Some of Judaism's most beautiful artwork doesn't hang on the walls of fancy homes. It doesn't glitter or gleam, and there's no "oohing" and "ahhhing" when people see it. Yet, no traditional Jewish home could manage without the work of the Sofer Stam, the Jewish Scribe, whose intricate calligraphy is needed to write the parchments of many Jewish ritual items and documents.
Judaica collectors spend untold millions of dollars every year buying ornaments which adorn their homes. The actual art, however, is what is unseen.....under the mezuzza covers, inside the tefillin boxes, and beneath the coverings of the Torah scrolls. These parchments are written by Sofers, scribes, who study for years the exacting laws of how to write these ritual parchments. In Jewish tradition, each Hebrew letter is holy, and has deep meanings. The Sofer works at his craft with a special love which brings him to a mystical connection with the parchments which he writes for Jews to use in fulfilling God's commandments.
Three of the main ritual scrolls and parchments which Sofers write are Torah scrolls, parchments for mezuzzas (paragraphs from the Torah), which Jews place on their doorposts), and parchments for Tefillin, phylacteries, which Jewish men use when praying each morning. In Tzfat, a new Visitors' Center has opened whose mission is to educate visitors about the craft of the Sofer Stam, its meaning, some of the laws and traditions, and the deeper connections that the performance of the commandments has for the Jews who practice them.
The Center is a multimedia and interactive one, located in the Northern neighborhood of Tzfat. There are five main sections of the Center, which together, combine to give visitors a well-rounded understanding of this ancient Jewish tradition.
Three of the rooms are interactive, allowing visitors to learn about the craft in exciting and challenging ways. A media room takes visitors on a "tour" of the Jewish scribe with four audio-visual presentations which give the viewer a connection to the mystical Kabbalistic understanding of the source of the ancient Hebrew Letters, a broad understanding of the history of Jewish scribes, the meaning of their work and a broader bond that Jews today have with this ancient Jewish practice.
A trivia room allows visitors to actively participate in a game of questions and answers (complete with buttons to push during the competition to see who answers first!) about the work of a Sofer. Each question is then expanded on to heighten the excitement and building of knowledge. There are levels for both beginners and advanced visitors and three short movies on each topic.
Finally, visitors are invited to enter a special room where they are given the opportunity to try their hand at writing a piece of parchment. They receive a kosher parchment and quill, and aided by a special lighted table which helps them to form the letters correctly, they go through the steps of what is involved in preparing a kosher parchment. A sofer assists them and they are able to monitor their work on a large plasma screen.
Two "factories" are open on the premises. In one, visitors will be able to see the intricate process which is involved in building tefilling boxes, while in the second, up to 70 scribes, representing the many Jewish communities and their varying traditions will be working side by side to create Torah scrolls, and parchments for tefillin and mezuzzas .
The Center's one of a kind Garden of Letters, where sculptures of the Hebrew letters are scattered around the garden area. Visitors are encouraged to explore the inner-meanings of each letter, find the letters of their names and the corresponding connections of each letter to their own personality and personal attributes, and in other ways explore the mysticism and power which is a part of the ancient Hebrew alphabet.
At the present time, Otzar HaStam - Letters of Adventure is open for groups and individuals who schedule visits.
For more information please visit our site at www.hastam.org
To contact the center, visitors may write to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (04)691-2000.