7 Things You Need to Know about the Torah

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Katy Lozano/iStock via Getty Images / Katy Lozano/iStock via Getty Images

Today is Rosh HaShanah, which literally translates into "Head TheYear" or "head of the year." It marks the Jewish New Year and the period where Jews finish the Torah, or the Five Books of Moses and begin the Good Book all over again, reading a little bit each week until the cycle is complete once again. This is an old post I wrote about the Torah, which I'm republishing here again today. May it be a sweet New Year...

1. The word Torah means teaching or instruction in Hebrew. The Torah itself is a scrolled parchment that contains the following 5 books from the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

2. Jews read the Torah from beginning to end each year, one section every week, and then start afresh after the Jewish New Year.

3. It takes a scribe about a year to pen the 304,805 letters found in each and every Torah, the exact same way it's been written since the time of Moses.

4. There are over 4,000 laws that dictate the writing. Even the slightest slip of the pen, the smallest mistake, can be reason to burn the scroll and start over, especially if a mistake is found in the word God. Indeed, God's name is so holy, a scribe must bathe in a mikvah (ritual pool) before writing the Lord's four-letter (Hebrew) name.

5. Torahs are made up of between 62 and 84 sheets of parchment produced from the skin of a kosher animal. The pen used to write one is actually a quill from a kosher bird, usually a goose feather, and only special, permanent black ink is acceptable.

6. Using thread made from the leg sinews of a kosher cow, the scribe sews the backs of the parchment together so the stitches aren't visible from the front. Each end of the scroll is sewn onto the two wooden shafts, called atzei chaim, or "trees of life."

7. Torahs are quite heavy, weighing around 25 pounds. If you don't know how to lift one and are given that honor in a synagogue, ask for instruction; dropping a Torah is a serious matter. Tradition holds that every person in the room must fast for 40 days in atonement. And while not eating for 40 days isn't as bad as wandering the desert for 40 years, certainly it's no picnic either, unless, of course, you prefer your picnics without food.