13 Nov 2013

Meditative copy-work

Beautiful script is also a value in itself; Sundays were often spent by P.N.E.U. students working on a beautiful rendition of a particular passage on fine paper.  Perhaps these were even illuminated, as was the fashion at the time. And we have seen how beginning writers use copy work, in part to strengthen penmanship skills, but Mason is also after something more meditative and formative here. Why else would her students sometimes copy a whole book of the Gospel? This is not busywork; rather it is an intentional practice with much more profound implication. Mason sees the spark needed for moral behaviour comes to the students not in lectures...but from an inspiring character in their novel or a brief line in a poem. As an idea is spiritual, it needs a place to intersect with the student's own spirit, in this case, in the slowly emerging text of meditative copy work.

Laurie Bestvater The Living Page, p 30

It is indeed entirely possible that I might never get around to showing you the photos and discussing my trip to Israel. It just seems like such a daunting task, somehow, to talk about a life changing trip in a blog post.  While I was reading Laurie Bestvater's The Living Page last week, though, I was reminded of this series of photos, and I thought I could at least share these.

They're taken at Masada, Herod the Great's palace and fortress in Southern Israel. The 80's miniseries, Masada, starring Peter O'Toole, tells of the Siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire towards the end of the First Jewish–Roman War.  It ended in the mass suicide of the 960 Jewish rebels and their families hiding in the fortress. Amazing place, worthy of its own post.

Anyway, the rebels' way of life required a building suitable for community meetings and Torah readings, and a building that had probably been a stable in Herod's time was recommissioned as a synagogue.

At the back you can see a small building that was closed off for storage of scrolls. It's called a genizah.  And inside this room you'll find something pretty amazing.  A man.  This man. He sits almost motionless, except for a small motion of his right hand.

Rabbi Ariel Luis is a Sofer ST”M - the abbreviation is for Sifrei Torah, Tefillin, Mezzuzot -   a scribe, an observant man of good character who writes Jewish texts according to the laws of soferut or Hebrew calligraphy, and he is writing by hand the first five books of the Old Testament as part of the Torah Scroll Project Masada. It takes about a year to write the book's 304,805 letters, and so far three scrolls have been completed by the Masada soferim, who work on a rotating basis.

Watching him work is quiet and peaceful, and certainly meditative, just as Charlotte Mason implies. He takes a break a few times a day to come out and explain the holy work of writing Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot, but otherwise spends the whole day in what is effectively peaceful and profound copy work.

I found the whole experience quite surreal. I hope you get a little idea of the beauty of the experience here.

Do read The Living Page. It is quite the best Charlotte Mason book I've read for a very long time, and it will without doubt affect my day-to-day practice as I strive to provide a Charlotte Mason education for my daughter. I highly recommend it.


  1. What a wonderful experience that must have been! Thank you for the glimpse!

    Okay, you've convinced me. I'm ordering the book. :)

  2. Thank you for sharing pictures of this ancient tradition that blesses heart, soul, mind, and body! You just reminded me that I need to remind the students at our school that copywork is the work of kings: "And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law " Deuteronomy 17:18-19


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