This Torah scroll was written in France around 1300, before the expulsion of Jews from France in 1306. Thus, it is the oldest documented complete Sefer Torah from France and probably from Germany as well. It is unlikely that any other complete Torah scroll written elsewhere in Europe has survived.
It is written on French parchment , in which unlike parchment produced in Germany, the hair and the smooth flesh sides are easily discernible. The scribe wrote on the flesh side following the rules of the halakhah (Jewish law).
The script of the scroll is similar to the script in the few dated manuscripts in book form (codices) written in France and datable to the 13th century. Carbon 14 analysis of minute bits of parchment from the scroll indicate that it was produced in the late 13th century. Thus, it is the earliest known Torah scroll known to exist, not only from France from all of Western Europe.
All the original sheets of the Torah are preserved, with the exception of four sheets that were added, presumably to replace damaged parts that could no longer be considered valid for reading in the synagogue. These four sheets were added a few hundred years later, and they too consist of parchment in which the flesh and hair sides can be discerned, but the scripts are Italian or Sephardic, indicating that the scroll was taken by its owners to exile in Spain or Provence and eventually to Italy.
The scribe followed the Masoretic practices concerning plene and defective spellings, open or closed parshiyot , tagin or crownlets attached to certain letters dictated by early medieval halakhic treatises such Sefer Tagin. Sometimes the scribe diverged from these rules set forth in Sefer Tagin and followed local French practices that are evident in 13th century codices copied in France or were recommended in the contemporary halakhic tractate Kiryat Sefer, composed in 1306 by Menahem Meiri of Provence.
The traditions followed in writing Torah scrolls concerning spellings, open and closed parashiyot and the formats for the various portions such as the Song of the Sea in Exodus or the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy were never steadfast in the middle ages and varied in different geographical areas or even in different communities within the same area and changed over the generations. As we have shown, this scroll wandered together with its owners throughout different parts of Europe where different traditions prevailed and in each resting place local scribes took it upon themselves to “correct” the text by erasing the original words or letters and replacing them according to the local custom. Nevertheless, the previous writing of the scribe was not completely obliterated and it is not difficult to discern and reconstruct the original text. It is possible that at some point because of these frequent corrections, the scroll was no longer considered suitable to be read during services in the synagogue, and perhaps for this reason it survived for over seven centuries without the wear and tear due to constant use.
Fortunately for us , this ancient Sefer Torah survived almost miraculously the expulsions and wanderings, lootings, confiscations , and natural disasters that ravaged and destroyed the majority of Hebrew books from the Middle Ages. In this case, what has survived is not only a most ancient Torah Scroll, but a virtual museum preserving and recording masoretic traditions from different areas throughout the centuries.
This splendid Torah Scroll, dating back to the era of the last French Tosafists whose authority defines the Ashkenazic tradition, is of immense value for scholars and laymen and should be the subject of a careful and exhaustive study.
44.5 meters long. 69 cm. high.
48 lines in each column.
Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts