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


Musical Discoveries and a Family of Artists between Jerusalem and Berlin

An Interview with Elena Bashkirova

From 7 to 11 May, we will host a chamber music festival in the museum’s Glass Courtyard. Katharina Schmidt-Narischkin and Sylvia Winkler of our press office spoke in advance with the festival’s director Elena Bashkirova.

Press office JMB: As festival director, what themes have you chosen to emphasize this year?

A laughing woman sitting at a piano

Elena Bashkirova, festival director and pianist
© Monika Rittershaus

Elena Bashkirova: Our themes have been determined this year by two anniversaries: on the one hand, the start of the First World War 100 years ago and its impact on music; on the other hand, the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss. Both anniversaries augur a varied program for “intonations”: 1914 saw an astonishing richness of musical styles, which our concerts will reflect. And Strauss composed chamber music nearly his entire life, so I have a wide range of pieces and genres to choose from.

Every year at “intonations,” chamber music classics can be heard together with unknown works. What composers should visitors expect to discover in this third season?

portrait David Coleman

David Robert Coleman, composer and conductor © private

Rudi Stephan was an extraordinary discovery for me. I heard Music for Orchestra and Violin a few years ago here in Berlin. I was impressed and deeply touched by it. As I was putting together the programs for “intonations,” I found his gorgeous chamber music and was delighted to have the chance to present it here with my colleagues. Rudi Stephan died in the war when he was 28. Given his talent, he would otherwise have certainly provided us with more outstanding music.

There will also be another world premiere: the fourth concert, on Saturday 10 May, will open with David Coleman’s “Three pieces for clarinet and piano.” Another significant composer this year will be Karol Szymanowski. He has his own tonal language, writing hauntingly beautiful music that unfortunately is played much too seldom.  continue reading


In the Beginning Was … Scripture

An Interview with Cilly Kugelmann about the Exhibition “The Creation of the World: Illustrated Manuscripts from the Braginsky Collection”

Mirjam Wenzel: At the forthcoming exhibition, the Jewish Museum Berlin will present its first ever show of outstanding examples of the centuries-old Jewish scriptural tradition. What significance does scripture—the written word—have in the Jewish tradition?

Two women on a table looking on a paper

Cilly Kugelmann and Mirjam Wenzel
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Katrin Möller

Cilly Kugelmann: In early collections of rabbinic interpretations of biblical texts—the so-called midrashim—it is written that the Torah existed before the world was created. Some rabbis see the Torah quasi as a manual of creation that God drew on during his seven-day feat. Such interpretations demonstrate the extraordinary significance attributed to scripture in Judaism.
Following the loss of the geographic homeland Israel, sacrifices and pilgrimages to specific temples were abandoned in favor of prayer services that could take place anywhere—and the traditional texts themselves consequently became the most important, pivotal moment of the rite. To this day, the study and interpretation of biblical writings is the primary focus of Jewish intellectual life.

Why is René Braginsky’s Collection of illuminated manuscripts being presented under the title “The Creation of the World?”   continue reading