The Ink of the Torah Scroll - Tradition Given to Moses at Sinai?
said in the name of Samuel who quoted Rabbi Meir: When I was learning from
Rabbi Akiva, I used to add vitriol to the ink [used to write a Torah scroll]
and he said nothing to me. When I came to Rabbi Ishmael he said to me: Son, what
is your profession? I said to him: I am a scribe. He said: Son, be careful in
your work, for your work is the work of Heaven. If you leave out a single
letter or add in an extra letter -- you destroy the entire world. I said to
him: I have something called vitriol, which I put into the ink. He said to me:
Do they place vitriol into their ink? Did not the Torah say (Numbers ): 'And wrote and erased' -- writing which
can be erased" (Eiruvin 13a). We have been taught by our rabbis that the process of writing a Torah scroll
and of making the ink with which a Torah scroll is written are all tradition
given to Moses at Sinai!
Thus Maimonides ruled, in the introduction to his Mishnah Commentary: "And
here I will include the majority of laws which are said to be tradition given
to Moses at Sinai....we have never found anyone inquiring into their reasons or
seeking proofs for them, but they were handed down by Moses as the holy One,
blessed be He, commanded him...[Among them is the law that] a Torah scroll
is written in ink...But one who thinks that the laws upon which there are
disagreements were also received from Moses and that the disagreements arose
due to error...these are the words of one who has no sense and no principles.
He [merely] disdains the people through whom the commandments were received,
and all this is naught and invalid..."
According to Maimonides not only is the writing of a Torah scroll in ink a
tradition given to Moses at Sinai, but the process of writing and of making the
ink cannot possibly be in dispute; the laws regarding it are handed down from
generation to generation, from teacher to student, with no change to this very
In this article we will show and prove that the laws of which ink is
appropriate for the writing of a Torah scroll, tefillin, and mezuzot were not
handled down in their present form from generation to generation. We will prove
that all the Sages' knowledge on writing and ink is based on their own
acquaintance with the process of writing in their time, and, as we showed in
the article on the public domain,
that generations come and go and the definition of a public domain changes, so
too about the process of ink making.
We will also see that already among the Tannaim disagreements had arisen about
which ink was appropriate for the writing of Torah scrolls; see what we wrote
on the portion of Bo
and in the Chavat Yair responsa, paragraph 192. Such disagreements existed not
only among the Tannaim, but among our rabbis the Rishonim as well.
And you, student who seeks knowledge, look with your own eyes and see
something amazing -- all the ink used nowadays to write Torah scrolls is invalid
according to the opinion of the majority of the great Rishonim and in
opposition to their rulings. Later on in this essay you will see these things
with your own eyes.
This is how the essay is organized: First we will clarify what kinds of
"writing" the Torah requires, and under which circumstances. Then we
will see what types of ink existed in the times of Chazal and the Rishonim, and
we will explain the terminology ("gallnuts," "vitriol,"
etc.) of making ink. Then we will examine the disagreements between our rabbis
the Tannaim and the Rishonim on these matters and their rulings regarding the
question "Which ink was given as tradition to Moses at Sinai?"
Finally, we will see how the ink used by modern scribes is made and how it
controverts explicit Halachic rulings!
Matters of "Writing" Required by the Torah
The Torah demands the writing of a Torah scroll, tefillin, and mezuzot, but
does not specify how they should be written--with any writing instrument and
any material? Is the color of the writing to be black, red, or green? Perhaps
the Torah demands special writing instruments and materials? But the Torah only
said "write." We have already explained, in the portion of Pekudey, that this
is the manner of the Torah: to be brief about the crucial issues and to go on
at length with stories and unimportant matters, as they said in Midrash
Bereshit Rabbah, section 60: "Rabbi Acha said, 'the foot-washing of the
servants in our Fathers' houses is more dear than the Torah of the sons, for
even the washing of the feet had to be written, while the swarming insect,
which is part of the main body of the instruction, that its blood does not
defile as does its body [is not written]'."
These are the places where the Torah demands "writing":
Woman suspected of adultery (Numbers ):
"The priest shall put down these curses in writing and rub it off
into the water of bitterness."
Torah scroll (Deuteronomy 31:19): "Therefore, write down
this poem and teach it to the people of Israel."
Bill of Divorcement (Deuteronomy 24:1): "A man takes a wife and
possesses her. She fails to please him because he finds something obnoxious
about her, and he writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her, and
sends her away from his house."
