Sunday, 9 November 2008

Diary 36 is here...

takes you to my new diary about the contribution of digital photography to sofrut.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Letter to the JC - printed 31st Oct 08

Well, it was very nice to get a letter in the JC but not so nice to have all the joy, fun and soul edited out of it for the sake of space, which created a somewhat dry missive. Just in case anybody is interested in what I actually wrote rather than what it looks like I wrote, the full text is below:

Dear Editor,

Given a combination of a recent trip to Israel and the High Holy Days, I recently had the good fortune to attend services at many many different synagogues both there and in England. From Selichot onwards I have, in no particular order or implied preference, been to services with the following:

Masorti in North London,
Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 with various charedim
Yemenites in a converted Israeli bomb shelter in Re'ut (just outside
Traditional Ashkenazi (though with Israeli pronunciation) also in
Sefardi in a synagogue split in two shared with the aforementioned
Ashkenazim, who were shokelling to a bucket of water with a hosepipe in it for
Tashlich (which the Yemenites don't appear to do at all)
Davenned at the Kotel with a random group of chassidim who invited me into
Spent Shabbat and Yom Kippur at two different modern Orthodox congregations
in Talpiot.
Then back in sunny Ilford once more spent Shabbat, Sukkot, Sh'mini Atseret
and Simchat Torah (that's a lot of alliteration) variously in:
Liberal (the longest walk to shul),
and Chabad - where I was treated to the rabbi being physically flipped over during Kaddish!

And do you know what?

They all had different customs and different siddurim/machzorim, but they were all full of Jews. They all read from the same Torah and they all prayed to the same God.

Who'd have thought it?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

is my new page on the
Not as good as the blogspot as you can't put photos into the blog entry.

Correcting a 'correction'...

On Friday a Rabbi popped round with his Sefer Torah with one of the oddest errors I've come across. In the very last amud the word Vaya'al (vav yud ayin lamed) read Yaya'al (yud, yud ayim lamed). Nothing odd about that I hear you cry - after all the bottoms of vavs can often wear away and so resemble a yud. Nope. This vav had been scraped away deliberately - you could see the marks on the parchment (see below) and then the regel (leg) drawn curvey and with an okets (thorn). Someone had corrected a letter that was correct! So I corrected it back to what it was supposed to be!

How odd.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Met Topol... yay.

When I was little my great auntie Reggie from Poland would take me to the theatre in London to see Fiddler on the Roof and Topol was in in most of the time ... a major influence on my Yiddishkeit and my love of Jewish artefacts and Hebrew letters and old stories. So last night I finally met him after a play he was in. How cool was that? Brilliant. Yay. Spoke to him for quite a while as we walked through Regent's Park together. Thank heaven for cameras in mobile phones.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Launch of Kulmus Publishing...

How exciting is that. Find out more on Facebook page below.
4 books for sale:
Care of Your Torah
Thoroughly Modern Moses
The East London Synagogue - Outpost of Another World
Tikkun Megillat Hashoah

Sunday, 3 August 2008

K'milah Achat (as one word)

Just spent two hours fixing one very bad amud... however, a perfect example of a k'milah achat - where two words are written too close together and therefore look like one word. That means the scroll was never kosher in the first place. Actually there were two examples in this amud. The pics shows the before during and after...
1. asher and tsivanu - way too close together.
2. scraping out the tsadi.
3. a new slightly compressed tsadi making the requisite space.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Thoroughly Modern Moses in Hardback!

if you want to go and get a copy. Of course you do!

My son Aryeh's Bar Mitsvah

Aryeh's bar mitsvah was simcha of the week in the JC this week. I am so proud of my son. So very proud because he was absolutely brilliant.

A very exciting thing - four generations called to read p'sukim from the Torah in chronological order. May never have happened before. A bar mitsvah, a sofer, a Rabbi and a Synagogue President.


