Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I have a Yeshiva background and after I got my University degree in the US, I learned how to polish and trade diamonds, which remains my main occupation today. I got interested in scribal art, so I started to research this field and published articles on a blog called YK Sofer Blog.
What inspired you to become a sofer?
Ever since I was a child, I have been drawing letters on the back of my school pages and I was naturally attracted to calligraphy and arts. But I suffered from Hyperhidrosis, which caused excessive sweating in my hands, and because of that, I couldn’t produce much art – the sweat eventually ruined any paper I used. I always thought that if I would manage to solve this problem, then I would use my hands to write a Torah Scroll one day. Thanks God, I eventually managed to find a surgical solution for my condition and I went to study Safrut by a renowned tutor in Jerusalem, an old-school Hasidic scribe. And I started writing my own Sefer Torah recently.
How and where do you work?
I work from home, where I made a dedicated room with a special calligraphy table and lighting. I write based on the techniques I learned from my Safrut tutor. Safrut is meant to be transmitted from teacher to student, so I follow his teachings and style in my works.
What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
The parchment. I usually use vellum while occasionally using other parchments too, but I only write on top material, and I’m willing to pay the very best price for the best parchment. My tutor is also a Klaf maker, so I have a VIP treatment when I need new parchment, managing to select from the very finest hides.
Where do you take your inspiration?
I research a lot, going through early and modern works on Safrut, and my inspiration follows. Unlike the vast majority of Sofrim, I do this as a hobby so I have the luxury of taking my time to research the development of the craft and different traditions of communities around the world, which in turn inspires me to make unusual pieces.
What projects are you currently working on?
After many years of training, I’m focused in my Torah Scroll project, and I occasionally post my progress online for others to follow. It was a long road to get where I am now, and writing a Torah is complicated in many ways – it’s long, it’s difficult to get the best materials and it’s also very demanding. I need to go to a Kosher Mikva very often before writing and I need to be able to be 100% focused on my work, almost in a meditative state. Few people have the possibility to write their own Torah Scroll, but throughout Jewish history, this was a staple of Jewish life (it’s one of the 613 commandments) and Jews around the globe made extreme efforts to write their own Torahs. I know how to do it, and even if I write slowly, in my free time, I will eventually get there and I hope to inspire others along the way.
What are your favourite items in your current collection?
Without doubt, the Lamnatzeach written in Red Gvil parchment is my favourite. When I was researching the different parchment preparation techniques, I came across the Yemenite Red Gvil, which is almost impossible to buy today. One of my blog’s readers was kind enough to send me a spare piece he had in his workshop and from that unusual parchment, I made a Menorah-shaped Lamnatzeach. Writing in Gvil is somewhat like writing in the reverse side of a regular klaf, so the surface is shiny and regular inks were not writing well in it. Another reader, who created a new ink called Dyo Lanetzach, supplied me with a small bottle and it worked much better in that parchment. So I felt like it was a collective effort, and I’m thankful to them every time I see the piece.
What do you want to achieve with your work and what are your wishes for the future?
My goal is to publicize traditional Safrut craftsmanship and its history. In today’s world there is so much information out there but relatively few traditional Sofrim have a social media presence and write informative material about ancient Jewish calligraphy in English. In my blog, I explore many different facets of this craft and with my new Instagram account I hope to reach a broader public who is looking for a peek inside the Safrut world, which is mostly cast away in Mea Shearim and Bnei Brak. And my long term goal is to be a reference for information regarding old scrolls, techniques and traditions of Jewish Safrut. I still have a lot to learn and research, as Safrut has been around since time immemorial.
Where can we find your work?
That’s the interesting part, I don’t plan to sell any of my works. I make them, I publicize them but they don’t part ways with me. They are my real diamonds.
Photos: Courtesy of Ya’akov Klein