Mezuzah (Deuteronomy 6:9): "Inscribe them on the
doorposts of your house and on your gates."
Tefillin--The Torah never specified that writing is required. It uses
the terms "remembrance," "tie them," "for a
sign," and "symbol." (On this matter, see what we have written
on the portion of Bo.)
About writing with ink, know that in all the Holy Writ there is no mention
of writing with ink aside from in the book Jeremiah (36:18) "He answered
them, 'He himself recited all those words to me, and I would write them down in
the scroll in ink."
Let us clarify what the appropriate writing for each situation is, according to
Chazal's interpretation: Woman suspected of adultery -- The Torah commands that the curses
uttered during the woman's ordeal be written in a book: "If you have gone
astray while married to your husband...may the Lord make you a curse and an
imprecation...as the Lord causes your thigh to sag and your belly to distend."
In the Mishnah, Chazal explained which writing material had to be used to write
the curses (Sotah 17b): "He should not write with gum nor
vitriol nor any dye that is absorbed into parchment, only with ink, as is
written, 'and rub it off,' (Numbers )
writing which can be rubbed off." We find that all materials are
legitimate as long as they are water-soluble; their color is of no difference.
Thus ruled Maimonides (Laws of a Woman Suspected of Adultery, chapter four,
halacha nine): "One should not write with gum nor vitriol nor with
anything whose writing lasts, only with ink which has no vitriol, as it is
written, 'rub it out' -- writing which he can rub out; and if he wrote it with
something which lasts, it is invalid."
We already see the difference between two types of ink: plain ink which does
not last well and ink which has additional ingredients (like gum or vitriol),
which lasts and which is difficult to erase.
Writing a bill of divorcement -- The Torah commands a man who wishes
to divorce his wife to give her a "text of divorce" and to write
"You are now permitted to all men." Chazal explained that the writing
may be done with any material (Gittin 19a): "We may write with anything --
with ink, yellow die, red lead, gum, vitriol, or any die that lasts." Thus
Maimonides ruled (Laws of Divorcement chapter four, halacha one): "We do
not write bills of divorcement except in something whose inscription lasts,
like ink, red lead, gum, vitriol, etc. But if it is written in something which
does not last, like drinks or fruit juice, etc., it is not a [valid] bill of
Tefillin, mezuzah, and a Torah scroll -- These must be written in
black ink only. It is learned from tradition to Moses at Sinai that one needs
ink, as Maimonides wrote in the Laws of Tefillin chapter one, halacha three:
"There are ten demands about tefillin which are tradition given to Moses
at Sinai and are obligatory under all circumstances; therefore if one deviates
from any of them, the tefillin are invalid...that they be written in ink....that
is, the ink with which it is the choicest to fulfill the commandment of writing
[Torah] scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot. But if one wrote those three with
gallnut water and vitriol which lasts and is not rubbed out, they are kosher.
If so, why does the halacha specify that, according to
a tradition given to Moses at Sinai, they are to be written in ink? To
eliminate all other kinds of colors, such as red, green, etc., for if one wrote
as much as a letter of a [Torah] scroll, tefillin or
mezuzah with one of the other kinds of color or with gold, it is invalid."
The source for this law is in the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Megillah chapter
one, halacha nine (71d): "It is a tradition given
to Moses at Sinai that one should write on skins and write in ink."
We learn that the Torah's demands about writing differ from instance to
instance according to Chazal's interpretation: the scroll of a woman accused of
adultery is valid only when it can be rubbed out in water. A bill of
divorcement is valid only when it will last. The writing of tefillin, mezuzot,
and Torah scrolls must be done only in black ink.
Making the ink in ancient days
What is "ink" and what are the ingredients added to it?
We will cite the instructive article by Dr. Yoram Nir-El (of the SoreqNuclearResearchCenter),
published in the Sinai journal (Nisan-Elul 5754, pg. 161) titled
"Source of the Pigment in the Black Ink Used to Write Scrolls, Tefillin,
and Mezuzot." We will abridge it, but one who seeks the truth would do
well to read the entire article.
"Black ink in ancient days -- ink was a solution or suspension of solid
ingredients in a liquid environment which served for writing. ...and contained
at least three ingredients: the pigment -- which gives the ink its
color, the binder -- which binds the pigment to the writing surface, and
the carrier -- the liquid in which the pigment and the binder are
suspended....The ink used for ancient writing was black and of two kinds,
according to the sort of pigment used: carbon-based and iron-based.
