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diary of a sofer - part 20

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

What is the collective term for a gathering of sofrim? A 'scribble' of scribes perhaps?  If anyone has any better suggestions maybe they can let me know.  Actually it wouldn't be a term that would get used that often as sofrut is usually quite a lonely endeavour.  However, once in a  while we do convene and could use a decent descriptor.

In fact our scribal mentor master sofer Dr  Eric Ray z”l (pictured right) launched an institute and the British chapter met in Golders Green just before Kol Nidrei one year when Eric and his wife Lali had stopped over in the UK.We discussed everything from the possible roles of the institute - Machon Re'eh - to whether you could tell if a particular sofer was fat or thin because of the angle his writing would take depending on how close his belly would allow him near to the work! 

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Also on the somewhat loose agenda - can women be scribes, dating a scroll by the stitching or by the browness of the ink, how difficult it is to get gold plated scissors and that because Lali drove Eric around did that make her a 'sofer chauffeur' - a very free flowing conversation between a fairly select few who are all united in a common goal of preserving this key part of our heritage.The Ray Torah Institute was hoping to encourage the appreciation and conservation of STaM, and hoped to train and certify sofrim.

Left: My teacher Vivian Solomons z”l in expressive mood.

It also seeks to “catalogue the wealth of knowledge on Torah provenance and history currently extant often incompletely - only in the minds of a few scribes and scholars; to do so in a systematised way; and to facilitate the sharing of this vital cultural and religious information with the professional and non-professional world, in an organised, archival manner.”

As a resource and fellowship for qualified scribes, the Institute will encourage sofrim to work according to the highest levels of technique, with the best materials, and honouring the ancient traditions.  Through classes and publications it will educate people about proper care of their torah, tefillin, and mezuzot.

One such activity, for example, was a session I gave on the subject recently at Westminster Synagogue, home of the Czech scrolls to celebrate the European Day of Jewish Culture & Heritage.  The exhibition about the scrolls was around the edges with my own tools and work in the centre. We held two interactive sessions with people having a go at calligraphy in the STaM style.  We also took everyone upstairs to look in the ornate Westminster Ark and unroll the Sifrey Torah.  The Ark, by the way, always reminds me of the sort of grand fireplace that you get in some incredibly large mansion and this is not surprising as I learned that day that indeed it originally was a grand fireplace!

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Above: Czech scroll at Westminster Synagogue.  Below: My tools on display!

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Left: explaining Tefillin, Above: Sheila and Westminster scroll plus a highly embroidered Czech scroll cover.

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Above: a Westminster scroll

Mordechai Pinchas

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Above: The Westminster Ark!

More about the Czech scrolls that were housed in Westminster Synagogue, in preparation.

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