Hooray! I’ve just sorted out call forwarding. If you’re in the USA, you can call my US number, 718 664 4296, and it will forward straight to me in Canada, at no extra cost to you.

If you’re in Canada, you can call 514-884-0199.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( May. 12th, 2013 11:48 am)

I’ve been getting too much spam here lately, so I’ve installed a little widget that will ask you for input to prove that you’re not a robot. It asks you to type in a word from a picture; the word is from archives which are being digitised, so you make a small contribution to advancing machine-readable knowledge.

As far as I know, it’s designed to be accessible by those with nonstandard comprehension and input methods. If that proves not to be the case, do email me and tell me about it. Don’t want to be excluding people.

Hopefully regular commenters will only have to do it once. It’s got some sort of setup where it remembers who you are.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.


This is DR9 R30, but there’s nothing much in the catalogue about it, which is too bad. It’s a token of appreciation for someone from his co-religionists, in Italian, dated Genoa 1956 (click image to see bigger). We’re looking at it because it has a pretty border, more or less; nothing particularly innovative or unusual I think, a modern presentation of a mediaeval style, but it’s a nice example of how you can use very simple techniques to make a very dramatic document.

If you look closely, you can see that the three-dimensional effect is achieved with two shades of a colour, applied fairly arbitrarily, and white highlights. But it’s boldly done, and with vivid colours, so it fools you into thinking that it’s a lot more intricate than it really is.

This is a principle many of you would do well to absorb ;) Simple techniques done with confidence mean striking work.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

I thought this picture looked familiar when I saw it in the drawer. It’s the inside of the Great Synagogue at Stockholm, which still has organ at its Shabbat services, and is most particular about employing a non-Jewish organist to play.

So what is this? An old-school Reform confirmation certificate, from 1939. (Click image at left to see bigger.)

First it has space for the name and birth-date of the confirmand, and it goes on, in Swedish, “has been confirmed with official religious studies according to Mosaic law on [date]”

Then a bunch of pesukim. First couple of lines of the Shema, you shall love your neighbour as yourself, do justice love mercy and walk humbly from Micah, and a slightly random bit from Kohelet: the dust shall return to the earth it came from, yet the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

And a space for the signature of “rabbi of the Mosaic community”

It’s also endorsed along the side saying “only valid as proof of confirmation”. I wonder what else they thought people might try to use it for. Proof of Jewishness, for marriage?

With the date as 1939 I wondered if they might be worried about Nazis; I knew Sweden was neutral in the war, but apparently they weren’t clear on to what extent they’d be able to maintain that, and according to Wikipedia Sweden let the Germans use their rail network. They also ended up taking in lots of Jewish refugees, including all the Jews of Denmark–I had no idea about that. But thinking about it, I don’t suppose the Nazis cared especially if you had a confirmation certificate or not. I don’t know. Anyone have information on that one?

[Thanks to Anonymous Friend for translation from Swedish.]

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

This is from the wedding of Julius Lorsch and Rebecka Cahn, special call number DR6-R36. A Hochzeits-Hagada, dated 1911, Fulda.

I like the little photos stapled to the top here. Julius has a very traditional German Yekkish käppchen, and Rebecka looks like she has those over-the-ears buns that were in style in the 1920s.

Julius and Rebecka perhaps had a sentimental attachment to Pesach; they have a Wedding Haggadah, which follows the form of the Pesach Haggadah. I assume it featured at the wedding dinner; it’s full of cute little poems about the couple. Maybe written by their friends or family?

The front reads:

das ist
Seder und Erzählung
von der Verliebung, Vehrlobung und Verheyratung
des ehrengeachteten und frommen
Herrn Dr. Julius Lorsch
und der hochachtbaren, fürnehmen und minneglichen Jungfrau
Fräulein Rebecka Cahn

Here’s one of the poems. I chose this one because it shows us that Becki was also Dr. Cahn.

