One of the Tora’s secrets is that the world was created by Hebrew letters…Hebrew calligraphy is an old delightful and magical way of writing the Hebrew alphabeit, Scribes have been written with Hebrew calligraphy for thousands of years. From the Dead Sea Scrolls of 2000 years ago, which were found in the caves of qumeran and all over the years that follow, like prayer books, Haggadot for passover, megilot (Ester and Ruth), Torah Scrolls ,tephilin, mezuzas, ketubot and more. Hebrew calligraphy is the base for judaica and hebrew jewish art.
About the parchment
A Mezuzah can only be written on parchment, as is the case with the scroll contained in Tefillin. The parchment used for these purposes is not ordinary parchment. From the very beginning of the process, the parchment must be worked on “for the sake of the commandment”- meaning, that the scribe must have in mind- and some go as far as to verbally express- that the parchment I being prepared so that a Mezuzah/Tefillin/Torah scroll will be written on it. In the book of Exodus when Tefillin are spoken of, it is written, “In order that the Torah of G-d should be in your mouth.” The Sages explain that his means that the parchment used for the Tefillin scroll must be made from an animal that can be eaten according to Jewish law, meaning, a kosher animal. However, the animal does not need to be ritually slaughtered. It is usual practice to use the skin of a calf or lamb. The skin of the animal is first soaked for several hours in water. It is then cleaned- the scribe places the hide in a barrel of lime and leaves it there for anywhere between one and three weeks. According to Jewish law, the skin must remain there until most of the hair is easily removed. Now, the skin is stretched on a frame. The lime must be cleaned from the parchment because if it isn’t it could harm the parchment or make it transparent which would make it unsuitable for the writing of a Mezuzah or Tefillin. The skin is dried carefully so that the delicate texture of the parchment that is needed is acquired. The skin is stretched taut on the frame, dried under gentle, indirect heat (ideally sunlight). Since the skin is held tense when drying, the arrangement of the fibers in the skin alters- a crucial stage in the transition from animal hide to parchment. At this stage, the parchment quality is called “gvil”= it is heavy and thick. Judaism directs us to use a more delicate parchment called “klaf.” One way to obtain the “klaf” is to scrape away the under-skin while the skin is stretched on the frame. For this purpose, a special knife is used, which has a large, semi-circular blade and is held with both hands. The scraping is done with great care because a mistake at this point could split the skin, rendering it impossible to process and ultimately wasting all of the scribe’s time up until now. When the “klaf” is achieved, it is rubbed carefully with pumice stone and chalk so that a rich, smooth surface is achieved which is necessary in order to be able to write on it. The “klaf” is then dried for at least a few weeks in a dry atmosphere and finally, the parchment is ready to be written on.
ink – deyo
The special ink prepared for the writing is called D’yo (דיו). Maimonidos wrote in the laws of tefillin 1:4 that the D’yo is prepared in the following way:
“One collects the vapor of oils, of tar, of wax, or the like, and kneads it together with sap from a tree and a drop of honey. It is moistened extensively, crushed until it is formed into flat cakes, dried, and then stored. When one desires to write with it, one soaks it in gallnut juice or the like and writes with it. Thus, if one attempts to rub it out, he would be able to. This is the ink with which it is most preferable to write scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot. If however one wrote any of the three with gallnut juice or vitriol, which remains without being rubbed out, it is acceptable.”
calligraphy nibs – kulmus
The Kulmus is the feather or reed used for the writing. The original source of the word stems from the Greek “kalamose” The feathers need to be obtained from a large bird, today the feathers of turkeys are most often used for this purpose. There is some doubt however, as to whether feathers need be obtained from a Kosher bird species or not. I am writing my Hebrew calligraphy with metal nibs and calligraphy pen made of bamboo which piced up by the jorden river in the north of israel.
Tagin (or Taggin) are the distinct crown like serifis affixed atop the letters. Absent the Tagin the writing is invalidated. According to Rabi Akiva in the Talmud, not only can one learn something from every letter in the Torah, but one can also learn something from the placement of the Tagin. On the letters ג, ז, ט, נ, ע, צ, ש there are three Tagin, on the letters ב, ד, ה, ח, י, ק there is one Tag, and on the letters א, ו, כ, ל, מ, ס, פ, ר, ת there are none.
Some errors are inevitable in the course of production. If the error involves a word other than a Divine Name, the mistaken letter may be removed from the scroll by scraping the letter off the scroll with a sharp object. If the Divine Name is written in error, the entire page, if written in a Torah, must be cut from the scroll and a new page added, and the page written anew from the beginning. The new page is sewn into the scroll to maintain continuity of the document. The old page is treated with appropriate respect, and is either buried, or stored away with respect rather than otherwise destroyed or discarded. In Teffillin and Mezuzzot all the letters, the words and the Parshiyot are required to be written in the order they appear in the Torah. Within any of the Parshiyot if an error or an invalidated letter is discovered, or a missing letter was discovered after the completion of the writing, the rest of the document must be erased from the end all the way back to the error, to fix it, and write it anew.
Hebrew calligraphy style
The Ktav ashuri is the only permissible Hebrew script, however over the centuries in Exile some minor variations have developed. The two primary traditions are Ktav HaAshkenazi and Ktav HaSefardi.
Ketav Ashkenazi is split into two categories:
- Ketav Beit yossef – which is the standard Ashkenaz tradition.
- Ketav HaAri – which is the Hasidic tradition.
Ktav Sefardi (also known as Vellish) – is the standard utilized by Mizrahim, and Yamanim