Thursday, 5 June 2008

The new MRJ siddur - as approved by the Dalai Lama

Well here's an interesting one from the Jewish Chronicle. The siddur that I designed and did many graphics devices for and a couple of illustrations was recently published. It has been given to the Dalai Lama - which means he has some of my artwork. Now that's a serious step up!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Kuf d'vukah

The big scribal fun in parshat Naso is the occurence of one of the two occassions in the Torah of the kuf d'vukah - the joined kuf. All letters in STaM are required to be guf echad - one body - otherwise they are not kasher (valid) except the letters heh and kuf which are made of two elements and if this is not case then these are not kasher.

Numbers 7:2 sees a possible exception to this rule (the other being the kuf in b'kameyhem (to those who oppose them) in Exodus 32:25) as the generally accepted Massoretic opinion is that the kuf in ha-p'kudim sees the leg of the kuf apparently joined to its base. Minchat Shai says specifically it should touch. In addition the kuf does not have it's usual single tag.

There are a couple of opinions (e.g. Badey Aharon) that suggest this is not the case and instead it isn't joined but instead has three taggin but that its leg is akum (long with a curved hook on it's end)

Torah Sh'lema spends some considerable time discussing this in three separate places whether this could actually be the case and whether - despite the authorities stating this is a joined kuf - doing so would invalidate the letter and thus the scroll. Is the Massoretic tradition true?

He does feel that 'the language 'd'vukin' or 'd'vukah' does reveal the intention is to really join the regel (foot) of the ... kuf to its gag (roof)' and brings examples of old Sifrey and Yemenite ones where this happens and notes that this is one of the cases of one [scribe] receving tradition from another going back to Moses. However he then notes several examples of Sifrey by greats such as Landsofer (author of B'ney Yonah), the Maharam of Rottenberg which do not have a joined kuf and brings a number of authorities who would invalidate the Torah.

In reality, scrolls today so not have a joined kuf. Indeed Keset Hasofer explains that if one does find this in a scroll then this would invalidate and one must correct it. The Rambam would not invalidate such a scroll if it were old as that was then the tradition but the general view is not to do it.

Torah Sh'lema sympathies lie with scribes who do join the letters - he claims to have a small torah which has this and asks what do those nay-sayers rely on since the Massoretes make it clear that it should be there and Midrash Otiot d'Rabbi Akiva asks what is the reason for the kuf d'vukah? It is not he argues, as if the letter could be confused with another if it did join (which would invalidate a heh with a join as it would resemble a chet). Also he feels of those who invalidate that their main objection is derived from Shabbat 104 which reads 'and why is the foot of the Kuf suspended [to show] that if he repents, he can enter and be brought in [to God's favour] through this [opening]' but this doesn't necessarily mean every kuf has to be like this.

Nonetheless it is is a problem as there is obvious machloket (disagreement) and there has been some compromise for scribes who have tried to perpetuate this tradition by writing the kuf such that it nearly joins or is very close. Tikkun Hasofer (L'rav Yitschak Dov) notes a kuf with a leg that is a long vertical line only without the zayin type head which goes very close to the gag (roof) of the letter - almost but not quite touching.
Torah Sh'lema doesn't really see the point of this - as if it's not touching it's not touching regardless of how near it is. But it can't be so as Safek Hasofer (doubts of the scribe) gives an example of a kuf leg joined to it's roof and invalidates it - and makes no mention of the two special occasions at all.

So a massive amount of debate over what may have originally just been a scribe writing too close to the roof or may have had a deliberate hidden meaning. If so, what is it?

Torah Sh'lema after having been so verbose over whether we should do it or not provides no explanation as to why other than it says so. Have to give this some more thought.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Loving the Torah

Quick post this.

Was recently checking a Torah in a congregation to be faced with a big lipstick mark on the back of the klaf. Fortunately it was coated klaf so it came off quite easily but hey it was a big smackeroo so some lady out there must really love the Torah ... but hopefully she won't do it again. Not good!

