Tefillin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah - Chapter Seven
Hilchot Sefer Torah
It is a positive commandment for each and every Jewish man to write a Torah scroll for himself, as [implied by the commandment (Deuteronomy 31:19)]: "And now, write down this song for yourselves," i.e., write down the [entire] Torah which contains this song. [The basis for this interpretation is] that the Torah should not be written passage by passage.
Even if a person's ancestors left him a Torah scroll, it is a mitzvah to write one himself. If a person writes the scroll by hand, it is considered as if he received it on Mount Sinai. If he does not know how to write himself, [he should have] others write it for him.
Anyone who checks even a single letter of a Torah scroll is considered as if he wrote the entire scroll.
A king is commanded to write another Torah scroll for himself, for the sake of his sovereignty, in addition to the scroll which he possessed while a commoner, as [Deuteronomy 17:18] states: "And when he sits on his royal throne, he shall write...." This scroll should be checked against the scroll in the Temple Courtyard by the Supreme Sanhedrin.
The one which he possessed while he was a commoner should be placed in his storage chambers, and the one that he wrote - or had written for him - while he was a king, should be with him at all times. When he goes out to war, his Torah scroll should be with him. When he returns, it should be with him. When he sits in judgment, it should be with him. When he dines, it should be opposite him, as [Deuteronomy 17:19] states: "And it shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life."
If a king did not possess a Torah scroll before he became king, he must write two Torah scrolls after he ascends the throne: one to place in his storage chambers, and the other to accompany him at all times, never leaving his presence except at night, when he enters the bathhouse, the toilet, or when he sleeps.
A Torah scroll which was written on unruled [parchment] or which was written with portions on g'vil and portions on k'laf is invalid. It must be written either entirely on g'vil or entirely on k'laf.
How should a Torah scroll be written? One should write with very careful and attractive calligraphy, leaving the space the size of a small letter between each word and a hairbreadth's space between each letter. The space of a line should be left between each line.
The length of each line should be thirty letters so that one can write the word למשפחותיכם three times. This should be the width of every column. A line should not be shorter than this, lest the column appear like a note; nor wider than this, so that one's eyes will not wander through the text.
One should not reduce the size of a letter in order to leave the proper amount of space between one passage and another.
Should [a scribe] have to write a word with five letters [at the end of a line, and there not be sufficient space for them all], he should not write two within the column and three beyond its margins. Rather, he should write three within the column, and two beyond its margins. If there is no room on the line to write [at least] three letters, he should leave an empty space and continue at the beginning of the [next] line.
Should [a scribe] have to write a two-letter word [after completing a line], he should not write it between the columns. Instead, he should write it at the beginning of the [following] line.
[The following rules apply] if one had to write a word of ten - or more or fewer - letters in the middle of a line, and less space than necessary remained within the column: If it is possible to write half of the word within the column, with [only] half extending beyond the margin, he should. If that is not possible, he should leave an empty space and continue at the beginning of the next line.
One should leave four empty lines between each of the books of the Torah, neither more, nor less, starting the next book at the beginning of the following line.
One should complete the entire Torah in the middle of the line at the bottom of the column. If many lines remain in the column, he should write shorter lines, beginning at the beginning of the line, but not completing it, so that the words לעיני כל ישראל are in the middle of the line at the bottom of the column.
One should be careful regarding the oversized letters, the miniature letters, the letters that are dotted, the letters that have abnormal shapes - e.g., the pe'in that are bent over - and the crooked letters that the scribes have copied from each other in a chain of tradition.
[Similarly,] care should be taken regarding the crowns and the number [of crowns placed on a letter]. There are some letters that have [only] one crown, and others that have seven crowns. All these crowns are shaped like zeiynin. They should be as thin as a hair.
All the above matters were mentioned only because this is the most perfect way of performing the mitzvah. Should one, however, alter the structure [of a scroll from that] mentioned above or not be precise regarding the placement of the crowns, [the scroll is acceptable] if all the letters were written as they should be.
