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diary of a sofer - part 43 - check this out I’m a magiah ...

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

A sefer torah consists of 304,805 letters and each one of them has to be properly formed and complete and, it goes without saying, in the right place!

There are many kinds of errors that a scribe can make when writing even when paying the most care and attention that he can. A slip of concentration however can result in a serious mistake.

To ensure that a scroll is kasher (valid) then, one cannot rely entirely on the sofer. Instead the scroll needs to be proof-read by a magiah (a checker). Indeed there should be three independent human checks, though since the advent of computerised checking (bedikat machshev) this isn't always followed.

Having secured a colleague of mine a commission for a new torah, I found myself in the role of magiah for the first time. In the past I have corrected a scroll which had had computer checks and to a certain extent I am performing as a magiah when I do a restoration check as I will pick up bad letter forms, letter breaks, spacing issues (too much between letters making something k'shtey milim (appearing like two word) or too little between words making it appear as k'mila achat (as one word)) and the occasional spelling error - but it isn't a full proof-read.

Me being a magiah.Letter by letter from the tikkun.
Photo: Avielah Barclay

This time however it's literally reading through the whole Torah armed with my trusty tikkun (I say 'trusty' advisedly as it is the master copy that the scribe trusts to be accurate) and a pencil to mark lightly where there is an error at the side of the amud (column).

At the time of writing this diary I have just finished checking Bereshit and on average I am finding 5-8 issues on each yeriah (sheet). Below are some pictures of examples of problems found. Many are missing or extra letters (often a vav or a yud), sometimes missing a whole word or a repeat of a word or even the wrong word that may start with the same letters as the right word.

Having only a few issues per sheet is no mean feat from a sofer, when you stop to think about how many red squiggly lines Microsoft will add to most documents that you produce at work or home before you spell check. I proof-read my books carefully before
publication and it always astounds me how many errors I miss when I'm working on the screen as opposed to when I get a printed copy to work on

Above: missing the word et.

Above left: n’giah - a join on the letters vav and tav. Middle: A blot on the nun. Right: The parts of the mem don’t join up, so the letter is not golem echad (one form).

Above: l’Avraham instead of el Avraham.

Above left: Lot spelt with a tav instead of a tet. Right: Hashemesh (the sun) instead of hashamayim (the heavens).

Interestingly being able to read and understand what is in the Torah is only partly helpful as a magiah as it will alert you quickly to things that just don't feel right. However being familiar with the text means that your brain can fool you into seeing what you think you ought to see and therefore missing and error. Thus checking word by word and letter by letter in the tikkun is the order of the day. And when you do think you've found an error checking again to make sure you are in the right place and it is a genuine error as there may be similar phrases close by each other and you may have skipped down to the wrong word as much as a sofer could.

Correcting a Torah is an important role. The talmud says that ‘he who corrects even one letter in a Torah, it is accorded to him as if he wrote the Torah himself.’ Now I wouldn't go that far as the sofer is doing the really hard work, but the magiah helps make it kasher and fit for use in the community.

Images and text © Mordechai Pinchas

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