Laws of the Mezuzah: Preparation of the Ink
The Mezuzah must be written in black ink.
The ink used in the writing must also
be made according to specific Laws. Among other things, it must be
black. The quill used for the writing is also made a certain way
(but that's mostly for practical reasons, not for legal reasons).
And the writing of the Mezuzah itself must be performed according to
many very exacting Laws.
Hebrew is Diyoh. Each scribe used to have his own formula for making an ink
with the desired qualities of clarity, easy flow, intense color and
tackless film on drying. These
were usually handed down through generations of disciples from
teacher to students. Unlike
in yesteryear when each sofer produced his own ink, some of it being
better than others, today the sofer purchases ink at a store that
carries safrus supplies.
gives a detailed description of how to make the Dyoh by Yalkut Yosef
each sofer has his own formula for making ink.
1. Oak Galls -Afeitzim
galls are formed when the tiny torymus
sp. a wasp, lays
her eggs in the twigs or leaves of a living oak tree.
is the torymus sp. perched on a blade of grass, which gives the
scale of the insect.
The tree tries to eliminate the invader by producing a gall around
the eggs. This gall happens to be extremely high in gallo-tannic
acid. It is is this gallo-tannic acid that we are interested in
for making ink. Certain types of oak trees produce galls with
greater concentrations of this tannic acid and consequently are more
sought after. The most effective for ink-making are the
Aleppo galls from Turkey. Nonetheless, here in California
there is a ready and abundant supply of perfectly adequate
galls that the would be ink-maker can find simply by walking through
virtually any area with oak trees. I find it's best to gather as
many as one can, because those which are not used up now, will keep
and will come in handy when its time to brew another batch of ink.
its name this mineral salt is actually derived from iron not copper.
In older texts it is often also called vitriol. In scientific
parlance it's called ferrous sulfate. It's a slightly greenish
white crystal produced by soaking iron in a 30-40% aqueous
solution of sulphuric acid, allowing the water to evaporate and
collecting the crystalline residue left behind.
ferrous sulfate crystals are approximately a centimetre across, for
our purposes we will use copperas reduced to about the consistency
of table salt.
a fuller, and quite interesting description of how ferrous sulphate
is produced I recommend the following CR Scientific Experiment page www.crscientific.com/ferroussulfate.html
Gum Arabic -Gummi
the name of this ingredient is misleading as it comes not from
Arabia, but Africa. The name may have originated from the gum
having at one time been procured from Arab traders. This particular
gum is exuded from the acacia tree, which grows in hot dry climates.
branches and trunks are deliberately scored to cause the sap to
ooze, the resulting tears as they are called are collected, dried,
sorted and exported to the world. In addition to its use in
ink and other artist's materials, gum arabic is frequently used in
foods, particularly candies, but also in cough drops where the gum
soothes the irritated mucous membranes.
our purposes, gum arabic is essential for at least three reasons, a)
it keeps all the ingredients evenly supsended in solution; b) it
increases the viscosity of the ink which makes it flow more evenly
from the quill and keeps it from bleeding into the surface of the
parchment; c) it increases the brilliancy and gloss of the ink.
From the perspective of conservation the high proportion of gum
arabic in sofer's ink acts as a buffer which prevents ferro-gallic
acids in the ink from corroding the parchment, a problem frequently
seen in older documents.
For this recipe we are going to add a fourth ingredient to intensify
the colour of the ink, namely logwood.
comes in the form of shavings taken from the tropical haematoxylum
the basic formula for ink. I've reduced it somewhat as the original
recipe I have yields some ten gallons of ink. I write a lot,
but that's more ink than I could use in two lifetimes. This will
produce about 2 quarts of fine, durable ink.
oz oak galls
1 oz logwood shavings
2.2 oz gum arabic
1.9 oz copperas
to making really, really good iron gall ink is long, slow cooking of
the galls and logwood. Some recipes I've seen call for just
tossing all four ingredients together in a jar of water and allowing
it to 'macerate' for a few weeks. This is great if you want to
write with a disappointingly grey ink. However, if you're like
me and want an rich, deep black ink, straight from the bottle then
we need to prepare the ingredients a bit more.
Stage One: Assemble, weigh and prepare the ingredients for
**Be sure to use containers specifically designated for non-food
use. There's a good chance that these ingredients will leave a
residue that would not be so good to ingest. So just like our
meat and dairy dishes, we keep our ink pans separate.
be using one ounce of logwood to make this ink. Be sure to get
the good stuff for this. The best logwood comes from the
heartwood carefully planed into shavings. This grade costs
about five dollars an ounce, but is much stronger and more
light-fast than cheaper varieties. To prepare the logwood, it
needs to be soaked overnight. Use enough water to saturate and
cover the wood shavings, but there's no need to go crazy and use a
fifty gallon drum for one ounce of logwood. A small Rubbermaid
dish will be perfectly adequate.
the logwood overnight is an essential part of the process. Do
not skip it or you will achieve inferior results. In the
picture above you can see that the logwood has turned the water a
deep, reddish colour. It is this property that gives the
logwood it's scientific name Haematoxylum,
which means 'blood wood' in Greek.
