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What is a Torah Scroll?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. A Torah Scroll is a Sefer Torah. A Sefer Torah contains the Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch) handwritten in the original Hebrew from right to left, without punctuations, commas, periods, chapter or verse numbers. It is written on parchment, rolled up around two ornate wooden shafts and adorned with special accessories. It is (generally) kept in the Ark of each synagogue, and routinely read aloud in all synagogues. In its presence we also offer prayers and blessings for all those in need.

B. An authentic Torah scroll is a mind-boggling masterpiece of manual labor. Comprising 62 to 84 sheets of parchment cured, tanned, scraped and prepared to exacting Halachic specifications and containing exactly 304,805 letters, the resulting handwritten scroll takes six to 12 months to complete. Each letter is rigorously inked with a feather quill under the grueling calligraphic guidelines of Ktav Ashurit (Ashurite Script). While most Torah scrolls are around two feet in height and weigh at least 20 pounds, some are huge and heavy, while others are doll-sized, lightweight and compact-lettered.

C. Writing a Torah scroll is Positive Mitzvah #181, and is every Jewish male’s duty. Since most of us have neither the time, patience and piety nor the intimate knowledge of the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of Halachot involved in writing a Sefer Torah, we hire a Sofer (ritual scribe) to write one for us. However, since that costs a fortune, too (a five-digit minimum), most of us just chip in when a new Sefer Torah’s being written, contributing a small amount to help cover costs and symbolically purchase a share in the Torah’s ownership. (Click here to purchase a letter in the first ever Torah Scroll being written for the online Jewish community).

"This is the Torah that Moses set before the Jewish people...". We mean it, almost literally: this scroll.

What is a Sefer Torah used for? What is its significance?

1. Life—Listed

A Torah Scroll is the quintessential, core representation of Judaism itself. It is the tangible embodiment of our connection to G-d and of His wisdom and guidance. It is the heart, mind and soul of Judaism, right there in front of you in writing. The original hard copy.

The first Sefer Torah in history was dictated by G-d verbatim and written by Moses, just before his passing. In his parting words, he told them to listen to the words found in that scroll and to reference them in response to life's questions. They taught their children to do the same, and that's how we've kept its tradition until this day.

Footnotes

  • 1. In Maimonidies' Sefer Hamitzvot.

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Mitzvah
(pl. Mitzvot). A commandment from G-d. Mitzvah also means a connection, for a Jew connects with G–d through fulfilling His commandments.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Halachot
Laws governing the Jewish way of life.
Simchat Torah
An extremely joyous one-day autumn festival following the holiday of Sukkot. In Israel it is the eighth day of Sukkot, outside of Israel it is celebrated the next day, the day after Shmini Atzeret. Every Sabbath we read a portion of the Torah. On this holiday we celebrate the completion of the yearly cycle.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Amidah
Highlight of every prayer, recited silently while standing. Weekday Amidah consists of nineteen blessings, Sabbath and holiday Amidah contains seven blessings.
Rosh Chodesh
The "Head of the Month," Rosh Chodesh is observed the first day of every Jewish month. If the previous month had 30 days, then the last day of the previous month is also observed; hence a two-day Rosh Chodesh. Rosh Chodesh is a semi-holiday, marked by Torah-reading and special prayers.
Shacharit
Morning prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Bimah
Table at the center of the synagogue upon which the Torah is placed when it is being read.
Minchah
Afternoon prayer service. One of the three prayers a Jew is obligated to pray every day.
Aron
Literally: a box. Aron is usually a reference to one of the following: 1) The Holy Ark wherein the holy Tablets were kept. 2) The Ark in the synagogue where the Torah scrolls are kept. 3) A coffin.
Sofer
A scribe. One who writes Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzahs.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.