What Am I?
by Judi Clarke

I am holy. I contain exactly 304,805 letters. To be kosher, I must be hand-written.

I’m made of parchment sheets – the washed and stretched, dried and thinned hides of kosher animals. Before the next step in creating me, a reed is used to gently score precisely spaced lines into my sheets.

The person who turns my pages into a holy document is called a scribe, or a sofer. He must be a God-fearing Jewish person, certified and trained in the thousands of Jewish laws about my creation.

To create me, the sofer uses a quill from a kosher bird, usually a goose or turkey. The sofer carefully strips the feather and cuts a pointed tip at the end of the shaft. He cuts a slit in the tip to ensure that, after he dips it in the special ink, a steady flow emerges for his writing.

Using an iron or steel-tipped pen to make me is forbidden because metal can be hammered into weapons that kill, and I give life.

I require between 62 and 84 sheets of parchment. My words are written in columns. Each sheet has precisely 42 lines of writing and three to eight columns.

The sofer must copy me exactly from another, authorized copy, never from memory. So holy is this act of creation that the sofer prays over the work, and many scribes place an offering for charity in a tzedakah box before beginning their day’s work. Before he begins to write the name of God, the sofer must say, “My intention now is to write the Holy Name,” and the writing of it must be completed without interruption.

Many people believe that if the scribe makes a mistake writing me, he must throw away all his progress and start over. However, certain errors can be corrected. Because ink doesn’t soak into parchment like it does paper, the ink of a mistake can be scratched away and fixed without damaging the parchment.

However, when it comes to the name of God, it’s a different matter. One must never erase God’s name. If a scribe makes a mistake writing the name of God, he must cut out that column, rewrite its contents on a new piece of parchment and sew the new section into the proper place.

When I am complete, and all the parchment sheets are written on, they are sewn together with strips of sinew from a kosher animal. The long scroll can be almost 100 yards long and is affixed to wooden spindles, one at my beginning and one at my end. I typically weigh about 20–30 pounds, sometimes more, depending on how ornate my spindles are.

I am housed differently according to where I reside. If I belong to Askenazi Jewish people, I am wrapped in a beautiful, embroidered cloth. If I live among Sephardic Jewish people, I rest in a wood or metal case decorated with stamped or carved silver.

It can take a full year to create me. I contain the first five books of the Scriptures, and I am the holiest book in Judaism. I am a Torah scroll.

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