The sedra Bamidbar includes a scribal tradition that is a little unclear in it's form. The Ba'al Haturim notes of Numbers 1:22 that the lamed in livney Shim'on... l'gulg'loteyhem (the sons of Shim'on ... According the their head count should be akumah l'matah (bent downward). However it is not clear what this actually means, both which lamed we are talking about - since there are four or how it might look. The assumption is that it is similar to the way Yemenite scrolls or handwritten Chumashim depict all lameds with a slanting or bowed head at the top of the letter.
Torah Sh'lema shows the first two lameds in the word l'gulg'lotam drawn this way, but not that of the word livney.
The Ba'al Haturim explains that it/they are bowed this was to symbolise the diminishment of the tribe by a famous member, 'Zimri son of Salu sinned [with the Midianite woman Cozbi daughter of Zur] and from his tribe they fell. And the lamed is the highest of all the letters, thus was there a missing [element] from his tribe, for there did not arise a king or a prophet [from it].

Some manuscripts of the Ba'al Haturim go on to note that the second lamed in gulg'loteyhem (ie the third in the whole word) should be 'made like a saw and erect, and it does not have a cap on its head'.
Again this in unclear but is largely interpreted as being a staight line as an ascender only - ie a vav without a head. However this doesn't explain the saw. Or Torah explains the word m'gerah as a waterspout but this isn't generally accepted. The Gaster manuscript has a little triangular golf flag on the back of the letter - possibly reflecting a tooth from a saw but does have the straight line ascender next it. Torah Shl'emah does not talk about the little flag.

For the Ba'al Haturim this similarly refers to Zimri who 'did lewd acts in Israel with raised head and in a proud (ie erect) manner).

Unlike the tribe of Shim'on whose lamed heads are akum (bent) - presumably ashamed of their leader's acts, the leader himself is quite unashamed and proudly stands z'kuf (upright, erect) and the different lameds reflect this. How often does someone do this? Brazenly showing or stating their own views without thought for the consequence and embarrassment that might cause.for their family and friends.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

All the sevens ...

The second visual midrash in B'chukotai occurs twice and revolves around the number seven and the letter zayin, the seventh letter of the Alphabet. Throughout the section on the curses, we are informed that Hashem will punish us 'seven ways for our sins' (26:18, 21, 25, 28) and the duration of the punishment revolves around 'appeasing the land' for each of 'the sabbaticals it missed it did not rest'. Again a concentration on the number seven.

This is reflected in two words, ezarah (I will scatter) in Vayikra 26:33
and te'azev (will be bereft) in 26:43 both words describing the Israelites absense from the land and exile. In both there is a zayin described as akuma - bent or by the Meiri (in Kiryat Sefer) as m'ugelet - rounded.

However there is some disagreement over what this form looks like and there are a number of versions. Torah Sh'lema notes two versions but there are more.
On the first the Ba'al Haturim explains that 'it indicates to you that [God said], "I gave you the land of the seven [Canaanite] nations, that you should there fulfil Torah" [of which it is written] she carved out her seven pillars (Proverbs 9:1). But you had seven abominations in your hearts, therefore And you I will scatter [among the nations].'

The seven abominations correspond to the seven sins and is a paraphrase of Proverbs 26:25 concerning the decietful person 'though his voice is ingratiating do not trust him for there are seven abominations in his heart'. The seven pillars of wisdom are the seven books of the Torah - counting the section encased by the nun hafuchot (Numbers 10:35-36) as a separate book breaking Bamidbar into three books making seven in all (Shabbat 116a).

The second use on te'azev (bereft), 'indicates that for a period of seven years [the curse of] sulphur and salt outlined in Deuteronomy 29:22 was fulfiled in the Land [of Israel]'.

So all the sevens are reflected in the letter that represents the number 7.

But why is this letter described as bent?

Perhaps this visual midrash is the compliment and opposite to the one described in the previous blog? There, the kuf of the word kom'miyut (erect) gained extra taggin to demonstrate the growth in our spiritual nature, that we would have the upright stature of Adam Rishon (some two hundred cubits). Should we follow Hashem's laws. Here however we are far from upright - instead we are bent over, humble and contrite, through our abandonment of those same laws and hence the letter reflects this diminishing of our self.

