Skins of animals constituted the ancient Oriental writing-material (Herodotus, v. 58; Strabo, xv. 1; Pauly-Wissowa, "Real-Encyc." ii. 944), and the Jews employed them as early as the Biblical period (Blau, "Das Althebräische Buchwesen," pp. 12-15), attaining great proficiency in their preparation (Letter of Aristeas, §§ 176-179). The Talmud was acquainted with three varieties, leather, parchment, and "doksosṭos," the last apparently a parchment obtained by scraping both sides of the skin (Blau. l.c. p. 28); in the case of leather the outside of the hide formed the writing-surface; in the case of parchment, the inside (Yer. Meg. 71a). The skins of domestic and of wild animals alike were used, although only those which were ritually clean might be chosen. The skins of fishes and birds werelikewise prepared (Yer. Shab. 14c; Kelim 10; Blau, l.c. pp. 32 et seq.), but were not used for books. The most frequent writing-material was formed from the hide of the deer, although only half the skin was used (Blau, l.c. pp. 17, 30). While scrolls of the Law might be written on parchment (Yer. Meg. 71a, d; B. B. 14a, top), entire skins were the usual material, these being consequently of leather and called "gewil" (Blau, l.c. pp. 24-26). Parchment books are mentioned by Paul (II Tim. iv. 13), this phrase designating Greek manuscripts of Biblical writings on parchment ("Berliner Festschrift," p. 44). The Codex Sinaiticus of the fourth century is written on the skin of an antelope, and it is not impossible that the "Hexapla" of Origen was likewise inscribed on leather or parchment (Blau, l.c. pp. 45-47). The scribes manufactured their vellum themselves, and it formed an article of trade (Giṭ. 60a. Sanh. 28b). Babylonians were preeminent in the art of preparing leather (Meg. 17a, 19a), and doubtless displayed equal skill in the manufacture of leather and parchment for writing.
The distinctive writing-material of the ancient Hebrews was parchment, which alone may be used for the scrolls of the Law even at the present day; and parchment manuscripts which still exist show that this material continued to be employed after paper had come into general use for other purposes. References to examples of parchment and manuscript are given in
The statement is frequently made that the German Jews furnished parchment for the imperial chancery, and that when Charles IV. pawned the Jews of Frankfort to the citizens of that place, he reserved for himself and his descendants the right of obtaining parchment for the chancery from them. In 1354 a certain Smogil Perminter ("parchment-maker") is mentioned (Wattenbach, "Schriftwesen des Mittelalters," 3d ed., p. 131), and in the sixteenth century Moses Isserles declares that "our parchment is better for the preparation of scrolls of the Law than the leather ["gewil"] of the ancients." Books were printed on parchment, and phylacteries and mezuzot were made out of strips of parchment. Amulets were written on the same material; and medieval and modern cabalistic and magic writings contain directions for writing on parchment, with such added statements as that "it must be virginal." Colored parchment is not mentioned in the Talmud or Midrash, although the statement is made that parchment becomes black with age. See Manuscripts; Scroll of the Law.
- Blau, Das Althebräische Buchwesen, Strasburg, 1902;
- Löw, Graphische Requisiten, Leipsic, 1870.