Although the Torah does not clearly state that its letters must be written in black, this law is known as halachah leMoshe miSinai, an oral tradition going back to Moses, who received it on Mount Sinai.1 These laws were carefully passed down and preserved throughout the generations.

Accordingly, not only can the letters not be of any other color, but even if one were to put gold flakes on some of the words (for example, G‑d’s name), the Torah scroll would not be kosher.2

What is the reason behind this rule?

Maimonides writes that although the statutes of the Torah are suprarational, it is appropriate to contemplate them, and, whenever possible, provide some explanation for them.3

With this in mind, here are some of the explanations found in classic sources as to why the ink needs to be black.

“Black Fire on White Fire”

Our sages tell us that the Torah was originally written before G‑d in letters of black fire upon a background of white fire.4 Corresponding to this, a Torah scroll needs to be written with black ink on white parchment.

Truth and Kindness

Rabbi Yehuda Lowe, known as the Maharal of Prague, explains that white fire symbolizes the attribute of chessed, “loving-kindness.” It represents the goal and foundation of the Torah, which is to manifest G‑d’s goodness in the world.

Black fire, on the other hand, represents unyielding and stark truth, as G‑d’s signature is truth.5

However, our reality is such that some things appear to be good, but they lack truth and substance. As such, the Torah, which incorporates both kindness and truth, is written “black upon white.”6

Dimming the Light

Sometimes fiery light is too bright for people to gaze upon, and you must dim the light in order to view it. Thus, the black letters of the Torah represent how the Torah we see has been blackened and obscured for our own benefit, so that we can grasp and understand it.7

Retaining the Torah

Some explain, based on the Zohar, that the reason the Torah is written in black ink is to remind people that the Torah can be found among those who “blacken”8 themselves (i.e., are ready to forgo worldly desires and pleasures) for the Torah.9

The Absence of Color and the Power of Man

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that the color white “includes all colors,” for it absorbs them all. This alludes to G‑d, who contains everything within Himself. The color black, conversely, is the absence of color and corresponds to mankind, in whom G‑d’s light is not initially apparent.

At the Giving of the Torah, the black fire was laid over the white fire. In other words, humanity was given mastery over the Torah, which they could study and make their own, for the Torah was no longer in heaven but down here in this world.10

Positive and Negative Commandments

The first Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, explains that the white fire represents all that the Torah enjoins us to do (“positive commandments”) and the black fire represents the prohibitions (“negative commandments”).

The positive commandments are keys to the divine light that we can unlock and reveal in this world, while the prohibitions connect to lights so lofty and sublime that they cannot be accessed directly, and are thus represented by the blackness of the letters.11

We look forward to the era of Moshiach, when even these lofty lights will be revealed and will shine brightly in our world. May it be speedily in our days!