We discovered an error in [our] Sefer Torah this Shabbat. The error...involves a Tav that should be a Hay.

There are two aspects to dealing with this; the theoretical and the practical.

The theoretical side represents hours and hours of study. Before you go anywhere near fixing a Torah, you've got to know why this is a total disaster, for instance:

and you have to learn the several thousand other potential disasters that a sofer has to know how to avoid.

However, the practical side of a fix like this is actually very easy. It's a tiny bit of knife work and a tiny bit of ink work.

I've put in the hours and hours of study, and we live in a digital world. Suppose Esther lives hundreds of miles away from any sofer, and her Torah has this problem. She takes a picture of the problem in the Torah and emails it to me. I can look at it, and chances are I'll know how to fix it. If she knows how to use a knife and ink, I can send her something like this:*

and she can fix the problem. She can be my hands over hundreds of miles. If necessary, we could use a webcam, so that I can see exactly what she's doing.

Of course ideally Esther's community would have a fully-trained sofer. But in the real world, I think this could be the next best thing. It's better than reading from a non-kosher Torah, and it's better than having the Torah languish unused until a sofer happens to come to town.

I think this could happen. I could take a day and teach people how to use these:

and how NOT to use them (can you identify the things there that you must NEVER NEVER use on a Torah?).

In a day, someone is not going to learn all the rules about how to fix letters (what do you do with something like that thing to the right? do you need to do anything?), but I believe they can learn enough that they can make basic repairs under remote supervision.

One might say that letting half-trained people loose on Torahs is a dreadful idea, with unlimited potential for havoc to be unleashed. However, of course one would teach boundaries. Fences around tricky areas. When not to attempt something. The importance of not overestimating one's ability. And it might very well be better than the present state of affairs, where entirely untrained people attempt repairs that are quite horrifying.

* NOTE: Don't try this at home. This is not Torah writing. This is Times New Roman. It would not look quite like this on a Torah.


That's my vision. I reckon I can teach someone to do this in a day, if they've got some arts-and-crafts background. Anyone want to have a bit of a Manhattan guinea-pig day?
sheets of TorahOld readers will have met this idea before, but for those who are new on the Jenscene, I'll offer it again.

It's Ellul, Month of Repentance, and in the run-up to the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, the Solemn Judgement - temples start thinking "Call the sofer! We'd better get the Torahs in shape for Rosh haShana."

So during Ellul, soferim get very tired because they're doing a lot of last-minute Torah fixing.

Me personally, I find repair work to be a lot more taxing than writing from scratch. I can write all day quite happily, but repairing all day leaves me wilting, exhausted, and consuming quite startling amounts of chocolate. It's a physical strain and it's a mental strain; more of the latter than the former.

When you write, you sit down and words flow, letter after letter, and fill the page slowly but surely. Sure, you have to concentrate, but you're going with the stream. When you repair, you have to focus in on every single letter, one after the other, and examine it minutely for potential problems, since even one broken letter invalidates the sefer Torah - and there are 304805 of them. It's intense, intense work.

Well, it occurs to me that this is a metaphor for Life. Merrily going along writing (or living, as it might be) is relatively simple, although you don't necessarily know what it's going to look like in twenty years' time - but if your job is to go through from one end to the other, find every little thing which isn't right, and repair it, well, that's a whole lot harder.

Nonetheless, the message of the season is precisely that - check things over, find the bits which are broken, and repair them.

But start doing it in good time, and bring plenty of chocolate.

Cross-posted to Jewschool (playing with the big kids now).
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 26th, 2008 10:31 pm)
Problem with divine name

Things you don't want to come across when you're fixing a Torah, part 1: places where some scribe before you has done something really bad like blobbing ink all over Divine Names and hoping no-one will notice not noticing.

Scribal silliness

Scribal silliness. Well look, when you've got to stretch out something in a line, it might as well be the words for "stretched out," no?
Here's how to take an aliyah:

Touch the fringes of the tallit to the Torah, where the reader shows you.
Kiss the fringes.
Roll the Torah closed and say the blessings.
Roll the Torah open again and listen to the reading.
The reader will point to the end of the reading. Touch the fringes to that place.
Kiss the fringes again.
Roll the Torah closed and say the blessings.

