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A scribe at work on the Czech Scrolls
Photo : Memorial Scrolls Trust

Photos by Marion Davis

About Scribes

A Sefer Torah (Scroll) contains the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is written in Hebrew by hand on parchment by a Sofer (a trained scribe) and contains 304,805 letters. A Torah Scroll has to be prepared and written according to strict rules.

Before the rules of writing were standardized in the 19th century, the format and writing of Torah Scrolls varied according to the yeshiva (rabbinical college) to which the Sofer belonged. The various writing styles and forms of decoration of the letters identified the yeshiva as did the format and construction of the Scroll.

A scribe must be a pious and learned person, dedicated to the sanctity of the Torah Scroll. He will recite a blessing at the outset of this work and each time before writing the Name of God. The scribe writes with a quill – preferably made from a goose or turkey feather – or with a calamus reed. He prepares the ink using gall-nut juice and gum and adds various tints to make it black.

The books of the Torah are separated by a space of four lines. No mistakes in writing are permitted, and the Scroll must remain undamaged for use in worship. A missing or misshapen letter invalidates the entire Torah.

The Torahs that arrived in London in 1964 had been written by numerous scribes over a period in excess of two hundred and fifty years.