WHAT IS A SOFER?… AND… MY OWN STORY SO FAR… AND… HOW YOU CAN HELP!
A Sofer is a Jewish scribe who is involved in the Mitzvah of writing Sifrei Torah, Mezuzot, Tefillin and Megillot as well as other important Halachic documents.
All Jewish males over the age of 13 are commanded to fulfill the Mitzvah of wearing Tefillin every day of their lives (except for Shabbat and festivals.) All Jewish homes must have Mezuzot affixed to the right hand side of the doorposts of all rooms (except for bathrooms and various other rooms not included within this Mitzvah.) Every Shabbat, Monday and Thursday, on festivals and various other days of the year – the Torah is read in public provided there are ten adult males over the age of 13 present. The Sefer Torah that is read from is the most basic foundation of all Jewish history and law (not to mention the roots of the entire mystic tradition of the kabbalah.) As the Zohar teaches, Israel, the Torah and G-d are all One. The Torah is the very essence of the life and soul of a Jew.
There are thousands of laws involved in the writing of a Torah and the other texts above – and it can take months and longer to become expert in these laws. In addition to the numerous laws, the Sofer (scribe) must learn how to write the letters in accordance with the various customs. This all takes hours and hours of intensive study. Many don’t realise that the writing of a Mezuzah can take as long as 8 hours to write (this is dependent upon the Sofer, his intentions and of course his basic general speed)! A Sefer Torah can take between one to one and a half years of full time writing!
In addition to the time taken to learn and to practise this specialised art, the Sofer must also be able to afford the costs of the parchment for writing on, an ergonomic desk to write on, as well as the other costs involved. He must learn about the various knots of the Tefillin and how to prepare his quill.
Most importantly – above all this, he must be someone who is a Yerei Shamayim – someone who fears Heaven – after all, if he is going to be involved in such holy work, he must be someone who himself practises what it is that he is writing about!
The last of the 613 commandments of the Torah states that every Jewish male should write for himself a Sefer Torah during his lifetime – though in today’s times the Mitzvah is accepted as being fulfilled through the purchase of Torah books and building one’s own library – a home filled with books!
A couple of years ago I decided I’d like to pursue my dreams of becoming a Sofer. It’s certainly not the money made by Sofrim that caught my attention(!) – since on average, a Sofer does not pursue Safrut for monetary gain – but rather it was due to my love of the Hebrew letters! There is something special about writing letters – and turning a piece of parchment into a vessel of holiness! Both the Talmud and the Zohar speak about the meaning of the letters of the Hebrew Aleph-Beit – and (especially) one already dedicated to a path of Torah and Mitzvot – learning about the letters and coming to write them to bring holiness to others – and to others’ homes, is certainly a next step in Torah growth. At least – it was for me!
Not having the necessary funds to get started in learning / finding a teacher etc. I made a page requesting assistance for financial support. I had inquired from one teacher who was prepared to help me at a fraction of the cost (though I did not know this at the time!) I set up my page (this one – only with the information changed at that time) asking for the amount he had asked for – and was blessed by one person offering the entire amount! I was thrilled to get started with my lessons, but it was not even just a few weeks later that the Sofer took ill and was no longer able to teach me. Inquiring into other options, I then realised that learning would be a lot more expensive than I had first planned things – but I felt I must do everything I could now – with the funds that had been given to me. I found a private Sofer and we had agreed he would teach me everything I needed to know. I got started learning about eighteen months ago. The new Sofer/teacher lived close to me and it seemed the best way to go about things. I did indeed manage to complete learning the laws with the Sofer but did not realise that the amount of lessons this Sofer would require to teach me everything about Safrut – would come to a lot more than I had budgeted for. I was paying per lesson and the funds were used up without my having the chance to progress with the actual writing and preparing of the quill. The Sofer was not prepared to continue with me. It was a long story – and affected me very much. Though the Sofer had worked through the laws with me (see below) he was not prepared to assist me with my writing skills nor in teaching me the way to prepare the quill for writing either. I had spent tens of hours practising my writing – but I still did not know where that left me.
I booked my appointment with the Vaad Mishmeret Stam in Israel to write the examination – the main international organisation involved in centralising the process of studying Safrut and a major worldwide authority. Doing the examination through them meant obtaining the go-ahead indicating my learning was certainly up to scratch! I paid to write the exam and nervously went through to write. Another long story followed as I was told I had failed! Quite a few months later – I found myself explaining to the donor what had happened with my learning – and that ultimately I had not succeeded! The donor suggested being in touch with the Vaad again – as they had never sent me my marked test – and there was really no way of knowing if I had indeed failed or not! My wife plucked up the courage to call on my behalf – and it seemed, a mistake had been made after all – I had passed with flying colours!
Thereafter I was examined orally to see that I knew the material, and passed this examination as well. The Rav had asked for a sample of my writing, and when I told him my story – he gave me the certificate testifying to my knowledge – but asked me to come back when I had a suitable sample – and he would update the certificate indicating he was happy with my actual writing.
It has been almost a year and I have not had the means to hire another Sofer to take me through the final stages of preparing the quill, and for critiquing my writing. I really still want to get through all of this. I had found a well qualified Sofer/Rav with some 40 years experience, who offered to teach me everything I would need – including using the computer programs and other to check STa”M. Being well qualified, his fees per hour are also well above my budget.
I am leaving this page up in the hope to find other donors who may be able to help me to spend the necessary time working through the final stages of my writing, so that I can begin writing STa”M in the near future – with success.
If you would like to know more or take part, please contact me – or alternatively make a sizable donation through any of the “Buy Now” buttons on this page – indicating the reason for the donation. I have also added a button below for convenience. I am always happy to discuss my progress. If you can – become a regular monthly donor – and help me to continue my learning and the work I do. I thank you in advance – and I will certainly thank you again!
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