The thing is that getting an aliyah is an honour, and often enough honours mean dressing up. And for a lot of people, dressing up means lipstick.

Kiss the fringes.

It sometimes happens that lipstick gets left on the fringes.

Touch the fringes to that place.

And accordingly it sometimes happens that lipstick gets transferred to the Torah.

Lipstick, being greasy, is really difficult to get out of a Torah. And it looks pretty awful; the holy Torah smeared with lipstick as if it were a coffee cup.

Just be careful, is all. Use kissproof lipstick, or take a different fringe for the second set of blessings. Don't get lipstick on the Torah.

...however you want to spell it; the places in Torah where the received tradition says we write one thing and read another.

I'm sure there are squillions of scholarly theories regarding these, knocking about. I've not read them. This is strictly experiential, from a scribal perspective. There is a gigantic table of them under the cut.

There are two of these in Torah. Euphemisms are easily understood - at some point, we decided that certain words were too rude to be read out loud in shul, so we substituted politer ones. From a scribal perspective, that's the end of the story, but it does raise the wider question of why it's okay to pretend the Torah says something it doesn't. I mean, we spend so much time insisting that every word is deeply significant; how is it okay to make these changes?

These are super-easy to understand. I've done most of them myself, except that when I do them they're errors to be corrected. When you write, you're looking at what you're writing, and holding the words in your head. Most people do that by saying the phrase to themselves, so it's easy enough to mix up lo-with-a-vav with lo-with-an-aleph. People with snapshot memories are at an advantage here, I suppose. I've listed six of these.

Missing yud - vav instead of yud-vav
I could have listed these as homophones, I suppose, but they're very specific - all instances where the word should finish yud-vav, with the sound "v," and have been written without the yud. This is understandable: you might have had "v" in your brain, and attached "vav" to that thought, and written that. This happens 13 times.

Hey instead of vav
Sometimes a hey at the end of a word carries the "o" sound, like in Shlomo (שלמה). So things like בְּעִירוֹ, which ought to have a vav on the end, could have בעירה substituted for them relatively easily, since they'd be homophones. I don't understand why this substitution might happen when the vav carries the "u" sound, though, unless the two used to sound the same. Anyway, there are seven of these.

Missing vav
There are plenty of places in Torah - words like חדש - which could perfectly plausibly be spelled with an extra vav, חודש. Rabbinic Judaism takes it for granted that whatever these may have been on Sinai, we've completely lost the tradition for when that happens, so we just do the best we can. We're not talking about those missing vavs here. These ones are stranger. There are three of these.

A yud where a vav ought to be, or a vav where a yud ought to be
There's a reason scribes are cautioned to be very careful about making their vavs sufficiently long and their yuds sufficiently short, and this is it. This is the most common sort of difference, there are 18 of them.

Jen hasn't the faintest

We insist that Torah is copied very carefully, from a copy, and proofread before use, and we insist that a Torah with a single error is removed from use until the error is fixed. I suspect this is basically how the text has managed to stay in pretty good shape over time. We don't have similar rules for the rest of the Bible, and those texts are far more corrupt. Apart from the euphemisms, the craziest Torah gets is a rogue letter here and there. Prophets and Writings have whole words doing crazy things, up to and including not even being there any more (so you write nothing, but read a word). This is a very nice example of how texts get more corrupt if you are less careful about their transmission.

The Rogue Letters themselves, under a cut because it's a 51-line table )

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 12th, 2007 01:21 pm)
Following the departure of our cantor, I'm now the person who's responsible for making sure all the Torahs in our shul are rolled to the right places at the right times. This morning, rolling for tomorrow's readings, I found that two of the Torahs had broken seams right in the middle of the readings. So, being the resourceful soferet that I am, I whipped out my Torah thread and sewed them up. How good is that? :)

I'm also learning a bit of the reading for the second day. There's a special tune for the High Holy days, which I learned last year teaching my student Sarah (may-she-rest-in-peace). It is much more ponderous and almost-mournful than the regular tune, and it's very odd: no matter how high in my range I place it, the heavy nature of the melody is giving me a headache. This fits the solemn nature of the day.

Relatedly, insofar as the season's theme is healing and repentance, cleaning is proving cathartic, and I think it delightfully symbolic that my first acquisition as a single woman should be a stepladder.

