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 Appeal of Playing with Limited Space

Since the end of August visitors to the permanent exhibition have been able to purchase small artworks from an ‘art vending machine.’ The artworks have been created by Jewish artists living and working in Berlin.

Paper mezuzah with pull-out comic strip

Paper mezuzah with pull-out comic strip by Zara Verity Morris
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Jens Ziehe

Today we present one of the artists: Zara Verity Morris from London. Morris is currently studying for her Masters degree at the “Institute for Art in Context,” at the Berlin University of the Arts. For the art vending machine she has created a comic strip called “The Mezuzah” on a pull-out paper scroll. (A mezuzah is a small case, which is attached to the door posts of Jewish households. Inside is a handwritten parchment scroll with the Hebrew prayer “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear O Israel”).

Christiane Bauer: Zara, can you for starters briefly explain to me why you produced this particular object for the art vending machine?

Zara Verity Morris: I found it an interesting challenge to play with the limited space of the art vending machine, and wanted to make something that could be unfolded once it has been taken out. The long paper roll was inspired by the formal connection between the Torah and a mezuzah.
When I was a young child, I found a few mezuzot in a drawer in varying conditions. A few had open cases. I was surprised to discover a paper scroll lying inside one of them with Hebrew writing on it. I was excited, and thought it was like a toy Torah. As a child, one of my favourite parts of being at a service at synagogue was the heavy Torah being ‘undressed’ by two people; getting its velvet cover and decorations taken off to reveal the plain paper scroll underneath. I decided to turn these childhood memories into a comic.

How does “The Mezuzah” fit into your previous work?  continue reading