According to Jewish law, Torahs must be identical. When you make a copy, you cannot change or add a single character. That means you can't write "Property of...." You can't add a serial number. You can't make any kind of identifying marks.
This turns out to be a problem when Torahs are stolen; it's impossible to identify that they're stolen goods.
Now there's a method of identifying Torahs without violating Jewish law:
Called the Universal Torah Registry, the system works like this: 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. Pollack says the code contains self-authentication features that keep a thief from invalidating it by just adding an extra hole in an arbitrary location.
Posted on June 13, 2005 at 1:28 PM • 33 Comments