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diary of a sofer - part 18

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer
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or spot the difference...

It only takes one letter to be too faded or broken in a scroll for the whole Torah to be declated pasul (invalid) as opposed to kasher (valid).  Something cannot be 99% kasher - it either is or it isnít - there are no shades of grey.  Actually that isnít strictly true as often letters will  fade to grey or sometimes a sort of reddish brown and may need repair.

Left: two sifrey torah on the go.  It can be sensible to  fix two at once so that ink can be left to dry on one and still be able to work on the other.

I  recently checked over  the sifrey torah at SWESRS and found that through use all three had some damage that would make them technically invalid (two requiring a fair amount of attention).  This can be a cause for concern but for the most part remedy is relatively straightforward involving filling in, some scraping out and rewriting and some attention to seams and patching.

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Left: a sewed on patch where the stitching needed removing.  Right: a bad case of ink lifting in one of Godís holy names which needed attention.

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The two sets of pictures on this page show the before and after on two errors that required filling in.  In the case of those right and left  letters above could be held by some to be valid though obviously very faded.

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Below, however, the shin (and possibly the aleph too) in the word víish (and [the] man) no longer has its true halachic form and correction is certainly mandated.  These are judgement calls but in any event bad fading should be dealt with it will only get worse over time.  If a scribe is uncertain over whether the forms of the letter are still there or written correctly he can call on help - from a child who

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is neither too stupid or too clever.  What this means is a child who can read the Hebrew letters but couldnít work them out from context.  If the child reads it as okay then its kasher - if not, it requires correction, if that is possible.

These sorts of errors can be spotted fairly easily.  However missing or wrong words are harder to check for and so within orthodox synagogues while the reader is chanting, someone else is checking along to ensure that what is being read out is correct.  You will also often hear the congregation correcting the reader - they arenít being rude.  This isnít just to make sure the word of God is read correctly but is fundamentally the whole congregation acting as a proof-reader watching carefully for any errors the original scribe might have made.  A torah is actually proof read by three rabbis and nowadays computer scanning is also available.  However errors can creep in and it is the congregationís job to help spot them. 

If an error is found then the scroll must be put away and another taken out to continue the reading.  The fact that it is pasul is shown by having the gartle outside of the cover and scroll must then be fixed within 30 days.                                                                                 

Mordechai Pinchas

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