Friday, October 25, 2013

Mezuza Case in Ktav Ivri

This is an interesting Mezuza case - instead of the usual Shin Daled Yud (or in many cases, just the Shin), it has the equivalent letters in Ktav Ivri, also known as Paleo Hebrew.

Ideally, the Mezuza case should be see through so the shem Shakai can be seen to all, however today most cases are not see-through. See more about the source of this custom here.

But I found this to be interesting because it reminded me of the connection between Mezuza and Ktav Ivri, which I worte about it when explaining the Mark of Cain (see here). In brief, the Mezuza of Mitzraim, which protected the Jews from the plagues, was actually one letter from the Ktav Ivri - the X (which is the Tav in today hebrew alphabet, a letter that means Tichie - you shall live. See alphabet below). The Jews painted this letter with blood of the Pesach sacrifice in their doorposts.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Column 1 of 214

I will be posting each column here, and I'm happy to hear feedback. In the third day, it's missing a few words, which I will complete soon. Also some blurbs of ink here and there, but all in all I'm happy I got to this first milestone.
Although in the picture it looks like everything it's slanted that's an illusion - if you zoom you can see the sirtut.
I had difficulty in the beginning but now my writing is going smooth, specially in the second half of the column. I perfected my Aleph in that section, which now is more straight (I want to avoid "wavy" Alephs; I prefer straight lines).
Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, October 3, 2013


A childhood friend of mine started this interesting Judaica website featuring Hebrew calligraphy works by his late grandfather. They have good prices and free shipping; here are two of my favorites.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Amazing Megillot #11: Megillah Case

I saw this magnificent Megilla case in the Mamila shop of Haddad Brothers, in Jerusalem. I have seen many cases, but this one is my all time favorite - the craftsmanship stands out, with many details and of course, a whopping high price of 192,000 shekels/55,000usd. It's unfortunate that my 11-lined Megillah is too fat to fit there!

My Sefer Torah #2

I didn't write much yet, but I decided to post anyways.

I'm a little rusty as I haven't done any Safrut in the past year, and contrary to my tutor's advice, I started from the very beginning. He argued that it would take me a bit of time to get used to writing a Torah and because of that I should leave the beginning for when I'm in top form, as people usually look at the beginning of a scroll more carefully and this would hide my learning curve.

But to me, this is like a journey. And the beginning will be difficult and far from perfect but if you think about it, everything in life is like that. So it felt right to start from Bereishis.

I had difficulty writing the large initial Bet in the right proportions. Ideally, it should be not only taller but also lower than the other letters. When I realized it wasn't low enough, it was too late, so I left it like that. Also, I was careful to make the four taggim in the large Bet (see here my post on this), a Minhag recorded in the Masechet Sofrim that is often times neglected. The Masechet Sofrim can be found as an appendium to the Talmud and it's one of the earliest compediums dealing exclusively with Safrut. I rarely see Sofrim doing these four Taggim but I've heard that Davidovici, the most revered Sofer of our time, does it too. I don't really know the reason behind these four Taggim, I would welcome suggestions

You can see that my writing is very thick (7mm), something I do in purpose. I think it's nicer and more ornate but it does causes me to think more about how to fit the lameds and long chafs without touching other lines. You can see I left a space in the second line - I wrote the Lamed of Elokim below it too tall. That's a problem.

I also have to fix the minor "blurps" in the works Le'or and Rokia.

Also my kulmus wasn't great, so it took me a long time to write this little segment. All in all, I at the same time a little dissapointed with the sluggish start but in the other hand happy with the overall look, which is at least nice and uniform.

I welcome any comments, positive or negative.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My Sefer Torah #1: Getting Started

This post is actually a follow-up to my post about how many lines my Torah will have.

I B"H managed to exchange the 42 lines klafim I had purchased for a special 48 lines klafim, a number which is favored by the Keset Hasofer and many others. Being that I live in Europe, it was really diificult to make the exchange, making me realize how difficult it is to get the gear needed to write a Torah - ink, kulmus, klaf and tikkun - from afar. It's interesting how the Safrut world is not yet in the information age and that most suppliers I dealt with didn't even have email - a cellphone is already unusual in these circles.

A notable exception is, run by Rabbi Moshe Flumenthal. I found his shop by chance in Jerusalem in my last trip to the city and from my experience, he was easy to reach, efficient and very helpful. I got ink, kulmusim and other basic supplies from him. But for the tikkun and klafim I have other sources and it was really hard to pull all together. But thank Gd all is set and I got started.

Here you can see my safrus "cage". Until now I didn't write with an inclined table but I'm testing it, hoping it will be better for my back. Let's see.

