Posted by: Debbie Abrams Kaplan | April 23, 2017

What a Soferet Does

We recently had the chance to hear about what a soferet does. A soferet is a female Torah scribe. Linda Coppleson visited TBEMC to talk to the community and make some repairs to the synagogue’s Torahs. She’s been a scribe for 15 years

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What is a sofer and soferet?

A scribe (sofer is male scribe) writes the Torah, mezzuzah scrolls, megillah scrolls and fixes them as well. Some also write ketubot (marriage contracts). When repairing a ritual Hebrew scroll, she looks for dirt on the parchment and mistakes in the letters, perhaps letters that are faded, scratched or portions of parchment that are torn.

Background

Linda was a Schechter (day school) teacher and she learned how to be a scribe from Rabbi Eric Ray. There’s no diploma or course you take to become a sofer or soferet. Traditionally, only men were scribes and Linda said there are probably a few dozen women in the U.S. currently in that role.

She’s written three new Torahs and is working on a fourth. It takes her 14 months to write an entire Torah.

 

 

How a soferet writes a Torah

A Torah has to be perfect to be used for public reading. One mistake and it’s not kosher. A Torah that is not kosher (incorrect letter used, or issues with the letters described above) means that you cannot read that Torah in public. You can use it for studying, though. If there’s a question as to whether a letter is correct, a cantor or rabbi will look at it, along with a young student. The reason for the young student’s involvement is that the student has no preconceived notions. They are learning their letters and would be able to give an opinion on what the letter looks like with no other background. If the student identifies the letter as what it’s supposed to be, then the Torah is still considered kosher and it can continued to be used.

When a Torah is new, it’s reviewed by another sofer, and by a third person as well (doesn’t have to be a sofer).

Linda says that she does not feel the time go by when she’s writing the Torah. It’s a challenge to make every letter perfect. Her goal is to write one column a day. One column contains 42 lines, and it takes her 5-6.5 hours, divided into two sessions.

The Torah has 305,000 letters. The Torah includes 245 columns.

Before writing a line, she leyns (chants) it, and says the letter she’s writing before doing so.

She uses the STAM letter style, “seifer Torah, tefillin, mezzuzah” which has rules for each element of the letters, which are written left to right (versus the traditional Hebrew words, written right to left). Seven of the letters have a crown with three points, and several letters have a crown with one point. The Dead Sea scrolls are also written with the same lettering.

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If she makes a mistake on a letter, she can scratch it off with a razor blade, unless it’s one of God’s names (elohim, adonai, etc.) in which case she has to rewrite the entire parchment, using a new sheet.

Her tools

She buys her parchment from Israel. It can be from any kosher animal, and the animal does not have to be slaughtered according to kashrut. The whole animal should always be used. The parchment must be made with the express purpose of ritual writing for the Torah (or tefillin or mezzuzah etc.). Each parchment sheet is $60-100. It comes scored already so she can write in a straight line.

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She uses a quill, usually from a turkey wing feather. She uses the left-hand wing as she’s left handed, and it’s easier to get the point/wedge she wants from that. You can use any kosher bird feather, but she finds that the turkey feather is a good, large size. The feather lasts 2-3 weeks and she can write 10-15 columns with it.

As a soferet, Linda also sews the panels together when the Torah writing is complete.


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