Jews have often been called am ha-sefer, the people of the book. This designation underscores the importance of text in Judaism and the belief that God communicates with us through the written word. The central text in Judaism is the Torah. Enhancing the importance of its teachings is the fact that it is written in a special way.
A Religious Act
Writing a Torah scroll is a religious act. First and foremost, a kosher (acceptable according to Jewish law) Torah scroll must be hand-written. This is done by a sofer (scribe), a specially trained individual who is devout and knowledgeable in the laws governing the proper writing and assembling of a scroll. Sofer is from the Hebrew root “to count.” According to the Talmud (Kiddushin 30a), these scholars would count each letter of the Torah. More specifically, the modern scribe is called a sofer stam, an acronym for sefer torah (Torah scroll) tefillin (phylacteries) and mezuzah. All these ritual objects must be written according to strict standards regarding size, lettering style, and layout.
The materials used for creating these sacred items are restricted as well. Parchment used for the writing must be made from the skin of a kosher animal. The scribe mixes a special ink for the writing and prepares the actual writing utensil, a quill, usually from a turkey feather. He uses a reed instrument to scratch lines into the parchment in preparation for the writing. Once all the writing has been completed, the pieces of parchment are sewn together with thread made of animal veins. The finished scroll is attached to wooden rollers. No instrument containing iron or steel may be used in the creation of a Torah scroll, because these metals are used to create instruments of war.