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Ritual Writing Contexts: New Perspectives on Manufacturing a Kosher Torah Scroll

May 7, 2021
(by Annett Martini)

Annett Martini’s book “‘Arbeit des Himmels’: Jüdische Konzeptionen des rituellen Schreibens in der europäischen Kultur des Mittelalters. Eine Studie zur Herstellung der STaM vor dem Hintergrund der christlichen Schreibkultur” will be published this year in the series Studia Judaica at De Gruyter, Berlin. The book is a revised version of her postdoctoral thesis (Habilitationsschrift).

The study deals with the production of ritually pure scrolls, the so-called STaM (Torah Scrolls, Tefillin, and Mezuzot), changing the perspective on this crucial issue of Jewish manuscript tradition from a mere textual, codicological, and paleographical to a more complex cultural view. To this end, Martini suggests a general distinction between the holy scrolls and other writings of the Hebrew manuscript tradition since only the copying of the STaM is regulated by a tightly meshed network of religious laws.

By analyzing almost completely neglected rabbinic, mystical, philosophical, and exegetical sources dealing with the manufacturing of holy scrolls in terms of ritual, memory, and the cultural environment, the study shifts the focus from the material artefact to the recipients. The outcome of this investigation is a whole new perspective on the function of (especially) a Torah scroll as a medium of memory, demarcation and identity within Jewish diaspora.

At the same time, Martini calls into question the image of Jewish diasporic existence as a self-contained, secluded minority with atavistic features, which persevered its identity within a Christian dominated society by rites of demarcation. Rather, she is able to prove that the enormous religious and social function ascribed to the holy books within Christian society as well as the tremendous affinity for all kinds of consecrations in Latin Europe are but some aspects of a complex social, religious, and political system – a system serving as a trigger of ritual dynamics which changed the way Jews manufactured and handled holy scrolls and books.

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