At this time of year, one is also supposed to attempt to mend breeches breaches with one's fellows. I expect I have some breaches I ought to be working on, but honestly right now I'm having enough trouble stabilising all my internal breaches; in order to hold together, most of the available energy for repentance and forgiveness is directed within. I hope that if anyone has any burning issues with me, they'll compromise enough to let me know about it, because this is the time for cooling issues but this year I haven't much energy over for identifying them.
As with most ritual activities, there are ways to hang a mezuzah and ways not to hang a mezuzah. This link takes you to's comprehensive directions on how to hang a mezuzah. This post has some examples of how not to hang a mezuzah.

It's a good idea to wrap the scroll in something before putting it in the case; it protects it from dust and other airborne yuk, and to some degree from moisture. R' Askotzky at recommends wax paper. Some sellers will roll them up for you in plastic wrap.

This applies particularly if the case is openwork, even more particularly if it's going to get painted over. On the whole, it's better to take the mezuzah down before painting.

In this particular case, paint had trickled down inside the roll, so that some of the letters were completely obliterated.


And it had stuck to the case.


And when it was finally extracted from the case, see what had happened!

This is a spectacular example of why coated mezuzot are not a good idea. The parchment of a coated mezuzah is covered with white paint before the scribe starts to write This makes the surface much smoother, so the mezuzah is easier to write and the scribe can fit more into his day. This means they can be sold more cheaply.

Unfortunately, paint is more brittle than parchment, and it has a tendency to crack and flake. Here, moisture from wet paint has affected the surface - steamy kitchens, hot radiators, and humid weather can have similar effects. The paint and the parchment react to moisture and heat at different rates, and they pull apart because they're doing different things. The mezuzah very easily becomes pasul (invalid). Uncoated mezuzot are certainly rather more expensive, but they're much less likely to go pasul.

Left: it's not nice to roll it with the writing on the outside. Neither is it nice to roll it top to bottom. It's supposed to be rolled side to side; if you roll it top to bottom and then hang it, the writing lies sideways instead of being upright.

At right: upside down. The three words כוזו במוכסז כוזו are supposed to be at the top, and they're supposed to look upside down. When those words look the right way up, the scroll is upside down. (Further reading: Mezuzah in the Jewish Encyclopaedia, scroll down to the section on Superstitious Conception.)

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jun. 6th, 2007 10:06 am)
Torah Cleaning at Temple Beth David yesterday. Me, a bag of cleaning tools, and about eighty willing congregants, cleaning their Torahs with sponges, erasers, sandpaper, and vodka.

Continuing the metaphor of Torah repair for Life, I think cleaning a Torah gives people an interesting extra perspective - it shows that Torahs are, as it were, only human. Admitting that Torahs need cleaning just like anything else, and furthermore having ordinary people help with the cleaning, I think helps people own holiness. It's easy to get used to thinking of holiness as something which gets trotted out in shul once a week, and Judaism along with it - something which happens for a couple of hours on a Saturday morning. Performing an everyday task on a holy object is a powerful demonstration of the less familiar concept of mixing sacred and mundane. Reversing the details, we can transfer the concept: mix mundane and sacred. Judaism is structured so that one can bring tastes of the sacred into more or less any part of one's daily activities: bringing cleaning to Torah shows us that we can bring Torah to cleaning - awareness of the Divine Awesomeness out of those two hours in temple on Shabbat morning, and into the rest of the week.

At least, I hope that's what they got out of it :)
Yes, a soferet is like a swordfish.

If I work on a Torah for someone, it's as if I cooked swordfish in their kitchen. They can no longer share resources with Orthodox or non-egalitarian Conservative groups. If I cook swordfish* and I'm hosting Orthodox guests, it is an appalling desecration of trust not to tell them about it. If I repair a Torah and then let Orthodox congregations use it, it is likewise an appalling desecration of trust. If we want respect, as Jews or as human beings, we have to give respect, and part of that is accepting that other Jews' rule systems are valid despite being different from ours.

Before I work with any client, I make sure they're aware of this. People must know that if they hire me to work on their Torahs, it's like making swordfish in their kitchen. If they want to hold open the option of sharing their food, or their Torahs, with people who are more traditional, they must not cook swordfish and they must not employ me to work on their Torahs.