It's interesting to note how many times there's the word Elokim in the first page of the Tikkun, while the four letter Shem doesn't appear at all - see image below. That fits with the concept that the world was created with Middat HaDin, which is represented by Elokim.

Here is my "keset", or base, that I adapted from Parker. The ink is obviously not from them; I use Nahari. Next time I will post more of my writing. Chag Sameach.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

How many lines should my Torah Scroll Have?

So after some 4 years in the waiting, the stars seemed to have aligned for me and I have the time, place and yishuv hada'as to start writing my own Sefer Torah.

I met my Jerusalem-based tutor, who is also a klafim maker, and asked him for some yerios to get started. He asked, "so what size do you want and how many lines?", making me realize I had no idea of this key technicality. He told me the standard sizes are 45cm, 48cm or 50cm long klaf and since the table I use for writing is rather small I went for the smaller option, 45cm.

When I got back home in Europe, I realized I still needed a tikkun. And that's when things got really complicated.

Everyone I asked told me to call a Rabbi in Bnei Brak who's the authoritative tikkun-maker today, and I had a very interesting conversation with him. It turns out that until some 30 years ago, Sofrim didn't really have a good tikkun to copy from. They either used Chumashim, old codices like the Berdichev Codice or another Sefer Torah, until the renowed Sofer Davidovich took on himself to write a Tikkun for others to copy from, arranging all the Torah in Amudim of 42 lines. Now that's the important piece of information - 42 lines. In this arrangement, Davidovich's tikkun had 245 columns ("amudim"), and after some feedback from fellow Sofrim, who said that the lines where too "cramped", Davidovich made a longer, spaced up version of 247 Amudim.

Just a side point, it's important not to underestimate Davidovich's work - it was not easy to make the tikkun. In these days there was no PC and Davidovich had to arrange everything in his mind as he wrote - a work of a genius. And there are many rules to follow, for instance, we have a Mesora that some columns of the Torah must start with specific words - ביה שמו is the acronym for such columns (see in the right the column of "Yehuda Ata" which is one of these columns). Davidovich also followed the Minhag of starting all other columns with words containing a Vav as their first letter ("Vavei Amudim" - similar concept to the Hamelech Megillot) - further restricting the arrangement of the letters in the columns.

From then on, the 42-lined Tikkun became the standard tikkun all Sofrim used. For that reason, I understood why the Tikkun of 45cm I purchased from my tutor was also made for a 42 lines tikkun - this is virtually the case in all modern Sefer Torahs you will see.

This Rabbi told me that around five years ago, a Sofer asked him if he could supply him with an unusual 48 lines tikkun. He answered he only had the standard 42 lines arrangement but with the help of the computer and his experience, he could make a new one, although that would take time and money. The Sofer accepted it and because of him, now you can get a newer, more mehudar tikkun of 48 lines from this tikkun-maker. In other words, until five years ago there was no tikkun other than the 42 lines in the market for Ashkenazi scribes.

But why is the 48-lined tikkun better? Is it more Mehudar after all?

If you research deeper, you will realize that in Halacha, the 42 lined Tikkun is subject to debate. The most authoritative Sefer in Safrut, the Keset Hasofer, says (13:6):

(The Sofrim) have a custom of using (a tikkun) of not less than 48 lines and some say 42 lines and not more than 60 (...)

He comments further that the source is the Masechet Sofrim, an appendice to the Talmud, which says that the Amud should have at least 42 lines like the number of travels of the Hebrews in the desert. However, the Rambam (here), Tur and Rosh all say, based on the same source, that ideally the Amud should have no less than 48 lines and the Keset Hasofer concludes that they must have had a different version of this Masechet Sofrim, a very likely possibility as this Masechta is full of variant readings. But all in all, that's the reason why the new 48-lined tikkun this Rabbi has now is more mehudar.

The Keset Hasofer concludes that if it's possible one should write with at least 48 lines rather than 42. If it's too difficult, it's ok to write in 42 lines.

Interestingly, the Rambam also reveals that when he wrote his own Sefer Torah, he wrote in Amudim of 51 lines, which is within the ideal 48-60 bracket of how many lines a column should have. For this very reason, the Yemenite Jews to this day write their Torah with tikkunim of 51 lines in line with their custom of following all of the Rambam's rulings.

The truth is that the vast majority of old Sifrei Torahs have at least 48 lines or more (the recently discovered Bologna Torah has 48 lines, see on the right a 70-lines Torah, see here for 58 and see here for 55-lined examples); only the modern ones have the prevalent 42 that is the standard today.