"Carbon-based ink was made from soot or charcoal dust...soot was
gathered from burning vegetable or animal fats. Charcoal dust was produced by
burning vegetable matter such as beech trees or cedars...Carbon-based ink was
first developed, it seems, in China or other countries in the Far East circa
"Iron-based ink was made, in ancient times, from the following
ingredients: blanched oak-nut galls, green vitriol, also called copperas...its
chemical formula is FeSO4, 7H2O, that is, iron sulfate
crystallized with seven water molecules..."
Note, student who seeks knowledge, that the three types of ink which have
existed since ancient times are:
1. Carbon-based ink produced from soot (by the burning of fats). In this essay
it will be referred to as "carbon/fats-based ink."
2. Carbon-based ink produced from charcoal dust (by the burning of trees). In
this essay it will be referred to as "carbon/tree-based ink."
3. Iron-based ink produced from blanched oak-nut galls (or one of the
carbon-based inks), to which iron (II) sulfate hepta-hydrate, whose chemical
formula is FeSO4·7H2O was added.
Thus wrote Dr. Nir-El in the Sinai journal: "The ink used by
Jewish scribes until the second century CE was carbon-based. The Dead
Sea scrolls were also written in carbon-based ink, as seen by
chemical analyses recently performed (published by Dr. Yoram Nir-El in his
article "The Black Ink of the Qumran Scrolls," Dead Sea
Discoveries 3.2  pp. 157-167).
When we bring, below, the opinions of our rabbis on the matter of the ink used
in writing STaM, we will try to match the opinion of each sage with one of the
above types of ink.
The Dispute over the Ingredients Used for Ink
The ingredients used for ink are mentioned several times in the Mishnah. Our
rabbis each identified them according to his own understanding and personal
knowledge, so they were divided over this issue. There is no mention that any
of them received information on ink as a tradition given to Moses at Sinai,
about which there can be no dispute!
We have already explained in the essay What is an etrog, what is a hadas?that even our rabbis in the Talmud did not always correctly identify
trees and materials written about in the Mishnah. An example of this is that
the Gemara in Berachot 40b identifies bnot su'ach as figs: "What are bnot shu'ach? Rabbah the son of bar Hanah said in
the name of R' Jochanan: White figs." About this Yehuda Felix wrote (MishnatShevi'it, pg. 124): "Indeed, there is no way of identifying bnot
shu'ach with any type of fig, for in reality there is no fig which takes
more than nine months to ripen through to picking. It is therefore clear that
the Mishnah which speaks of bnot shu'ach which ripen
over three years does not refer to a fig."
Here we shall see that our rabbis disagree on the identification of materials
for ink and did not receive it from Moses via Joshua, but they made rulings and
judgments based on their own understanding. Some experimented and examined
facts, and some learned "from within the Talmud" without testing and
The Mishnah in Shabbat chapter twelve, mishnah four: "One who writes
two letters...[on the Sabbath] is culpable; whether he wrote in ink,
orpiment, minium, gum, vitriol or anything which inscribes...he is
culpable." You will also find these writing materials mentioned in the
Mishnah Megillah chapter two, mishnah two, Sotah
chapter two mishnah four, Gittin chapter two mishnah three, Parah chapter nine,
mishnah one, and Yadayim chapter one, mishnah three.
Ink -- The sages of the Talmud (Shabbat 104b) said: "ink -- d'yota,"
and Rashi (Chulin 47b): "like d'yota -- a drop of dry ink which is
Vitriol -- The Gemara clarifies (Shabbat 104b): "Kankantom:
Rabbah the son of Bar Hannah quote Samuel--charta d'ushkefei."
Rashi explained: "Charta d'ushkfei: orpiment used to blacken shoes
(Megillah 19b)" It seems that this is the proper translation of the words,
for ushkefei is a cobbler, as brought (Shabbat 112a): "And the
straps of a shoe and sandal...the ties the Arab cobblers make..." Rashi ad
loc.: "The ties the Arab cobblers make -- sandals of the Arab merchants,
in which the cobblers tie the straps." Thus, ushkefei are cobblers. Charta is "black color," as brought by the Meiri on Tractate
Niddah 19a: "They call it charat because its blackness finishes
deep within it." Therefore Rashi (Shabbat 104b) explained vitriol as
atramentum, the black (carbon-based) ink based on soot from the burning of
vegetable or animal matter (Nir-El, page 263).
