More About White Space

The white space that frames a block of text gives form to the text and enhances readability. This is as true for STAM as it is for any written or printed text.

The minimum and maximum amounts of blank space that should surround the text in Sifrei Torah and kisvei kodesh are detailed in the Gemara.1

The minimum height of the upper and lower margins is expressed in absolute terms: Sifrei Torah should have at least 6 cm of space above the text and 8 cm below the text. Kisvei kodesh should have at least 3 cm of space above the text and 4.5 cm below the text.2

The maximum height of the upper and lower margins is expressed in relative terms: The combined height of the margins cannot be greater than the height of the column of text. By way of example: A Sefer Torah with margins of 6 cm on top and 8 cm on the bottom, should have columns of text that are more than 14 cm tall.

note: Sifrei Torah and kisvei kodesh that do not meet these specifications are not pasul, but they may only be kosher bidi’eved.

Sifrei Torah

According to the Gemara, Sifrei Torah should ideally be the same size as the luchos,3 which were one amah (48 cm) tall. Most Sifrei Torah of this size have margins that fulfill the requirements of the Gemara.

Many smaller Sifrei Torah do not meet the Gemara’s criteria for minimum margins. The undersized margins in these Sifrei Torah rely on the assumption that the measurements in the Gemara are only relevant for full-sized (48 cm) Sifrei Torah, and therefore smaller Sifrei Torah can have proportionally smaller margins. This view seems to be widespread among klaf-makers and sofrim, but does not have strong support in the halachic sources, and is rejected by some contemporary poskim.

Someone who requires a very small Sefer Torah, but does not want to rely on the assumption behind proportional margins, could specify klaf with kisvei kodesh-sized margins (3 cm on top and 4.5 cm on the bottom). Even though this is smaller than the Gemara’s minimum measurements for a Sefer Torah, most poskim still consider it kosher lechatchila.4

Megilas Ester

As mentioned in a previous post, megilas Ester is part of kisvei kodesh, but certain aspects of it have the same requirements as Sifrei Torah. According to some opinions, this includes the margins.

For the margins of a megila to be considered mehudar, they must meet the Gemara’s criteria for kisvei kodesh. It would be an additional hidur to have the same margins as a Sefer Torah.

Klaf is available for megilas Ester in many standard sizes. Most klaf makers keep stock for medium-sized writing (8 mm space between the lines) as well as large writing (10 mm space between the lines) – both in a variety of layouts ranging from 11 lines to 42 lines. Some of the standard klaf sizes have margins that are too small to be considered mehudar (although there are halachic authorities who maintain that they are still kosher lechatchila).

Most margin-related issues can be avoided by using one of the standard layouts which incorporates mehudar margins.5 In some cases it might also be possible to add mehudar margins by ordering custom klaf with margins that are a little larger than the stock sizes.

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  1. For a brief introduction to the margins of Sifrei Torah and kisvei kodesh, see STAM 101: White Space. ↩

  2. The unit of measurement used by the Gemara is a finger-width. The metric measurements listed above are the approximate equivalents. ↩

  3. This is not a requirement, but it is a hidur. ↩

  4. There are even poskim who consider it mehudar. ↩

  5. One example is a 30 cm megila with a 28-line layout. ↩