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June 30, 1989 - Image 45

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-06-30

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I FOCUS

As A Driven Leaf

Avraham Leaf is linked to a tradition
thousands of years old through the sharp
point of a will pen.

ELIZABETH KAPLAN

Features Editor

A

vraham Leaf lifted
the mezuzah from
the doorpost. He
carefully opened
and inspected the
scroll, then turned to the
woman who owned the home.
"Does anyone here have heart
trouble?"
She gazed with amazement
at the stranger. "But how did
you know?" she said. "Did so-
meone tell you?"
No one had told him
anything. Leaf suspected a
problem when he saw the
word ley, heart, on the parch-
ment. Two letters of the word
were touching, making the
mezuzah unfit.
Leaf often goes from home
to home in Israel, where he
has been living for the past 10
years, to check if mezuzot are
kosher. But most of the time
he can be found sitting at his
desk, which is so high it leans
against his chest, and with a
quill pen in his hand.
He made the pen himself,
as do all sofrim, or scribes. It
was carved from a turkey
feather.
The pen, reminiscent of the
type found on the desks of
George Washington or
Thomas Jefferson, is the most
visible link between Leaf and
a tradition that is thousands
of years old: writing sacred
Jewish texts.
"Being a sofer today is
similar to being a sofer 1,000
years ago," he says. The same
kinds of materials are used
and the rules of writing the
text haven't changed.
Leaf lives in Safed, Israel,
with his wife and five

Avraham Leaf holds a Megillat
Esther he wrote and (above)
begins work on a text: 'What
soldier would go into battle
without his helmet?' Photos by
Glenn Triest,

children, but makes frequent
visits home to Detroit. A
graduate of Oak Park High
School and Michigan State
University, he is staying here
with his family for the
summer.
Leaf was raised in a
"typically assimilated home."
He became interested in
religion after a friend, who
had a similar background,
began wearing a kippah.
Leaf went to a Chabad
house and began to study. He
became more and more
religious, finally deciding to
attend a yeshivah in Israel.
Later, he married a young
woman from Livonia and the
two settled in Safed. Leaf con-
tinued studying another five
years.
Then it was time to learn a
trade. He decided to become a
scribe. "I had always been
fascinated by Hebrew letters,"
Leaf says. "The Zohar (the
major book of Jewish
mysticism of the Kabbalah)
calls them channels for divine
energy."
Leaf found an instructor in
Safed who taught him both
the art and the rules of
writing Hebrew texts.
"To be a good scribe you
must be a master craftsman
and know the laws," he ex-
plains. "More than 2,000 laws
go into making a mezuzah.
One of the first I learned is
that he who leaves out one
letter or adds one letter can
destroy the whole world."
A quick glance at a
mezuzah scroll may not
reveal the hours of work it re-
quired. But look closely and
the intricate details that go
into every aleph and bet
become apparent.
"Each letter must take a
definite form," Leaf explains.
The letter aleph, for example,
is made with the letters yud
and a vay.
"No two letters may touch
because the Torah teaches us
that each letter is a world of
its own. Each needs its own
integrity, its own individuali-
ty, just like a person. If two
letters are touching, they can
lose their identity."
Leaf practiced five hours a
day for three years, writing
"literally hundreds of alephs
and bets" as he studied to
become a scribe.
And he "took out over and
over again garbage bags fill-
ed with pens. Half the skill of
being a sofer is being able to
make the pen."
The parchment used for any

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

45

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