The Berlin Sofer STaM Weißenberg

Image courtesy of Rabbi Yehuda Peretz, Sofer, Israel.

Details on the life of Berlin Scribe סופר סת”ם Weißenberg [Weissenberg] are important for an international project now in its early stages of development in Germany and Israel. All viable sources of information have been exhausted; even Weißenberg’s first name remains unknown. The sole source of biographical information about him is Rudolf Melitz’s article “Eine Tora wird geschrieben …”, published in the Gemeindeblatt der Jüdischen Gemeinde zu Berlin on 20 October 1935 (p. 5). See the translated excerpts below:

[…] The man who writes Torah scrolls professionally is the Sofer. Let’s go visit such a Sofer. As you can imagine, the profession of Sofer is not exactly a trade that is practiced very often in our country today. So we are not surprised to learn that there is only one such professional Torah scribe in Berlin. Indeed, this Torah scribe is not just the only one in Berlin, but also (if we are correctly informed) the only one in the entire Reich. Nevertheless, if you think that this Sofer, who came to us from the East many years ago, was particularly pleased by our visit and was happy to take our questions, you are mistaken. At least this journalist fared a little better than did the photographer, who was summarily turned away and sent back outside.

What does a Torah scribe’s workshop look like? Workshop? … He needs nothing more for his craft than a table in his small and modest flat in an old and ugly apartment block in the middle of Berlin. As we enter, our Torah scribe, with his long white beard, is sitting at that table bent over a scroll. He has just finished making corrections. Many of the letters in the Sefer Torah before him have faded and grown indistinct over the years. So now he has to retrace and rewrite them. He dips a goose quill into the ink that he has prepared himself and draws the letters anew. The beautiful black square script stands out clearly and sharply against the white background of the parchment.

“Don’t you have a new Sefer Torah to write?”

“No, there’s not much to do now,” replies the Sofer, who has already produced around thirty-five Sifrei Torah. “Who can afford to have a new Torah scroll written today? It’s expensive and takes a long time. In the past, when I was younger, it took me four to six months at most to write a Sefer Torah. But today … my eyesight is no longer so sharp … it takes me almost a whole year. And I only get 1,200 marks for it. Think how expensive the material is. Sixty parchment skins are needed for one scroll.” […]

When you watch the Sofer at work, you are strangely moved: Here is a man working in exactly the same way as people worked centuries, millennia ago. […]

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