WHAT IS SEFER TORAH?
A Sefer Torah consists of sheets of parchment on which the entire Torah (Five Books) are written, from Bereishis (Genesis) to the end of Devarim (Deuteronomy). Torah scrolls are kept in the Aron Kodesh in shul. A Sefer Torah is considered the most holy object in Judaism and is treated with the greatest respect. On Simchas Torah, when we finish reading the Torah, it is customary to dance with the Torah scrolls.
ON WHAT KIND OF PARCHMENT IS A TORAH WRITTEN?
A Sefer Torah, as well as other holy writings such as a mezuza and tefillin, are written on the skins of animals. If they were written on other materials such as paper or fabric they are invalid. This is learned as a halacha from Moshe at Sinai. The parchment can be made only from the skins of kosher animals even if they are forbidden to be eaten for other reasons such a neveila and tereifa. A Sefer Torah cannot be written on fish skin.
In order to prepare animal hide for writing, it needs to be tanned. The tanning is done today by placing the hide in lime so that it can last for many years and not rot.
It is imperative that the one tanning the hide do so by thinking he is doing so for the sake of the mitzva. Leather that was tanned without this intention is invalid.
WHEN IS A SEFER TORAH KOSHER?
The laws of making and writing a Sefer Torah are the most complicated and severe among the ritual items. The writing of a Sefer Torah is done by a person trained to do so and he is called a sofer Sta'M. A Sefer Torah can become invalid because of various problems most commonly a mistake in the writing, a missing or extra word or a word written inexactly. A Sefer Torah which is invalid according to most poskim cannot be read from in public. It must be fixed, if possible.
CAN A SEFER TORAH BE FIXED?
Yes. If there is something that makes the Sefer Torah invalid like a missing or extra letter or a letter not written according to halacha, it can be fixed because, unlike tefillin and mezuzos, a Sefer Torah does not need to be written in order. If the problem is discovered in the middle of the Torah reading, another Torah is taken out.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SEFARDIC AND ASHKENAZIC TORAH?
An ashkenazic Sefer Torah is rolled on wooden rollers called “atzei chaim” and is wrapped in a decorated velvet cover. A sefardic Sefer Torah is placed in a decorated rounded box which opens like a door and the parchment goes from one side to the other as it is read. The box, usually made of wood, is decorated in various ways, from fabric to precious metals, gold and silver.
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