Wednesday, 8 February 2012

How the Torah Scroll is Created

In my series about the Torah, I decided to add an entry of how a Torah Scroll is created.
I say created because if you have ever seen a Torah Scroll, it is a thing of beauty, a piece of Art that rivals the world's greatest artists.
Mark says this is one of the reasons why the Torah Scroll is called 'She"; because of Her beauty.

To create an authentic Torah scroll is a mind-boggling masterpiece of labour, time and skill. Made up of  between 62 and 84 parchment sheets (usually cow skin) which have been-cured, tanned, scraped and prepared according to exacting Torah law specifications. Containing exactly 304,805 letters, the resulting handwritten scroll takes almost year, or a litter more, to complete. An expert pious scribe carefully inks each letter with a feather quill, under the intricate calligraphic guidelines of Ktav Ashurit (Ashurite Script). The sheets of parchment are then sewn together with sinews to form one long scroll. While most Torah scrolls stand around two feet in height and weigh 20-25 pounds, some are huge and quite heavy, while others are doll-sized and lightweight.

A Torah scroll may only be written on parchment from the skin of a kosher animal, usually a cow skin. However, the animal need not necessarily be slaughtered in a ritually acceptable manner. As long as the species is kosher, the parchment may be used for a Torah scroll.
Interestingly enough, a Rabbi once told me that the skin of fish cannot be used to make a Torah scroll. The reason is fish skin exudes an unpleasant odour. And since the parchment is to be used for a holy object, the parchment must be prepared with that in mind.
Therefore, a Jew must carry out or, at the very least, assist in this task. A Torah Scroll written on unkosher skin, and/or written by an non-Jew is not considered kosher.
The scribe first  must mark off the lines on the parchment with slight grooves. The utensil used for this purpose may not leave any colouring on the parchment. It is preferable that this marking, too, be carried out with the intent to write a Torah scroll.
Only black ink is acceptable. Ink of any other colour is not kosher for a Torah scroll.
In biblical times, the ink used for writing a Torah scroll was made by boiling oils, tar and wax,  then collecting the vapours. Afterwards, that mixture would be combined with tree sap and honey, and then dried out and stored. Before its use, it would be mixed with gall-nut juice.
Today, the scribes prepare ink using gall-nut juice and gum. The black colour is achieved by adding various tints.
 I still like the idea of honey being used in the making of ink, however.(Thy Word is sweet).

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