Sunday 16 June 2024

Torah Mantle

Torah Mantle

The Torah mantle, or the 'coat' for the Torah is a cloth cover that is used to decorate and protect the Torah scroll.  The Torah is the most sacred object in Judaism, so giving it protection is very important, and I considered it a great honour that I was asked to create one for a synagogue in downtown Toronto

This is an image of the entrance to the synagogue.  They recently did an extensive renovation and created a modern, warm entrance.

The Rabbi began by introducing me to the Torah Mantle's that they already had.  

He liked the warm earthy tones of rusts and browns but wanted a look that was modern.

As I had never made one before, I was interested in exploring how they were put together.

There were several wooden elements, and I wasn't sure how I was going to find? Buy? Create? these.

The Torah is an amazing thing to see up close.  Every letter is made by hand by a highly trained scribe who uses a special type of lettering.  It looks like a form of Hebrew block letters with some embellished with crowns.  Each letter is said to convey a mystical meaning.  The scribe inks each letter with a feather quill.  The parchment sheets are sewn together with animal sinews to form one long scroll.  The parchment is made from the skins of a kosher animal that has been tanned, scraped and parchment- cured, (anywhere from 62 to 84 sheets).  
This Torah had recently been acquired by the synagogue and was slightly smaller than the other ones.  The Rabbi had wanted a smaller, lighter Torah as they very regularly have women and children handling their Torahs during services.  This is a synagogue that is egalitarian and inclusive.

                                       I noticed this brochure as soon as I entered the building.

I decided to begin by dying cotton fabric.  I wanted to create a variety of intensities and tones that would blend with the colours of the mantles that the synagogue already loved.  Several of them had been created by Temma Gentles who was a very well known fibre artist in the Jewish community.  Hers were big shoes to follow!

I dyed two different kinds of cotton, the second set had a woven feel that I thought might add interest to the project.

While my dye pots cured I worked on my proposal.  This was the sketch that I created.  I had asked the Rabbi to consider themes that he would like represented in my work.  He shared that the song that is sung when the Torah is returned to the ark is usually translated as "her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace" and he suggested that a theme of peace would be relevant today (and always).  As well, it is significant to this congregation that their cherished objects reflect equality of men and women.  "God created them in His image"" in reference to Adam and Eve.  This verse is often used to stress our commonality with all human beings, and the dignity that each one is owed as an image of God regardless of their ethnicity or gender or religion.  
In my sketch I created human figures that are overlapping, and thus connected, of all different shapes and sizes, and they are covered by peace doves.

While I was working on the design, I was also exploring how to deal with the wooden elements of the mantle.  I had been hoping that these could be purchased, on their own, without the cloth covering, but I soon discovered that this was not a possibility.  The Judaica shop I visited had no idea how to acquire these pieces, they only sold complete mantles.  Luckily, I am connected to a wonderful group of women who are part of the "International Jewish Quilters".  I asked for their help and they came through!  A generous woman, Paula Miller, kindly lent me the templates she had (photo above).  I wasn't quite sure what the purpose of all 3 pieces were but I was happy to have them.  And then another lovely friend, Brian Goldstein, kindly offered to duplicate these pieces for me.  This was becoming a group project!

After drawing the figures on freezer paper, I ironed the chosen fabrics onto the freezer paper patterns folding over the seam allowance.

Then I pinned the figures in place.  For the background I had chosen a brown/taupe cotton velvet.  When I saw it in the store, it just screamed Torah to me.

Then I added the doves.  I wanted them to appear to be flying around the people.

This was the finished composition, before I worked out how it would be lined and turned into a 'skirt'.

I created a quilted cover for the wood top, covering it in batting, and then upholstered it with the velvet.

This is the composition lined and ready. Here you can clearly see how all the figures are overlapping and connected as the doves are circling them with bowers of leaves.

Having never constructed anything like this before, I consulted an upholsterer.  But in the end, I was most comfortable with pinning it in place and sewing it by hand to the upholstered wood.  With the pins on, it looked like I had made a crown!

                          Here is the new Torah Mantle in its new home as it embraces its Torah.

I am very happy with how it blends in with the other Torah Mantles and yet still stands out with a modern motif.

Artist Statement:  This Torah mantle was designed to suggest two overlapping ideas.  Firstly, as our humanity binds us to each other it is our responsibility to recognize and magnify common ground-- to work towards finding the smallest seed of mutuality, where our values and goals overlap, and to there, lend focus.  And secondly, that this effort, in and of itself, can lead to peace.  We may never finish this work, but it is our responsibility to take it on.



  1. Your artistry and beautiful description of your intent are uplifting and inspirational

    1. thank you Sue. your comment is very appreciated.

  2. It's beautiful! I love how you've made the design inclusive.

    1. Thank you so much. the inclusivity was an important priority.

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  4. Daniela, the Torah mantle is gorgeous. It achieves all your goals: of blending in with the colors of the other Torah mantels, of honoring people (men and women) as equals, of striving for Peace with the beautiful doves - and it is beautiful. Your Artist's Statement is also so meaningful. What an honor to have been chosen to do this. You really are an inspiration and such a talented artist. I send you lots of love.

    1. You have made a gorgeous Torah cover. I loved reading the story of its development, all the things you considered & all the people your worked with. Mazel Tov. Phyllis