והיא שעמדה
Das alles hat ihm beigestanden
Hat behrümt ihn gemacht bei allen Bekammten
Man hat ihm viele angetragen
Doch keine wollt ihm recht behagen
Denn seit dem grossen Trennungsschmertz
Besas Rebecka allein sein Hertz.
Er macht eine Eingabe an Dr. Cahn
Führt alle seine Dorzüge an,
Auf die gestüsst, er sich getraut,
Verlangen zu dürfen die Becki aus Braut.
All this served him,
Gave him fame among all his acquaintances.
Many have been suggested to him,
But none would be to his liking,
For since the great pain of separation,
Rebecka alone possessed his heart.
He petitions Dr. Cahn,
lists all his advantages,
leaning on which he dares
to ask for Becki as a bride.

Thanks to Phillip Lipman for translation. You see it isn’t Great Poetry or anything, but it’s Telling The Story of The Couple, like the haggada tells the story of the Jews. Which is cute.

For your edification, here are all the pages. All images, as usual, copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America, used with permission, click through to see larger versions. Anyone with good German who wants to translate the whole story of the couple is more than welcome to share it with the rest of us!

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Page 5

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Mar. 3rd, 2013 07:43 pm)

At Whole Foods the other week, I found this…It smells exactly like an etrog, but it looks like no etrog ever. Sniff it and become Cthulu!

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.


Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

Today’s picture is of someone’s bar mitzvah invitation, from the early 1980s. Note how the invitation is printed with blue stripes and trimmed with fringe trim exactly like the scarfy tallitot beloved of Reform shuls.

Can’t decide if this is sort of cool or dreadfully cheesy.

The point of bringing you this, though, is that this kid is still alive. I googled him, just out of curiosity, and he went on to be something perfectly ordinary, real estate or something I think. And is married and has kids and lives somewhere in New Jersey.

And this is the case for a great many of these dispatches–they are things belonging to people who were once quite ordinary, getting along with their lives, but now they’ve turned into history.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Feb. 25th, 2013 02:18 pm)

And now, dessert!

Menu item 13: Frozen Squishies, אשישי קפאין.

Explanation 13: Song of Songs 2:8 says סמכוני באשישות, sustain me with raisin-cakes. Jastrow says that ashisha comes to mean any pressed kind of food, also a jug or contents thereof. So this might be a frozen raisin-cake, or it might be an ice-cream cake (if that isn’t horribly anachronistic) or it might be iced punch.

Menu item 14: Stewed fruit.

Explanation 14: Proverbs 31 says Give unto her the fruit of her hands.

Menu item 15: Tree fruit

Explanation 15: This is a non-rabbinic one; the citation is the proverb “The fruit does not fall far from the tree.” Why a sudden non-rabbinic thing? I have an idea, which we’ll get to.

Menu item 16: Grapes

Explanation 16: (Sow) grape seeds with grapevines, says Pesachim 49a.
Here’s the context. The Talmud is talking about the desirability of marrying certain kinds of people (social commentary like whoa; go learn that whole section, it’s fascinating), and says:

תנו רבנן: לעולם ימכור אדם כל מה שיש לו וישא בת תלמיד חכם, וישיא בתו לתלמיד חכם. משל לענבי הגפן בענבי הגפן, דבר נאה ומתקבל. ולא ישא בת עם הארץ – משל לענבי הגפן בענבי הסנה, דבר כעור ואינו מתקבל.

That is, it is taught in a baraita that one should sell everything he has and marry the daughter of a Torah scholar [and do remember that it is sages writing this], and marry his daughter to a Torah scholar. This is like planting grapes among grapevines; it is fitting and fruitful. And one should not marry the daughter of an ignoramus; this is like planting grapes among scrub, it is distasteful and not fruitful.

So serving grapes at the wedding is commenting that this is a fitting and fruitful match involving a Torah scholar.

Menu item 17 (note that 17 isn’t written י”ז as it usually is, it’s written טוב; I think that’s rather nice): Black coffee.

Explanation 17: I am black and comely, says Song of Songs 1.

Menu item 18: Champagne.

Explanation 18: This is another bit where you really really need to go learn the whole section of Talmud (Shabbat 67a). It’s just fascinating; it’s talking about things which are and are not forbidden on account of being darchei ha’emori–irreligious shtick non-Jews do, unfitting for Jews. For instance, peeing in front of a pot to hasten its cooking is forbidden because it’s darchei ha’emori, but putting a chip of mulberry wood in it is fine.

