Proper sefer Torah maintenance will considerably extend a Torah scroll’s lifespan and will likely cost less in the long term. Do not wait until problems are found in the Torah scroll to bring in a sofer. Set up a maintenance program under the direction of a Torah scroll expert. The best way to nip problems in the bud is to have the one reading the Torah pay attention to the condition of the ink and the forms of the letters.
Letters in a sefer Torah which begin to fade and crumble should be fixed promptly. Once the entire area has been repaired, the sofer can use a protective spray in order to help prevent the sefer Torah from further fading and crumbling. The spray is likely to darken the klaf.
If a mistake or problem is found during leining (Torah reading), it should be repaired immediately or at least marked so that it can be easily located. If the mistake is found on Shabbos, the problem should be repaired or marked immediately upon the conclusion of Shabbos. One can use a bobby pin to mark a problematic letter or area on Shabbos so that it will be easy to locate after Shabbos.
Only one who is thoroughly familiar with the halachos of Stam may repair letters in a sefer Torah. One doing repairs should also know how to use a quill properly and how to make erasures without damaging the parchment.
Maintaining Regular Use
Sifrei Torah must be used or at least rolled on a regular basis to prevent ink from fading and cracking. This means that a Torah scroll should be read from regularly for the weekly reading or at least rolled to a different section on a regular basis. Using a Torah scroll exclusively for the reading of Rosh Chodesh, for example, will not suffice, even though it is used monthly. Here are a few suggested ideas:
- Use a different Torah scroll for each of the four weekly readings (Monday morning, Thursday morning, Shabbos morning, and Shabbos afternoon).
- Set up a rolling schedule for those Torah scrolls not used for the weekly readings so that they are rolled from beginning to end each year.
- Some shuls rotate Torah scrolls on a yearly basis. This is not the most recommended program, especially if the shul has a number of Torah scrolls in the rotation.
If the halachic level of the Torah scrolls vary, consult a rabbi if (and when) one should use the less halachically preferred Torah scrolls in a rotation program.
Proper Conditions for a Torah Scroll
Sifrei Torah should ideally be housed in an aron kodesh (ark) or at least a room in which a mild to cool temperature is maintained and the humidity is regulated to approximately 40%. Wood is an excellent insulator. There should also be openings for proper air flow. Many shuls house their sifrei Torah in a large safe due to insurance requirements or to prevent theft. In such a case, it is imperative that the recommended humidity level is maintained, that there be proper ventilation and anti humidity pellets are kept in the safe.
Proper Care of the Torah Scroll
Keep the parchment clean from foreign matter such as dust or dirt as it can affect the ink.
Care must be taken on Simchas Torah (when the yearly cycle of Torah reading is completed and celebrated) that the sifrei Torah do not become moist from sweat. Plastic can be placed between the mantle and the klaf.
The Torah reader should not put the yad (pointer) on the klaf itself. Instead he should hold the pointer slightly above the sefer Torah to prevent it from scratching the letters. One called to the Torah should not touch his tallis or the gartel (belt of the Torah) to the actual writing but to the margin at the beginning of the line.
A gartel, belt, that closes with plastic clasps or Velcro is preferred to metal clasps, which can dig into the parchment.
In order to prevent the stitches between each yeriah (section with three to six columns) from loosening or tearing, pieces of klaf approximately two by five centimeters can be glued onto the back of the sefer Torah between each yeriah, one a few centimeters from the upper edge and one a few centimeters from the lower edge.
The Torah scrolls should be rolled carefully in order not to damage the edges of the parchment. Frayed edges lead to tears. If a Torah scroll has frayed edges, have a sefer Torah expert reinforce them to prevent tearing.
In preparation for raising the sefer Torah, it should be opened so that it is centered between two yerios, in order to limit the pressure placed on the stitches.
Purchasing a Used Sefer Torah or Completing a New One
When buying a used sefer Torah, be sure that the sefer Torah is not too heavy for your congregation. Many older Torahs are heavy because of their height and/ or because the back of the parchment has a lime wash coating.
Have Torah restoration done by a true Torah expert, of which the vast majority is located in Israel. Bear in mind that older Torahs often require an extensive restoration and repair process. This makes up a very significant part of the purchase price of an older Torah. Only restoration by such experts will ensure a kosher Torah. There are a significant number of sofrim providing restoration services even though they are not properly trained for this particular expertise. Many sofrim do not realize that their skills as a sofer do not fully equip them for such work. Therefore, a lower price for an older Torah or a lower price quote for restoration may be due to the Torah not being restored appropriately and thoroughly. Needless to say, one must choose an impeccable source due to the handful of charlatans claiming to sell quality, kosher, used Torahs.
Inquire about the guarantee of kashrus prior to purchasing a used Torah or hiring restoration services.
It is highly recommended to have a used Torah computer checked.
Upon completion of the writing of a sefer Torah, it is customary to have a ceremony at which the final words are written. It is strongly recommended for the words to be completed only by a sofer or a rabbi who is experienced in writing Stam script. This will ensure that the aesthetic beauty of the writing will not be affected.