Give My Yad a Hand – Technology Meets Tradition

Screenshot 2013 10 01 19 02 52

A yad cast from brass.

That great source of Jewish knowledge Wikipedia describes a yad (literally “hand”) as “a Jewish ritual pointer, popularly known as a Torah pointer, used by the reader to follow the text during the Torah reading from the parchment Torah scrolls. Yads can be made from silver, wood or any material. Mine, however, is something Moses could never have imagined.

Screenshot 2013 10 01 19 02 34

The silver yad my Aunt Harriet gave me as a gift when I was ordained 21 years ago.

Since the Hebrew of the Torah has no vowels or punctuation, the yad allows the reader to track from line to line more easily. In addition, the yad prevents the reader from touching the parchment while reading. This is important since the parchment is often rather fragile (some of our Torah scrolls are hundreds of years old), and oil from fingers can damage the ink over time. The yad prevents all of this and has, over time, become a mainstay ritual item during worship.

As previously noted, there is no set requirement with regard to the materials used to make a yad or its design. Still, since the word means “hand”, yads often look like their namesake, albeit made from silver, wood, brass etc.

A few weeks ago, I asked my friend Michael to see if his father-in-law Steve would make me a rather unusual yad. You see, Michael’s father-in-law has a Makerbot 3D Printer and has created all kinds of cool stuff. I asked if he might use it to make me one. He did… and here is a yad fit for the 21st century.

Screenshot 2013 10 01 19 01 52

My new Makerbot-printed yad.

Some yads are carved from wood. Others are cast from metal. Mine was… printed.

Screenshot 2013 10 01 19 03 04

Old tradition meets new technology.


Want to check out Steve Medwin’s other products? Click here to see what else he has “printed”.

Categories: Gear Bits

Tags: ,

4 replies

  1. This is pretty cool. Each faith has it’s own thing like this. Which reminds me…I need to see if I can get a 3D printed cross to wear….or maybe Christmas tree ornaments! :-)

    I need to scope out our local maker shop. I know there is one and they have printers. Something I really want to learn about.

  2. Interesting. Having dabbled in calligraphy, I’m assuming an additional practical reason for not touching the Torah was that like much of the Medieval manuscripts, the materials of choice would have been vellum or parchment, though split cowskin was occasionally used, and whereas paper fully absorbs ink, ink on skins sits more on the surface, so it would be very easy to abrade or degrade the inking. Like their Jewish counterparts, Christian and Muslim scholars would use blunt pointer-like devices to reduce physical and chemical damage.
    Dan, does the use of the yan primarily arise out of a religious proscription not to touch the Torah to maintain its purity, with the secondary, perhaps serendipitious benefit being the physical preservation of it?

    • That’s a fantastic question Bryan and the simple answer is… “Yes.” :)
      As you might imagine it is all but impossible to determine where a specific tradition came from and the reasons it initially arose. Both explanations are currently put forth and either is totally legitimate. Purists might like to stress the spiritual/faith-based explanation over the practical one but- and I assume it comes from my background in archaeology and secular/academic Jewish studies- I tend to think most rituals such as this arose for very practical reasons and then the “religious” layer came later. To my mind though that doesn’t diminish either.
      The actual piece is a bit rough but not overly so. I honestly don’t know about the production and finishing process but will ask. (I had totally forgotten that I had asked Michael to see if his father-in-law could make me one and was surprised and happy when he handed it to me the other day.)

  3. And here’s a video of that very yad being printed!
    (a bit over 100MB)