All non-traditional scribes have this responsibility. We MUST make sure our clients know what they're getting into. That their Torahs will be considered pasul by the traditional end of the Jewish spectrum, and that giving those people such a Torah to use for Torah reading is a terrible, terrible thing to do, just as it's a terrible thing to sneak pork to Jews who don't eat pork. Our clients may choose to support us and so forfeit sharing resources with those who don't agree, just like they do with their kitchens, but we must ensure that they are making an informed decision.

In my experience, even really learned people don't necessarily know that a soferet is like a swordfish. We cannot ever assume that our clients have already made their decision just because they are talking to us, even if they are learned. We must not ever assume it. We must be explicit, each and every time. I am like unto a swordfish, said the soferet.

Rabbi Yishmael said to Rabbi Meir that as a sofer he had the potential to destroy the entire world. We have the potential to destroy trust, and the responsibility not to. In this, a soferet is considerably more dangerous than a swordfish.

* Not that I do cook swordfish. But if I did.
What happens if you make a mistake? part 1 talked about some of the situations in which mistakes in Torahs and other holy books can and can't be fixed. This post is Part 2 - fixing mistakes by erasing.

Oops. This is supposed to read ve-sar me-hem, but some sort of lapse in concentration has caused the scribe to miss out the "me" and cut straight to the "hem," realising that something was wrong partway through the hey.

A bit of blotting paper is used to take up as much of the wet ink as possible. One doesn't have to do this, but it makes it easier later. Unlike marker pens, Torah ink sits on top of the parchment, and doesn't soak all the way through, so it can be scraped off quite easily. It's very like a kitchen spill - scraping off a lot of yuk once it's dried is hard work and messy, and it's much easier to mop up as much as you can while it's still wet.

Some scribes make two little marks in pencil, one above the mistake and one in the margin, so they'll know where to come back to when the ink is dry. Without some sort of marker, finding mistakes later is a bit like Where's Wally but not knowing how many Wallys you're supposed to find. It's a real pain and you might miss one, which would be bad since even one mistake technically invalidates the whole Torah. Not all scribes do this. Presumably the scribes who don't are really, really good at Where's Wally.

Erasing tools. From left to right: electric eraser, #10 surgical scalpel, bone folder, rose thorns, plastic eraser.
Once the mistake is dry, the remaining ink is scraped off. The electric eraser has a specially abrasive type of eraser in it, which makes quick work of the job (see below). For tiny mistakes, or delicate areas where the electric won't fit, one can use a surgical scalpel with a good sharp blade (see right). You may have heard that one can't use metal tools on a Torah, because ordinary metals have associations with war and hurting people. But surgical scalpels are used to save lives, not take them, so that makes a difference. Other scribes use gold knives or glass shards, for the same reason.

The surface is usually a bit ruffled after this, which makes it hard to write on, so it is smoothed and burnished with a bone folder or other burnishing tool. If the surface is very bad, powdered gum sanderac may be added, which stops the ink misbehaving. Then the guideline is marked back in. An awl is a sensible tool for this, but a rose thorn is a traditional non-metal alternative. Both are sharp enough to mark the surface without being so sharp they will cut through it.

Finally, the proper letter is written in, always by copying it from a tikkun. Here the ink is still wet, so the new letters are more shiny than the old ones.

One does not use correction fluid.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 20th, 2006 10:17 pm)

Q: What happens if you make a mistake?

smudged letters
The answer divides into parts. First, mistakes are fixable. Second, a Torah works differently to mezuzot and tefillin. Third, God's names work differently to ordinary words.

Mistakes can be fixed

Many people are under the impression that if you make a mistake, you have to toss out the whole sefer and start over. This isn't true. A mistake, even one tiny wee one, does invalidate the whole Torah - but not permanently. If there's a mistake in a Torah, you can't use it until it's fixed - but you can almost always fix it.

Torahs and mezuzot work differently

There's a rule that mezuzot and tefillin have to have each and every letter written in strict order. So, if you make a mistake when writing a mezuzah, let's say you leave out a letter, you can't go back and add that letter unless you erase all the way back - if it was typing, it would be like saying you can't move the cursor back and insert the letter, you have to backspace all the way to the place where you need the insertion. And sometimes, doing this would entail erasing God's name, which we absolutely do not do, so sometimes there really is nothing you can do about it and you do have to go back and start over.

