Jun 5, 1997 - 00:11 -
I have a question:
There are many ways to obtain a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll).
If you are affiliated with any synagogue umbrella organization, contact them to see if they have any program to facilitate loaners or trades or sales between congregations.
Also contact any large congregations in your area that might have many Torahs. You might get one on semi-permanent loan just by agreeing to pay their insurance premiums on it. This saves them the insurance and, as noted below, is healthier for their scroll. You might reasonably be expected to pay its maintenance as well, so make sure it's "kosher" when you accept it.
You can also contact shrinking antique communities in no-longer-Jewish neighborhoods to see if they'll give one away to a better home. Pay particular attention to news of synagogue mergers, as these often result in a surfeit of Torah Scrolls. In return for a dying congregation's scroll(s), you can offer to display their memorial plaques in perpetuity and send their yahrzeit notices, or carry out programs for the remaining poor and elderly in their neighborhood.
You can purchase a used Torah Scroll from a sofer (scribe). Prices vary widely depending on the size, the age, the quality of the handwriting, the stability of the surface, and the fanciness of the rollers and accessories. A sofer is often able to mix and match repairable sections from several different irreparable old scrolls of the same size to produce a less uniform (but perfectly "kosher") scroll at much lower cost than commisioning a new scroll.
The last time I checked locally (Boston), new writing cost about $300 per column. A larger scroll is more work than a smaller scroll. A "limed" surface is smoother, hence easier to write, but the letters are less stable, hence higher annual maintenance costs. In any case, a new scroll will cost more than one pieced together.
If you commission a new scroll, it is traditional for the sofer to leave the last few letters incomplete -- as outlines only. Then you can "sell off" each of those letters. People will pay to "color them in" (with the scribe's guidance of course) in order to have the rare priviledge of writing a Torah scroll (which is a mitzvah). Naturally the most desirable letter is the last one -- the one that finishes the scroll -- but other words or letters have their devotees. A public ceremony usually attends the completion, or installation, of a Torah Scroll.
It's good to have more than one scroll in case a broken letter disqualifies the scroll until it can be repaired --- and for convenience on occasions when passages are read from diverse places in immediate succession. (The most scrolls read on any one occasion is three.)
Be sure to budget for annual repair. (On the order of $200 per year per scroll.) If you have more than one scroll, keep them all in use as much as possible. It is "healthier" for the scrolls to be "aired". For example: If you had four scrolls, you could use one scroll for Monday mornings, another for Thursday mornings, a third for Sabbath mornings and the fourth for Saturday afternoon (as opposed to letting three of the four lie dormant). Try to encourage congregants to put a seam near the middle when doing hag'bah (lifting), and to kiss the *margins* with their tallis rather than the columns of text.
Establish a relationship with a local sofer so that minor repairs are touched up while you wait. If you don't have a local sofer, someone (probably your rabbi) should learn how to do minor repairs so that you are not without your Torah for weeks just to transport it to and from New York or Chicago or Baltimore or Los Angeles or some other big city.
Your local rabbi should be able to steer you to a sofer. Make sure you get references who have done business with the scribe, preferably over a long period of time. You can also search the internet for "sofer STAM". (STAM stands for Sifrei Torah, T'fillin, and Mezzuzot). I can personally recommend a sofer in the Boston area if that's where you're looking.
I hope this information is useful.