RENO -- A scribe in Reno has begun writing Hebrew letters on a parchment scroll in a manner handed down from the time of Moses.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth," the scribe wrote Monday as he began his task.
They were the first words of the first Sefer Torah -- a handwritten scroll of the first five books of Moses -- to be inscribed in northern Nevada.
"It's painstaking work; it must be exact and every letter must be kosher," said Rabbi Moshe Liberow, a sofer, or scribe, from Colorado Springs, Colo.
"There are 304,805 letters in 245 columns and all must be perfect. There are about 5,000 laws on how to write a Torah," he told a Reno newspaper.
The scroll will be sent to Israel for completion and will be returned to Reno in about a year. It will be dedicated as the Torah for the local Chabad, a community of Orthodox Jews.
The inscribing of the Torah came at a celebration of the third birthday of three children: Moshe, Chana and Rochel Cunin.
The triplets were born to Rabbi Mendel and Sarah Cunin, the leaders of the Chabad of Northern Nevada. At the celebration, Moshe had his hair cut for the first time. The ritual signifies that when a boy turns 3 years old, he begins a new stage of development as a Jew, his father said.
Moshe then ceremonially licked drops of honey placed on Hebrew letters, an act that signified "learning how sweet are the words of the Torah," his father said.
For their third birthday, Moshe's sisters celebrated their first Sabbath candle-lighting on Friday. Cunin said he hopes his children will become educators and bring light to the world.
Liberow said the writing of the scroll is not just important to Jews, but to everyone.
"Torah means instruction," he said. "It is a blessing, a showing of a blessing. It unites all humanity."
He said another Chabad scribe will finish the document, writing with a turkey quill on more than 60 sheets of parchment made from cowhide. When complete, the finished scroll will be as long as half a football field.
The Torah then will be checked and double-checked to make sure every word, every letter, every stroke is perfect.
"But if there is a mistake found, it can be corrected," Liberow said. "One tiny mistake won't invalidate all of the work. It can be fixed.
"God is strict, but he is not cruel."