hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 23rd, 2007 01:31 pm)
GidIt's Parshat Vayishlach again, everyone! In which Jacob wrestles with the Mysterious Personage. You remember the story? Jacob is rather jolly worried about meeting up with Esav after twenty-odd years apart, given the circumstances under which they parted (i.e. Jacob running away because Esav was planning to kill him). So he spends the night alone in the wilderness, having sent everyone else on ahead - maybe not the most sensible thing to do, strategically, but anyway - and a Mysterious Personage wrestles with him all night, and Wrenches his Thigh. Dawn comes up, and the Mysterious Personage says cripes, time I was off (rather like the trolls in The Hobbit), and Jacob is left bemused and limping. And so the Israelites refrain from eating the nerve in the thigh - the gid ha-nashe - to this day.

So, this week is the ideal time for the post about Sewing, because gid is something scribes run into quite a lot. Scribal gid - "sinew" - is tendons; animal tendons, of course, not people ones, spun with glue.

New sheets of parchment come as single sheets, not as one big roll, and one sews them together after they've been written. People ask incredulously "Do you sew them together yourself?" I don't understand whence the incredulity, honestly - is it part of the Brave New culture which doesn't mend but buys new? Yes, one sews them together oneself. Much easier than sewing on a button, and in any case, compared to how much work the writing is, the sewing's a breeze.

awlBefore sewing, I make the holes for the stitches with an awl, rather like a shoemaker would. The stitches go through twelve holes, one for each tribe of Israel. They make eleven stitches, one for each allotted tribal portion in the Land of Israel. The tribe of Levi, the priests, did not have land of their own; they lived throughout the country, uniting the other tribes by creating a holy presence all through the land. So too the thread moves from stitch to stitch, uniting them together in a seam, uniting the sheets of writing together as a scroll. Without the seams, the Torah is fractured, Israel is divided, even if all the words are there.

StitchesNote: This is custom, not law. Technically, there is no given number of stitches to be used in the seam, provided there are some at the top, middle, and bottom. I like the above interpretation, so that is how I am making my seams, but a seam with a different number of stitches is not invalid. It is important to be clear about the distinction between custom and law.

The stitches are essential, and just as holy as the letters. It follows that just as there is a special declaration of intent to be made before writing, there is one to be made before sewing. One has to be conscious of doing the job specially for this particular Scroll - it's not just any old sewing, any old scroll - it's THE sewing, THE scroll. Accordingly, there's a custom to use a gold needle, because gold is the metal of kingship, and other metals are mundane at best, and at worst associated with harmful things like war and commerce.

SeamAnd after all that build-up, the seam itself is just an ordinary (if large) running stitch. You sew wrong side out, just like you would any sewing, you knot the thread and do a backstitch at either end, like any sewing, and afterwards you turn it right side out and press the seam, like any sewing. Except you use a bookbinder's tool, called a bone folder, not an iron.

Et voila!

So what about the gid ha-nashe?

Gid in Hebrew means a number of things. "Stringy bits," basically - "gid" as a non-specialist term includes tendons and ligaments, also veins, arteries, and nerves.

Keset ha-Sofer, our friend the scribes' rulebook, says that one shouldn't use the gid ha-nashe, the sciatic nerve, to sew Torahs, since we are forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve, and we don't make Torahs out of things we're forbidden to eat (note: this is law, and not just custom).

There's also a practical aspect: nerves just don't make good thread. Tendons and ligaments make the best thread because they have oodles of collagen in them. Collagen is fairly bouncy stretchy stuff even when it's dried out, so tendons are good and flexible and make a good thread. Veins, arteries, and nerves aren't built like that, so when the component cells die the strings go brittle, and wouldn't be much use for sewing.

Along similar lines, if one doesn't have any gid for sewing, and it's a real emergency, one may use thread. The author of the Keset ha-Sofer says it's better to use flax thread than silk thread, because of the principle that we don't make Torahs out of things we're forbidden to eat, and silk is made from worms, which aren't kosher. The silk itself isn't exactly non-kosher, but it's apparently a bit too inherently wormy for his liking. But he's Ashkenazi - living in Europe. You occasionally see Torahs from China sewn with silk - perhaps greater familiarity with silk gave them a different perspective.

Something a bit different to think about during this week's reading!
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 22nd, 2006 08:34 pm)
You remember gid, the special Torah sewing thread which is made from tendons and glue?

Gid in Hebrew means a number of things. "Stringy bits," basically - "gid" as a non-specialist term includes tendons and ligaments, also veins, arteries, and nerves.

Keset ha-Sofer, our friend the sofrut rulebook, says that one probably shouldn't use the gid ha-nashe, the sciatic nerve, to sew Torahs, since we are forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve, and we don't make Torahs out of things we're forbidden to eat.

