The Torah scroll is the most sacred object in Judaism. This Judaica item is considered sacred to the degree that once the scroll is completed, we do not touch the actual scroll. It is also not touched so as to ensure we do not erase the text. Thus, when reading from the Torah, in order to show where the reader is in the scroll, we use a Torah Pointer, also known as a Yad.
The Torah pointer is a pointer with a hand at the end with one finger extended. The opposite end usually has a flower or some kind of ornate object. The chain which attaches the Torah Pointer to the scroll usually goes through this object. The chain may be a metal such as silver or steel, but some also are made of a dyed cord, normally in a respectful color such as blue, red or purple.
Torah Pointers come in a wide variety of sizes and materials. Some Torah pointers may have gemstones embedded in them. Typically, they are made of silver, but they also are made of wood, pewter, brass and gold. The more affordable wood and pewter Torah pointers typically are bright and colorful. They usually are painted with Jerusalem, Seven Species, or the Star of David. The hand is usually still made of metal.
The more expensive pointers are made of brass, sterling silver and gold. These Torah pointers are usually engraved with names, a verse from the Torah or Jerusalem. However, you can choose something different, such as flowers and vines. The most expensive Torah pointers are the gold and 925 sterling silver torah pointers which typically cost some 50 times more than any other pointer. A gold pointer is not common and typically gold only appears in trace amounts.
For those looking to give a Torah pointer as a gift, this is a fantastic gift idea for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. You can engrave the boy or girl’s name along with the date on the pointer and give it to them before their actually Shabbat ceremony so they can use the pointer with their name on it at their Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. For a Bar Mitzvah, a nice accompanying gift is an Atara, which can be engraved with a quote and sewn onto the boy's first Tallit to personalize it. The gift of a Torah pointer to a synagogue is a great way to honor a loved one. Like the Bar/Bat Mitzvah gift, you can engrave the name of the person you are honoring. This gift is one that will be passed along from parent to child and is sure to be considered a precious heirloom.
Torah Pointers Guide
The Torah is the holiest book in all of Judaism. A Torah scroll like those in synagogues is hand-written by a scribe with special ink on a specific type of parchment, then placed onto two rollers and kept in the Holy Ark. Each week, a portion of the Torah is read out loud in front of the community, so that during the course of a whole year, the entire Torah is heard. Because the Torah is so holy, and to prevent damage to the parchment or smudging the ink, the Torah scroll is not actually touched while it is read. Instead, the Torah reader uses specially crafted Torah Pointer to follow along.
Public Torah Reading
The Torah contains the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Together, these five books of the Hebrew Bible comprise the basis of all Jewish law and tradition (and the text on which all of Judaism’s other sacred texts, laws, and commentaries are based). Because, in ancient times the majority of the population couldn’t read, the study of the Torah was reserved mostly for scholars and the highly-educated. Then, after the Israelites returned to the Holy Land after the exile in Babylon (c. 538 BCE), Ezra the Scribe initiated the practice of reading passages from the Torah in public so everyone could hear and learn from its sacred words. The exact tradition and ritual surrounding reading the Torah has changed over the years, but the idea of reading so that all the community can hear has remained.
How a Torah is Made
There are very specific laws and traditions governing the making of Torah scrolls, and the process is so complex and difficult that only a specially-trained scribe (or “sofer”, in Hebrew) is able to undertake it. The sofer hand-writes the Torah in Hebrew calligraphy using a feather quill and special ink written on a meticulously-prepared parchment made from the skin of a kosher animal. The entire Torah scroll contains exactly 304,805 letters, and no erasing or white out is allowed!
Both for reasons of practicality (in order to prevent damage the parchment or lettering) and for religious and spiritual reasons (in order to show the Torah extraordinary honor and respect), the Torah parchment itself is not actually touched with the hands, and the reader does not follow along with a finger while reading. Instead, he uses a special Torah Pointer (or “yad”--which in Hebrew means hand) to keep place while he reads. The yad itself is designed exactly for its purpose: the reading end is generally shaped as a hand with a pointed finger! Torah Pointers can be made from any type of material, but are most commonly made of silver or wood.
Whether ornate or simple, a Torah Pointer makes a truly meaningful gift for Bar or Bat Mitzvah by commemorating the first time a young man or woman publicly reads Torah or other texts as an adult member of the community.