But with a mezuzah, this isn't a disaster, because there are only 713 letters in a mezuzah, and it'll only take you a few hours to rewrite them. A Torah has 304,805 letters and takes more than a thousand hours to write; having to start over would be so impractical that we would never manage to get any Torahs written at all. So we don't have this writing-everything-strictly-in-order rule for Torahs.

This means that if you make a mistake in a Torah, you can go back and fix it later and it's okay. When I make a mistake, I make a mark with pencil in the margin, so that I don't forget about it. Then later, when the ink is dry, I come back and deal with it.

God's names work differently

Letters stuck together
So, most of the time you can go back and fix mistakes.

Sometimes, fixing means you have to erase a word or part of a word - maybe you wrote a word twice, maybe you misspelled, maybe you smeared it. BUT - you can't erase God's names. The Torah says that we should blot out the names of idolatrous gods and destroy them, and then it says that we mustn't do that to our God. Erasing God's name is tantamount to erasing God - it's really not a good thing to do - so we don't do it, ever.* So, if you have a mistake that you can't fix without erasing God's name, that's that - you can't fix it. You take the sheet away, and bury it respectfully. Throwing it in the garbage would be like throwing God in the garbage - again, bad plan - so one buries it, like one would a dead person.

This, by the way, is why we try to refrain from writing God's names down - because it's likely to get thrown away, and we don't want that to happen. Better to make sure it can't happen by not writing God's names in the first place.

* In real life. Electronically is different. The main issue with electronic God's-Names is that someone might print them and later throw them out, which does present issues.
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)
( Sep. 26th, 2006 04:06 pm)
I've been doing a lot of Torah repair this month. I find repair work to be a lot more taxing, physically and mentally, than writing from scratch, and it occurs to me that this is a metaphor for Life. Merrily going along writing (or living, as it might be) is relatively simple, although you don't necessarily know what it's going to look like in twenty years' time - but if your job is to go through from one end to the other, find every little thing which isn't right, and repair it, well, that's a whole lot harder. Nonetheless, the message of the season is precisely that - check things over, find the bits which are broken, and repair them, even if it is hard work.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 13th, 2006 10:20 pm)
More restoring Torah today. All I can say about that is: crikey Moses it takes it out of you. Fixing lettering is hard work; much more so than writing. At least, after six hours of writing I'm happy and perky, and after six hours of lettering I'm mainlining chocolate just to stay vertical.

On a different note, you remember the student I raved about the other day? Well, today she invented musical notation (for those to whom that doesn't mean much: the collection of lines and tadpoles you see in front of musicians) whilst trying to find a way to write down the music so that she could remember it. I mean really, how awesome is that?

But it does mean I'm back awfully late and awfully tired, which doesn't lead to very interesting blogging. Sorry, folks. Come back next week, when the various Torahs which need fixing will have been fixed, and normal service will with any luck be restored.

Oh, my sister is in town. This is Good.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 10th, 2006 02:41 pm)
This morning in Flushing, fixing Torahs. Days off? what're those??

One of them had "Ramsem" instead of "Ramses" - you know, as in Rameses, as in Egypt. This was probably because "s" and "m" look quite similar and the original scribe wasn't all that focused. In any case, it now reads "Ramses" like it should.

This kind of fix illustrates one of the crucial sofrut principles, that of hak tokhot, or carving to form a letter. To turn final mem into samekh, all you need to do in principle is round off the corners - but in sofrut, that counts as forming the letter by carving. We don't do this, because carving isn't writing, and what we do is writing. So instead of just merrily trimming away the corners, you have to erase the whole bottom part of the letter until it isn't any letter at all, and then rewrite it with curved corners.

This is one of the things where afterwards you can't tell the difference, but the proper method is crucial. If you carve, the letter is pasul and the Torah is pasul. If you write, all is kosher. But no-one except you knows whether you wrote or carved.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 7th, 2006 08:16 am)
Yesterday I was working on a Torah for Congregation Emanu-El, the ancient and giant Reform shul in Manhattan.

