I thought you might like to see this picture. This gentleman is a sofer (pr. “so-fair”) — he’s examining the eleven Torah scrolls at my synagogue. Part of it is checking the scroll’s physical condition (as they are written on hides) and also checking the text to see if there are any cracks, flakes, or missing parts in any letters — and there are 304,805 letters to check. You can see from the picture above that the scroll isn’t even unwound half-way. That’s a lot of reading!
One of the reasons that Torahs are checked so meticulously is that if you’re reading a Torah, and you find a missing or incomplete letter, you must put that Torah away and not use it until it is corrected.
Torahs are written by hand by qualified individuals, meaning they have years and years and years of experience. There is a special ink that’s used and a special type of quill that makes the letters.
Each Torah contains the entire text in Hebrew of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis – Deuteronomy) which we know as the Five Books of Moses because it’s tradition that Moses wrote these at G-d’s instruction. Part of the tradition holds that even though the last verses of Deuteronomy discuss Moses’ death, Moses even wrote those, crying.
As you can imagine, Torahs cost many tens of thousands of dollars to commission. The Torah that you see above is over two hundred years old.
At each Shabbat Saturday morning service, and a couple of other times during the week at minyan, and other holidays, we take out the Torah and read it from a special table at the front of our sanctuary. The congregation follows along in a book that has both the Hebrew, and English translation. My husband and his brother are both good Torah readers (I am not. At all.). During the course of a year, we go all the way from the first verse of the Torah to the last.
This Torah below is in a special case at my synagogue. It’s known as a ‘Holocaust Torah’ because the Nazis collected a great amount of Judaica and stored it in Prague for what they figured would be a museum to the extinct race. There are about 1800 Torahs from that stash that have been permanently loaned to congregations around the world as a way to commemorate the Holocaust.
If you look closely (and can read Hebrew) you can see that it’s currently open to the ‘Song at the Red Sea’ which is in the book of Exodus. This is what the Israelites sang after escaping the Egyptians.