© 2003-2010 Torah Tots, Inc.

What is a Sefer Torah?

What is a Sefer Torah?

The Sefer Torah - a Torah Scroll, contains The Five Books of Moshe Rabaynu (Moses our teacher), hand written on parchment [animal skin]. It is the holiest of all books of Tanach.

A Sefer Torah is kept in the Ark in the Shul [Synagogue], and portions are read from it publicly on Shabbat, Yom Tov (Holidays), Fast Days, Mondays, and Thursdays during prayers, and only in the presence of a minyan (quorum of ten Jewish males above the age of thirteen).

What is read?

The Torah is divided into Parshiot (Torah portions) (parsha, singular), which are generally three to five Perakim (chapters) in length.
The Five Books of Moshe Rabaynu
















The Parshiot are read, from the Sefer Torah, in order, each Shabbat throughout the year, in a yearly cycle which begins and ends on Simchat Torah (the holiday which follows Sukkot). With a few exceptions, (as after some holidays in Eretz Yisroel), every synagogue in the world will be reading the same Parsha on any given Shabbat. Various men in the synagogue are called to come forward and read from the Torah. This is called "getting an Aliyah" (Lit. going up, ascent). Typically the man going forward recites a Bracha (blessing) before and after the Torah reading, but lets the Ba'al Koray, Rabbi or Cantor read from the Torah in his stead. There are usually seven "aliyot" (plural of "aliyah") per service, plus the maftir, who reads the final Torah passage and the Haftorah (a selected reading from the Prophets).

On Mondays and Thursdays, during morning prayers, only the first section of the weekly Parsha is read, with three aliyot per service.

On Holidays and Fast Days, special passages outside the cycle of reading are read.

How is the Torah read?

A Ba'al Koray will chant the Torah reading. He uses additional symbols, called Trop or Ta'ameem . Like vowel points, they appear above or below the letters, and they act as musical symbols, indicating which of the several melodies should be used. The symbols can found in many printed editions of the Torah. There are different tunes for the Torah (Books of Moshe) and Haftarah (Prophets), and each of the writings.

There is general agreement about the specific trop symbols which apply to the words of the Torah, but many different tunes, and versions of tunes, by which the trop are sung. Sephardic, Ashkenazi, and other Jewish sects have different cantillation tunes.

Since the Torah scrolls have neither vowel points or Ta'ameem, it is challenging to learn to read from a Sefer Torah, which contains no vowels, and even more challenging to chant Torah, because one must know not only the proper vowels, but the musical notation, as well. A Ba'al Koray generally prepares from a "tikkun" (literally meaning "repair", "restore", "correction" or "improvement"), a specially printed book with two columns on each page. One column contains a printed vocalized text of the Torah, with vowels and trop (cantillation) marks. The Ba'al Koray preparing to read or chant the Torah learns the text from this column. In the facing column is a photographic reproduction of the same text (one column's worth) from a hand-written Sefer Torah. The Ba'al Koray preparing a Torah portion practices from this column after studying the printed column.

Sample passage from a Tikkun

The Ba'al Koray may uses a pointer called a yad (literally "hand"). A yad is usually a fancy metal or wood "stick" with a hand and a pointing finger on the end. Contact of the words on the Torah scroll with the oils, greases, and chemicals on the human hand can be harmful to the letters, and also forbidden.
Yad (Pointer)

How is a Sefer Torah made?

The Sefer Torah is written by a Sofer, special trained for this holy task, on sheets of parchment.

The Sofer prepares parchment sheets.

Kosher Parchment called Klaf must be prepared specifically for that purpose (ie. the klaf for a Torah cannot be used for Tefillin, and vice versa). The parchment must derive from a kosher animal, usually a goat, bull /cow, or deer. The Klaf is meticulously prepared by the Sofer, who first soaks the skin in lime water for nine days to remove hairs, and then stretches the skin over a wooden frame to dry. The Sofer scrapes the skin while it is stretched over the wooden frame to remove more hair and smooths the surface of the skin in preparation for writing on it with the use of a sanding machine. When the skin is dry, the Sofer cuts it into a rectangle. The Sofer must prepare many such skins because a Sefer Torah usually contains 248 columns, and one rectangle of parchment yields space for three or four columns. Thus a Sefer Torah may require approx. 80 or more skins in all.

Finally, When the parchment sheets are ready, the Sofer applies a straight edge to draw a writing pattern - usually forty two horizontal lines across the parchment and two vertical lines defining the boundaries for each column. He also leaves a blank space between the area designed for writing and the margin - (according to the tradition, it has to be five fingers wide). Thus, a Sofer will have at least three to four columns on each piece of parchment - called amudim (amud - a column). In general, there should be no less than three amudim on one yeriah (sheet or folio) and not more than eight. There must be a margin of three inches on the top, four inches at the bottom, and two inches between columns. Now the parchment is waiting for the writing process to start.

The Sofer prepares quills and ink.

The Sofer makes quills for writing a Sefer Torah. The feathers must come from a kosher bird, and the goose or turkey are the birds of choice. The Sofer carefully and patiently carves a point in the end of the feather and uses many quills in the course of writing one Sefer Torah. A special quill is used only for G-d's four letter name. The Sofer also prepares ink for writing the Sefer Torah by combining a blend of powdered gall nuts, copper sulfate crystals, gum arabic, and water, preparing only a small amount at a time, so that the ink will always be fresh. Fresh ink is a deep black, and only this is acceptable for writing a Sefer Torah.

The Sofer 's writing begins.