This time of year is an interesting one. Shuls want their Torahs in order for the upcoming festival season, so any Torahs still in the works have to get finished - but also, shuls get back from their summer break, become racked with guilt that some of their Torahs aren't in good order, and beg for rush fixing jobs. Any one rush job doesn't take up so much time, but when you have dozens of them, you end up working overtime - and how! (Rabbis: don't leave it until after the summer break. Really. It's so much easier for us if you get the Torahs in well in advance.) So what with working on my Torah, doing a couple of mezuzah jobs, and filling in every spare moment with repairs for the festivals, I'm kinda busy.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 23rd, 2006 04:31 pm)
Today a Holocaust Torah came to visit. Apparently it was found in a mass grave in Hungary, and smuggled to the USA sheet by sheet. Isn't that awesome?

Today all I was doing was sewing it onto its new rollers. It needs a bit of a clean; my hands are now rather grubby, and smell pleasantly of goat.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jul. 19th, 2006 05:15 pm)
Monday: I went out to Neil's in Westchester, because me and my Torah are supposed to check in with him periodically. Except that if you're going to go all the way out to Westchester you might as well make a day of it, so I spent a nice day doing repairs to the lettering on a Torah for Temple Emanu-el of New York".
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 20th, 2006 09:56 pm)
Last week was mostly concerned with the aforementioned Sad Torah. I thought my only job was rewriting the first eleven columns of Bereshit, and I worked pretty hard on that; got it done by Thursday morning. You can see from the pictures that the impressions of the letters remained, which of course made writing them very much easier, as I didn't have to keep referencing a copy every few letters, but could check the copy every few words instead. As a result, I found myself working up to six times faster than usual. That is, normally it would take me six hours to write a column; I did a couple of these in an hour each, including matching the script to the original. But that was extremely hard work.
What happened after that )

This sefer reminds me of my first pet rabbit. He was a house-rabbit - although he wasn't very well toilet-trained - and very lovely and friendly. He liked company, and he would follow you around and jump onto your lap, and he was very silky and nice to stroke. After a good many happy years he developed an intestinal problem, and the vet said that he was very sick, and could be operated on but would have to have most of his back end, including his cute bunny tail, lopped off, and still wouldn't be very much better. So he was put to sleep, and of course I was terribly upset, but it was probably the kindest thing to do in the circumstances - and I was partially consoled by the acquisition of a replacement, who had dear little black trousers and an irresistible white splotch on his nose.

I digress. The point is that this Torah is in very much the same situation as was my rabbit. The congregation like to have it around, and they like to pet its ears and have it jump on their laps, as it were, but it is very, very sick - this latest restoration job has made it look more or less okay, but it will never be kosher, and it will almost certainly deteriorate again in less than a year. This sefer should have been honourably retired, not restored, but the congregation weren't having any of that.

I think I shall incorporate this tale into the booklet I have on proper care and feeding of Torahs, so that perhaps one day another sefer may be saved from this fate.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 15th, 2006 10:12 pm)
The other Huge Work thing I've been doing of late, and am still doing, is re-lettering a sad Torah. It's normal for the letters in Torahs to crack and flake over time; you hope that it will happen over a couple of centuries rather than a couple of decades. When this happens, you just rewrite the flaky bit and all is well. Like this letter nun: it's flaked a bit, but you colour in the flaked part, and it's kosher again. (There's more to it than that; please don't try this at home unless you know what all the other bits are.)


Sometimes, perhaps owing to bad parchment, or bad ink, or being kept in poor conditions, flaking gets REALLY BAD:

really sad letters

Normally, this would signal Time To Buy A New Torah. But this congregation is emotionally attached to this one, and is willing to pay to have it fixed, thus:

less sad letters

It's not an economical decision; it's more than likely that they'll all fall off again a few years from now, and the cost of repair is easily as much as the cost of buying a second-hand sefer. If your sefer looks like this, start shopping for a replacement.

Anyway, this is what I'm doing at the moment.

And for good measure, an example of what happens on Bad Ink Days. The shin in the middle of the third row started out like a normal sort of shin, just a bit blobby, like the one in the top row...but then it spread itself out and decided not to be a shin any more. I shall fix it by scraping the letter off with a scalpel and rewriting.

blobby shin