But this identification by Rabbah the son of Bar Hannah is mistaken and
misleading (Note that this is the same Rabbah the son of Bar Hannah who
misidentified the bnot s'uach written about in the Mishnah, as we wrote
above). There is no doubt that the kankantom which the Mishnah meant was
vitriol, iron sulfate. This material was known to the ancient Greeks as
χαλκανθος (see Nir-El) and so in
Nachmanides' Novellae (Gittin 19a): "But in the commentary of Rabbi
Hananel OBM he explained kankantom as alzag, which is Spanish
vitriol, quarried from the hills, and in Greek and the Roman medical texts it
is called kankantom. There are three types and all do one thing --
blacken ink." Know, investigating student, that vitriol (FeSO4·7H2O)
is green and not black; only when it is mixed with gallnuts (see below) does it
form a chemical complex which is colored black (see Nir-El's article), and thus
wrote Maimonides in responsum 136: "Vitriol will not last without being
joined to gallnuts."
Now come see how our French rabbis got entangled in the identification of kankantom.
The Tosafot (Megillah 18b), s.v. kankantom charta d'ushkeifei:
"...We learn that kankantom is not artamentum, for everday we add
artamentum to our ink, and even so it can be erased well. The explanation of
the Rashbam in Eiruivin (13a), that kankantom is vitriol, seems right,
and if we suppose it is written there that it is green, in any case we should
say that it turns black when you grind it very small."
From Rabbenu Tam's words you see that he did not know and did not recognize and
did not check the vitriol with his own eyes, for even when you grind it very
fine it is not black, and even if you dilute it with water it is not black, it
is green! Its blackness comes only if you mix it with gallnuts. The author of
the Terumah, Rabbenu Baruch of Worms,
in Laws of a Torah Scroll  wondered: "But kankantom is green
ground, in [Old] French vitriol....and, indeed, this ground is not used by
cobblers in this kingdom...and vitriol ground is not black, it shines like
What is important to understand is that not only did our rabbis not receive
through tradition from Moses the identity of the ingredients of ink, they did
not investigate and check the ingredients in real life; they merely discussed
this issue within the walls of the study hall, and "identified" the
ingredients of ink based on their understanding of the text.
Kumus -- The Gemara says (Shabbat 104b): "Komos -- kuma,"
and Rashi explains: "Kuma -- gum, the sap of trees." Similarly
(Sotah 17b): "Kumus -- the sap of trees mixed into water to write
with," and this is how most of the Rishonim interpret it. Thus wrote Prof.
Yehuda Felix in his book, Olam HaTzomeach haMiqra'i, page 98: "Some
types of tropical acacia trees gave off a sap known as Gumi Arabicum. Gum is
originally Egyptian: kumi, kami, which means acacia sap. From
there the word passed into Latin as Kommos, and in the language of the
Mishnah komos, in Aramaic kuma. It was used for writing and
Maimonides and the Meiri are completely mistaken about this! Maimonides
(Commentary on the Mishnah, Shabbat chapter twelve, mishnah
four): "Komos, a type of ash whose color is black. In Arabic it is alzag."
The Meiri wrote (Shabbat 104a): "Komos is a type of ash which is
Apatzim -- Rashi (Gittin 19a) explained: "apatzim are galsh
in [Old] French." Adin Steinsaltz writes: "Galsh is from the
Old French gales, gallnuts, particularly oak gallnuts." He refers to
"a swelling of plant tissue due to quick and unusual growth of plant limbs
as a result of insect bites, virii, germs, parasites, or other pests"
(Hebrew Encyclopedia, entry apatzim, page 47). They are mainly found on
oak and Pistachia trees. Most of the gallnuts used for ink are cooked oak
Saraf -- another name for the komos written
about above. The Gemara (Shabbat 23a): "All gums are suitable for
ink, and the sap of the balsam tree is the best." Rashi explains: "Saraf
-- gum, sarafkatef -- proniel [from the Old French prunelier,the wild plum -- see Steinsaltz Tractate Shabbat page 94] of the
forest, of which we make sap."
According to Rabbenu Tam (Tosafot Shabbat 23a): "All saps are suitable for
ink -- Rashi explained: saraf -- gum [kumus], and this did not
seem likely to Rabbenu Tam, for ink is not gum...There is no way to introduce
gum into our ink so the saraf [spoken of here] is moisture from trees
[extracted through cooking], as we make our ink." According to Rabbenu Tam
the Gemara's saraf is the liquid essence obtained from cooking wood.