My million dollar question is why Davidovich decided to write his Tikkun speicfically with 42 lines when he could have chosen to write with 48 or more lines. I don't know the answer to this question but one thing is for sure, the current 42-lines tikkun has 247 columns while a 48 lines tikkun has 213 or so - the extra columns of the 42 tikkun is extra money for the klafim-makers so perhaps they lobbied for this. Just a conspiracy theory...

Coming back to my case, I was thinking to give back the few yeriot of 42 lines I bought and make a special order of the unusal 48 lines klafim. I will only write one Sefer Torah and why not do it in the most Mehudar way?

My priority is to have the best, smoothest klaf possible - that's also a hiddur. When writing my 11-lined Megillah I got one bad yeria and it's really torture to write in bad klaf. If I make a special order for 48-lines klaf, I was afraid that since I couldn't pick and choose - special order means that the klaf is made to measure - I would surely get a few bad yerios without having the luxury of rejecting them. However if I went for a standard size, I could look around and be picky. So in one hand you have the hiddur of 48 lines without a guarantee of top klaf and in the other you have a 42 lines tikkun with a guarantee that you can always get the best klaf. Quite a paradox.

After another chat with my tutor, I learned that when making a special order you can request another hiddur - that the klaf should be "made without a tnai" i.e. that the person making this klaf has in mind that the klaf will be used for a Sefer Torah, and not for the lesser kedushot of Mezuza and Tefillin (normally he has in mind a condition - "tnai" - that he is making it for whatever purpose the sofer chooses - either for Torah or Tefillin or Mezuza).

So what did I decide? I will return the few yerios of 42 lines I got and make the special order for 48 lines klaf, taking a chance with the quality of the klaf. Maximum I will throw a few yerios away. Like this I have two extra hiddurim, 48 lines and klaf without tnai.

I will see in the coming weeks if all has worked out and if I end up receiving the new klaf. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eiruvin 64: Torah Scroll's Amulet Power

I found this interesting custom, mentioned in the Talmud in this week's Daf Yomi cycle:
R. Aba and R. Menasiya: One who takes possession of the property of a convert [who died without heirs] should buy a Sefer Torah [with some of the money. People will envy him, for he profited without toil. The Mitzvah will protect him from Ayin ha'Ra'ah];

Rav Sheshes: The same applies even to one who married a woman with property. (He may use her property. He should buy a Sefer Torah with some of the profits);
Rava: The same applies even to one who profited from a business venture;
Rav Papa: The same applies even to [smaller profits that come easily, e.g.] one who found a lost object [in a case that he may keep it].
Version #1 (our text) (Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak): Even writing Tefilin will protect him. (end of Version #1)
Rav Chanin or R. Chanina: He learns from "va'Yidar Yisrael Neder..." (Bnei Yisrael vowed to be Makdish spoils that they will take from the nation that was about to fight them.) source

            It emerges from this Gemara that the Torah Scroll seems to have some sort of amulet power which will protect the person who got this money from envy. Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchak goes a step further and says that not only a Torah Scroll, which is used in public and seen by all, protects the person; even a Tefillin, which is private and usually hidden from the eyes of the public will protect the person's newfound fortune against Evil Eye (ayin harah).

           This is Rashi's understanding of the Talmud and it is quite puzzling. It's novel to say that the Torah Scroll and Tefillin have amulet-like powers and we actually only find this in the laws of Mezuza, which has the unique feature of protecting one's house. But that's a priori unique to Mezuza (see here a long and interesting achademic dissertation about that), and Rashi seems to somehow extend this property to Torah Scrolls and Tefillin as well. 
           The Meiri interprets this piece slightly different, ignoring the Evil Eye issue in his usual rationalistic approach to things. In his opinion, the person who  inherited money should use part of it for a Miztva solely so he shouldn't forget that this money is not his nor a result of his skills; it came to him because Hashem granted him this good fortune and the Torah Scroll (or Tefillin) will remind him that. According to this, the Gemara mentioned Sefer Torah and Tefillin solely as an example of a physical Mitzva which can remind the person about this important lesson.
          Now we get the last and most dissonant interpretation - the Maharsha. He doesn't understand why according to Rashi/Meiri, the Talmud writes that one should be "koneh" (buy) a Sefer Torah whereas when speaking about the Tefillin, the Gemara writes that one can even "kosev" (write) a Tefillin. The Maharsha says this doesn't makes sense - if anything, there's a clear Miztva of writing a Torah Scroll yourself opposed to Tefillin which doesn't necessarily needs to be written personally. Based on a differing manuscript of the Talmud, the Maharsha says that the Gemara means to say that only a Torah Scroll will be effective in protecting one's wealth. Period. The Tefillin will not. The proper understanding of the piece of Gemara which speaks about Tefillin is radically different:  
Version #2 (Maharsha's preferred text) (Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak): The same applies even to one who profits from writing Tefilin [in spite of Chachamim's prayer that scribes not get rich. He should attribute this to Hash-m, and buy a Sefer Torah].