[Similarly,] if one wrote the lines closer together, separated them further, lengthened them, or shortened them, the scroll is acceptable, provided one letter does not touch another, no letters are omitted, extra letters are not added, the shape of even a single letter is not altered, and the [form of the passages, whether] p'tuchah or s'tumah, is not changed.
There are other practices which, although they are not mentioned in the Talmud, have been followed by scribes as tradition, transferred from generation to generation. They include that:
a) the number of lines in each column not be less than 48 nor greater than 60;
b) there is a space of approximately nine letters left empty between each passage, so that one could write the word אשר three times;
c) that the five lines above the song recited at the Red Sea begin with the words: haba'im, bayabashah, י-ה-ו-ה andb'Mitzrayim, and that the five lines below that song begin with the words: vatikach, achareha, sus, vayetz'u, and vayavo'u.
d) that the six lines above the song, Ha'azinu begin with the words: v'a'idah, acharei, haderech, b'acharit, l'hach'iso, and k'hal, and that the five lines below that song begin with the words: vayavo, l'daber, asher, hazot, asher.
All the above matters [were mentioned] only because this is the most perfect way of performing the mitzvah. If one deviated from them, [the scroll] is not disqualified.
In contrast, if one wrote the short form of a word that should be spelled using a long form, or the long form of one that should be spelled using a short form, [the scroll] is disqualified.
[The same ruling applies if, in circumstances where one word is written in the Torah scroll and a different word is read] - e.g.,yishkavenah is read instead of yishgalenah (Deuteronomy 28:30), and uvat'chorim is read instead of uva'folim (Deuteronomy 28:27) - one writes the word that is read [instead of the word that is written].
Similarly, if one wrote a passage that should be p'tuchah as s'tumah, or one that should be s'tumah as p'tuchah, or if one wrote another passage from the Torah in the form of one of the songs, or wrote one of the songs in the form of another passage, [the scroll is disqualified]. It does not have the holiness of a Torah scroll and, instead, is considered as one of the chumashim from which children are taught.
A Torah scroll that is uncorrected should not be left [unattended to] for more than thirty days. Rather, it should either be corrected or entombed.
A Torah scroll that has three errors in each column should be corrected. If it has four, it should be entombed. Should the majority of a scroll have been checked to be accurate and there are four errors in each column of the remainder of the scroll, the scroll should be corrected, provided there is at least one column of the defective portion that has fewer than four errors.
When does the above apply? When one wrote the short form of a word instead of the long form, and one will thus be forced to insert the [extra] letters between the lines. If, however, one wrote the long form of a word instead of the short form, one may correct the scroll even if there are many errors on each page. In such an instance, one removes a letter instead of inserting it.
It is permitted to write a scroll containing each of the five books of the Torah individually. These scrolls do not have the sanctity of a Torah scroll.
One should not write a scroll that contains several passages, nor should one write a scroll for a child to learn from. This is, nevertheless, permitted if one [ultimately] intends to complete an entire book of the Torah. It is permitted to write a scroll with [verses from the Torah] when one writes three words in a line spaced out disjointedly.
It is permitted to include [all the books of] the Torah, the Prophets, and the Holy Scriptures in a single scroll.
Four empty lines should be left between each book of the Torah, and three empty lines between each book of the Prophets. One should also leave three lines between each book of the twelve [minor] prophets, so that should one desire to cut, he may do so.
This is the order of the Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, the Twelve [Minor Prophets].
This is the order of the Holy Scriptures: Ruth, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Chronicles.
All sacred texts may be written only on a ruled [surface]. [This applies] even if they are written on paper. One may write three words without ruling [the surface on which they are written]. Writing any more than that is forbidden.
A scroll that includes the Torah, the Prophets, and the Holy Scriptures does not possess the same degree of holiness as a Torah scroll. Rather, it is like a scroll containing one of the books of the Torah, because the addition [of a book in the scroll] is equivalent to having omitted one.
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