We have written all this to show you who checks and examines that our rabbis
disagree on the identification of the ingredients themselves which constitute
ink and they did not receive this matter from Moses through Joshua, but made
rulings and judgements based on their own understanding. Some tested and
examined the facts, and some merely learned from texts with no examination and
Two Main Disagreements
In the Gemara we brought at the start of the essay it is explained that in
the time of the Tanaaim, in the first and second centuries CE, Rabbi Akiva and
Rabbi Ishmael disagreed about whether one was allowed to add vitriol to the
ink. The greatest Tanaaim disagreed about a very basic thing: Is one allowed to
add something to ink which will change the ink from carbon-based to iron-based
(and, of course, will change the basic properties of the ink)? We have seen
that Rabbi Akiva permits this and Rabbi Ishmael forbids it. From Rabbi
Ishmael's answer to Rabbi Meir you discover that he learned this rule from his
own understanding: "[Rabbi Ishmael] said to [Rabbi Meir]: Do you add
vitriol to the ink? Does the Torah not say (Numbers ): 'write and rub out' -- writing which can be
rubbed out" (Eiruvin 13a). Rabbi Ishmael did not say: "This have I
received from my teacher, who received it from his teacher as tradition given
to Moses at Sinai."
Our rabbis the Rishonim, from the 11th and 12th centuries, were also divided
on two important things about the ink used for writing STaM. The first
disagreement was whether it is a tradition given to Moses at Sinai that ink
must be used, or whether any other material may be used as well, as long as it
is black in color.
The second disagreement was "What is ink"? From what ingredients was
the ink which the Tanaaim and Amoraim discussed in the Talmud made? See what we
wrote in our essay What is an etrog, what is a hadas?, that
our rabbis did not also check and correctly examine the facts; it seems this is
also the case when it comes to making ink and its ingredients.
The first disagreement is more a matter of principle: Is it a tradition
given to Moses at Sinai that the Torah scroll must be written only in ink, or
might the law be that it must be written in black, with no implications about
the ingredients are, be they carbon-based or iron-based ink? Then the writing
of a Torah scroll or tefillin would be valid even were it written using
artists' charcoal or using the black markers found in any stationery store.
According to Maimonides and the Meiri, writing with anything is valid as long
as it is black. Maimonides (Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Torah Scroll,
chapter one, halachot four-five): "How is the ink made? They gather the
smoke of fat or of tar and of wax, etc. and blend it with tree sap and some
honey. They moisten it a great deal and grind it until it is crumbs, dry it and
store it. When writing, they soak it in gallnut water, etc., and write with it,
for if it is erased it will erase, and this is the ink which it is best to
write scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot with. But if one wrote the three of them
with gallnut water and vitriol, which lasts and is not erased, they are valid. If
this is so, what did the law given to Moses at Sinai, that
they should write in ink, come to exclude? To exclude all other types of
colors, such as red and green, etc."
So, too, does the Meiri write on Tractate Megillah 18b: "And this is the
rule for all other colors -- one cannot fulfilled his obligation except in ink,
which is comprised of many things, some of which blacken and some of which make
it stick and anything which can blacken and stick is called ink, for it only
intends that the writing be black and attracting the eye and it should not
be easy to erase it without trace. Therefore we do not have to explain how ink
is made; some make it one way and some another. It should not be ground with a
spoon, though there are a few commentators who took trouble to do this, but we
According to Rabbenu Tam and the French rabbis the tradition given to Moses at
Sinai was writing with actual ink, and if one wrote with any other material,
even if it were black, the Torah scroll would be invalid. This is also the law
for tefillin and mezuzot. They said (Tosafot Shabbat 23a): "Therefore
Rabbenu Tam would invalidate a Torah scroll which was not written in our ink,
for the rest aren't truly ink."
Thus wrote Rabbi Eliezer the son of Samuel of Metz (the Re'em), one of the French
rabbis, in Sefer Yeraim paragraph 399 (old printings -- 16): "The ink
which is spoken of is made from the sap of thorns...it is not appropriate to
write Torah scrolls, tefillin, mezuzot, and megillot except with ink made from
the sap of thorns."