But gid is made from tendons! not nerves! right? Why would Keset even think that using the gid ha-nashe was even a possibility, when we don't use nerves, we use tendons?

I asked a medic friend.

Apparently tendons and ligaments are best because they have oodles of collagen in them. Collagen is fairly bouncy stretchy stuff even when it's dried out, so tendons are good and flexible and make a good thread. Veins, arteries, and nerves aren't built like that, so when the component cells die the strings go brittle, and wouldn't be much use for sewing. However, the gid ha-nashe is enormous; apparently bovine ones have about the same diameter as a US dime. Any nerve has a bit of connective tissue in it, and a huge nerve like this might have just about enough to make a rather inferior sewing thread, if you shored it up with a lot of glue. So, you could make a thread out of the gid ha-nashe if you were determined.

Looks like Keset was associating by words - ("This sewing stuff is called gid, I wonder if it has anything to do with that other thing called gid that we know from kashrut") - rather than by practicalities ("Oh look, you can make a thread out of this whopper of a nerve, I wonder whether one can use it on a Torah").

So there you go. :)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 12th, 2006 01:43 pm)
The sheets of Torahs are sewn together with a special thread made from tendons and glue, called gid. However, if there's really and truly no gid available, and you need to use your Torah and it's got a tear and there's no other Torah available either, you're allowed to sew the tear using thread.

Lishkat ha-Sofer says it's better to use flax thread than silk thread, because silk comes out of silkworms, and worms aren't kosher, and there's a principle that one should use products from kosher animals only. It's not a prohibition on silk - that's an important point - just a principle. So anyway, this is rather sweet and lovely.

The interesting bit is velvet. Most Torahs have their covers made from velvet. Velvet is made from many things, cotton, rayon...and silk. And the best sort of velvet, without question, is silk velvet - it's most stroky and delicious. So should we apply the principle and use cotton velvet for Torah covers even though it's less yummy, because one shouldn't use silk on Torahs? It would be a bit like wrapping the Torah in pigskin, after all.* Or should we say that the cover isn't integral, so we should prioritise the yumminess of the velvet?



*Boringly, I think most Torahs use cotton velvet - it's cheaper. But in theory...
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 7th, 2006 10:12 pm)
Sofrut I met in New Jersey this week, for a change. We've been plugging through the letter forms according to the Keset ha-Sofer.

Laws about letter forms are the ideal example of why you need an Oral Torah. The idea behind rabbinic Judaism is that there's a Written Torah, and then there's an Oral Torah which helps you understand it - so if you look at the Torah and it says "an eye for an eye," the Oral Torah helpfully explains that that's metaphorical. Then you read that passage of the Torah in the light of metaphor, and bingo, you have a system of legal damages.

Letter form laws explain that this bit of a letter must be just so, and this bit of a letter must be just so, but they do it in Hebrew, so in order to understand them at all you must already have a pretty good idea of what the letters look like. The extra-textual tradition tells us what the letters look like, and then the textual tradition tells us more about what exactly makes an aleph into an aleph.

Does that make sense? I think it's a rather fun philosophical theme, myself.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 3rd, 2006 09:58 pm)
Another gem from the Lishkat ha-Sofer: "This is extremely obvious...I shouldn't have to write it at all, except that I've seen people making this very mistake..."
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 23rd, 2006 09:30 am)
The Shulhan Arukh says that if you drop wax onto your letters, the letters themselves are fine once you remove the wax.* The Shulhan Arukh is a whopping huge authority, and the way halakha works is that you're basically not allowed to disagree with him unless you have a REALLY good reason. The Magen Avraham (he counts as a really good reason if you want to disagree with the Sh.A.) agrees with him.

Well, a little chappie called Get Pashut comes along somewhat later, and says that if wax gets onto a letter, it's not at all clear whether the letter is still valid after removing the wax.

Lishkat ha-Sofer comes along and cites this little dilemma of the Get Pashut's, and concludes: "One wonders how the Get Pashut managed to write as though he'd never heard of the Shulhan Arukh or the Magen Avraham..."

You gotta love him.

* The issue is whether this constitutes forming letters by methods other than writing. Think splitting open stone to reveal fossils - same concept; what you did wasn't sculpture..."
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 19th, 2006 10:01 pm)
The Lishkat ha-Sofer is a commentary on the Keset ha-Sofer, a summary of the halakhot relevant to sofrut. Although Lishkat can be distinctly tiresome (overenthusiastic use of acronyms being his main fault), he is occasionally charming, as in his comments in chapter 10, s'if katan 6.

He quotes a rule from the Keset, and then quotes another source against it. The usual procedure at this point is to quote the opposing source's subsequent discussion, to explain how the seeming contradiction is reconciled. Lishkat, endearingly, does not do this, but notes in parenthesis "I didn't understand his explanation."
.

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