There is an old custom to festoon our Torah scrolls with various types of adornments, including crowns, made of silver or even gold.

The most common ornaments used today are:

Keter (“crown”): At times there is a single crown, which covers both of the Torah’s handles.

Rimonim (“pomegranates”): These small crowns are made to be used in pairs, with each one covering just a single handle of the Torah

Choshen (“breastplate”): Modeled loosely on the “breastplate” worn by the High Priest in the Holy Temple, this hangs from the Torah’s handles, similar to a baby’s bib. At times, the choshen has a place where one can insert a placard indicating which section the Torah is currently rolled to.

Yad (“hand”): A stylus that has a miniature hand with an extended pointing finger at its end, this is the only Torah ornament that has an actual function, as many Torah readers use the yad to point to the words of the Torah as they read. The yad typically has a chain that allows it to hang from one or both of the Torah handles.1

Garlands, Kerchiefs and More

Dating as far back as the 9th century, we find fascinating responsum2 discussing a number of adornments made for the Torah scrolls. Aside from the precious metal crowns, some had the custom to crown the Torahs with garlands, especially for the holiday of Simchat Torah (when we celebrate the completion of the cycle of reading of the Torah). And some women would hang all their jewelry on their scarves, which they would then fashion into “crowns” for the Torah.

In some instances, these “crowns” would then be placed on the head of the one honored with the final aliyah in the Torah (Chatan Torah) or upon the head of the groom on his wedding day.

Consequently, there was much discussion regarding whether it was respectful to the Torah to place these crowns on people’s heads. In addition, others were concerned about the potential halachic issues that may arise when fashioning these ad hoc crowns on the holiday.

For example, Rabbi Abraham ben Nathan of Lunel, France (c. 1155-1215), wrote with satisfaction how in the year 1203 (4964) he managed to convince a certain community to commission a proper silver Torah crown, which would avoid all issues.3

The Reason for the Crown

The Torah itself is referred to as a crown.4 Adorning the Torah scroll is a way of honoring the Torah, just as a crown brings honor to kings and queens, separating them from the commonsers.

The Divine Presence

The Zohar talks about the custom of rejoicing on Simchat Torah with the Torah and placing the “Torah’s crown” upon it. The Zohar explains that the crown represents the Shechinah (the Divine presence),which is the crown of the Torah (corresponding to the attribute of tiferet, beauty).5

Doing G‑d’s Will

The Hebrew word for crown, keter (כתר), has the the numerical value of 620, which is connected to the Torah. This is reflected in the fact that the 10 Commandments have 620 letters. In addition, the 613 mitzvahs in the Torah and the 7 rabbinical commandments add up to a grand total of 620. Thus, placing a crown on the Torah indicates that Torah is “crowned” when it is fulfilled together with the rabbinic mitzvahs.6

In Kabbalistic parlance, keter (crown) is associated with the divine will, which is higher and deeper than His wisdom. Thus, the Torah’s crown sends the message that following G‑d’s will (mitzvahs) is the ultimate path through which we can connect to G‑d.7

So next time you see the Torah scroll with a crown on it, let it serve as a reminder to strengthen your commitment to fulfilling the mitzvahs of the Torah.