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The most sacred Jewish ritual object is the Torah Scroll, the Five Books of Moses inscribed by hand on the specially prepared skin of a kosher animal. Torah scrolls are not written on paper but parchment which is animal skin and written by hand with a quill and ink. It takes 6 months to a year to write a torah scroll, although some scribes write significantly faster and others much more slowly. There are two types of scrolls Ashkenazi and sephardi the difference is mainly in the style of the writing.

In the Ashkenazi tradition the scribe writes with a quill on parchment; the Sefardi scribe uses a reed to write on parchment or leather. For example, there is a Sefardi scroll, whose material is fine golden-hued skin, and it fulfills the Talmudic injunction that a Torah Scroll be “written in good ink with a fine pen by an expert sofer [scribe].” Nothing is permitted on the scroll other than the biblical text, written without the vowel points. It is therefore difficult to ascertain the date or place of its fashioning.

While printed editions of the Torah abound, in both Hebrew and English translation, and with many different commentaries, when the Torah is read in the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays, it is read from a hand-written scroll, called a Sefer Torah, in keeping with age-old tradition.

The Sefer Torah is written by a scribe, special trained for this holy task, on sheets of parchment. The parchment must derive from a kosher animal, usually a cow, and is meticulously prepared by the scribe, who first soaks the skin in lime water to remove hairs, and then stretches the skin over a wooden frame to dry. The scribe scrapes the skin while it is stretched over the wooden frame to remove more hair and smoothes the surface of the skin in preparation for writing on it with the use of a sanding machine. When the skin is dry, the scribe cuts it into a rectangle. The scribe must prepare many such skins because a Sefer Torah usually contains 248 columns, and one rectangle of parchment yields space for three or four columns. Thus a Sefer Torah may require at more than 80 skins in all.

When the parchment sheets are ready, the scribe marks out lines and columns using a stylus, which makes a mark in the skin that has no color, much as if you ran your fingernail across a sheet of paper. Each sheet must have at least three columns, and there must be a margin of three inches on the top, four inches at the bottom, and two inches between columns.

The scribe makes quills for writing a Sefer Torah. The feathers must come from a kosher bird, and the goose is the bird of choice for many scribes. The scribe carefully and patiently carves a point in the end of the feather and uses many quills in the course of writing one Sefer Torah. The scribe also prepares ink for writing the Sefer Torah by combining powdered gall nuts, copper sulfate crystals, gum Arabic, and water, preparing only a small amount at a time, so that the ink will always be fresh. Fresh ink is a deep black, and only this is acceptable for writing a Sefer Torah.

Scribed by hand on sections of goatskin, calfskin or sheepskin parchment that could stretch half the length of a football field, each Torah scroll has 300,000 letters that must be perfectly reproduced each time a Torah is copied.

A Sefer Torah (Sifrei Torah, plural) is the object most holy to the Jews. It contains the Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch), written in black ink on scored parchment by religious scribes. Hundreds of laws govern the most minute details of the materials and the writing. Today most Torah scrolls are written in 245 columns of 42 lines each. Three basic Hebrew Scripts are used today: Beit Yoseph is the script generally used by Ashkenazi Jews; Ari is the script generally used by Jews of Chassidic descent or influence; Vellish is the script generally used by Sephardi Jews. The Beit Yoseph and Ari scripts are similar, differing only in the form of 5 or 6 letters. Vellish is generally a more rounded hand than the Ashkenazi scripts, and it can be written more quickly. Actually there is some variation also within these three scripts, such that various Sephardi communities write Vellish script differently in characteristic ways and the Lubovitch Chassidim have their own variant of the Ari script. After they are written, the sheets of the Torah are sewn together with gut from a kosher animal, but not before they are checked three times for mistakes, and repaired if necessary.