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Our shul recently had a sofer in to look at our newer Torah scroll. He suggested to the Rabbi that we clean the scrolls regularly, which we have never done. So we did it a few days ago, about 20 of us cleaning 2 scrolls.

The sofer told us to use facial tissue (Kleenex), which we did. We gently wiped all parts of the text and the white space. As we rolled them up, we wiped the back of the scrolls too. Lots of dust!!

I found, and others agreed, that the tissues broke apart, leaving both bits of tissue and a fair bit of lint, even though we changed them frequently. We didn't damage the scrolls. So I wonder if there are better things to use. A soft cloth? Even a soft brush for the backs and/or as a final step after rubbing the text side.

Our scrolls:
1) 200-300 years old, deerskin vellum, some damage. Tissues didn't make much noticeable difference but did remove dust.
2) 100 years old, cow vellum, in good shape. Tissues brightened the pages noticeably and removed dust.

We plan to do this again in about a year and will research alternative materials. We're on the West Coast of the US but the Rabbi and others regularly travel to Israel and elsewhere so we can easily get products if needed.

What does your shul use?

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    I would recommend using a microfiber cloth. – ezra Oct 5 '18 at 5:15
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    Maybe just pressurized air? – mroll Oct 5 '18 at 6:29
  • What is the benefit of cleaning the scrolls (besides the evident risk of making them invalid)? – Kazi bácsi Oct 5 '18 at 14:04
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    @NoachMiFrankfurt You can get different grades. There are industrial cleaning microfibers down to the kind you clean glasses with, and even softer than that. – ezra Oct 18 '18 at 16:40
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I relayed your question to the sofer who maintains our scrolls. Here's what he said (my notes from a verbal conversation):

The "dust" that came off of the scroll is white mold, not the parchment flaking off. (Not all mold is black.) You should therefore clean your scrolls in a well-ventilated place and consider wearing a mask. Because he does this a lot he has a high-end mask with good filters, but for people doing this rarely, the inexpensive disposable masks are fine.

Use a clean, soft, white cloth to clean the scrolls. He suggested that you buy a new towel and use it only for this purpose. White is important to avoid any chance of the scroll picking up dyes. The mold attaches to both the parchment and the ink, so wipe everything.

I didn't ask about using tissues, but it sounds like a false economy -- a decent towel doesn't cost that much, and towels don't fall apart the way tissues do.

  • Great info, thank you. Mold ugh. We're in a building over 100 years old so mold is already an issue (though we have only moderate humidity and don't get the must smell that DanF is dealing with). It was a large room with high ceilings and windows that open and we were running two air filters (both HEPA and carbon together). I own an industrial mask but didn't think to use it or any other. – Cyn Oct 19 '18 at 5:24
  • @Cyn from my conversation it sounded like this is a common problem, perhaps the norm unless you take extraordinary steps in humidity control (like museums do). We have scrolls that are kept wrapped up except when briefly opened to a few columns to be read one or a few times a week. They never get the chance to get aired out. – Monica Cellio Oct 19 '18 at 13:50

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