Dear Tanta Golda,
At our Simchat Torah celebration last week we unrolled the whole Torah. We had to go around our modest sanctuary two and a half times to do this! This got me to wondering - how long is a Torah scroll?
My wonderful Wondering one,
What an interesting question! And, as it turns out, not as easy to answer as you might think!
Initially Tanta Golda thought, “Surely, this will be easy to find in the age of the Internet.” Oy. Three of my sources gave very definitive sounding answers. All different! How definitive is that?
The best answer I can give you is: somewhere between 112 and 148 feet.
A lot has to do with the sofer, the Torah scribe who handwrites a particular scroll, and the type of script they use. Just like the fonts on your computer, different Torah scripts fill the space on the parchment differently.
Maimonides - also known as Rambam (1135-1204) laid out what he felt should be the standard dimensions for a Torah scroll: The entire scroll should be six handbreadths (= 24 inches) tall. The length of a page should be 17 fingers (a finger equalling about one inch.) The scroll that he wrote was 1366 fingers long, or about 112 feet. Some sofer follow these measurements, but it is not halacha (law) and it would seem there are no required measurements.
A typical Torah scroll is made up of 62-84 sheets of parchment made from the skin of any kosher animal (except fish, apparently no amount of curing can get the smell out!) Most (Ashkenazi) Torah scrolls contain 42 lines per sheet - Yemenite Jews use 50. Each scroll contains exactly 304,805 letters - each written with precision, by hand, with a feather quill. A special quill is used specifically to write G-d’s four letter name. If an error is made, it can be “erased” with a knife or pumice stone, unless it is any of the names of G-d. If one of these is miswritten the entire sheet of parchment must either be buried or stored in a special kosher storage area. The sheets are sewn together with sinew (tendon or ligament) from a kosher animal. It usually takes close to a year to write a scroll.
According to one of Tanta Golda’s sources, most Torah scrolls are about two feet tall and weigh 20-25 pounds.
I’m sorry Wondering that I can’t be more exact. The next time your Temple’s Torah is re-scrolled you should ask someone to measure the length of a sheet and count how many sheets were used to make your scroll!
May you find joy in your continued Torah studies!
Love as always, Tanta Golda