Saying “Wine and life according to the rabbis!” is another thing that’s not forbidden. Rashi seems to be saying that “Wine and life!” is a general thing the non-Jews say when drinking wine, but if you add “according to the rabbis” that makes it kosher.

So the champagne course here wishes the couple a blessed and frum life.

Note that the family have put in a lot of effort to get the number of menu items up to 18, to the extent of quoting a non-Jewish proverb for item 15. I assume this is because 18 is the number associated with life, luck, etc.

ABD Wasserman said “I don’t know; was Chai a thing then?” and the answer appears to be yes it was; not the yud-chet symbol people wear on necklaces and whatever, but the idea that 18 is a good number, especially for donations, seems to have been around since the early chasids, if not before. So 18 is probably no coincidence, and is yet another symbolic element on this menu.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger image.

Catalogue reference DR6-L6 is a menu from someone’s wedding. We’ll see the front today, and the inside next time.

בעהי”ת By the grace of God
פרי עץ הדר—זו שרה (ויק”ר ל’) “Beautiful Tree-Fruit”–this is Sarah (Vayikra Raba 30)
מנוי מזונות Menu of Foods

(Compare the blessing for snacks, בורא מיני מזונות)

לשולחן ליל התקדש חג שמחת החתונה For the table of the night entering a holiday, the celebration of the wedding

(Isaiah 30:29, הַשִּׁיר יִהְיֶה לָכֶם, כְּלֵיל הִתְקַדֶּשׁ-חָג; וְשִׂמְחַת לֵבָב, כַּהוֹלֵךְ בֶּחָלִיל, לָבוֹא בְהַר-יְהוָה, אֶל-צוּר יִשְׂרָאֵל. That song will be like the night entering a holiday, and heart’s-joy, when one walks serenaded, to go to the mountain of God, to the Rock of Israel. “Leyl hitkadesh hag” usually means Pesach, since that’s the only festival where we celebrate the night with serenading.)

של שרה בת יהושע זליג לבית פרסיץ Of Sarah, daughter of Joshua Zelig, of the Peretz house
עב”ג עם בן גילה: with her partner
אלכסנדר בהרב דוקטור שלמה כרלבך (א”ך) Alexander, son of Rabbi Doctor Shlomo Carlebach (“AC”)

(No, not that Carlebach. His grandfather, actually.)

יום ג’ ח’ טבת שנת צדיק יאכל לשבע לפ”ק Tuesday, 8 Tevet, year “A righteous man shall eat to satisfaction”

Compare Proverbs 13:25, צדיק אוכל לשבע נפשו, The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul. This is a chronogram; if you add up all the numeric values of the letters, you get 667. לפ”ק means “the little numbers,” i.e. “if you can’t figure out which millennium we mean, we aren’t going to tell you”, so the year’s 5667 Jewish, or 1907.

The Carlebachs are an old German-Jewish dynasty. Reading some of the Wikipedia pages about other members of the Carlebach family is interesting; here’s Joseph, one of Alexander’s younger brothers, and here’s Ephraim. He had seven brothers and four sisters, total, and four of his brothers, as well as his father, were rabbis. Our Alexander was a banker.

In the next post, we’ll see the elements of his wedding feast. I’ll tell you now that it contains a huge quantity of rabbinic allusion; I wonder if he came up with it himself, or whether it was a family effort, all those rabbinical brothers planning it in collaboration. And what they did for the other brothers’ weddings, whose menus didn’t make it into the JTS Rare Book Room. And whether they had fun planning it. And whether Sarah liked it.

Next time, we’ll see what they ate.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

Adar 1, 5698
To the Jewish storekeepers and residents of the West Side in the vicinity of West 59th Street and West 125th Street, New York City.

Dear storekeepers;
It is your religious duty not to transact your business on SHABOS or JEWISH HOLY DAYS. Therefore it is advisable that you have your stores closed on Shabos and Jewish Holy Days. Jewish people who presumptuously and willingly profane the Shabos or Jewish Holy Days are considered as CRIMINALS in Jewish law.