Thus, too, it is wrin Sefer HaTerumah, Laws of a Torah scroll :
"Rabbenu Tam says that since a Torah scroll must be written in ink, then
gallnut water is forbidden for writing, for that is not called ink." It is
clear that this is also the opinion of most Rishonim who discussed and examined
the making of ink, such as Nachmanides and the Rosh.
The Disagreement About How to Make Ink
Now we will clarify the views of our rabbis the Rishonim on the second
disagreement, how ink is made and what its ingredients are. The reader will
wonder at how our rabbis disagreed about this issue, too, which would seem to
be tradition given to Moses at Sinai, for this should have been passed down
from generation to generation with no confusion or doubt. How much more so is
it when we speak of writing STaM, for the scribes who write Torah scrolls do
naught but this work and they are expert and precise.
They should have handed down to their students how ink is made, as a holy
tradition from generation to generation, with no change or doubt.
Maimonides's opinion (Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Torah scroll,
chapter one, halacha four): "How is ink made?
They gather the smoke of fats or tar or wax, etc. [this is the pigment] and
blend it with tree sap and some honey [this is the binder] and thoroughly
moisten it and grind it until it is wafers. They dried it and jar it, and
before writing they soak it in gallnut water, etc. [this is the carrier] and
write with it so if they erase it, it will erase. This is the ink which it is
best to write Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot with."
In Maimonides's responsa paragraph 136: "I say that ink is soot which
gathers from burning fats, etc., such as fat and tar and koelpinia, etc., the
soot of which is gathered in a vessel. They mix it with enough honey to wet it,
gather it and prepare it for grinding until it is thin leaves, they add oil to
it and dry it. These are the signs [of ink]."
So according to Maimonides, the ink referred to by the sages of the Talmud was
carbon/fats based ink (see above).
The Meiri's opinion is like Maimonides's opinion, that ink is made from the soot
of fat. The Meiri on Tractate Shabbat 23a: "...They would fill glass
vessels with smoke from fat until it blackened and they would scrape off the
lamp-black. They would mix it with olive oil or with tree sap and a little
honey and dry it. When he wanted to write he would dilute it with gallnut water
and add vitriol."
Thus, the Meiri also is of the opinion that the ink of the Talmudic sages was
The opinion of Rabbeynu Tam, the Terumah and the Yeraim (Tosafot
Shabbat 23a, s.v. kol haserafim yafim l'dio): "Rashi explained: saraf
-- gum; but this did not seem likely, for ink is not gum [tree sap] and ink
is not gallnut water [made from the gallnuts of trees]...And in the kol
hayad chapter (Niddah 20) it is said that one peels a little ink and
checks, which means that our ink is hard and not made with gallnuts. There is
no way to introduce gum into our ink, so the saraf [spoken of here] is
moisture from trees [extracted through cooking], as we make our ink...Because saraf
is moisture, Rabbenu Tam would invalidate a Torah scroll written with ink other
than ours, for all the rest are not ink. They said in the ha-boneh
chapter (ibid, 23): 'If it was written in other than ink, it is disposed of,'
and in ha-kometz rabah (Menachot 34) they interpreted it to refer to a
According to Rabbenu Tam ink is made by boiling tree bark [the liquid which
results is the carrier] and adding the soot [the pigment] which in their
language was call arminat [artamentum], whose source is the burning of
vegetable or animal matter (see Nir-El, pg. 263). As the Tosafot testifies
(Megillah 18b): "kankantom charta d'ushkeifei -- Rashi explains it
as artamentum, and this is puzzling, for then it would be forbidden to add
artamentum to ink...but every day we add artamentum to our ink, and even so it
can be erased well." From here we learn that according to Rabbenu Tam it
is forbidden to add kankantom to ink! Another support for thisprohibition
is from the Tosafot (Eiruvin 13a), s.v. kankantom, "And Rabbenu Tam
ruled thus in his emendation of the Torah scroll, that one may add artamentum
to the ink, for this is not kankantom."
Therefore, according to Rabbenu Tam it is a tradition given to Moses at
Sinai that the ink should be carbon-based, from trees, and it is
forbidden to add kankantom to the ink used for a Torah scroll.
