There are 304,805 letters in the text of a Torah and when Rabbi Yochanan Salazar is at work he meticulously examines each.
None are allowed to be missing from the Hebrew writing. None can be broken. None can be faded.
He peruses the parchment searching for even the most diminutive rip. He seeks any deterioration.
Salazar is a master sofer, a Jewish scribe trained in the repair of Torahs. He works for Sofer On Site based in North Miami Beach, Fla.
A native of Ecuador, he came to this country as a teen. Salazar travels the world doing his specialized work of restoring Torahs and teaching about their proper care.
Much special training is needed to do such work.
During the second week of November, Salazar spent a couple of days at Temple Israel on Wildwood Avenue in Columbus.
Here, he was working to restore a Torah that he said is likely 160-180 years old and likely to have come from Central Europe.
Temple Israel’s Rabbi Beth Schwartz said this particular Torah might be the one used by the first Temple Israel congregation, 20 Jewish families that came together in 1854.
Salazar remarked that Torahs such as this one are treasures.
The sofer said he finds his work amazing but not many others would do so.
“It is important, special holy work but it can be tedious,” he said. “There is a lot of repetition. Not everyone has the patience.”
After years of scanning Torahs, he said he will see problems a layman’s eyes would not.
The Torah scroll contains the five books of Moses — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Torah is handwritten on parchment using a quill and ink.
Temple Israel has four Torahs but this is the oldest and the older the Torah the more fragile.
To do his work, the Torah at Temple Israel was opened and stretched on top of a table. A Torah is usually 100-135 feet long, its pages stitched together.
Using a bottle of ink and a quill pen, Salazar bent over the text for hours making fixes. A small knife was used to scrape off old ink where needed.
Salazar said that all ingredients used on the must be kosher, items fit to be eaten or used according to Jewish dietary or ceremonial laws. That is everything from the animal hide used for the parchment, likely cow or lamb, to a special ink that is completely organic. A turkey feather is used for the quill.
Schwartz said that nothing in particular had been found wrong with the Torah but it is good for a “tune up” every now and then.
A big fear is that somehow moisture will get in and damage scroll. That was not the case here.
She said certain rolling practices are done regularly to “exercise the parchment,” and preserve the Torahs.
Sofer on Site recommends Torahs be checked every year.
“The Torahs are too important for them to not get proper care,” she said. “That’s why we had the sofer come here.”