Fingerprinting the Word of God

Sifrei Torah fetch between $9,000 and $50,000 on the fair market, and since they also do a brisk business on the black market, they are stolen more often than is reasonable or acceptable. So, folks have begun to wonder how to tag a sefer Torah–to give it a unique and permanent ID so that it could be more easily traced–without rendering it pasol, or unfit for sacred use. There are a couple of new shitot (methods) out there, as Wired News reports. Here’s one:

A synagogue mails in a form with their contact information and the number of Torahs they want to place in the system, and the registry sends back a computer-coded template for each scroll. The 3.5- by 8-inch template resembles an IBM punch card, with eight holes arranged so their position relative to one another describes a unique identification number in a proprietary code. A rabbi uses the template to perforate the coded pattern into the margins of the scroll with a tiny needle. To keep an enterprising thief from swapping the perforated segment with a section from another stolen scroll in some kind of twisted Torah chop shop, the registry recommends applying the code to 10 different segments of the scroll.

Full story here.
(Thanks to Micah over at St. Jerome’s Library for the article.)

5 thoughts on “Fingerprinting the Word of God

  1. Shouldn’t be so hard to uniquely identify a handmade object.
    Torah scrolls are now regularly put through an optical scanner to check them for mistakes. It should be easy to develop software that analyzes certain passages and creates a unique ID based on the optical data – the “fingerprint” being the variations in the scribe’s hand. This code would then be stored in a database.

  2. I started a fund-raising drive for a sefer torah at my synagogue last year. I was adamant that the torah be new since you really can’t know where the used ones come from if you aren’t in the business.
    Benda, the article describes a second ‘technology’ that does exactly that. There are pros and cons of both ideas. Though, ultimately, I think that the insurance company decides which one it will accept and they usually demand the either the synagogue be locked or otherwise the aron kodesh. Unfortunately, gone are the days when a shul didn’t have a lock on it (for those living in the galut, you might not understand the great feeling that a shul is open 24/7 for all to use).

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