Jewish Script and Love By Contract

A group of children and a guide in the exhibition

Schoolchildren on a guided tour of the exhibition “The Creation of the World”
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Nadja Rentzsch

“I know!” shouts Tamo* (aged 10): “It’s Jewish writing!” “It’s called Hebrew—Hebrew writing” Mia (aged 10) corrects him. She knows the term because her best friend comes from Israel. She has seen letters like this before, at her friend’s house. Alexander (aged 34) chuckles. He works at the Jewish Museum and is giving a group of primary schoolchildren from Berlin a tour of “The Creation of the World,” our current temporary exhibition. On display are historical manuscripts and artful illustrations.  continue reading

From the Theory to the Practice of Writing the Torah

An Interview with Rabbi Reuven Yaacobov

Miriam Goldmann: How do you train a Torah scribe, a sofer?

Reuven Yaacobov: A sofer must first spend a few years studying at an Orthodox school, a yeshiva, where it is established whether or not he is devout enough for this role. Then he learns how to write a Torah. First, he studies the theory. There are rules ordaining who is allowed to write the five books of Moses, the Sefer Torah. For example, only men, not women, are permitted to write the Torah. Furthermore, the person in question must be an Orthodox Jew and lead an Orthodox life. Then there are rules determining which support a Sefer Torah should be written on, and precisely how it should be written.

You can watch a short video with Torah scribe Reuven Yaacobov here.

Once the sofer knows the theory, he begins to learn the letters that are used to write the Torah. A certain sequence of strokes must be followed to write each letter correctly. After learning this calligraphy the sofer starts on a Megillat Esther (Hebrew: Scroll of Esther) because this is the easiest of all the holy texts to write. After completing the Megillat he writes the texts of mezuzah and tefillin. If by then his calligraphy has become highly accomplished, he begins to write a Sefer Torah. According to Jewish tradition, a Sefer Torah must be written in the most beautiful calligraphy possible and in the best and most aesthetic way.  continue reading