Once the materials are prepared, the Sofer visits the mikvah in preparation for such holy work, and prays that the holy work about to be undertaken will be imbued with the sanctity in the Sofer 's heart. While at work, the Sofer is a vehicle for Hashem's holy words and thus intense concentration and cognizance of the sanctity of the work are critically important. It takes a professional Sofer almost a year to write on parchment more than a quarter of a million letters. The Sofer is not allowed to write from memory. The Sofer has to look into the text of a Chumash that has been thoroughly checked to be an accurate copy or a Tikkun for each next letter, concentrating himself on the holiness and significance of each of the letters of the Sefer Torah. The Torah can only be written in a special square script called K'tav Ashuri. Although Hebrew is read and written from right to left, the Sofer forms each individual letter starting from left to right, checking each word from the Tikkun, singing each word, each letter, out loud. Seven of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet are given a special design. Called tagin, they are flourishes, three small upward strokes resembling crowns. There is a Talmudic tale that describes how Moshe once ascended to heaven to find G-d occupied with affixing tagin on the letters of the Torah. For the story, click here.

The scroll may contain no errors whatsoever. While some mistakes may be corrected by scraping off the ink of a letter made in error with a knife or a pumice stone and rewriting it, if a mistake is made in writing any of the names of Hashem, no correction may be made because G-d's name may not be erased. The entire sheet of parchment must be buried or placed in a genizah, and the Sofer must begin that section of the Torah again. Once the sheets of parchment are completed, the scribe checks them each three times with the help of someone else who uses a Tikkun.

The Sofer sews the sheets together and attaches the wooden rollers.

When the writing is complete, the Sofer sews the individual pieces of parchment together using a thread called giddin which is made from the leg sinews of a kosher animal, most commonly a cow, a sheep, or an ox. The Sofer makes one stitch every six lines of text, sewing the backs of the parchment sheets, so that the stitches are not visible from the front. Then the scroll is sewn onto wooden rollers called Atzei Chayim (trees of life)(plural of Etz Chayim). The Torah is then dressed and ready to be dedicated in a Jewish community in a special celebration called a 'Siyyum Torah.'

Torah Ornaments.

The Torah is dressed and decorated because it is holy and is considered the core of Hashem's communication with Bnei Yisroel (The Children of Israel, i.e. The Jewish People). The tops of the wooden rollers of the Sefer Torah are often decorated either with rimonim or adorned with silver or gold crowns which covers both rollers, symbolizing G-d's sovereignty. It emphasizes the metaphor of the Keter (crown) of the Torah.The Torah is sometimes adorned with a breastplate, while richly decorated mantles cover and protect it.

A few more basic facts about a Sefer Torah.

  • A Sefer Torah must be written by a Sofer (a specially trained scribe).
  • All materials used for the Sefer Torah must be Kosher.
  • There are over 4000 laws a Sofer must know before he starts writing the Sefer Torah!
  • There are 304,805 letters in a Sefer Torah.
  • If only one letter is missing the whole Torah is Pasul (not Kosher).
  • One letter from 304,805 is - 0.000328%!!!
  • If there is an extra letter it is also Pasul.
  • Substituting one letter with another is also NO good.
  • 99% Kosher = 100% Pasul (not Kosher).
  • There are 248 ammudim (pages) in a Sefer Torah.
  • Each page has 42 lines.
  • Even the spacing between words & paragraphs must be exact.
About the letters.
  • No letter may touch another one.
  • Even in the letter itself - it may not touch itself only where it should.
  • There are 22 letters and 5 final letters.
  • The most common letter in the Torah is aYud = 31,530 occurences.
  • The least common letter in the Torah is aTet = 1,802 occurences.
  • The most common final letter in the Torah isFinal Mem (Sofit) =10,623 occurences.
  • The least common final letter in the Torah isFinal Feh
  • (Sofit) = 834 occurences.
The writing style.
  • There is a special writing style with "crowns" (crows-foot-like marks coming up from the upper points) on many of the letters. This style of writing is known as STA"M (an abbreviation for "Sifrei Torah, Tefillin and Mezuzot," which is where you will see that style of writing. For more information about the STA"M alphabet, including illustrations and relevant rules, see Hebrew Alphabet used in writing STA"M.

The materials used for the Sefer Torah.

  • The Torah must be hand written on Parchment [animal skin].
  • The parchment - must be made from a Kosher animal.
  • The ink - all ingredients used must be Kosher or synthetic.
  • The ink must be black (not dark blue or any other color).
  • The giddin (thread) used to sew the parchments together must be made from the veins of a (Kosher) animal, and is specially treated for this purpose.
  • The quill [the pen] must be from a Kosher bird - usually a goose or turkey.
The Sofer - Scribe.
  • He must be Bar Mitzvah (13 years old) [some say even married].
  • Must be fluent and tested in all the laws of Safrut - (laws of writing the Torah).
  • Must be a certified Sofer.
  • Must write with his right hand or left if he is a lefty.
  • Must have the proper intention, when writing the Torah and especialy when writing
    G-d's name.

  top of page

home |  about us |  parsha on parade |  jewish holidays |  learning is fun |  hear the music |  gift shop |  guestbook |  links 

site map

is a trademark of/and
© 1996-2010
by Torah Tots, Inc.
All rights reserved.
World Wide Web address..... http://www.torahtots.com
Email address.....info@torahtots.com

Designed by R.A. Stone Design Associate
HI-TECH Computers, Inc. (718) 253-9698
Email address.....info@hitechcomputers.com
Page last updated - 12/24/2009