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Congregation Beth El has five Torah scrolls (Sifrei Torah). Each has its own story and stands as a witness to history, both ancient and modern. The writings in the Torah scrolls consist of the Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch), and are read from at every Shabbat and holiday service. The Torah scrolls reside in the ark (Aron Hakodesh) on the eastern side of our sanctuary. One Torah scroll is kept in the ark in the Beit Midrash.

The Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther), which is read on the holiday of Purim, is also kept in the ark.






Each Torah scroll consists of two poles (eitz chayim) that hold the parchment (klaf) on which the Torah is written. The klaf is made from the hide of a kosher animal, most commonly calfskin, but goat, or deer can also be used. Between  62 and 84 separate panels of klaf are stitched together to make up an entire Torah scroll.

Every Torah scroll must be identical in content. The scrolls are written by a highly trained Sofer, or scribe, who must know over 4000 Jewish laws before they are qualified. The letters (all 304,805 of them) are written by hand using a feather or reed-pen and special ink. Torahs being written today have 245 columns of text, each containing exactly 42 lines. The writing style is also very specific and must be in one of several variations of Assyrian or Beautiful Script (Ktav Ashurit). Torah scrolls are meticulously checked for accuracy, and the process of removing and correcting even a single “typo” is a major effort. A single error or even a misshapen letter in the wrong place can render the entire scroll unkosher. It typically takes 12 to 18 months for a Sofer to write a Torah. Writing a Torah is a commandment itself. In fact, it is the last mitzvah written in the Torah—every Jew is commanded to write a Sefer Torah in their lifetime (Devarim 31:19). Contributing funds to purchase or repair a Torah is considered to be a way to fulfill that mitzvah today.


Each Sefer Torah is wrapped with a sash called a gartel that holds the rolled scroll together. Over the scroll is the mantel or “Torah cloak” that both protects the Torah and enhances its beauty while sitting in the ark. At the High Holy Days, beginning on S’lichot, we dress the Torahs into white mantels in honor of the sacred season. Some of our scrolls wear a shield or breastplate. These silver ornaments are works of art themselves, and contain historical Jewish imagery, such as lions, crowns, and the Ten Commandments.

It is important never to touch the surface of a Torah with our hands, as the oils from our fingers can damage the parchment and as the letters can also be easily damaged. Instead, we use a pointer when reading. Often, the pointer is shaped like a hand with an extended index finger (called a yad). On top of the Torahs rest the silver crowns or rimonim (bells). The sound of the bells is not intended to be musical--rather, it alerts the congregation that the Torah is being removed from the Ark, and that the time has come to stand and prepare for the Torah reading. Like the shield, the crowns themselves are works of art designed to enhance the beauty of the Torah, and have no other ritual purpose.

Wed, May 29 2024 21 Iyar 5784