Our wrong choice leads us to the bent nature of the zayin of zarah (strangeness/idolatry) instead of the upright kuf of kodesh (holiness and separation).

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

A kuf with a choice...

So this week's sedra is B'chukotai. Usually jammed onto the previous sedra B'har except when there is a leap year.

So what's exciting about this sedra from a scribal viewpoint? What gets the sofer all excited and lends a layer of interpretation that I refer to as Visual Midrash?

Well very little actually.

According to scribal tradition there is a letter kuf in the word kom'miyut (erect) in Vayikra 26:13

'I am Hashem who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from being slaves, and I broke the staves of your yoke and I led you erect'.
One of 185 kufs in the Torah that supposedly have this.
The Ba'al Haturim explains that it is drawn with [three] taggin enhancing the letter kuf [which stands for 100]. For in the future, their [Israel's] stature will be one hundred cubits.' Some apparently say two hundred cubits which is why he says there are two extra taggin - kuf normally has one. This has been taken from Bava Batra 75a where the Tannaim discuss the word kom'miyut in the verse and conclude that in the world to come we will be of a much higher spiritual stature.

There are some disagreements on editions of the Ba'al HaTurim over whether it is three or two taggin in total, but the most interesting thing is that whilst one is obviously an extra tag, pointing upwards with a crown, the other extra one is not. Instead it points sharply downwards and has no 'blob' on the top. In this way it is more an okets (thorn).

Perhaps, given the subject matter that preceeded it, the extra upwards tag symbolises the spiritual and material heights one would reach if one did 'follow [Hashem's] decrees and observe [Hashem's] commandments' as we are required to do in 26:3. And it points upwards towards those verses of reward (26:4-12) and we obtain a crown for that. However if we do not choose this path then instead 'hold [Hashem's] decrees loathsome and our souls reject [Hashem's] ordinances' (26:15) then the tag/okets points sharply downwards towards the verses of punsihment (26:15 onwards) and denotes our spiritual and physical descent from holiness (kuf = kadosh).

The kuf with it's extra taggin upwards and downwards therefore represents a decision point (a bechira) midway between the two halves of the sedra and we can choose which way to go. Only one way however gains us a crown of spiritual achievement.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Working hard...

Working hard on my Ketubah. Have been using some of the wonderful taggin that I have found in various sifrey torah that I've been fixing. See
and also
for lots of examples.

Have finished all the writing but now have to move on to the illustrations - been a while since I did any serious illustration - hope I still have the knack!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

One of my major projects over the last two years was the design of the new siddur for the Movement for Reform Judaism. A huge task involving some:

750 pages
18 separate sections
Erev shabbat having 36 drafts!
A regular, deluxe, pocket-sized, large-print extract editions
2 dozen graphic devices
3 dozen illustrations
New stuff and olf familiar friends

The other day I went to the final meeting of the steering committee where the printed book was given out to everyone along with thanks for their contribution. There are several versions, deluxe, standard, pocket size and large print

So what has this got to do with sofrut I hear you ask. Well one of the key elements of the design was the ceation of graphic devices to act as section headers and for these I designed a kind of STaM font whiich was blocky and angular and a bit modern whilst retaining a link to the traditional - an echo of the book itself. Initially there were going to bbe a few of these scattered around but the client liked them and now they grace every section - which meant a lot of ideas to come up with. One of my favourites - havdalah is shown above.

The siddur was well received by the committee and the rabbis and I got a very nice e-mail from the head of the Movement, Rabbi Tony Bayfield.
"It is simply stupendous - and very, very beautiful. I don't think that there is another person in the world who could have produced something that looks so good and is, at the same time, so user friendly. The Movement will, I know, thank you."

Here's hoping the congregants find it as equally user-friendly.

Writing or Fixing?

Above: A new small Tefillin passage that I wrote. Below: Before and after fixing on a torah that had faded badly.

