Writing a Torah Online


Sefaria is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the cultivation of Jewish learning. It has assembled a far-reaching library of Jewish texts and their interconnections, in Hebrew and in translation, and makes them available for free.

Sefaria promotes interactive exchanges for users through the Web and boasts some 650,000 monthly users. Novices and scholars agree that Sefaria is an extraordinary resource.

Last month, as part of the celebration of the organization’s 10th anniversary, Sefaria launched a new program called “Global Community Torah” to offer Jews of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to participate in writing the world’s first digital Torah scroll. According to reports, people from more than 70 countries have already joined in the effort, as the process progresses through the book of Genesis.

Traditional Torah scroll projects involve participants joining with a scribe to assist in the physical writing. Most allow participants to use a quill pen to fill with black ink letters that have been outlined by the scribe. And that activity usually comes at the very end of the Torah writing process — one which coincides with the celebration of the year-long process of painstaking writing by the scribe leading to the completion of the Torah scroll and its dedication.

The Sefaria project is different. As with everything Sefaria does, user interaction is completely online. Once they access the project, participants are guided to choose a typeface for the Hebrew letter they want to use and then join the effort by entering their first name and location.

They then receive emails with a graphic of a Torah verse containing their selected letter and information about the Torah verse in which their chosen letter appears. Users can spin the digital globe offered by Sefaria to see the locations of other project participants and can read the entire digital scroll when completed, hovering above each letter to learn about their fellow digital scribes.

According to Daniel Septimus, the CEO of Sefaria, the process is iterative. “First learn about your letter, then a verse and then a portion, all while engaging and wrestling with the text. When people study Torah, each person brings their own perspective and experience. And our users cover the full spectrum from secular to observant, daily users to occasional perusers. This digital Torah is a world-spanning collaboration that reflects our collective heritage.”

We applaud the groundbreaking work of Sefaria, which has provided everyday users at all levels of Jewish scholarship a uniquely accessible entry into the multi-level world of Jewish texts and commentary. And through its Global Community Torah project, Sefaria now offers another portal for entry into the rich world of Torah study.

As we approach the new year and think about ways to expand our Jewish lives and learning, we encourage our readers to visit sefaria.org and explore the many opportunities it offers. ■

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