Why not just use paper for the sifrei kodesh, the sacred scrolls? Why not have paper mezuzot, cardboard tefillin, a sefer Torah written on specially strong reinforced indestructible paper?

Ritually, parchment is a requirement. The rabbinic tradition holds that parchment for sifrei kodesh was commanded at Mount Sinai, and therefore parchment is the material we use. Given this, for some Jews paper is and never will be an option for sifrei kodesh.

Some Jews, though, may wonder if fidelity to rabbinic tradition in this particular should outweigh concerns for humane treatment of animals. Perhaps, but it is not only about blind adherence to tradition.

There are many pragmatic reasons for using parchment rather than paper. From the artisan's perspective, parchment is far superior to paper in every aspect. It itself is more beautiful. The writing can be more beautiful. On parchment, the scroll is stronger, and is less affected by such things as damp in the air. It lasts longer - hundreds of years longer, and remember these are the scrolls which carry our tradition.

And spiritually; unlike paper, kosher ink and parchment undergo a complex series of chemical reactions by which the letters form molecular bonds with the parchment. The letters become one with the parchment and each other.

There are many reasons to use parchment. It is possible to have vegetarian, even vegan, kosher parchment; see accompanying post and outline of necessary logistics. I think this would be the best of both worlds. Halakhic, pragmatic, and ethic, all in a scroll.


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February 2017

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