The art of Torah Binders

Traditionally, Ark curtains and Torah mantles were made from fine, costly fabrics such as brocade, silk or velvet. Binders, however, tended to be made from humbler material. They represent, therefore, a level between synagogal textiles and those used in domestic ceremonies and they contribute greatly to the tradition of Jewish culture.

These binders were embroidered, usually by female relatives of the boy at whose circumcision the cloth was used. The Hebrew letters would often have been written on the fabric by a Sofer (scribe) to ensure the accuracy of the lettering and sometimes a pencil mark can been seen under the embroidery.

Many of the binders have attractive depictions of a¬†Torah¬†Scroll or a marriage canopy with figures in contemporary dress. The skill of the embroiderer runs the gamut of ability, from work obviously done by an unskilled child to fine embroidery of a professional order. Just as Victorian (and earlier) children would hone their skills by sewing samplers ‚Äď much sought after today ‚Äď so young Jewish girls would sew binders to celebrate the birth of a brother; the comparative modesty of the workmanship highlighting class and financial differences.

Hebrew letters on the binders are often elaborately decorated or elongated into fanciful shapes and there are several instances of signs of the Zodiac, (which interestingly, also appear on several of the Torah Scroll staves themselves).

Many of the binders are embroidered over a pre-drawn design but there are also several examples worked in cross-stitch on canvas, cut leather work, appliqué etc. Many of the techniques used are typical of Bohemian and Moravian folk art and demonstrate a fascinating interaction with the surrounding culture.

Read about the Trust’s Collection of Binders here.