Rabbi Kevin Hale taught a course at the recent Kallah (July 1-7 2013 in Rindge, NH) to prepare Jewish Renewal rabbinical students, trained clergy and lay leaders to perform emergency repairs on Torah scrolls: to patch and mend torn klaf, to repair a seam, to clean the surface of the scroll, and to re-ink letters that are illegible. Any of these damages can render a scroll unfit for use by a congregation. The job of the ‘barefoot sofer’ is to conduct emergency repairs and render the scroll usable again.
During class, Rabbi Hale shed some light on the disturbing situation that exists in communities outside of the Orthodox world, as they seek to find qualified soferim (scribes) to either create a new Torah scroll, or repair an existing scroll. Orthodox scribes work with non-Orthodox communities only through an agent or broker of some sort, who will deal with people outside the Orthodox community. Because of differences in observance, most of the scribes who repair Torah scrolls for Jewish Renewal communities would not even daven with us. It seems wise and prudent to develop the capacity to train scribes of our own.