Recently there was a campaign to build a MIKVAH at 158 West 97th Street
Dear Jewish people;- It is your duty to help build and upkeep this Mikvah. More information can be gotten regarding this Mikvah by any local rabbi of a synagogue.

It is also your duty to help organize and maintain a YESHIVA in this vicinity as was done in YORKVILLE, on East 85th Street, New York City.

It is also your duty to organize and maintain a FREE JEWISH SHELTERING HOUSE בית הכנסת אורחים in this vicinity and also such a house in Harlem, where poor Jewish people shall be able to receive KOSHER food and lodging free of charge.

I don’t like being told that it’s my duty to organise things, personally. Seems like the more you accommodate that, the more you end up organising, and the people doing all the shouting never seem to want to help.

However, happily, there is a yeshiva in the vicinity of 59th St. Yeshivat Hadar, at 69th St. Full-time, part-time, and summer learning. Check them out.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

I’m not exactly sure what this one is. It says festiggiandosile nozze at the top; looks like a poem, or perhaps a song, but it’s in Italian so I don’t know really. For a wedding, I know nozze.

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

I’m dispatching it here because I liked the multimedia aspect. You can see the poem part is handwritten on paper, but then the paper is pasted to a satin frame, and the join is covered by fabric leaves and ribbon roses.

Note how the leaves have held their green colour but the roses, once red or pink, have faded almost beyond recognition. Lightfast red dyes were jolly hard to do before advances in chemistry in the nineteenth century.

Anyway, something to consider for you fabric artists.

The call number’s nsh2, from drawer 4 again.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

Somewhere in drawer 4, but I didn’t note the reference. Two little snippets, today.

One random prettything:

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger image.

Note how you can take segments of the image and stick them together to make a slightly different look.

The other thing is vocabulary; often you see נ”י after a name, and it’s clearly an honorific, but I’ve never been quite sure what it means. Someone said “Maybe Ner Yisrael?” (Light of Israel) but here it’s Nero Yair (his light should shine). I should have noted the reference for time and place. Oh well.

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger image.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 23rd, 2012 03:54 pm)

This is one of my favourite letter-halakhot, from the rules of how to make straight nun:
animated nun

אות נו”ן פשוטה תואר צורתה כמו זיי”ן וג’ תגין על ראשה אך שהיא ארוכה כשיעור שתהא ראויה להעשות נו”ן כפופה אם תכפפנה Its form is like a zayin, with three tagin on its head, but it is long, such that one could make bent nun out of it if it were bent round…

And from the rules of straight khaf, clarifying the point[ref]Testing to see if Side Matter works nicely[/ref]:

שאין חילוק בין פשוטה לכפופה רק שזה פשוטה וזה כפופה… …there is no difference between the straight and bent form save that one is straight and one is bent…

Many people have difficulty visualising (and remembering) this. I hope that the animation displayed here will help.

My favourite favourite letter halakaha, though, has to do with tagin.

Tagin on right head of tzaddiTzaddi with taginThe very best sorts of people do mitzvot as soon as the opportunity presents itself, correct? And we read Hebrew from right to left, so surely we should put tagin on the right-hand head of letters such as tzaddi, which have more than one head? Like the image at left, in fact.

We don’t, though. We put them on the left-hand head, like the image at right. Why’s that?

Because if you put them on the right-hand head, they’d fall off. (Keset haSofer, 5:2, letter tet.)

Tzaddi and taggin

And this is why we make the right-hand heads curvy and upward-tilted.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 18th, 2012 09:59 am)

What does it mean to write? is a question that has always been part of the Torah-writing rules. Could you, for instance, embroider the Torah? Is that writing? What about carving letters into plaster-covered monoliths? Embossing them onto metal headbands? What about printing? Jewish communal narrative recognises these processes as producing letters, more or less, but also recognises that this is not how people normally write: you wouldn’t embroider your account book, and if you were embroidering accounts you wouldn’t say you were writing. Experientially, producing letters is not necessarily the same as writing.

By axiom, the Written Torah has to be written, and if it’s going to be a proper written document, it needs to be properly written. It’s got to be produced by someone having the experience of writing, not someone simply having the experience of doing embroidery or whatever.

