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Summary Article: Sefer Torah
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In Judaism, elaborately decorated and dressed Torah scroll housed in the ark in every synagogue. The scrolls are handwritten in Hebrew on vellum (calf, lamb, or kid skin) by a scribe who has trained for seven years. No mistakes can be made in the writing, although small errors can be erased. A synagogue may have one or several Sefer Torahs in its ark. If the Sefer Torah becomes damaged or worn out beyond repair, it will be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Rituals surrounding the Sefer Torahs vary. Ashkenazi Jews of eastern and central European descent store their Torahs rolled onto two rollers known as the ‘tree of life’, because the Torah is life-giving for the Jews. The scrolls are kept in place by a narrow, decorated binder, sometimes made by the mother from the nappy worn by a baby at his brit milah (ritual circumcision) and donated on the occasion of his bar mitzvah (initiation into the adult Jewish community). The mantle or cover is usually sumptuously decorated velvet or satin, often in deep blue or red, but white for high holy days. On top of the mantle will be hung the silver breastplate with the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet as a reminder of the Ten Commandments. The breastplate used to be worn by the high priests of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. On top of the two rollers are placed elaborately decorated silver crowns or rimmonim (meaning ‘pomegranates’) with bells hanging from them. They refer to the ‘crown’ of the Torah, an achievement open to all Jews who study and follow it. The yad, or pointer, used when reading the scroll, will also be hung on the Sefer Torah.

Sephardic Jews from Spain, Portugal, and the Mediterranean keep their Sefer Torahs in beautiful velvet-lined boxes.

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