Now on to the oak galls. We need three ounces. As with
everything here weigh accurately!
you can see it doesn't take many, 59 galls in total, all
of them smaller than an acorn. If we estimate that it takes
something on the order of half a pint of ink to write a Torah scroll
and that there are eight pints to a gallon, and that this recipe
makes 1/2 gallon, then with just these 59 oak galls we could
write 8 Torah scrolls! Not bad for a little wasp.
As one cannot simply write with oak galls in their solid state,
we need to crush them coarsely in preparation for cooking. I
find it easiest to simply use a pair of nutcrackers. Be
warned, the galls are incredibly hard! You could easily hit
them hard with a hammer repeatedly and experience no result, or
else no result that was afterwords retrievable.
is what the galls should look like once they've been broken up a
little. Now, if you're feeling terribly Medieval, as I was,
you may of course proceed to grind them to a fine powder using
a mortar and pestle. Otherwise, you may feel free to use a
any event, which ever course of reduction you choose, the above
should be the final result. It may be wise during this stage
to wear some type of protective mask, as you wouldn't want to
inadvertently breathe in powdered oak gall, it does after all
contain gallo-tannic acid. From experience I can confirm
that the dust does irritate the respiratory passages.
Once done, the powder should be put in a suitable container and
covered with hot water, which we will allow to steep overnight.
We have begun to extract the tannins in the oak galls.
At this point the logwood and the oak galls have been reduced finely
and soaked in hot water over night. We are now ready to begin
the cooking process. The cooking process involves three
separate boilings. In the first, take the galls and the
logwood and put them into a 4 quart stainless steel pan and add four
cups of water, distilled if possible. Chlorine, flouride,
salts and minerals in tap water do funny things to ink over time.
First Boiling: Over a medium fire, boil the galls and
logwood for one hour. Replenish any liquid lost to
evaporation. Strain the liquor and set it aside.
Second Boiling: Using the same galls and logwood add 2
1/2 cups of water and boil for half an hour. Strain the liquor
and add it to the first.
Third Boiling: This time add only 1 1/2 cups of water
to the galls and logwood. Boil for half an hour, and add
to the rest. Allow the whole lot to cool and steep over night.
The next day, using a bit of flannel, filter the liquor into a
separate container. Then squeeze the galls to extract whatever
potency they may have left.
The liquor as you can see has turned a very deep brown. If it
comes in contact with your skin it will leave it looking quite
orange and shiny. Add water if necessary to make up the full
two quarts. Using a pitcher marked for quarts is useful at
next day, I measured out the 1.9 ounces of copperas and crushed
the 2.2. ounces of gum arabic to powder then dissolved it in about
1/2 cup of hot water.
Return the gall liquor to the fire and heat it until it is
quite hot. Then add the copperas and stir vigorously.
The dark brown of the galls will turn deep black in seconds as the
chemical reaction between the gallo-tannic acid and the ferrous
sulphate takes place. Then pour in the tincture of gum arabic
change took place in about 3 seconds.
In theory, you could begin writing with this ink
immediately, however, I would recommend letting it age a bit.
Leave the pan uncovered for a couple of days stirring occasionally.
Oxidisation does seem to improve the the darkness of the ink.
There are a LOT of ink recipes out
This is the most basic one and is
from the sefer Chasdei Dovid:
3 g Gum Arabic
3 g Oak Galls
3 g Iron Sulfate
0.25 liters filtered or distilled
Crush the galls as finely as
Mix all the ingredients together into
a sturdy pot.
Cook the mixture for a long time on
low to medium heat until you have only a gloopy sort of residue
Strain out all the solid material
using a fine mesh.
Pour the strained residue into a
clear glass bottle and seal it tightly. Let it sit for about 6
months until it turns jet black.
If a Sofer doesn’t have 6 months to
wait, the alternative is to buy ready-made ink.
Nahari ink is a quality type ink with good flow that dries to
a velvety black finish. It is available in three different densities
(regular, thinner and thicker) and is ideal for all types of sofrus
writing. Comes in a plastic bottle with recloseable cap.
Hadar ink is an extra fine, high quality ink which can be
used for all types of sofrus writing. It has superb ink flow and
dries to an ultra-smooth, velvety black finish. Comes in a plastic
bottle with a resealable cap.