But for your average North American Jew, the experience of writing involves a keyboard. It makes absolute intuitive sense that computers would feature in any act of writing, not excluding that of writing a Torah. Computers are how we write things. Handwritten material is positively extraordinary; the skill of penmanship is practically unknown. No-one would expect to see an embroidered book; similarly, people frequently assume Torah scrolls are printed – no-one expects to see a handwritten book. Intuitively, it makes a twisted sort of sense that the Torah should be typed.

Fortunately, we don’t take it that far; even though typing is the more common writing experience these days, pen-and-ink is still, culturally, the more authentic writing experience. Pen-and-ink is associated with real writing in a way that typing is not.

Indeed, way way back in the days of the first Torahs when literacy was limited to an elite few, a Torah scroll – a written document – probably had an air of mystique about it simply because so few people could write, so few people could conceive of producing one. Nowadays also, a Torah has mystique by virtue of being written, because again so few people can write in this way.

An interesting example of history coming full circle, there. Writing the Torah starts as a skill limited to a small group of people; as literacy spreads but before printing is invented, writing sifrei Torah becomes less remote, such that some authorities even equate sifrei Torah with printed books containing Torah material. Then, once printing is ubiquitous, writing again becomes a rare skill and Torahs are elevated back into the inaccessible.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.


This is based on a talk I gave a few weeks ago, on Shabbat Bereshit. It concerns the reading for the second year of the triennial cycle, which starts in chapter 4, in which God creates beings with plurality, male and female.

זה ספר תולדות אדם ביום ברוא אלקים את האדם בדמות אלקים עשה אותו, זכר ונקבה בראם, ויברך אותם ויקרא את שמם אדם ביום הבראם
This is the book of the generations of mankind. On the day that Elohim created mankind, in the image of elohim he made it; male and female he made them. And he blessed them, and he called their name mankind on the day of their creation.

In the sefer Bet Haverim read from this year, the first letter of the paragraph looks like the image at left, ordinary zayin.

In their new sefer, the first letter looks like the image at right. The zayin has a little curl on its right-hand side.

This new sefer has a lot of little annotations like this. The annotations invite you to look deeper.

The phrase These are the generations of… crops up a number of times in the Torah. What’s different about this one? Well, Nachmanides thinks that Ze sefer means the entire Torah; this book which tells the history of mankind from its beginning. The Talmudic sage Ben Azzai thinks that this verse is the most important verse in the entire Torah, because it contains the foundations of all morality (against Hillel, who thinks Love thy neighbour as thyself is the most important, but we digress).
You see also that this verse has two instances of the word Elohim, which normally look like the image above, but in this new sefer looks like the image below: two letters in the word have multiple tagin on them.

One commentator says these may be functioning as delete marks; if you ignore the letters marked up by the tagin, you are left with the singular word El, making the point that although Elohim seems to be a plural word, you should be in no doubt that it is a singular quantity. In context, this could be a commentary on the nature of the beings created by God; although the language suggests that they are plural (compare the interpretation that says originally these beings were multi-gendered dual-body creatures which were separated only at a later date), you should make no mistake that they were actually singular.

Tagin also invite us to think about additions, rather than deletions. What does a set of three tagin bring to mind? Maybe it invites us to look for threes. For instance, look in the verse, at the letters following the three instances of the word adam. Alef-bet, alef-bet, alef-bet. Av, av, av. Three fathers. What other threes come to mind?

We’re asking what might be hinted at by three tagin on top of the regular letters. This might remind us of pardes–peshat, remez, drash, sod–and the three extra exegetical layers which ride above the plain text.

You might ask why all this exegesis is necessary. Why not just write it all out explicitly? Surely that would be easier. Well, one answer is that God was being merciful–has hakadosh barukh hu al mamonam shel yisrael–if it was all written out explicitly, it would be all but impossible to fulfil the mitzvah of ketivah sefer Torah.

Which sounds like a joke, until you consider the Talmud, which is the fifth-century attempt to do just that, write everything down explicitly, and how many complete copies of the Talmud–the central text of rabbinic Judaism–survived the Middle Ages? One. Just one. The bigger the book, the harder it is to ensure its survival.

