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Mordechai Pinchas Sofer
Untreated skin

Above: A roll of untreated skin. Photo Benjamin Cohen Sofer S”TaM

Because of modern processes all parchment is now prepared to the ruling of k’laf and used in that manner, i.e. we write on the flesh side and not on the hair side, as writing on the hair side is considered invalid.

Parchment can be made of the specially prepared skin of a kosher animal - goat, bull/cow, or deer. The hide consist of three layers, a) g’vil, b) k’laf and c) doksostus, but only the flesh side of the inner layer (a) and the outer side of the hairy layer (b) can be used for holy writings, (c) is not permitted. The method of cleaning and preparing the hide has changed over the centuries. During talmudic times, salt water and barley were sprinkled on the skins which were then soaked in the juice of afatsa (gallnuts). However they even used dog’s dung for this purpose! Nowadays the skins are dipped in clear water for two days after which it is soaked in limewater for nine days to remove the hair. When it is a hairless surface, the sofer stretches it on a wooden drying frame and scrapes it until it is dry and creases ironed out with presses. Then it is sanded it until it becomes a flat, smooth sheet fit for writing. Some parchment (usually poor quality) is smeared with a chalky substance (log) to make it whiter (though occasionally this is only done on the reverse). However some scribes object to this as it forms a barrier between the ink and the parchment.*

Below: Treated skin being stretched on a wooden drying frame.

Stretching on a frame
A sefardi leather scroll

Above: A Sefardi leather Sefer Torah.

The parchment must be prepared for the sake of heaven and the processor must make a declaration as to what he is preparing it for as one cannot use k'laf destined for a lesser holiness (kedusha kallah) - eg a mezuzah to write tefillin or a sefer torah, which are weightier holiness (kedusha chamurah). If one has to, one should state that you are preparing for the sake of a Sefer Torah but that it is in your hand to change your mind if you so wish. If there is no Jew able to prepare the parchment then in exceptional circumstances a non-Jew may prepare it but a Jew must stand over him directing him in his work and stating that the preparation is for the sake of heaven.

After preparation the scribe must mark out the parchment using the sargel (rule) - see diary 1- ensuring the guidelines are straight. Only the top guide is done and the letters suspended from it.

Mordechai Pinchas

Opposite: a ruled out square ready for a mezuzah to be written upon it.

*Indeed Keset Hasofer says we should be strict about not doing this.

For more on klaf

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Klaf ruled for a mezuzah

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