THE EARLIEST DOCUMENTED  FRANCO-GERMAN TORAH SCROLL

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.

 

Physical description:

Parchment.

44.5 meters long. 69 cm. high.

48 lines in each column.

 

Benjamin Richler
Director (retired)
Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts

Jerusalem
July 2012