So the traditions of extra tagin serve as easy-to-write reminders of extra content. Footnote markers, a hint that something extra is going on. The challenge is to remember the footnotes, a challenge which we have largely failed at this point.

So in our verse, what’s going on? To explain one idea, first we need to talk about the mechanics of writing God’s name.

Before writing the combination of letters representing God’s name, a scribe has to have the intention that God is the subject. Consider the letter string alef-lamed; sometimes it means God, sometimes it means a god in general, sometimes it means towards, sometimes it means don’t. Before you write it, you need to know which it is; we say it’s the thought that counts and the scribes’ code takes that literally.

Generally, the meaning is clear from context; it is holy, or it isn’t. But sometimes it isn’t clear. Sometimes it’s ambiguous, and will remain so till the coming of Elijah. In our verse, the first Elohim has the status of definitely-holy, and the second has the status of permanently-ambiguous. Was man really created in the literal image of God?

Consider those three fathers, above; one opinion thinks that the three fathers were created in the literal image of God, but subsequent generations were not. We also find these tagin in the first paragraphs of the first creation story, where three tagin emphasise hu v’lo malakh, hu v;lo saraf, hu v’lo shaliach–words we recognise from the Passover liturgy: He and not an angel; He and not a seraph; He and not a messenger. It’s possible that the tagin here, on the ambiguous Elohim, are a tradition expressing an opinion on the question.

There are a great many threes that three tagin could be hinting at. We’ll finish with another three, the three judges on a bet din. Elohim means judge, and the commentator Sforno says that our verse means mankind was created baal bechira, a master of choice, a possessor of free will. Three tiny lines serve as a powerful reminder of humanity’s capabilities and responsibilities.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 1st, 2012 05:11 pm)

We had Weather here this week. You might have heard something about it in the news. My bit of Manhattan is fine, so am I, and so is your Torah. Despite our apartment building swaying in the wind, which is unnerving because we aren’t Californians and therefore not used to buildings wobbling about.

These scrolls were not so lucky.

These scrolls were in a mandatory evacuation zone in a low-lying part of Brooklyn. The owners decided not to evacuate, or even to move their scrolls up to the second floor despite warnings of once-in-a-lifetime flooding, and this is what happened. The scrolls are ruined and probably cannot be repaired.

(If your scrolls get wet, do not lay them out like this. It will not help. Layer them flat back and forth in zigzags interleaved with kitchen paper and stack heavy weights on top to keep the sheets flat. Cut the seams if necessary.)

Star Apprentice puts it best: “We had a fire drill last week, and I noticed that it’s no-one’s job to evacuate the Torahs. It would be bad if we had a fire and the Torahs got burned or wet. The fire drill plan should include evacuating the Torahs. I’m going to do something about that.”

This is a post first for CBH, my current client, but I’m cross-posting because plenty of other Jews read this. If you find the above image upsetting, but your fire drill, hurricane plan, or other natural disaster preparation routine doesn’t feature your Torah scrolls, you should be asking yourselves why.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.


In this week’s parasha, water covers the face of the earth, so I’m going to share some pictures of various kinds of damage water can do to Torah scrolls.

Water damage happens from leaky roofs, but it also happens from sweat and spit, and from being stored in damp or humid locations. Wrapping a scroll tightly in plastic is a bad idea, because whatever moisture is trapped inside the plastic (and there will be some) will not be able to dry off.

