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diary of a sofer - part 11

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

Having completed the megillah and having been studying the appropriate halacha for two years, the time had come to start the serious work of a sofer, that of repairing sifrey torah.

A sofer's work here fundamentally breaks into two parts - checking and fixing. 

One can roll a scroll from start to end looking for faded sections, blots, tears, holes etc. in a little under an hour if its in reasonably good nick, but after going through 7 in one session at Edgware Reform Synagogue your wrists ache, your arms ache, your neck aches, your back aches and your legs ache.  In truth you are one big ache!  I had discovered the down side to Sofrut!

On the plus side, I had seen 7 very different scrolls each with their own individual character and each containing some ornamentation or special touch by a individual scribe trying to put their signature on the work - as it were. 

One heavy kabbalistic scroll had weird taggin and additional large letters throughout. Another had a beautiful bridging taggin design right at the end (see diary 7), the scrolls only ornamentation.  More importantly, I had discovered some problems  that made some scrolls pasul (invalid for public reading) and these  would require some attention.

One error was literally a text book case and is described  in detail in the keset hasofer (the inkwell of the scribe).

It involves a mem sofit and what happens when a drop of ink falls into the centre thus obscuring the form of the letter.  Scraping out the blot is no good as this would involve chok tochot (forming the letter by carving out) and in summary letter forms can only be made by ink (this by the way is a very very quick summary of pages and pages of halachic detail, opinions from early and late authorities, commentaries, super commentaries etc. etc.).  The whole letter must be scraped out and rewritten.

Lots of the halacha l'maaseh (laws of how to do it) are full of these hypothetical examples but to be faced with the real thing brings the word on the page alive.

Blotted mem
Scraped out
Rewritten as fitting

Having checked a scroll, faults must be rectified within 30 days (during which time the scroll should not be used - traditionally the binder is wrapped round the outside of the scroll to identify that this is the case). 

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Fixing usually  involves sewing up sheets that have separated, gluing patches, filling in letter, straightening creases, cleaning parchment scraping out (where this is permissible) and writing anew.  It involves an assortment of materials, from glass scrapers to gold plated needles, glue to giddin (however not all the materials begin with the letter G).

Fixing my first sefer torah and making it kasher (valid) was an amazing feeling as according to the rabbis it is accounted to you as if you had written the whole thing and had received it directly from Mount Sinai.  This is recorded as the 613th commandment, and if you are in the game of collecting mitsvot (much like children collect Pokemon cards) then this is pretty much the equivalent of the ultimate mega level with additional power points!.

Mordechai Pinchas

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