It is a thick paper-like material produced from the pith of the papyrus plant, Cyperus papyrus, a wetland sedge that was once abundant in the Nile Delta of Egypt. Papyrus is first known to have been used in ancient Egypt (at least as far back as the First Dynasty), but it was also used throughout the Mediterranean region.





The special ink prepared for the writing is called D'yo (דיו).
Maimonides wrote in the Laws of Tefillin 1:4 that the D'yo is prepared in the following way: “One collects the vapor of oils, of tar, of wax, or the like, and kneads it together with sap from a tree and a drop of honey. It is moistened extensively, crushed until it is formed into flat cakes, dried, and then stored. When one desires to write with it, one soaks it in gallnut juice or the like and writes with it. Thus, if one attempts to rub it out, he would be able to. This is the ink with which it is most preferable to write scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot. If however one wrote any of the three with gallnut juice or vitriol, which remains without being rubbed out, it is acceptable.”

1. Calfskin parchment
2. Cowskin parchment (Gewil)
 3. Goatskin parchment
4. Deerskin parchment

Parchment in Jewish Tradition

No other culture is more closely associated with papyrus then ancient Egypt. And no other culture is more closely associated with parchment than Jewish culture throughout the ages. The phenomenon of continuous use of parchment in our religion has been passed on from generation to generation for more than 3,000 years. This period spans from the biblical time of Prophets to the present day.

Once upon a time, parchment was mankind’s principle writing material.

What role does parchment play the in the life of a Jew, his family and community?

On the right doorpost at the entrance to any ordinary Jewish home you will see a special case. It contains a small parchment with two Hebrew passages from the Pentateuch and it is called a Mezuzah. The Mezuzah is also affixed to the doorposts inside the house. (Figure 2)
When a Jewish boy celebrates his Bar Mitzvah aged 13, he receives Tefillin – special leather, cube-shaped signs. Placed inside are small parchment scrolls, written in Hebrew, with four short sections from the Pentateuch.

In the synagogue of every Jewish community, be it in Israel or the Diaspora, the Holy Ark contains Torah scrolls made from parchment. The Torah scroll is read publicly four times during a regular week, and daily during holidays. A medium size Torah scroll requires 60 – 70 skins on which the holy text is written. A well established synagogue may have several Torah scrolls, each one handwritten on parchment. In addition to community Torah scrolls, many private individuals write or acquire a personal Torah scroll.
In ancient times, the kings of Israel, David and Solomon et al, had their own royal Torah scrolls which were with them constantly.
Other holy biblical texts are written on parchment and read publicly in the synagogue on the appropriate festival. The most prominent example is the Scroll of Esther which is read on the Festival of Purim.
Holy manuscripts can only be written on parchment that is made from hide of kosher species of animals. This includes cows, sheep, goats or deer; papyrus or paper is unsuitable. (Figure 4)
Strength, durability and the beauty of parchment all contributed to the expansion of its use. Traditional documents that can be written on paper, such as the wedding Ketubah, are sometimes written on parchment. Since the days of the Renaissance lavish illuminated Ketubah documents have been written on vellum. From the Middle Ages to the present day, the Passover Haggadah has been scribed on parchment as a family heirloom for wealthy Jewish families.

The popularity and demand for parchment in the Jewish world, for both religious practice and religious art, explains why Israel has become a world leader in the production and use of parchment in the modern world.



The Kulmus (קולמוס) is the feather or reed used for the writing. The original source of the word stems from the Greek “Κάλαμος” The feathers need to be obtained from a large bird, today the feathers of turkeys are most often used for this purpose.


Preparing of Turkey quill



©Avraham Borshevsky, Jerusalem