If you’re very lucky, your water damage will only make the letters a little bit fuzzy and hard to read.
This is damage from sweat droplets. Fortunately, the rabbi had a tissue handy, and mopped up most of the sweat right away, before it had time to soak into the parchment. Multiple letters still needed repairing; when ink spreads such that letters touch each other, they’re not kosher any more and have to be repaired.
Water damage often causes ugly discolouration, and sometimes there is not much we can do about that. Also, sometimes the words are impossible to repair, because the water has made ink spread all through the parchment.
Here, water damage has caused the parchment to wrinkle. Removing wrinkles can sometimes be attempted, but it isn’t cheap. Wrinkles are bad for the parchment; they make it much more likely to tear. They also make life hard for the reader.
This sefer was stored for a long time in a damp location. The coating on the back of the scroll stuck to the letters, and when the scroll was opened, the letters peeled off. This scroll will have to be mostly rewritten.
To avoid water damage, consider keeping your sefarim in an environment with a dehumidifier. If your readers are prone to sweating, buy them headbands. Keep tissues on the bima in case of accidents. Don’t keep sefarim in closets built into external walls; such closets are generally damp. Generally remember that Torah scrolls are quite delicate when it comes to water, and act accordingly.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 5th, 2012 11:46 am)

During Sukkot, one doesn’t write Torah. So instead, I’ve been making other fun things, and this week’s post is a shameless plug for said things.

Postcards. Inspired by the illuminators of the Middle Ages, this series illustrates each letter of the Hebrew alphabet with awesome borders, yummy patterns, and the most darling little animals. Here’s the full set.

These postcards are 4×6 inches on heavy card stock – they look jolly nice framed, or they do actually work as real postcards, not that anyone really sends postcards these days, but in principle, you know.

I’m coming to CBH next week, so I decided to make a special offer for CBH people. Postcard set $15, which I’ll bring to the synagogue on my visit, provided you order before 11.59pm (Pacific time) on Thursday October 11th.

And here are some of the other things I’ve been up to:

Calligraphy is fun.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 28th, 2012 10:38 am)

View from the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary; ground-staff building a sukkah, ink-bottle in foreground.

We like working in the library, my apprentice and I. She has a big scroll of Torah that she’s repairing, and I have one sheet of Torah that I’m writing. There’s a part of the library which has great light and huge tables, so we meet there and work together.

Sometimes people come by and ask questions. Occasionally we inspire an undergraduate; last week one asked “Do you have to go to grad school to do this?” and could not quite believe that with hard work and diligence, you can sidestep the grad school part of having an interesting career entirely.

Generally the apprentice, with her huge scroll, attracts more attention than I do. So she gets to do all the impromptu teaching, and I just get on with writing.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.


In parashat Nitzavim we read:

הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַיקֹוָק אֱלֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת:
Concealed acts are the responsibility of the Lord our God [to judge]; but overt acts are the responsibility of us and our children unto eternity, to carry out all the words of this Torah.

In the Torah scroll, it appears thus:

Let’s start with the dot over the ע of עד, unto. Why is only half the word dotted?

עד is a word suggesting continuity, time extending uninterrupted forever. A dot on one of the word’s only two letters breaks it up, brings the continuity to a stop. We are reminded of the distinction between this world and the world to come – the words לנו ולבנינו, us and our children, are obscured as if to say, we may not know the secret things now, but in the world to come they will be revealed. We simply have to do the best we can now with what we know.

If we don’t read the phrase לנו ולבנינו, us and our children, the verse starts “Concealed acts are the responsibility of the Lord our God, and overt acts also.” While the children of Israel are still in the wilderness, they are not wholly responsible beings; God is concerned with both their public and private acts and will dispense judgement, like a parent. Once they cross over the Jordan, though [Rashi], into their promised homeland, they have to take collective ownership of their actions. Now they are adults with autonomy. They have a responsibility to maintain law and order among themselves as best they can.

This is the longest run of dots in the Torah, eleven of them, and immediately before the dots is an eleven-letter phrase – ליהוה אלהינו. As we’ve seen, we don’t ever erase God’s name. We avoid even a suggestion of doing such a thing, so we wouldn’t put those eleven dots above ליהוה אלהינו. But the association is there; is it coincidence that there are exactly the right number of dots for ליהוה אלהינו, put in right next to the phrase, on the next available words? What if we read the verse without God? Then it reads “Concealed acts and overt acts are the responsibility of us and our children unto eternity…”

This means that we have responsibility for each other, helping each other obey the rules and do mitzvot – and we also have responsibility for ourselves. Each individual has to keep the laws, technical and ethical, as best they can, in public and in private. God is still there, to forgive us if we do something bad completely unknowingly, but we have to do the best we can by ourselves.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.