Incredibly, in cases where it is unclear what a letter actually looks like, a child of three or four years old, who has just begun to read and so has a basic knowledge of the shape and form of Hebrew letters, but is not advanced enough to figure out on his own what the defective letter ought to be, is called upon to be judge. The young child is given the responsibility to make a decision that will not only affect an entire congregation, but will change the status of a Torah scroll turning it from a kosher scroll to an invalidated scroll that will need to be fixed.
Shmuli, the eleven-year-old son of a friend of mine, was dispatched to hurriedly bring his four-year-old younger brother, Elchonon, to the synagogue. Within minutes he was back, walking with the purposeful stride of someone who has an important mission to accomplish, bearing his brother high in his arms. The gabbai (sexton) pushed a chair close to the table on which the scroll lay. The men huddled around him and I lost sight of his blond curls. All I could see where his tiny feet clad only in white socks, so quickly had he left his house. Elchonon peered into the holy letters of the Torah scroll as the baal korei, showed him a few different letters and asked him to name them. Initially hesitant, his correct answers fueled his confidence and he began calling out the name of the letters with aplomb. The baal korei then showed him specifically a range of different vavs and nuns to make sure that he was able to differentiate between the two similar letters whose sole difference was a few millimeters in length. Then the baal korei pointed to the problematic vav which some men claimed looked like a nun.
“Vav”, Elchonon proclaimed. The tension eased. The men drew back from the table. As the feeling of sweet relief washed over them, many began to smile. Elchonon’s father accepted a few slaps on the shoulder and, of course, Elchonon’s grandfather was the proudest. A smile of pride lit up his face as he bent to caress the soft blond curls. And I smiled too: because the voice of a child has a place in Judaism.