The art of Torah

The Torah is the most important document in Judaism. It is read from on the Sabbath, holiday services and during bar mitzvah ceremonies. The tradition of these laws or commandments dates back more than 3,000 years.

"The Torah contains the 5 Books of Moses, these were the Books that were given at Mt. Sinai by God to Moses," said Rabbi Yochanan Nathan, sofer.

To this day, the Torah is written using the same techniques, materials and strict set of rules by a sofer.

"A sofer is a person who writes the Torah, Tefilin, Mezuzot, all the documents that are needed in Jewish law that have to be hand written with special letters," said Nathan.

A sofer for 30 years, Rabbi Nathan has written five Torahs and is working on his 6th for a congregation in Lincolnwood.

"The Torah is written on animal parchment and has to be made from Kosher kinds of animals," said Nathan.

The Torah is written on 62 separate sheets, each sheet has 42 lines, totaling more than 305,000 Hebrew symbols. A special kosher ink must be used. The pen comes from a kosher bird, most often a turkey quill.

A sofer can never write Torah from memory -- it most be copied. A prayer is said before writing begins. Each word is spoken before it is written.

What if there's a mistake?

"Depending on the mistake, you can do erasures on the Torah; the only thing you can't erase is God's name," said Nathan.

These Torahs are quite sturdy and made to last at least a hundred years, but most synagogues have Torahs dating back a hundred years or more and are in need of repair.

"We have seven Torah scrolls and two that we use most often and occasionally they are in need of repair in terms of re-inking, sometimes the parchment has a small tear," said Canter Julie Yugend Green, Oak Park Temple.

Sofers also repair and restore Torahs. During the evaluation of a scroll, some fascinating information was discovered.

"The style that is being written here is a German type of script. It's 75 to 100 years old this is the cow's markings! This is what the animal looked like," said Rabbi Moshe Druin, sofer.

While repairs can take hours or months, the writing of an entire Torah can take a year or more. Upon completion, a Torah must be inspected twice for accuracy. It can even be checked by a computer scan but no machine can do the work. It must be done by human hands.

If Torahs last so long, why is there a need for new ones? The old scrolls tend to be very heavy and difficult to maneuver - and it is written as one of the commandments in the Torah that everyone should write their own Torah! This is usually done as a part of a congregational event.

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