Worth a thousand words

The scribal tradition’s modern makeover

April 13, 2017 14:23
The scribal tradition

Kalman Gavriel. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The sofer (Jewish scribe) has always been a rather abstract figure. It is perhaps the only role with such religious prestige that necessitates creativity and artistic talent. The sofer’s job is as a copyist and a calligrapher; writing Torah and mezuza scrolls, writing ketubot (marriage contracts) and decorative Jewish verses to adorn the home.

Becoming a sofer is no easy task; one must learn the thousands of intricate rules related to the formation of each individual letter, knowledge usually passed down through an apprenticeship. Different writing styles are passed down through both teachers and subcultures, namely Ashkenazi and Sephardi, meaning that those well-versed in scribal tradition will be able to recognize subtle stylistic differences. While the sofer may be shrouded in mystery, the penultimate law of Judaism’s 613 dictates is that, in fact, all Jewish males should write a Torah scroll in their lifetime.


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