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


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


“The Fourth Wall”

An Interview with Daniel Laufer

You can buy a wide variety of works of art from our art vending machine. One such piece is a postcard by Daniel Laufer (*1975, Hanover).

The card shows a film still from the video, “The Fourth Wall” (at 08:13 min). The story is based on an Hasidic parable about two men who are supposed to design one half of a house. While the first man does his work with zeal, the second delays, uninspired. The second man, who is certain that he won’t come up with a better idea than his rival, decides to coat his work with black bitumen. The material will reflect the other half of the house like a mirror. Thus he discovers a good solution to avoid defeat.

Photograph shows various reflections in a room

Postcard with still shot from the film “The Fourth Wall” by Daniel Laufer
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

The film was shown this year at the 14th Videonale at the Bonn Art Museum.
In the following interview, Daniel Laufer talks about the genesis and message of his postcard.

Christiane Bauer: Daniel, you work mostly in video form. Yet you produced a postcard for the art vending machine. Why did you choose this format?

Daniel Laufer: A postcard is something mobile that you can take with you. It connects you to something: it provides information and contains a message. It can be a souvenir – but with a statement. And I also like the fact that you can hang it on the wall.

The original work of art is an entire film. Why did you choose this particular shot as a motif for the postcard?  continue reading