        In other words, the Gemara in this version never said that even a Tefillin will protect you. The Gemara is talking about a specific case - a scribe who manages to make a lot of money from a pair of Tefillin.   

    Tuesday, May 14, 2013

    Auction Sefer Torah

    Nice recent story from a friend:

    "Since we mainly hear negative things that the internet produces, please read the following true story that happened to me over the last few days - it involves a rare Mitzvah that I have B'H managed to be mekayem - and the Mitzvah came our way ......thanks to the internet!
    I recently came across an "on-line" auction taking place in Berlin and whilst viewing the various lots to be auctioned - I saw one particular lot that gave me a big shock!
    I saw a picture of a sefer toireh that had been taken 'upside-down' and could see that the sefer was open to Parshas VeZois Habrucheh and the description of the auction was: 19th Century Jewish Scroll in very good condition. Size 98 Centimeters (they did not even know exactly what type of Jewish scroll it was (they may have thought that it was some type of megilloh) and had pictured it upside-down!).
    The Auction of this lot was fixed for Saturday. I could not believe my eyes - a Sefer Toireh of circa 200 years old to be sold on a Shabbos in Berlin?!
    I phoned up the Auction House and told them that I was interested in purchasing this lot but since I was an Orthodox Jew and  Orthodox Jews must not do business on the Sabbath, could they please assist me by moving the Auction date of this lot to Friday or any other day of the week - excluding Shabbos. They said that they would discuss it with the Auction House owner but did not believe that he would agree to move an Auction due to 'my religious problem'.
    I received a call back a day later telling me that the owner did not agree to move the auction date but if I wanted to, they would accept a bid from me in advance of the Auction which would be submitted by the Auctioneer on my behalf on Shabbos.
    They told me that the minimum that the Seller was looking to achieve was circa 5.000 EUR (including Auction commission). I was also told that the Owner of the "scroll" was a Goy - a dealer in Antiques. I immediately had a Shaaloh - was I allowed to submit a bid before Shabbos for a Sefer Toireh that was to be sold on a Shabbos?
    The Shaaloh was presented to Rav Padwa and he paskened that in order to be Matzil a Sefer Toireh - one was allowed to put in a bid before Shabbos as Hatzolas Sefer Toireh Midei Nochri was allowed via a chilul shabbos deRabonnon (mekach uMemker al yedei Nochri)
    I decided to speak again to the Auctioneer and asked him more details about the Sefer Toireh - the Seller did not want to provide any more information but they had tested the wood and silver atzei chaim and it was dated from the 19th Century. I understood that this was possibly a sefer toireh that a goy had stolen from a Shul on Kristallnacht and it had been hidden in the Goy's family for the last 75 years+ - but was already over 100 years old before Kristallnacht.
    I discussed this with my shutef and we decided that since it was 'bashert' that this goy was silly enough to have placed the sefer in an auction on shabbos - hopefully no Jew would buy it and if it was left unsold - we would be able to buy it at a cheaper price.
    B'H - our calculation of what would happen on Shabbos was correct - and on Monday after the auction I called the Auctioneer and it had been left unsold - no bidders at all! I decided to ask a Shaaloh here in London and in Eretz Yisroel when I was there last week, regarding the Shaaloh of being poideh a sefer toireh midei nochri and whether it mattered if the sefer was kosher or possul and the psak was clear - there is a chiyuv and a mitzvah to be poideh the sefer (no difference if kosher or possul) from the goy and it was a rare mitzvah nowadays almost 70 years after the end of World War 2.
    I  wrote a long email to the Auction House and asked them to pass it on to the Owner of the Sefer. I mentioned in my email that a Sefer Toireh only had any value if it was Kosher and since this scroll will require major amount of work by a soifer to repair it - it was not worth much money at all and certainly nothing near the 5.000 EUR he was looking for, but if he agreed to sell it to us for 2.000 EUR, we would agree to buy it from him. B'H on Erev Shabbos - we received an email back from the Auction House and the owner has agreed to sell it to us at this price.
    We expect to receive the Sefer Toireh in London this week and B'H we managed to mekayem a special & rare mitzvah". See the actual pictures of this Torah Scroll.