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diary of a sofer - part 6

Mordechai Pinchas Sofer

Megillat Esther (the book of Esther) doesnít contain the name of God. Many rabbis have pondered His absence but for a trainee sofer, this represents a perfect opportunity for practice, assuming, of course I could find anyone who wanted a megillah. Long gone are the days when people would have their own private scrolls, but Synagogues do need one for the public reading on Purim which must be done from a kosher scroll.

My own synagogue has one - so no joy there. However Harlow Reform Synagogue, a small but very friendly congregation where I take the occasional service didnít, so I offered my services and the Ďman from Harlow, he say yes!í

Ah, but a megillah is 10 chapters long, (not the mere two paragraphs of a mezuzah), and it is written to same plethora of rules as a Sefer Torah. This called for some serious research.

First of all, I had to find a tikkun (guide) to copy from. This wasnít all that easy as not all megillot are the same. Some have 11, 22, 28 or 42 lines and a decision had to made as to which I wanted to do. Having decided on 28 lines, this meant that my megillah would be some 16 amudim columns long covering 4 yeriot (sheets).

Vivian quite rightly pointed out that I wasnít ready and had much to learn in my handling of a quill and letter shapes and so practice became the order of the day, using a quill on paper with non-kosher ink for each column, hoping that each one would improve gradually.

Tikkun page showing the variants available, 21 lines, each column starting with Hamelech, 42 lines starting with the letter vav, 21 lines regular etc.

Page from a tikkun

After 10 practice amudim, each one dutifully sent to Vivian for checking and comment, he agreed I was ready for the real thing - the ganze megillah in the truest sense of the phrase!

 However, I hadnít ever seen the real thing other than from afar when our Rabbi on the bimah (platform) would roll from sheet to sheet highlighting the best bits in his own inimitable style. Indeed I had probably been too busy booing and hissing Haman from a very early age to even notice.

My mission then became twofold:
1) get to examine a megillah close up and personal
2) buy the materials
Number 2 came first and in doing number 2, number 1 just happened.

Vivian very kindly organised a trip to meet an Orthodox sofer from whom I could purchase the kílaf, additional ink and extra quills. It would be a very special day that really marked my entry into the real world of sofrut.

The scribe, worked in a small box room up some five flights of narrow stairs on top of a synagogue. When we entered, he was sitting hunched over a lightbox writing tefillin. Wearing the full black garb of the Chassid, he was every inch what you expect a sofer to look like. We remained quiet whilst he completed the line. (The Halacha states that if you were writing the name of God, even if a King of Israel bid you good-day you donít answer him).

Vivian showed him some of my work and he showed me the megillah that he was currently working on - a truly beautiful script. I then explained about my commission from Harlow. A true salesman, The scribe proceeded to ask why I was going to do it, and why not buy one instead. He proceeded to show me about five different megillot of varying quality and in different hands.

One beautiful one with kítarim (crowns) drawn above each columns was spoilt by a large error made in the first amud that had been badly corrected, otherwise it would have fetched a princely sum.

An exquisite large 42 line Sefardi megillah -
the writing is so clear it looks like printed type

Sefardi megillah

I sort of got the feeling he was trying to put me off - after all I didnít look like a sofer! "Where did you study? Who did you study with? Are you going to do this according to the Halacha? I donít want to sell kílaf to just anyone. Do you want the bigger kílaf - if itís for a synagogue it should be nice and big?" I deflected the barrage of questions with answers as best as I could muster, though studying at Leo Baeck College identified me as Reform. However my Sefardi pronunciation of Ivrit had him confused and as Vivian always says, its good to be Sefardi as all the Askenazim think youíre a little crazy anyway and cut you some slack. I promised to work according to the Halacha and he eventually sold me the kílaf. I left thinking that it would be best to be an honorary Sefardi for the duration.

Mordechai Pinchas 

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