In Sefer HaTerumah, Laws of a Torah Scroll , the author
details how they made the ink in France:
"This is about our ink: they seep the bark of a tree called prunelier
[wild plum, see above] or another tree in water on a fire. They boil it and the
moisture from the bark comes out in the water. They then coagulate the water
and dry it until it becomes ink." Sefer Yeraim by Rabbi Eliezer the son of Samuel of Metz [the Re'em],
paragraph 399 (old printings -- 16), also one of the French rabbis: "Ink
is made of the gum of thorns, as said in Gittin chapter two [19a], 'ink -- diota,'
and they say in Niddah kol hayad chapter [20a], 'Rabbi Eliezer peeled a
bit of ink and checked it.' Of the ink made of thorn sap a pinch can be taken
after it dries; it is slightly red. They said there [Shabbat 23a] that all
smokes are good for ink, and for that ink smoke is good for drying. You see
that it is inappropriate to write Torah scrolls, tefillin, mezuzot, and
megillot in anything but the ink made from the sap of thorns."
According to Sefer HaTerumah and Sefer Yeraim the ink used for writing STaM
should be carbon-based, from trees or thorns (there is no mention of soot from
According to Nachmanides (Novellae on Tractate Gittin 19a):
"Rabbenu Tam OBM used to say that gallnut ink is invalid for writing Torah
scrolls...and there are those who say that ordinary ink is gallnut, after tree
gum, called tzagal in Arabic, has been seeped in it, but anything with
gallnuts in it is not true ink. I say that gallnut ink is ordinary ink after
cooking, but gallnut water which has not been cooked, in which the gallnuts
have been seeped in water is that which is stronger and lasts longer. From the
water which is cooked a pinch can be taken, and in the Jerusalem Talmud they
spoke of one who takes ink without gallnuts, which means that ordinary ink does
have gallnuts and it is mixed with things like tree gum and fat and other
necessary things, as written in the bameh madlikin chapter: 'All gums
are good for ink, and the gum of the kataf is best'. They said there
that all smokes are good for ink, which is true of gallnut ink; and R' Hananel
OBM explained dio as madad or chaver. Chaver is the
gallnut ink I mentioned above, but madad is made from grapevine
Therefore, according to Nachmanides the law is that the ink is carbon-based
from trees. Nachmanides did not make a ruling about whether one may add kankantom
to ink; see his words on Gittin 19a.
According to the Rosh (Minor Laws, Laws of a Torah Scroll, section
six): "...Gallnut water alone is not called ink, but when it is mixed with
kumus which is called guma [the gum which comes from trees] it is
called ink and may be written with."
Thus is written in Tosafot HaRosh on Tractate Gittin 19a: "ink -- diota;
Rabbenu Tam said that ink which is made from tree bark and cooked until it
thickens is called ink, but ink made from gallnuts, called agliash in
[Old] French is not true ink. We learn this from Rabbi Haninah, who said that
'if one wrote with wine-lees and gallnut water, it is valid' (Gittin 19a) --
therefore gallnuts themselves are not ink, for he mentioned only things not
mentioned in the mishnah (ibid.). Because of this
Rabbenu Tam said that one should not write Torah scrolls with gallnuts which
are called agliash, for they have said of a Torah scroll written not in
ink, in the haboneh chapter, that it must be disposed of. Therefore gallnuts
alone are not ink, but when they are mixed with komos, which is gum, it
is called ink and it may be written with."
According to the Rosh the ink which was given as tradition handed down from
Moses at Sinai should be carbon-based, from trees. According to thRosh it
is forbidden to add kankantom to ink, and in his opinion ink is only
made from gallnuts with the addition of tree gum (ink made from gallnuts alone
After these words, you see that our rabbis conceptualized the making of ink
from their understanding of the Talmudic text and they did not receive anything
from their rabbis or from the copyists and scribes who received it from Sinai.
We find that according to Maimonides and the Meiri the ink mentioned in the
Talmud is one made from fat-soot, while the rest of the Rishonim had divergent
opinions: the ink was thought to be made either from cooking gallnuts or trees
with soot (of trees or of fat), and they were divided on which materials were
permitted or required as additions so that the mixture would be called
"ink." Rabbenu Tam, the Terumah, and the Rosh forbade adding kankantom
to the ink used for a Torah scroll.
How is the ink of scribes made today?
This is how the ink for Torah scrolls is made in our day, according to Likutei
Sofrei STaM, part four: "I will write of how ink is made, as I
received it from an elder expert from Jerusalem,
Rabbi Y.S. Kastelnitz shlita, which he received from the Jews of Yemen.
I have tried this myself, and this is how it is generally made in the HolyCity.
Take a half-kilo of
gallnuts...grind them to small pieces; it is enough to cut each into four
or five pieces...do not grind it down into dust, for this makes more waste
-- I think that only the cooking water is useful.
