The Art Of The Scribe

With great joy, American Friends of Neve Hanna launched the Neve Hanna Torah Project on May 28, 2019. Rabbi Liron Levy of Neve Hanna and Sofer Rabbi Hanna Klabanksy will be leading the workshops at the Neve Hanna Children’s Home, working with the children and staff, on the writing of a Sephardic Torah scroll for the children of Neve Hanna.

With that in mind, there are three basic skills necessary for a scribe. The first is simply the ability to write the letters over and over.  There are very few strokes involved, but constantly writing them ensures that the aleph in Brayshit at the beginning of the Torah looks exactly like the aleph in Yisrael at its end.

The second skill is knowing all the laws, and for every letter, there are twenty to thirty laws that regulate how it is written.  The third skill is the most difficult.  When a sofer sits down to write, he/she must have emunah, a complete faith, that as he/she writes their letters, they are linked to God.  If he/she doesn’t have that concentration when he/she is writing any one letter, the entire sefer Torah is considered not kasher, not usable. This is not an easy task.

When a sofer has mastered these skills, he/she begins to use the traditional tools of parchment, ink and writing implement.  Everything must be from a kosher animal or a kosher substance.

For the writing implement, if you had lived in Europe, you would have used goose feathers.  If you lived in Yemen or Morocco, where there were no geese, you would have used a sharpened bamboo shoot.

The second item is the parchment, the klaf.  We use only the finest parchment from very young or unborn calves.

The ink for the Torah has three basic ingredients:  afatzim, the tannic acid produced from blackened oak leaves in which wasps have made their nests; a gum base which makes the ink stretch so the letters don’t crack; and magnesium.  All the ingredients are natural and the ink must be very black.

With these basic tools, the sofer is ready.  Because a sefer Torah has to be written meticulously, each column takes 4 to five hours of painstaking work.  When the sofer finishes one column, it is enough for the day.   In this way, over a year, he/she can complete a full Torah.

Writing a Torah from beginning to end is an experience that is very hard to describe.  It is best understood by combining the first and last letter of that Torah.  The first letter is bet, and the last letter is lamed.  Together they spell layv or heart. All of B’nai Israel have one layv; the Torah is the heart of the people.   It’s our source; it’s where we get our strength.

 

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