16th Century Sefer Torah from Isfahan, Persia

16th century

This Sefer Torah from Isfahan, Persia is hand scribed on deerskin leather in two major fragments which have been sewn together. The longer scroll begins with Exodus 14:28 (second half of verse) and runs through the beginning of Deuteronomy. The shorter scroll begins with Deuteronomy 4:14 and runs through the end of it.  The scroll is missing all of Genesis and the first part of Exodus.  The rollers (atzei chaim) are made of plexiglas.

The scroll was stored as in a “Genizah” (literally: “storing”), a place for storing books or ritual objects which have become unusable.  The Hebrew word is derived from the Persian ginzakh (“treasury”), the root meanings of which are to conceal, hide or preserve.

This particular Sefer Torah is not Kosher for two reasons: there is a correction that was made to one of the lines (depicted in later photographs), and much of the script letters are broken and cracked. 

Identifer: CJF.2009.001.227


Items on Display; Torah & Its Ornaments

University of Cincinnati Hillel Collection

The Sefer Torah, or scroll containing the five Books of Moses, is the most sacred of all Jewish books.  It is usually written on parchment, by a specialist called a Sofer, according to strict rules, using a stylus and ruler and a tikkun (guide), and a book with a Torah text. A Torah scroll is treated with special sanctity and reverence. 

 To ensure that the letters will be straight, and the lines equally spaced, 43 thin lines are drawn across the width of the page with a stylus and ruler, leaving specifically prescribed margins.  The lines are end-stopped with the stylus to ensure that all lines are ended equally.  Since the beginning of the 19th century, a standard pattern was established of 248 columns of 42 lines each.  The rituals of writing, the sofer’s preparation and the prayers uttered before and after are all fixed by tradition, as are the types of script permitted, the nature of the ink, and the relative size of the letters.  Finished pages are sewn together with a type of thread made of animal tendon, then affixed to wooden rollers by inserting the thread into holes drilled in them for that purpose. These rollers, called atzei chaim (trees of life) are usually terminated by flat disks with wooden handles, to avoid touching the parchment with the bare hands.

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