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diary of a sofer - part 21

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer


Something new in the world of sofrut is few and far between.  The sofer has to work to a tikkun (copyists guide) and one cannot change even a letter, or the work will be pasul (invalid).  But, in late 2003, I was presented with the opportunity to create a tikkun.  Possibly the first time this has happened in 1,500 years!  The next few diaries will chronicle it’s development.

The Conservative movement in the USA has introduced a new piece of liturgy to commemorate Yom Hashoah, which they hope will become part of the standard ritual world-wide.  One year after its introduction, Brighton and Hove's forward thinking Rabbi David Meyer decided that he would like to introduce this to their service, but also that he would like it to be read from a real scroll, similar to Megillat Esther.   I was therefore commissioned to write the first such scroll in the world!

Writing a new sefer (book) in the tradition of STaM following the halacha is a new and exciting venture, though, because of the subject matter, a task tinged with sadness too.

Creating a tikkun is not just about copying the Hebrew and adding the taggin (crowns) on top of the letters. The scribe must take upon himself to achieve a meaningful interpretation.  The text is very moving indeed and I wanted to create ideas for what I like to call 'visual midrash' (i.e. permitted scribal idiosyncrasies) to complement it so that not only the content of the text, but also its physical structure will then become part of our collective memory.   Moreover since God's name appears I concluded it should be constructed as per the standard scribal rules even though this is not (yet?) a holy book.

The first stage for me was probably very very different than for the scribes of old who would have created the tikkun by trial and error over many years and versions.  Not for me - a child of the 21st century - I reached not for my quill but for my mouse and went searching for a Hebrew OCR (optical character recognition) programme that would allow me to scan in the printed Hebrew text for editing on screen. 

Once in electronic form I could amend font sizes, column widths and line lengths to ensure every amud (column) was equal in length (in this case 28 lines), and width (15cms) and fully justified.


Then one could think up ideas.   The first was a given; the author of the book had laid out the last paragraph in an inverted triangle shape for emphasis and this could be preserved and indeed enhanced in the scroll.  That said, interestingly enough such a tail type arrangement is specifically noted as unacceptable for a mezuzah where a shape like 'a tent that is narrow above and broad below.... or like a tail, broad above and short below.... or like a circle and even if one made it only on one side like a tent or like a tail it is invalid.' (Keset Hasofer based on Menachot 31b).

Such a ban is extended in the commentaries to Tefillin and Torah but not Esther.  Also in Masechet Sofrim 1:11 there is, according to some authorities, an apparent acceptance of a 'tapering' by making each successive line shorter than the one preceding it in the end amud of the Torah in order to make up the correct amud length, even if this was but one verse spread across a full column. 

But the clincher is in Rashi’s commentary to Menachot 30a (shown above)  where he actually draws out what this 'tapering' looks like in order to meet Rav's ruling to finish a Torah with  'l'eyney kol yisrael' in the middle of the bottom line - and it's a tail!

Mordechai Pinchas

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