How It’s Made: Torah Scroll

Alli­son Ofanan­sky; Eliyahu Alpern, illus.
  • Review
By – March 24, 2017

In a beau­ti­ful­ly illus­trat­ed, high­ly appeal­ing, and edu­ca­tion­al­ly cre­ative offer­ing, author Alli­son Ofanan­sky and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Eliyahu Alpern have pre­sent­ed us with a gift sure to spark any child’s inter­est in the Torah and to answer a myr­i­ad of ques­tions about this spe­cial, sacred scroll which plays such a cen­tral role in our reli­gious life.

The author starts fit­ting­ly with a bit of back­ground, giv­ing a basic expla­na­tion of what the Torah is and remind­ing the read­er that its impor­tance is bound up in the con­cept of its trans­mis­sion through­out the ages. The con­tents must be passed down accu­rate­ly from one gen­er­a­tion to the next to be stud­ied and absorbed if they are to live on. 

She teach­es about the art and craft of the writ­ing of the scroll itself. The read­er learns what a sofer does, what mate­ri­als are used, what must be done in the tra­di­tion­al way and what may some­times be done dif­fer­ent­ly in mod­ern times. She notes that tra­di­tion­al­ly Torah scrolls were writ­ten only by men but here she shows a woman sofer writ­ing a scroll today. A sofer’s need for focus and con­cen­tra­tion while writ­ing is empha­sized and we learn a bit about the Hebrew let­ters as well as about the type of parch­ment used, the type of ink, and the kind of quill used in the for­ma­tion of the letters.

Through­out the book, the author engages the read­er direct­ly draw­ing him or her into the pro­ceed­ings in an active way. She asks the read­er to think, for exam­ple, about the role of tra­di­tion – which parts of tra­di­tion does the child think they might like to keep as is” and which parts might they like to change? She encour­ages read­ers to try to draw straight lines on a blank piece of paper the way a sofer would to see just how dif­fi­cult the task actu­al­ly is and to make a form of quill pen as a project of one’s own. Just as a sofer can­not leave a mis­take in the final Torah text, she encour­ages chil­dren to think about mis­takes they have made and ways that they can fix them. 

The roles of the Torah cov­er, breast­plate, crown and yad for point­ing out the words as they are read are intro­duced as well as that of the Aron Kodesh or Holy Ark where the Torah resides while not in use. Of course we hear about the spe­cial cel­e­bra­tion which is held when the writ­ing is com­plet­ed and the Torah is ready to be read and about the spe­cial moment a per­son has when read­ing from a Torah for the first time, often at a bar- or bat-mitzvah.

The many ideas for the do-it-your­self art projects and the out­stand­ing col­or pho­tog­ra­phy make this book a treat for eyes. The egal­i­tar­i­an approach, fea­tur­ing women and girls as well as men and boys read­ing the Torah should be noted.

This book is beau­ti­ful in oh-so-many ways! It asks the read­er to think about the mean­ing of the Torah in his or her own life but, in addi­tion to the broad con­cepts, it also presents spe­cif­ic fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion so each read­er comes away with both fact-based knowl­edge and per­haps, some spir­i­tu­al growth, as well. High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions