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diary of a sofer - part 24

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer


Large letters, small letters, outlines and tails all gave symbolic meaning, adding to the text and making the writing even more meaningful and powerful. A tikkun, however is a copyist's guide and there is little point to it if it is itself incorrect. So the next stage involved finding a couple of rabbis to act as proof-readers.  One was Rabbi Meyer, the other Rabbi Maurice Michaels, my father.

The tikkun done, one then has to set about the task of writing.  Megillat Hashoah is just slightly smaller than Esther and thus a fairly extensive task covering some 13 amudim (columns) and the deadline was fixed - Yom Hashoah.

Even when I had started writing, I was still thinking about developing it further and one idea occurred to me as I was looking at what was to become amud 10.  There is a repeated refrain, to be repeated by the community in response to each sad event read by the reader “al ele ani bochya” (over these [things] I cry). I toyed with the idea of lengthening the right leg of the last letter 'heh' into a classic tear-drop shape. However there is no precedent in STaM for this and I had tried throughout to remain faithful to established scribal practice. 

Then as I was scanning stuff into my computer to e-mail Rabbi Meyer, I came across a folder I hadn't opened for a while.  This contained scanned pages from a very rare volume - actually volume 29 - of Torah Sh'lemah - once borrowed from Leo Baeck College library in my early apprenticeship.  This volume dealt with scribal practice in great detail. Of particular interest is a section which is supposed to reflect the missing Sefer Hataggin recording lots of strange decorations to letter (some very weird indeed) that were traditions to be written in a Torah at points during our history. 

One of the more common embellishments is known as 'tag muzreket l'matah' (a tag curved below) and there was precedent for it to be on many letters including the 'bet' - the first letter in 'bochya' (cried).  So I added this small embellishment to each occurrence of the phrase representing a small tear.


Close observers will see an additional tear on the 'nun' of 'ani' (I) on the last occurrence of the phrase which I refer to in the tikkun as 'dim'at hasofer' (the tear of the scribe). It is primarily to represent the personal sadness of the scribe at having to write about such terrible events but sadly this tear took on additional significance for me, as after a short break visiting a calligrapher friend in Stockport, my teacher and friend, the special man to whom I had apprenticed as a sofer, Vivian Solomon z”l, died.

Having recalled the strange taggin of Torah Shelemah I took some time out to look at other pages and came across a question mark shaped tag - which seemed to be quite commonly affixed to many letters. Within the text the word 'lamah' (why) appears no less than 10 times.  Four in amud 7 and six in the last column.  The first four were more part of a personal account and I had engineered them to all appear in one line.  To the last six, which were stated in a more collective context, however I wanted to append this tag to the last letter of the word - 'heh'.  A question mark for each million of the six million. A question mark which expresses what faith can be about when our Jewish life is so much rooted in the memory of the Shoah.

Mordechai Pinchas

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