Writing something from scratch is always a joy. You are free to use your own style and form the letters using the forms that you have been taught and have developed into. It is simply magical to see the letters appear on what was previously blank k'laf (parchment). You are conduit for the words and you can lose yourself in them. And the act of creation is truly yours. No others.

Fixing however is very different. The creative act has been done by another and instead you are acting as an expert in restoration trying to repair damage done by the passage of time or individuals. Wrtiting over someone elses k'tav is by definition limiting as you try your best to avoid a patchwork look to the Torah. Nonetheless to see a piece restored to near its inital glory is also magical and one of the best feelings. One has saved something from disuse and there is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that that brings, particularly if the damage was extensive.

Both actvitites have massive merit and a sofer will need to busy themselves in both. Sometimes, however, when one is labouring under the pressure of endless repairs and corrections one yearns for the freedom of the blank k'laf. Few shuls (or individuals) however want new. Second hand, restored (or in some cases second hand and unrestored - i.e. pasul) seem to be the order of the day. Shame really.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

The other day I was asked if I could extend a vav that someone had noticed had faded and looked like a yud as this was making the Torah pasul (invalid). .

While doing so I glanced back at the predeeding amud (column) and saw about a dozen broken or incomplete letters that similarly invalidated the Torah. I didn't have a lot of time, but regardless I still fixed these. No doubt there are problems in the Torah and it will need a proper check. However whilst doing the other letters I was assured by one of the congregants that there was no real need to do this as they could still read them as they were still obviously those letters, unlike the vav mentioned above.

I assured them that actually that isn't the case at all.

In my little booklet 'Care of Your Torah', I have a phrase - 'legible doesn't necessarily mean kasher'. If a letter is damaged or broken or faded badly and there isn't at minimum a complete and unbroken outline it is pasul. It might be absolutely obvious what that letter is supposed to be but unless it is complete it isn't okay.

One of the reasons I produced the booklet was to help congregations recognise when they actually have a real problem and should call in a sofer (who you gonna call... Ghostbusters?). Another was to try to prevent well meaning people actually damaging their torah by trying to mark places for bar/bat mitsvah boys or girls or trying to fix them with the wrong materials and not according to halacha with the proper intention.

Shameless plug then. If you are a congregation then you should have the guide. Available at

Prevention is way better (and a lot cheaper) than cure. You might ask why a sofer would want to reduce his business? Well actually my job is to make sure a Torah is kasher. If I can do that by stopping it getting damaged in the first place then job done too. Keset Hasofer says that sofrim should be 'haters of profit'. Sure we want to get paid and be valued for the skills we offer (possibly more than we are, according to Yerachmiel Asmotsky who astutely points out that whilst we're all prepared to pay a plumber when something needs to be done, we're more inclined to quibble about the sofer's charge when something much more holy than the pipes needs to be done) but our main aim is to protect Hashem's word and it pains us to see the damage done.

So if you want to help prevent damage or be aware of what damage renders a Torah pasul, don't say I didn't tell you where to go.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Large letters in the Torah

Some considerable time ago I had a hunch that all the Hebrew alphabet was to be found as large letters within Torah and not just Tanach as is established in the Mesorah - this hunch came out of seeing lots of different sifrey with variant traditions. I couldn't find the one with the letters 'kaf'. However I then read a section from Mishnat Avraham that confirmed where all the large letters were supposed to be (plus some variants) and lo and behold they matched the various ones I had collected (see my website fixing sifrey over the years. Anyway, collecting these all up I've done a little bit of 'large letter art'. Wouldn't it be cool if all sifrey torah used all the large letters not just the ones that were fixed and agreed by all?

Prints available ...

Yom Hashoah

So, after having a blog before blogs were even thought off - though it was called a web diary then (see Diary of a sofer on, I finally have a real blog thanks to the suggestion of my fiancee and world famous soferet Avielah Barclay.

But what to say? Usually on my website its all very considered and crafted but blogs are supposed to be immediate and very stream of consciousness. So here goes ...

