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.

Which scripts do you use?

Everyone uses the traditional K’tav Ashuri script, which is to say, the Assyrian one. The Jews adopted the Assyrian script after returning to Israel from Babylon. The Torah has been written in this script ever since. There are also Ashkenazic and Sephardic scripts. The principle is exactly the same but the letters look different.

Do you know the entire text of the Sefer Torah by heart?

The first time you write a Sefer Torah, you have a copy in front of you for reference. But once you have spent several years writing Sefer Torah, the whole text becomes imprinted on your mind’s eye. You can read a book ten times over in order to learn a particular passage by heart. But write out that passage only a single time, and it’s as if you had read it twelve times over. And therefore, after two or three years of professional practice, a sofer holds the entire Torah in his mind’s eye.

I thought for the sake of concentration you were supposed to refer to a template before writing each sentence.

Yes, we do refer to a correct template when writing the text. Yet, before beginning to write, I must say out loud that I am about to write a sacred text. That is how I prepare myself for this procedure. When I come across the name of God while writing a text, I say before writing it: “The Lord’s name is holy.” And only then do I write His name. If you fail to say this each time you come across the Lord’s name, the Torah is considered no longer fit for use.

Miriam Goldmann, Special Exhibitions

During the full running time of the exhibition “The Creation of the World,” Torah scribe rabbi Reuven Yaacobov will be working in the exhibition at the following times: Mon/Tues 4-6 pm, Wed/Thurs/Sun 2-4 pm.

Comment by Fred Swallow on 22. March 2016 at 03:30

Story by Rabbi Yaacobov about Scroll writing is inspiring. How long does it take to hand write Torah.
Fred Swallow. New Zealand Christian Writers

Comment by Miriam Goldmann on 24. March 2016 at 09:54

Dear Fred,
Thank you for your question. It does indeed take quite a while. The sefer Torah contains 304,805 letters many of them have ornamentations known as Tagim – crowns all of which have to be written in a very precise and of course flawless way. Taking also the selected size of the Torah scroll into account this may sometimes take as long as about 18 month.

Comment by Filimone Rokodali on 11. October 2019 at 02:49

I am from Fiji islands and i just need your help.I think i need a copy of your Torah and Debaria coz we just happened to come across this congregations called YAHUWAHNS AND THEY ARE USING the TORAH and Debaria so will you pliz help me get a copy of the Holy Scripture

Comment by editors on 16. October 2019 at 18:11

Dear Filimone Rokodali ,
Thank you for your comment.
We are very sorry, but unfortunately we cannot provide you with a copy.
But we would like to draw your attention to this link:
There you will find the full text of the Torah in English and Hebrew.
Best regards,
The editors

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