pronunciation before transcribing it.

All of the writing of a Torah Scroll must be done using a quill pen with black ink. As the scribe or “sofer” writes he marks out forty-two lines on every page. The parchment used is in strips with each strip containing four columns of writing. When the strips are completed they are sewn together to form the complete Scroll with four lines of text left empty to differentiate between the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Another tradition that the sofer has to maintain is that letters have to be written in different sizes. A Sefer Torah must contain no more and no less than 304,805 Hebrew letters.

When scribe has completed his worthy task, the Sefer Torah is presented to the Synagogue who has commissioned its writing. Usually the Synagogue who is to receive the Sefer Torah is new or has been rebuilt, and the scenes of joy and celebration when a new Sefer Torah is brought into the synagogue for the first time are amongst the most joyful in the Jewish religion.

Jewish religious law states that the torah scrolls must never be touched by hand after they are completed. There are many reasons, and theories are one of them is to protect the scroll’s longevity. If taken care of, Sefer torahs can last for many years. Unfortunately the history of the Jewish people has been so traumatic that many of these highly important artifacts have been destroyed or lost. This may well be the most practical reason why they are treated with such care and attention.

The Sefer Torah enjoys pride of place in any synagogue, in a special cupboard at the very center. Known as the “Aron Kodesh” which translates to Holy Arc, the Aron Kodesh, usually covered by ornate velvet or satin curtain is placed on the wall that faces closely as possible in the direction of the holy Jewish city of Jerusalem.

Reading of the Torah is carried out every weekday morning in the Synagogue. In order for the Aron Kodesh to be opened and the service begin, there needs to be a minimum of ten adult males present. This is known in Judaism as a minyan. In the midweek services, held in mornings, the males must wear their talit (prayer shawls) and lay or put on teffilin (two black leather boxes placed on the forehead and right arm. The teffilin also contain scrolls of parchment inscribed with bible verses. ) When the Aron Kodesh is opened and Sefer Torah is carried around the synagogue before prayers are recited, it is tradition for the members of the congregation to touch the Sefer Torah with their talit and then kissing it on the corner.

When not in use, the Sefer Torah covered with the traditional embroidered and silver adornments that consist of two bells, a form of breastplate, and a silver yad (pointer).

To further protect the scrolls, the Sefer Torah is mounted on wooden handles to minimize the possibility of physical contact. During prayer recitals, to further avoid the possibility of human contact, a silver pointer is used to help the reader pick out his words without using his finger to point to them. After use, the Sefer Torah is returned to the Aron Kodesh.

The busiest day in the week for a Synagogue is Shabbat (Saturday) when most of the congregation comes to pray. This is also the day when young men of the congregation take part a very important religious service known as a Bar mitzvah. Occurring after their thirteen birthday, they become adults in the eyes of the Jewish community by reciting a relevant portion of the Torah.

There are many people who may have formed the impression that practicing Judaism is a fairly solemn process. Whilst there are certain solemn practices and specific festivals in the Jewish calendar, practicing Judaism can be very fulfilling and much of the laws contained are based around common sense. One of the happiest ceremonies you will ever witness in a Synagogue is Simchat Torah, which takes places after the principal holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).

Simchat Torah is when the cycle of torah reading for the coming year begins and sparks off tremendous celebrations within the synagogue among the congregation. Although much red wine may be consumed , it is the happiness of the occasion more than anything else that will inspire the Rabbi and his followers to sing and dance around the Aron Kodesh and whilst carrying that most important of religious artifacts in the Jewish religion; the Sefer Torah.

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