Well my first post was about the tikkun for Megillat Hashoah and last week it was Yom Hashoah and I attended a service at New London Synagogue which was deeply moving The Megillat Hashoah was read in full (the first time I had seen this instead of excerpts) and the rabbi very kindly gave me the honour of reading a chapter. More importanty, there was a survivor there who held us all spellbound with her tale of the horrors she experienced. I won't report the details as I would not do it justice but suffice to say that of her family only her and her father (who joined the resistance) survived. It was incredibly moving and the bravery of that woman will stay with me for many many years. At the end of the service I gave her a copy of the tikkun as I had brought some with me to show the rabbi.

Interestingly enough that same day I had paid a very quick visit to the Czech scrolls museum in Kent House, Westminster. I had been there for a BT seminar - which was an odd thing to do at a shul - so nipped in afterwards after meeting up with Avielah. As well as the normal exhibits were a group of other sifrey in another room where I'd given a lecture once. The museum is being expanded and renovated so will hopefully go back there soon. There was a tiny torah about 10 inches high and some amazing atsey chayim on another. Amongst the exhibits themselves was a rolled torah that had been fused together from fire.

So very much a day for recalling the Shoah.

So the point of tday's blog? Well in part to tell people about my Yom Hashoah experience and in part to register a bit of surprise that the Megillat Hashoah hasn't caught on more. The Schechter Institute and Rabbinical Assembly brought it out quite a few years ago and I'm still amazed at how few people have either heard of it or have incorporated it into their commemorations. When Rabbi David Meyer approached me to create the scroll it was clear that he was trying to create a fresh impetus for this new piece of liturgy and to try and get people engaged in a new minhag.

Obviously I'm slightly biased, having invested so much time and effort into the text and creating the scroll and the tikkun, but putting the scroll aside, I am given to understand that over 1,400 rabbis 'signed up' to the text that appears in the booklet. No mean feat. So what is going wrong? Why aren't more synagogues adopting this? Do people not like the text? Do people prefer to create their own services? Do people want to read the book of Job (which I don't think is that appropriate as the pain and misery was caused by supernatural means as opposed to human cruelty)? Is it a 'not invented here' syndrome? Is it because it is viewed as American and we're British? But I'm told that a lot of Conservative shuls in Canada and the States haven't adopted it either. Or am I wrong and lots more people are using it every year and I'm just not aware?

If it isn't adopted widely it is potentially a great shame, as in decades to come when there are no survivors to bring to life the realities of the Shoah, it will be the power of words - whether ink on parchment or print on paper - that will be the core means of remembering. Yes there wil be pictures and video but in prayer and contemplation it is the word that will engage on a deep level.

If you're not familiar with the text then visit to order a copy of the booklet from the Rabbical Assembly. /Schechter Institute. The authorised tikkun is available at

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Rabbi Rothman said I should put this up... and you never argue with a rabbi.

A few years ago a new piece of liturgy was created to commemorate the Shoah and give Jews around the world a standard text to use each year on Yom Hashoah. Megillat Hashoah (the Holocaust scroll) presented a six chapter account of those dark days in a small booklet.

Jews throughout the ages have told their stories using parchment and quills and so Sofer STaM Marc Michaels was commissioned to turn this booklet into a kasher scroll that could be read by the community.

Drawing on the power of the letters and scribal tradiotions to create a visual Midrash that adds further depth and meaning to the text, the scroll has now been turned into a tikkun - a copyists guide - explaining the journey of the booklet to scroll and detailing the rules so that scribes over the world may creat scrolls. Scholars and laypeople alike will find this book a fascinating jouney on the creation of a the first new tikkun in thousands of years and hopefully the establishment of a new minhag to help ensure that the Shoah is remembered for all generations

Tikkun Megillat Hashoah is written by Marc Michaels, Sofer STaM with the authorisation of the Rabbinic Assembly and the Schecter Institute. It is a full colour booklet containing the entire unpointed text of the Megillat Hashoah and explanatory articles and notes. Available through for £21.82 plus postage and packaging.

New scrolls can be commissioned through the sofer by contacting or visiting