The grinding is done thus: put the gallnuts into a cloth and take a hammer
or some such and pound on the cloth...
After this put the gallnuts
into a pot and fill it with water to cover. Add a heaping tablespoon of
96% spirit and let it soak a while (12 hours) in the sun, until the water
seeps into the gallnuts, or put it on a very low flame to approximate the
Add another liter of water
and cook over a low flame (as one would the Shabbat chulent) for
approximately four hours.
Add approximately 5 grams gum
to the cooking water (the gum is the sap of the kataf, the gum
which seeps from the trees), and it is best to cook the ink in a clay
Afterwards, strain the water
until only the gallnuts remain...
Then take a scant teaspoon of
vitriol (it looks like a block of green salt, though some look like
pebbles). It is best to grind them in some can or vessel, to powder them
well, and then to cook it over the fire until it is baked (it will then
look whiter). Place a scant teaspoon of the vitriol into the ink while it
is still hot and mix well...
See for yourself that the making of ink in our days is not like it was in
the days of Rabbenu Tam, who cooked the wood alone, nor as it was according to
Maimonides, who made it from the soot of fats, or as according to Rabbenu Tam,
the Rosh, the Yeraim, and the Terumah, who forbade adding vitriol.
To show you how generations come and go and the work of making ink changes
with the generations, see the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah paragraph 271, section
6, where it is written: "A Torah scroll must be written in ink made
from the soot of fat seeped in gallnut water. [The Rama states: It is best
to be careful and only make ink from things which come from trees.] If one
wrote with gallnut water and vitriol, it is valid." It is clear that the
Rama's intent was that it may indeed be valid, but it is best to take care not
to use gallnut water. In Maimonides' responsa, paragraph 136 it is written
about one who writes in ink (as quoted by the Rama) "And if he took madad
[ink made from the soot of fats, and seeped it] in water and with it wrote a
Torah scroll, I find this to be a great error and comparable to one who writes
with drinks or fruit juice, which is in no way lasting; the scroll cannot be
rolled once or twice from beginning to end and end to beginning without being
all or mostly rubbed out. I wonder: if this were the ink Moses our teacher OBM
used to write the scrolls, how the Torah could write (Deuteronomy 31:36) 'Take
this book of the law and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the
Lord your G-d, that it may be there for a witness
against you'? How can something meant to last thousands of years be written
with that stuff? What should be done is that the madad should be seeped
in gallnut water and written with, and then a cloth should be wiped over it
after the writing to make the writing more beautiful and more lasting. This way
it will last and not fade or be rubbed out, and if he wishes to erase it, he
should erase it completely from the parchment and leave no mark at all. This is
what we do." First Maimonides requires the use of gallnut water, as
opposed to the Rama, who states "It is best to be careful and only make
ink from things which come from trees." Second, we see Maimonides ruling
the laws of making ink based on his own judgement and reasoning (to ensure the
longevity of the writing), and there is no mention that the making of ink is
"a tradition given to Moses at Sinai," passing from generation to
generation; it is only practical logic. This is also the method of the Birkei
Yosef by Rabbi Chaim Yosef Azulai (on Yoreh Deah 271 6, section 7): "Now
the scribes do not write with this ink [made of trees alone, as according to
the Rama] because it spoils and is rubbed out easily."
This is what we say: generations come and go and the making of ink changes
from generation to generation. You, student who seeks the truth, think about
it: If laws which are tradition given to Moses at Sinai (especially a matter
handed down from generation to generation within an elite group of
professionals who do the work of Heaven) did not manage to pass from scribe to
scribe, from copyist to students, what can we say about laws upon which we have
a weak hold, such as the 39 categories of labor forbidden on the Sabbath?
See something amazing: the ink which scribes now use in writing STaM
contains vitriol. Therefore, according to Rabbenu Tam and the other French
rabbis, and according to the Rosh, the ink is invalid. Torah scrolls, tefillin,
and mezuzot written with invalid ink are also invalid! There are those
religious Jews who wish to fulfill the commandment the choicest way by donning
two sets of tefillin, both Rashi and Rabbenu Tam (based on a dispute about the
order of the sections in the tefillin worn on the head). You, wise student,
come see how ridiculous it is: How do these scrupulous people not notice that
the Rabbenu Tam tefillin they so righteously wear are ruled invalid by Rabbenu
Tam himself! Is there no end to nonsense?