Making A Hebrew-English Scroll
Years ago I created a backlog Silver Hammer scroll for HL Esther bat Moshe who’s now a Mistress of the Pelican. It took years to complete, but it wasn’t the art that delayed it.
I knew I wanted to do the calligraphy in both English and Hebrew to suit her English-Jewish persona. So I went on a hunt to find bilingual period sources with those text. Preferably ones with illumination.
I began my hunt online – doesn’t everyone now – using the British Library’s simple search. I entered “bilingual” with an end date 1600. I received interesting sources, but sadly none included Hebrew.
Since this project wasn’t a secret – it was a backlog scroll – I talked with M. Esther about her persona and other possible options. That’s when I learned about ketubah.
A ketubah is a Jewish marriage contract giving the grooms’ financial obligations and protections for the bride. Some Jewish wedding contracts date back to biblical times and were so important to Hebrews its text was codified in the first century CE. An entire Talmud book describes its purpose and requirements. Surely I’d find one in Hebrew and English.
I was fascinated by ketubot’s beautiful illumination. Although its pictures aren’t pretty I discovered one from Krems, Austria 1391-92 in Ketubbah: The Art of the Jewish Marriage Contract by Shalom Sabar. So that was one piece of the the documentation pie solved. An illuminated Hebrew contract existed in Europe before 1600. And not just the tail end of the SCA period. Yippee.
Eventually I found a book translating English into Hebrew. It was written for Jews living in England attending religious services. I was searching from the Jewish historic viewpoint. Of course the English would want to “help” possible Jewish church members to participate. Sadly I’ve lost that resource.
I felt I had enough reason to do Esther’s bilingual scroll. Now the challenge was to get the text translated into Hebrew. Realize this was at least ten years ago so it was more difficult than it probably would be today. Eventually Ld. Miklos Farma learning my problem asked an Israeli cousin to translate it into the Hebrew language and script. Another piece of the pie found.
The next step was to actually begin the scroll. When I got the emailed Hebrew text I found I couldn’t move its words around. Since I don’t actually know Hebrew calligraphy that was a challenge. All I could do was change the lettering size. So I had to work with what I received. I made the English text line up with the Hebrew lines. I guessed.
I taped my Hebrew text reference to the back of my pergamenata and began to callig the Hebrew letters on the page’s face. Using Jay Seth Greenspan’s Hebrew Calligraphy: Step-By-Step I wrote the letters. While not difficult it seemed many letters appeared alike or so similar I wasn’t sure if I was writing the correct ones. Anyway I got it done.
The next step was the original text’s calligraphy aligned with the Hebrew. After that it was simple. Fill the space between both with illumination. That could be done in any style because ketubot art simulates the local community’s. I just personalized it with Esther’s heraldic art.
I think every scrolls an experiment. Even if I’m using the same ol’ materials and tools there’s always a different way of thinking. Through the scroll creation process, the choices you make affect its final look. These were just more maverick than usual.