Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Kosher Parchment

Yesterday, the Memorial Scrolls Trust museum was privileged to receive two visiting sofrim (scribes), who wanted to look at the scrolls currently on display in our main room. They spent the afternoon scrolling through parchments, with dust flying and crumbs falling; and allowed me to sit with them and ask questions. I also took a couple of pictures (with my iPhone in low light), including this one of some small holes pierced in the parchment. The sofer explained that these are a kind of code to show that although the parchment may have been prepared by a non-Jew, it was under the supervision of a Jew who knew how to do it properly, and thus it can be considered acceptable, or kosher.

When I posted the photos on my Facebook page, Sofer Marc Michaels commented:

"This is referenced in Keset Hasofer 2:6 (see my translation below) as there are circumstances when a non Jew can do the processing of the klaf as long as a Jew stands behind him and directs him and days the appropriate declarations - . "When the processing is done by the hand of a non Jew (lit. idolator) one should mark the hides with perforations with an awl, with a letter-like sign and not be concerned afterwards that perhaps he substituted them [i.e. the hides] and forged the signs1 because [the non-Jew] will be afraid [to do so] lest the Jew know by a discerning eye that he has for the signs or because the holes were made more recently [than his]. And there are those that say that one should not mark with an awl rather with letters on the top (i.e. well outside the writing area) in an area not usually processed so it remains after processing (Baruch She'amar). Moreover we must look very carefully after the work for sometimes the idolator puts patches on the holes that were in the skin and these patches are probably from skins that were not prepared for the sake of the commandment (and perhaps also from unclean [animals]). They may be detected after the processing each one against the sun (Machatsit Hashekel paragraph 32:11)." So in all likelihood these skins were prepared by a non-Jew with a Jew standing behind him."

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